It seems racists don’t even have the decency to be subtle anymore

It seems racists don’t even have the decency to be subtle anymore

Those three videos. You saw them. First, the blatant murder of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men as he jogged through suburban Georgia. Second, the blatant use of deadly force by a Minneapolis police officer, leading to the death of George Floyd. Third, the blatant racially-charged accusations of a white woman toward a bird-lover who asked her to leash her dog. All of them blatant. Blatant (adjective) /ˈbleɪ.tənt/ very obvious and intentional, when this is a bad thing.   Yep, blatant, as in flagrant, glaring, unconcealed, overt, brazen. The white police officer who buried his knee in the back of George Floyd’s neck as he lay handcuffed on the road was oblivious not only to Floyd’s pleas for mercy, but also to the many witnesses who begged him to release Floyd. He even looks directly into the camera of the bystander filming the incident. He doesn’t direct the witness to move away. He doesn’t appear to be panicked. He doesn’t shield his face. Blatant. Likewise with the death of Ahmaud Arbery. It wasn’t captured on film by a shocked bystander, but was blatantly recorded by Roddie Bryan, a friend of the father-and-son killers, Greg and Travis McMichael. In fact, so complicit was Bryan in the killing that he has since been charged with felony murder along with the McMichaels. Blatant.

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Death Becomes Us: why getting death right helps us live better lives

Death Becomes Us: why getting death right helps us live better lives

Harvard scientist Steven Pinker recently wrote a strange opinion piece in The Washington Post in which he claimed that belief in an afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them longer, safer, and happier. The specific object of his attack was those conservative evangelical Trump supporters who are demanding the reopening of the US economy. In Pinker’s odd logic, evangelicals don’t care about those dying of COVID19 because they are so focused on life in the sweet-by-and-by. The fact is, though, that study after study proves the opposite – religious people appear to live healthier, happier, more fulfilled lives. There is no evidence that belief in the afterlife makes you careless about life in the here-and-now. In fact, belief in the afterlife might do the opposite and give you a greater clarity about what’s truly important in life.   I’ve been thinking about this recently as I’ve studied what has become known as “plague art”, the great paintings depicting life during Europe’s bubonic plague from 1347 to the late 17th century. At that time, Europe was stalked by the Black Death, and yet surprisingly, art and culture flourished. Artists like Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Tintoretto worked in the knowledge that contagion could take hold of their city at any moment. Some, including Hans Holbein and Titian, died

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Where are the true prophets in a time of coronavirus?

Where are the true prophets in a time of coronavirus?

Remember that old Bible story about the death of King Ahab? He was itching for a fight with the neighboring nation of Aram, so he enlisted the help of Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to march on the city of Ramoth Gilead and recapture it from the Arameans. But Jehoshaphat first wanted to be sure that God would bless such a venture, so he and Ahab dressed in their royal robes and sat on their thrones by the entrance of the gate of Samaria and had all the prophets of Israel – about 400 men – brought before them. The kings enquired of them, “Shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall we refrain?” And the prophets answered as Ahab had hoped, “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious, for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.” But Jehoshaphat demurred. “Are there any other prophets we’ve overlooked?” he asks. Ahab’s answer is telling. “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” It makes you wonder how the other 400 prophets got their job, doesn’t it? True prophets are annoying. They don’t offer words of comfort to kings and rulers. They speak

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Bible teaching can happen at the table not just the pulpit

Bible teaching can happen at the table not just the pulpit

I’ve written a bit lately about dinner churches, house churches, fresh expressions and other new types of churches emerging around the world. And it’s easy to see why they’re increasing in popularity. They’re lean, nimble, local and cheap to run. And they embrace all the great stuff of life like commonality, conviviality, the sharing of life and the valuing of all voices. But I’m also aware of the criticism that dinner churches don’t do Bible teaching very well. I’ve heard it said that their emphasis on conversational sharing is a kind of groupthink that just results in a pooling of existing knowledge. Theologian Letty Russell disagreed with this. She liked to refer to ‘church in the round’ and she claimed such churches are better able to do the important work of discipleship than larger, more traditional churches. That’s because, as Russell saw it, church in the round fosters deeper conversation, deeper sharing, and deeper learning. She wrote: “The metaphor of the church as a round table speaks of people gathered around the table and in the world in order to connect faith and life in action/reflection (the round table), work for justice in solidarity with those at the margins of society (the kitchen table), and to welcome everyone as partners in God’s world house (the welcome table).” It’s only when

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35 ways to love your neighbors right now

35 ways to love your neighbors right now

We’re socially isolated. We can’t gather in groups. We’re working from home. We can’t even go to church. How are Christians meant to express their faith in these strange days of COVID-19? It’s tough, I agree, but there are plenty of ways to love your neighbors, even during lockdown. Here’s 35 simple ways to love your neighbor as yourself, even at a distance.   PRAY 1.  Do a regular prayer walk in your neighborhood, praying for each household. 2.  Pray in general for those infected, those at risk, and for decision makers. 3.  Offer to pray for your neighbors. 4.  Host a front yard prayer meeting (appropriately distanced, of course).   ENCOURAGE PEOPLE 5.  Chalk messages on the sidewalk at night so it surprises people in the morning. 6.  Set up a chalkboard in front of your house and write messages for passersby. 7.  Talk to your neighbors as you walk (keeping your required distance, of course). 8.  Join or launch a front window bear hunt for the local kids. 9.  Begin podcasting or blogging to share your thoughts and encourage others. 10.  Leave a note for your local postman. GIVE TO OTHERS 11.  Launch a street Facebook or WhatsAp page to share needs, ideas, and encouragement. 12.  Deliver gifts (hampers, toilet paper bouquets, cookies) to your neighbors’ doorsteps. 13. 

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Coronavirus could set the church back 25 years

Coronavirus could set the church back 25 years

Twenty-five years ago, I began warning the church about its overemphasis on “attractional” strategies — that is, the come-to-us stance taken by many churches influenced by the church growth movement back then. I wasn’t the only one, I know. Other voices made similar pleas, urging church leaders to resist the temptation to become more like marketers and less like missionaries. But it was difficult for some people to hear our cry. They had been shaped by an ecclesiology that emphasized numerical growth over all else. And they had come to believe that to grow a church you needed the right-sized building, in the right area, with ample parking, and friendly parking lot attendants. They’d been taught that a growing church needed a certain kind of excellent preaching, as well as an inspiring contemporary worship experience delivered by positive, upbeat leaders. They had given countless hours to trying to deliver the best children’s and youth ministries in order to attract families, and a good program of cell groups built around a Christian education model to ensure pastoral care and a sense of community. And because they knew every other church in town was trying the same thing, they had to make sure that next week at their church was better than last week in order to keep the people coming back.

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My Hat Collection: my guide to male headwear

My Hat Collection: my guide to male headwear

“When the news is dark and the walls are closing in its easy to slide into the dark corners of your mind. Find something you enjoy and be absorbed in it…. your soul will thank you.” — Brian Tunks   Become absorbed in something I enjoy? Well, I’ve been collecting hats from different parts of the world for many years now. Partly, that’s because I’m bald and I need a head covering, but mostly it’s because I just love the beauty of a superbly designed lid. I also like hats that have stories attached to them. So I’m taking Brian Tunks’ advice and allowing myself to be absorbed in it. So, here are some photos of my hat collection along with my guide to male headwear. I hope you see something you like.   The Braid Trilby A braid hat can be of any style, but made with the custom woven Toyo braid. They are a variation on the panama hat, which was made from plaited or braided leaves, bleached white, and topped with a silk band. Like the panama, a braid is lightweight, breathable, easy to wear, and perfect for tropical destinations. Mine is a modern trilby silhouette made by the legendary hatmakers, Bailey of Hollywood, founded by George Bailey in 1922. The name trilby derives from an 1890s

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What is the worth of another person’s life?

What is the worth of another person’s life?

On the 23rd of March, as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold in the USA, Scott McMillan, a Californian attorney, replied to one of President Donald Trump’s tweets, saying, “The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5% of the population which is (1) generally expensive to maintain, and (2) not productive.” Did you get that? He was referring to the elderly Americans most likely to die from Covid-19, and was encouraging the president to disregard their impending deaths in order to save the US economy. They’re old and useless and a drain on the economy anyway, McMillan suggests. It begs the question, how much is an older person’s life worth? This might not be so bad if it was just the cruel view of an unknown attorney, but sadly it is an opinion also echoed by newcasters, social commentators, and politicians, such as Glenn Beck, Brit Hume, Dennis Prager and Texas Lt Governor, Dan Patrick. It is also the dilemma President Donald Trump seems strangely vexed by. He alternates between talking up the economy and telling Americans they should keep going to work (or that they will be back at work by Easter, then June) and trying to protect the most vulnerable from the virus. I get that it’s a difficult thing

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Coronavirus is freaking my intellectually disabled sister out

Coronavirus is freaking my intellectually disabled sister out

I have a 60-year-old sister named Joanne. She lives with an intellectual disability. It used to annoy me when people asked me what Jo’s “mental age” was. It’s not as simple as saying she’s like a six-year-old or an eight-year-old. She lives in a group home near me, catches public transport, works at a social firm (what used to be called a “sheltered workshop”), uses a cell phone and mucks around on the internet, all things adults do. But she also likes playing with dolls, coloring books, and she has a vivid fantasy life. I pick her up most Saturdays. We have coffee and she updates me on her “babies”, Chloe and Susie. I try to show genuine interest in her dolls’ endless progress through babyhood, which includes vaccinations, sleepless nights, and teething. Sometimes I feel like Lars’ brother in that film, Lars and the Real Girl. I even go to thrift stores with her to shop for baby clothes for her dolls. You might struggle to imagine me holding up teeny jumpsuits to see if they’re stained or fraying, but, well, I do. Joanne is easily thrown when her schedule or her environment changes. She already feels powerless and can become highly anxious with new challenges. She reports to me on criminal activity she’s seen on the news. She

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Love in the time of COVID-19

Love in the time of COVID-19

In his novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, Colombian Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez tells the story of the complicated marriage of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his wife Fermina. Urbino is a passionless man, a medical scientist, devoted to order and progress, committed to the eradication of cholera. Before their marriage, Fermina was involved in an ardent affair with the fiery Florentino, who despite her decision to marry Urbino, declares his undying love for her and pledges to remain faithful to her no matter what. Fermina nonetheless commits herself to her marriage, growing old with Urbino, while Florintina remains a regular presence in their lives. Throughout the novel, Fermina is caught between the two men, one clinical and methodical, the other impassioned and promiscuous. One of the main themes in García Márquez’s novel is the idea that lovesickness is just that, a sickness. And Florintino suffers from it as he would a disease like cholera. At times, his love for Fermina literally makes him ill. Urbino’s obsession with the eradication of cholera takes on the symbolic meaning of him wanting to rid Fermina’s life of passion. In both Spanish (the original language of the novel) and English, the term choleric describes a fiery, passionate person, so it’s clear that Urbino believes Fermina would be happier and more

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