Sunday, October 09, 2011

I Know Him Very Well

This is a song I wrote some years ago and is on my album Beauty of Grace. I'd heard about Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of Christ' and how graphic it was. Some Christians strongly recommended seeing it as it brought the reality of the crucifixion to life. However, the more realistic something is the more you think you've experienced it first hand. But the Christian faith is about commitment not emotional attachment; more about faith than experience.

The Passion of Christ is a dramatisation of an event, produced to create an emotional response. In that, there is nothing wrong but you cannot say you know Jesus if you've never met him in person.

I've created a video on YouTube to illustrate the song.

I know it very well: the carpets, curtains, paper on the wall, the living room and hall. But I have never lived there, never been at all. I've seen it on TV and it seemed like home to me.

photo © francesco for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

I know her very well: her children's names, the things that make her laugh; the shadows of the past. But I have never met her now that you ask.

photo © Michael Jastremski for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

I read it on the train, I recognised the name.

photo © Filippo Lodi for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

I've seen so many places in my living room.

photo © Michael Jastremski for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

Know what a broken heart is from my Mills & Boon.

photo © Sarah Klockars-Clauser for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

I know him very well: his flowing hair, his eyes of powder blue, the people that he knew. You'll know his name is Jesus if you've seen the movie too.

photo © reynaldo f. tamayo for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

A shame he had to die. It really made me cry.

photo © MIROSLAV VAJDIĆ for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

Credits for images used in my music video I Know Him Very Well

© Chris Price 2004.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

It's Not Common Sense

What you Herd

Credit: Free photos from

Do you know why sweaty feet smell like cheese? It's the same bacteria producing the smell. Very often two things are quite different yet there is some commonality that links one with the other. We wonder how two things can be so different yet so similar at the same time but its not surprising when you consider that most of what we eat is made up of the same two elements, carbon and hydrogen. And if you appreciate that food is body fuel you won't be terribly surprised that petrol and diesel are also combinations of the same elements. We put carbohydrates in our bodies and hydrocarbons in our cars.

With this in mind you can understand that though people are quite different, one from another - in a given situation the majority of people may act in a very similar way. It has nothing to do with our similarities or differences but what we have in common; its what makes families sticky even when siblings are quite different to each other. Language is the glue (or commonality) that allows people to interact with each other without having to guess what the other person is trying to communicate. Your insurance premium is a case of commonality. If your premium is very similar to your neighbours it has little to do with you living next door - it's because they see you as a similar risk. Your profile may be completely different but to them you smell the same. It sometimes feels unfair but insurers are in the business of risk - you are not a person in their eyes but a potential risk.

This may sound like a very simple principle yet we often act as though it were not the case. When you say, "It wouldn't happen to me" you fail to recognise that its not your uniqueness that determines your fate but what you have in common with others. If you cross a busy road without looking for traffic you are as likely to get hit as the next person, not because of similar looks or personality but because of your common stupidity in the same situation. Its paradoxical that while young people rebel by being independent and different from their parents, they hang out with and want to be like their peers. One teenager may be quite different from another yet an older person sees only the commonality, which is mistaken for similarity. This is essentially the same prejudice as saying people of another race all look the same. Demographics may tell us that a particular ethnic group is most likely to commit a crime but its commonality that is the factor not ethnicity per se*.

A better understanding of this principle would adversely affect the self-help industry. If I may grind my axe a little, it would also reduce the sales of Christian 'miracle' books. The sales pitch goes something like this:

"My life was in a mess until I discovered this new approach. I put it into practice and it turned my life around. Forget everything you have learned and follow my plan. Read the testimonies of those who have followed this plan and seen dramatic effects. If it can work for me it can work for anybody."

They give you reams of stuff that seems to make sense and could potentially change your life for the better but leave the key principle for when you part company with your hard earned cash. It may well have changed their life and the lives of those who have given their testimony - the problem is the logic. They have followed the plan and it worked for them. The plan therefore has only one conclusion: success. The most successful people tend to have lives pitted with failures and if they were honest they would say it was their drive that got them there in the end. It was their commitment to completing the task that got them to the finishing line despite the pothole-ridden road they travelled. The truth is you could possibly follow a useless plan and still succeed. You can get from London to Brighton via Edinburgh but I wouldn't recommend it. Success is retrospective. You can't predict it but you can recognise it when you see it. True, there are principles that make success more likely but its never guaranteed.

My Father taught me an excellent principle for safe driving. He said that you should assume there was a potential hazard around every corner and over every ridge. You should therefore be ready to stop at any point. This is known as defensive driving. Its similar to Murphy's Law, which states that if anything can go wrong it will. Overarching this is the truth that if it has happened to anyone else it can happen to you. Yes you have unique talents and abilities; you may have an excellent strategy for earning your first million but unless you negotiate the potholes of commonality you're heading for potential disaster. It's not your unique talent that will get you there but your common sense.

*I am talking here about external factors such as racial discrimination within a police force where ethnicity is definitive but not causative

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Wrong Way Round

A critical look at the Full Gospel

I've just been listening to an address by Steve Jobs at Stanford University. He tells three stories, the last of which refers to death as a gift. He says that death clears out the old and makes way for the new, that to be reminded of death gives life more focus and immediacy. He makes good sense and in many respects I would agree with him except in one respect. Death is not a gift.

The shortest verse in the Bible is 'Jesus wept', a phrase abused by many who have never read the book. But even for those of us familiar with its context there is some confusion over its meaning. It comes in the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus and its often assumed that Jesus was sorrowful at the demise of his friend and sympathetic to the grief of Lazarus' sisters. However, seeing that Jesus was intending to raise Lazarus on that day its not likely he would be sorrowful. But the verse does indicate a strong emotion which some render as Jesus being angry.

Jesus found himself in a chaotic situation. Lazarus' sisters were mourning their brother, cut down in the prime of his life and were asking why Jesus had not come earlier when he would have been more use. Professional mourners were wailing and stirring up emotions of grief and sadness so that those, for whom the loss was poignant, could express their emotions and come to terms with the loss. That place stunk of death - no wonder Jesus was angry. In a few days time Jesus would be crucified and you can imagine him saying, 'Death, you can have me but you are not taking my friend'. Jesus came to defeat death and in Revelation we are told that death is finally thrown into the lake of fire. Death made Jesus burn with anger, it drew him to the cross and in him it met its match.

But this is not what I meant to say. Jobs was confronted with death when he discovered he had cancer (which has since killed him). At the time of this lecture he thought he'd beaten it but that, sadly, was not to be the case. Steve was obviously pleased that his cancer was operable but that wasn't the focus of his story - his focus was death and that within it there was hope. The hope of all Christians centres on death, the death and resurrection of our Lord and the demise of death itself. Lazarus died eventually, as did all those whom Jesus healed. But what's been eating away at me for several months is Christians' obsession with healing.

Over the last 200 years we've been introduced to a new gospel ('gospel' means 'good news') what has been coined the 'full gospel', the good news that Jesus came to give you healing and wholeness. But my recollection is that Jesus came to give us life and to live life more abundantly. These are not the same. Abundance doesn't require healing or wholeness but the realisation that however pain racked or guilt ridden we are, the kingdom of God is within us. You see salvation comes with good and bad news. The bad news is that you will suffer persecution and Jesus isn't going to rescue you from trouble or strife. The good news is that he will help you carry your burden and, when all things have been put under his feet, all sorrow and suffering, disease and discomfort will pass away.

Search on the Web for healing and wholeness and you will find countless self-help books and websites, holistic remedies and cures. You will also find a plethora of websites promoting Christian ministries of healing and wholeness, with stories of miraculous signs and wonders. They will tell you that God heals today just like Jesus did when he walked this earth - just like the Apostles did in the book of Acts. It's like visiting a carnival where the church has one of the stalls. So what makes the church stall different to all the others? The sad truth is, very little. I recently asked myself what difference it would make to my faith if Jesus were not God. I couldn't think of a good answer until I read Paul's letter to the Colossians and realised the Bible is like a stick of rock with Jesus written right down the middle. Break into it at any point and Jesus is there at the centre. The big difference isn't that Jesus' miracles are real and the rest are bogus or that emotional healing is more profound if you're a Christian. Many Christian healings are bogus and you don't have to look far to see screwed up Christians. The only real difference comes when Jesus is at the centre. It's all about him.

The greatest threat to road safety is speed. Our answer is to make cars safer to mitigate speed's effects but someone has said that what we could do with is a spike sticking out of the steering wheel. At least then we would have a healthy fear of our foe. For the Christian all roads lead to the cross. That's where Jesus defeated death, that's where we lay down our lives in the hope of the resurrection. For Steve Jobs it was death, not healing, that was the heart of his message. For him, facing death meant valuing life. For the Christian the cross is the gateway between death and life. In dying we live, in brokenness we find healing and in grief we find joy. Its not the other way round.