Here comes the sun

Happy Easter!

Well, if Jesus was really God, he wasn’t exactly going to stay dead, was he? If restoring, healing, renewing and, well, conquering death, is what God most enjoys doing, raising Jesus from the dead also makes perfect sense.

But how did it happen? How can God and Jesus be the same and yet distinct enough for one to raise the other from the dead? Did Jesus fold the grave clothes or get an angel housekeeper to do it for him? And most importantly of all, was it really sunny on the day it all happened?

We don’t know any of this. The thing is, if God was small enough for his created human beings to fully get their heads around, he wouldn’t be God at all. All we can do is trust him.

Even when it’s raining.

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The day in between

Holy Saturday. Possibly the weirdest day in the church calendar.

It’s not Good Friday, with its gruesome horror, justice and politics, earthquakes and thunderstorms, powerful love and ultimate sacrifice: the world-shattering story of God, as an innocent man, dying for the sins of his people so they could have new life.

But it isn’t Easter either. That begins tomorrow, and I won’t spoil the surprise just yet.

Holy Saturday is the day in between. A day when not a lot happened. A day of getting on with life, amid confusion and bewilderment and questions. A day when Jesus was just dead. A day when God was just silent. A day when evil seemed to have won, when hope seemed lost, and when no one could quite see what God was doing in it all.

A day, in short, like many days we experience now.

If you’ve ever seen a tragedy unfold but felt powerless to do anything about it, and a little guilty about carrying on with life afterwards, Holy Saturday is for you.

If you’ve prayed and prayed for someone and they still fell ill or died, and you wonder whether God was listening at all, Holy Saturday is for you.

If you look at the state of the world and find it hard to believe there really is a God of love, Holy Saturday is for you.

If your journey of faith is sometimes painful, frustrating, unclear or even mundane, and seems to continue by sheer determination alone, Holy Saturday is for you.

Holy Saturday is a day when God would like to put his arms around you and say, “Even though you can’t understand yet why all this is going on, trust me: I will always love you.”

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Christmas isn’t Christmas

Much of what we think we know about Christmas is fiction. Try as you might, you won’t find any of the following in the Bible: singing angels, an innkeeper, Mary riding a donkey, kings with gifts, a silent contented baby, an illuminated manger or even a stable. What you will find is a story of awkwardness and discomfort, of social suicide and making the best of what little they had – but one which is shot through with gratefulness and a glimpse of what God really considers important and glorious. Now that is something really worth meditating on and thanking him for. Happy Christmas!

What? I’m a day late? Really? Not according to the official Church calendar, I’m not. Christmas is 12 days long, and ends when Epiphany begins on 6 January. The whole idea of festivals being barely a day in length is really quite a modern one, birthed, no doubt, of our incessant drive to speed up our lives and cram more in. In most of history up to Jesus’ day and beyond, guests would rarely come round for just one meal, weddings would last a week or more and if they had celebrated Christmas (which they didn’t until Constantine in AD 300 of course) they would certainly not have confined it to a frantic morning of present-opening and a brief church service. Even if it is preceded by the most drawn-out shopping and partying period ever in the name of ‘preparation’!

I for one love the idea, once the frantic present buying part is over, of having a relaxed 12-day period of thanksgiving of one of the most significant events in history. After all, Christmas is about when God joined us, in arguably the biggest act of love and vulnerability we have ever witnessed. I’m going to keep celebrating and enjoying it until early January at least, and frankly even after that it’s worth remembering from time to time.

Happy Christmas, one and all!

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Open our eyes, Lord

I have to confess I do giggle when I see people contradicting themselves without realising. It seems to happen quite a lot in church. Here, though, I know perfectly well what they really mean, and would often do well to close my own physical eyes in order to open my spiritual ones too.

So, I humbly suggest, would St. Paul’s.

Can they not see how ridiculous it is to close their doors when the protesters are hardly blocking the entrance? Can they really picture a Jesus who would take legal action to forcibly remove people because they were a bit unsightly or inconvenient? Can they not see how painfully ironic it is to trumpet their self-inflicted losses of £20,000 a day at the hands of a group whose very aim it is to expose that sort of capitalist mentality? Have they not noticed that this protest on their doorstep is an opportunity to engage with exactly the sort of people the Church should be upholding, by talking with them, working with them, helping to make their voice more effective?

Quite. But St. Paul’s are not the only ones with their eyes shut. Does this tent festival on the pavement really think that big business will change its ways because a group of people held up placards for a few weeks outside a church? That’s not the way business leaders think. It’s not the language they understand. The Fairtrade movement became massive and mainstream not because it appealed to managers’ guilty consciences, but because it formed and presented them with a solid business case for doing the right thing. People walked into boardrooms across the country with suits on, armed with facts, figures and strategies to prove that treating workers well would ultimately benefit business. Fairtrade spoke the CEOs’ language, and so it was heard. Take another example: the climate change movement who have been unsuccessfully hugging trees for decades finally gained ground in the last 10 years or so by showing how our actions really are affecting us all — and when they started speaking our language, we started to listen.

Jesus did the same thing with the religious leaders of his day when he saw how their laws were oppressing people instead of helping them worship God. He taught in their synagogues and used their own debating style. He told stories in terms both the people and the leaders could instantly relate to. He didn’t just tell them they were wrong; he spelled out the alternative, using both powerful stories and his own life to prove that it really worked, to show that it was a truer way to live and worship than their legalism. They didn’t like what he said, but at least they got it.

If we believe capitalism is doomed, we need to build and present a case for why it will fail, what the credible alternative is, and why it is in all our interests to change. We need to do that in the language of business, and the language of politicians. Only then do we stand a chance of succeeding.

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Guide to Facebook: Change

Here is this week’s ‘Guide to Facebook’ cartoon: part of a series that so far contains two drawings, two months apart.

Facebook, for the uninitiated, is a free social networking service. Users flocked to it as it became apparent just how good it was at connecting friends, how easy it was to share photos, how well presented the interface was compared to such awful rivals as MySpace, and how unintrusively and neatly advertising was inserted without detracting from the experience.

Then the creators of Facebook made a big mistake. They decided that the site shouldn’t just stay the same for ten years, but should actually improve. First they introduced the News Feed, which caused a storm of protest because it brought together already-shared content in a convenient way, which of course was a silly idea. Next came the ability to post photos as well as just text, and then the “Like” button, which everybody still hates to this day, the “Comment” feature, which frankly no one uses, and a move up to a wider layout. Why on earth they bothered to expand from the old 640-pixel width is beyond me, since most people today still use tiny goldfish-bowl-shaped monitors anyway. And then they had the gall to put photos of users on those users’ own profile pages. Each of these changes created entire protest movements with almost as much passion as the opposition to the Iraq war.

Latest in this flurry of outrageous improvements, of course, is the News Feed, where you now have more control than ever over what you want to see and what you don’t, where Facebook now learns from the user over time what they consider important, and where at last you can actually share different levels of things with different types of friend.

Stupid, isn’t it? Even more ridiculous is the way Facebook had the cheek to actually pop up little boxes explaining each change, with the reasoning behind it and help to use it, the first time the user encountered it. Disgusting.

Bring back the Facebook of 2004. We all liked it back then. If they are not careful, I will take my hard-earned cash elsewhere. Oh, wait.

Ah, nostalgia. It’s not what it used to be.

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