Monday, January 25, 2010

Heroes Series 1

I got this for Christmas, and have had quite a lot of fun over the last few weeks watching it. It starts out as a sci-fi epic drama series about people who discover they have superpowers and try to stop a nuclear explosion in New York while avoiding the evil super-powerful series killer Sylar. Lots of end of episode sudden twists and cliffhangers, good fun if very very dark at times - it's probably gorier than Predator, for example.

BUT... there's always the slight danger of heading off into the whole soap opera about superheroes trying to live normal lives and solve everyday problems thing. As far as I can tell from watching episodes from later series, that's where it ended up, but it's only there as a slight weakness in series 1. I tend to like superhero films and so on - usually good escapist fun, but can't be doing with soaps. There are a few episodes in series 1 which seem to be setting that sort of thing up.

So great fun, but I don't think I'd go for series 2, 3 or 4, all of which have had much lower viewing figures than series 1. The ending of series 1 is fairly unsatisfactory and doesn't really fit with the rest of the series. Here is how series 1 should have ended for a more satisfactory conclusion IMHO:

Sylar makes another attempt on Claire, but is thwarted by Mrs Petrelli (who must have some kind of superpower). Hiro (who can time travel and teleport) uses his ability to create a squad of 6 or so Hiros, who then kill Sylar without any of the Hiros dying. And they kill him properly - decapitation or something, but not before Sylar has killed Mrs Petrelli. Peter Petrelli is filled with grief and anger, and starts exploding. Meanwhile, Hiro, DL and Nathan use their and Hiro's abilities to try to evacuate people from the blast area. Claire tries to save Peter, but only succeeds in sedating him after he has already done enough damage to fulfil the paintings. The series ends with someone coming across Sylar's head, only to find it has been cut open and his brain taken.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Women in the Early Church

One of the key questions in the whole men/women in leadership debate is the role of women in the early church. Here's a good summary of the role of women in hosting churches in Acts. I suspect if I chased this by examining the role of synagogue hosts and so on, it might come to some interesting conclusions.

That is where they meet, the Upper Room, scene of the Last Supper, scene of the Resurrection appearances when the doors were shut, scene now of their waiting for the Spirit. Whose is it? The clue lies in Acts 12, where St. Peter, strangely freed from Herod's prison, knows at whose house they will be gathered for prayer. He knocks, startles the gate-girl Rhoda. It was "the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark"-- the young man who was to write the earliest of the gospels. The first meeting place of any Christian congregation was the home of a woman in Jerusalem.

Something of the sort happens everywhere. The church in Caesarea centres upon Philip the Evangelist. "Now this man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy." ... Joppa church depends on Tabitha, "a woman full of good works and almsdeeds which she did." Follow St. Paul about the Mediterranean. He crosses to Europe because he dreams of a man from Macedonia who cries, "Come over and help us." But when he lands at Philippi it is not a man, but a woman. "Lydia was baptized and her household"--his first convert in Europe, a woman.

Everywhere women are the most notable of the converts, often the only ones who believe. In Thessalonica there are "of the chief women not a few;" Beroea, "Greek women of honourable estate;" Athens, only two names, one of them, Damaris, a woman. At Corinth Priscilla and Aquila come into the story, the pair always mentioned together, and four times out of the six with the wife's name first, a thing undreamed of in the first century. Why? Because she counted for more in church affairs--hostess of the church in her houses in Corinth, Ephesus and Rome, chief instructress of Apollos the missionary, intimate of the greatest missionary of all, St. Paul. Six times in the Epistles greetings are sent to a house-church, and in five cases the church is linked with a woman's name.

John Foster (1898-1973), Five Minutes a Saint, Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963, p. 39

Hat tip to CQOD

Sunday, January 17, 2010

School of Theology 1

As quite a few of you will know, yesterday I did the first in a series of Bible overviews, looking at the whole OT from the point of view of God's promise to Eve.

The MP3 audio can be downloaded from here, and the powerpoint from here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Psalm 27

I'm back to playing with Bible word art to give people something to look at during my sermons...

Here are some for Psalm 27v1 and 10.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Council of Jerusalem

I was asked a question today about the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. At the council, leaders of the early Church, including Peter, James, Paul and Barnabas, write a letter to Gentile converts commanding this:

The Holy Spirit and we have agreed not to put any other burden on you besides these necessary rules: eat no food that has been offered to idols; eat no blood; eat no animal that has been strangled; and keep yourselves from sexual immorality.
Acts 15:28-29

How does this work for Christians? This is my answer.

The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 was sparked by the situation in Antioch in Acts 15:1-2 (which probably also sparked Paul to write Galatians before going to the council).

Antioch was the first largely Gentile church, but it was also largely Jewish. Before then, Christianity had been almost entirely Jewish. But Antioch was a big city, and the new church there was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles as full and equal members. That caused two big questions.

The first one was the question of whether Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to be Christians. Paul clearly argues not in Galatians.

But the other one was that Jews who hung out with and specifically ate with Gentiles ended up becoming less Jewish. Jews had strict food laws; Gentiles didn't; Jews weren't even meant to eat with Gentiles.

Word of that probably got to Jerusalem, and the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem them came under a lot of pressure from other Jews because Christianity was seen to mean becoming less Jewish. But Gentiles were also much more promiscuous than Jews, and people started worrying that the Gentile Christians in Antioch were being sexually immoral, which caused even more problems for the Christians in Jerusalem.

So some Jews from Jerusalem (without the permission of the church leaders Acts 15:24) went to Antioch and tried to solve the problem. They told Gentile Christians that they needed to be circumcised and become Jewish. And they told Jewish Christians that they should stop eating with Gentiles. Paul gets very angry at both of those in Galatians, because they end up being salvation issues.

The Council of Jerusalem solves it differently. They expect the Jews and Gentiles to keep on eating together, and they don't tell the Gentiles to become Jewish. But what they do is they ask all the Christians in Antioch - both Gentiles and Jews to keep some of the basic Jewish food laws. That means the Jewish Christians keep a bit more of their Jewish identity, so it doesn't bother the Jerusalem Jews as much. The Council also tells them to avoid sexual immorality, just to make extra sure and so that it's clear to everyone that whatever is going on in Antioch, if it is getting Jews into eating blood and sexual immorality, it's nothing to do with the Christians in Jerusalem.

It's not compromising on any salvation issue, but it's asking the Gentile Christians in Antioch to hold back on their freedom a bit for the sake of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

But there's also the tension of Jews in full communion with Gentiles starting to abandon their Jewishness (e.g. eating with Gentiles, even eating non-Kosher food). It makes sense that that could cause Christians in Jerusalem to face accusations of not being really Jewish, and then start to get persecuted. In that situation, it makes perfect sense that you'd get some Christians from Jerusalem going to Antioch to tell the Gentiles to get circumcised and the Jews to stop eating with them. That seems overwhelmingly the most likely background for Galatians. So what does it mean for the Council of Jerusalem? It means the command to abstain from blood and from sexual immorality is a compromise to try to keep the Jews in Jerusalem happier (and reduce the persecution) without compromising on salvation issues. The sexual immorality prohibition may well be addressing unfounded accusations from Jerusalem, and the prohibition from blood stopping the Jews in Antioch from becoming less Jewish, while still allowing them to maintain table fellowship with Gentiles. So it doesn't apply to Christians today in the same way. But it probably would if (for example) I was involved in a church consisting largely of Jewish background believers (or Muslim background believers or whatever) where there were a large number of non-believing Jews / Muslims in the general community. It's pretty similar to Paul in 1 Corinthians 9.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Chesterton - the way things are!

It is vain for bishops and pious bigwigs to discuss what dreadful things will happen if wild scepticism runs its course. It has run its course. It is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin. We have seen it end. It has no more questions to ask; it has questioned itself. You cannot call up any wilder vision than a city in which men ask themselves if they have any selves. You cannot fancy a more sceptical world than that in which men doubt if there is a world. It might certainly have reached its bankruptcy more quickly and cleanly if it had not been feebly hampered by the application of indefensible laws of blasphemy or by the absurd pretense that modern England is Christian. But it would have reached the bankruptcy anyhow.

GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1909), p.65-66

It's amazing reading Chesterton how so many of his comments on what the situation was like in his day are so pertinent to today. He's one of those people I'd probably class as modern-ish prophets, except he was writing 100 years ago.

Hat tip to CQOD.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

New Year is traditionally a time for making resolutions. Having absorbed just enough church management-speak to realise that it's a mixture of common sense and gobbledegook, I'm aiming to make my resolutions this year SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.

The problem with SMART objectives is that they don't have to be particularly ambitious. I know that some people use the A for Ambitious or the R for Rewarding rather than having both the A and R mean much the same thing, but that's not how I've come across it.

For example, this year I resolve to kick fewer than two dogs into the path of oncoming traffic. That's a SMART resolution, but it's not especially a useful one. And that's part of the problem with management culture in public service organisations. Anyway, I digress.

I have decided to make it my practice every year to read through Psalm 90 slowly on New Years' Day. This year it's especially poignant, as the minister who kept emphasising to me the importance of "numbering my days aright" is dying.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
saying, "Return to dust, you mortals."
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.

Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Relent, LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.

May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Psalm 90, TNIV