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Twitter and the rumour mill

Last December I forwarded a story via Twitter from a spoof news website. The story claimed that a particular infant school was putting on an atheist nativity play. Despite my note in the original tweet that this was a spoof story – the little blue bird flew away with it and scattered outrage wherever it went. Within an hour or two there were angry tweets coming in and the story was posting on Facebook. Social media makes it so easy not only to get hold of the wrong end of the stick – but the wrong stick entirely. Not only that – but once the little blue bird has it in his beak, he may fly off with it anywhere.

Yesterday I fell prey to exactly the same thing myself. Early yesterday morning I saw tweeted headlines that prayer was being banned on the streets of Paris. By the time I reached a lunchtime prayer meeting I was saying to others that I was so outraged I felt like gathering the Twitterati for a quick Eurostar prayer trip to Paris. One person pointed out, with a twinkle in his eye, that I only wanted to do it because I thought that it was outlawed! Maybe he had a point.

This morning, though, with a little more time and a little less haste, I have read the story properly. The nub of the story is this: Claude Gueant, of the French Interior Ministry, has said that : ‘praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism’.  The subtext to this is that Muslims participating in Friday prayers in the French capital will be required to pray indoors in a mosque or other enclosed space, rather than spilling out onto the street.

This is still a story about secularism squashing the expression of religious faith.  It is still a story about the infringement of individual civil liberties. It is very definitely a story which deserves airing. However, it is not the story I thought it was and I stand (sit) corrected.

The moral of the story is this: before you allow the little blue bird to ruffle your feathers too much – read the story first!


A blog-post in the wrong place?

You remember the story- I’m sure? You’ll remember King David – the villain of the piece. You’ll remember Bathsheba – a victim of the king. You’ll remember her husband, too – poor loyal Uriah. Do you remember Joab, though? Joab was the commander of King David’s army – and charged with the unpleasant task of clearing up David’s mess. In order to keep his hands clean, he was to send Uriah to the thickest part of the battle, and then withdraw all the support troops from around him – so that he could die by the hands of the enemy. In this way, Uriah was gone, and David’s problem was no more.

At different times during my life I have felt as if I am wearing Joab’s clothing. On those occasions when I have commissioned personnel for mission service overseas and promised to pray for them, I occasionally slip into Joab-mode as the months roll by. In other words, I have willingly sent them into battle, but allowed myself to get distracted by other things – and I leave them to fight on alone without the support of concerted prayer.

Later today I shall meet with a group of energetic, creative, motivated people who are serving the Church of Jesus Christ in digital space. They are visiting places and contacting people across the virtual map who are far from any church. They are intersecting with culture in myriad ways which have not hitherto been possible.  This is cause for celebration.

My question, however, is whether they occasionally turn into Uriah and the rest of the church occasionally slips into Joab’s role? Do we dispatch them into these digital spaces and then simply leave them to get on with it? Any missionary who was contacting over 1000 people in a week would probably feature in some sort of church prayer letter – but do these ‘digital disciples’ get that kind of support?

Of course, the people reading this are probably the wrong ones to ask. The chances are that if you are on this page then you also share some degree of conviction about the value of an online Christian presence. Could you spread it further, though? Could you get this article, or a version of it, into some printed medium in your church?

Could we do something to gather the troops around all those Uriah Tweeps out there, I wonder?

Dear God, on behalf  of preachers I pray…

May you be weak kneed – so that you feel the inclination often to bend them

May you be short-sighted – so that you neither fall in love with your own reflection nor take fright at the expressions of those who listen to you

May you be flat-footed – that you might stand your ground firmly on the Word which God has given you

May you be forgetful – that you might forget those things which would crowd in and occupy your mind just at the moment when you preach

May you be hard of hearing – so that you are not readily influenced by mere noise, but that you listen hard to hear God’s quiet voice

May you be as holey as you are holy – with lots of little perforations where the world can seep in and the Spirit can leach out.



Below is one of my all-time favourite paintings.  It doesn’t have the ethereal beauty of a Monet or the moody intensity of a Turner. It lacks the brush work of a Rembrandt or the light and shade of a Vermeer. Not only that , but its title ‘clairvoyance‘ is enough to put many preachers off – let alone the fact that much of Magritte’s other work shows a preoccupation with sexuality to make your toes curl!

Despite all of that, this painting inspires me. As I mentioned earlier, I love to paint when I preach, and I want to paint like the man in the picture.  Where I see sinners, God sees potential saints. Where I see brokenness, God sees restoration. Where I see failure, God sees the potential for success.  In other words God has clairvoyance – or clear-seeing,and I’m longing to have some of it myself in 2011.

Picture: flickr

Preaching that rings true

I was struck as I was praying this morning by the difference between the dull “thunk” of striking a block of metal and the clear ring of striking that metal when it has been molten, poured, cast,tuned and hung as a bell.  Before God can get a true note out of the preacher there is a major process of change, tuning and clarifying which has to go on. In the days of traditional bell manufacture a higher note was achieved by a craftsman shaving away metal from the  lower rim of the bell. To get a lower note he had to get right up inside and shave some of the metal from the bell’s inner surface.

In the Orthodox church the dedication of a new bell is a solemn moment in the church’s life.  As I head out like others to preach today, I leave you with these words from a Russian consecration service for a new bell:

That He will bless this bell to the glory of His holy name with His heavenly blessing, let us pray to the Lord.

That He will grant it the grace that all who hear its sound, whether by day or by night, shall be roused to the glorification of His holy name, let us pray to the Lord.

That by the voice of its ringing all destructive winds, storms, thunder and lightning, and all harmful weather and destructive things of the air may be appeased, calmed and cease to be, let us pray to the Lord.

That it may drive away every power, craft and slander of invisible enemies from all His own faithful people who shall have heard the voice of its ringing, and arouse them to the observance of His commandments, let us pray to the Lord.

That Thy faithful servants, having heard the voice of its peal, may be strengthened in piety and faith, and with courage, may oppose all the slanders of the devil, and overcome them by prayer and by the everlasting glorification of Thee, the True God.

May it be so.

Richard Littledale

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