Rob Bell’s hell and the seriousness of life

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

H/T Banksy. Major caveat – I haven’t yet read the book, so this could be completely off-base, and I reserve the right to amend it if it needs to be!

First point: I became an atheist at the age of about 14 after a long conversation with a school friend about Gandhi, and whether he was going to hell or not. So I understand and accept the broad point being made, that our understandings of hell are often sub-Christian at best. However…

There is a way of understanding the heaven and hell conundrum called ‘universalism’, by which is meant the idea that, in the end, nobody escapes salvation. It was first proposed – I believe – by Origen in the second century. It was also fairly swiftly condemned as heretical – and I think it is right that universalism is condemned as heretical.

A Wittgenstein quote on the subject (from memory): “Of course it was condemned as heresy. If what we do now makes no difference in the end then all the seriousness of life is done away with.” The seriousness of life – the idea that what we do makes a difference, for good or for evil. Without that dimension to life – what Wittgenstein called ‘depth’ in many other places – then something essential to our humanity is lost – after all, if nothing that we do makes any difference, then what is the point of all this painful drama?

My worry about universalism is that it is a form of political correctness applied to God – heaven is a multicultural wonderland where everyone is righteously right-on.

I hope Bell isn’t going to come out as a universalist. I’ve rather liked his stuff hitherto.

For what it’s worth, some of the best stuff I’ve read about hell in recent years has come from the wonderful writings of James Alison, and this sums it up:

“The commonly held understanding of hell remains trapped within the apocalyptic imagination, that is, it is the result of a violent separation between the good and the evil worked by a vengeful god. It seems to me that if hell is understood thus, we have quite simply not understood the Christian faith…”

There is no wrath in God…

Blessing a processional cross

Something I had to do at short notice on Sunday, and this was what I scribbled on the back of the envelope:

Holy Father,
it is through his death on the cross that your Son leads us into life;
we ask you to bless this cross (+) that we who lift it high and follow it
may be inspired and encouraged by his example
and enabled by grace to walk in his footsteps;
this we ask, in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen

Inception, and other film notes

Watched Inception again last night, and enjoyed it, but… here are some good articles about it:
17 criticisms of Inception
A Q&A with Nolan
A comparison with Tarkovsky’s Solaris

This month I’ve also watched:
Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back to back – just because I could 🙂
Alpha Dog – a banal film about the banality of evil, 3/5
The Illusionist – well put together 3/5
Laurel Canyon – a little bit of ‘so what?’ 3/5
The Way of the Dragon – more Bruce Lee nostalgia 3/5
Hot-tub Time Machine – funny 4/5
Primer – too intellectual for my tastes 3/5
Dog Soldiers – Brilliant! 5/5
The Killer Inside Me – misogynistic twaddle 3/5
True Grit (original) – John Wayne nostalgia! 4/5
From Paris with Love – excellent chemistry between two leads; plot was meretricious twaddle 3/5
Jonah Hex – garbage 2.5/5
The Switch – amusing, twee, could have been a much more adventurous and spiky film 3/5
No Impact Man – see this which prompted me to watch it 3/5 (as a film)
The Ghost – very good, although, having read the book, I knew what was coming 4/5


Spot the seagull.

Some random links:
The Volkswagen that gets 313mpg
A Pope’s words on careerism in women
“Why you’re not married”
A tool for transition
Where orthodoxy is optional, it will soon become forbidden
Why isn’t Wall Street in jail?
Why conservatives can love climate action
How can you defend Israel?
Galileo and the scientific pose of the left
The myths of animism and religion have retreated, only to resurface in science
An interesting retrospective on ‘Collateral’
What does the Arab world do when its water runs out?
The blogosphere – a good place to hide

Some brief guidance for intercessors

With a large tip of the hat to Doug, whose ‘Leading Common Worship Intercessions’ was invaluable.

Firstly, my thanks to you for agreeing to take on this ministry. Prayer is probably the most important element of Christian life as it is the foundation for everything else that we do, and intercessions – which are all about enabling people to pray – are a central element of our gathered worship. So herewith some hints and tips for how to lead intercessions.

Most important, expanding on the above because it is worth emphasising, is this: intercessions are about leading people in prayer, not praying in front of other people. The intercessor must therefore always have in mind the effect that what they say will have on people who are engaged in addressing themselves to God. Anything which distracts the person praying from that process is therefore a mistake. Here are some examples:

  • providing new information, or even giving too much information at all! The intercessions are not the notices, nor are they a television news bulletin;
  • nor are the intercessions a sermon, a place to engage in argument, or even a place to give views – praying for the situation in the Middle East is fine, praying for the Israelis (or Palestinians) to stop being such evil people – this is not fine;
  • if you are quoting a prayer by a famous saint, you don’t need to give acknowledgements – simply say the prayer in the way that it was intended;
  • being too long or too wordy, so that the people praying end up thinking about the intercessor rather than about God – keep things as simple as possible. As a general rule ten seconds of silence is more effective than a hundred words;
  • using a complex response which people find difficult to join in with.

So if these are things to avoid, what are the things to do? Firstly, remember that we do not know how to pray, but the Spirit prays through us – in other words, our task is to join in with something that is already going on, that has been going on for thousands of years. When we pray we are jumping into a stream that is already flowing, we don’t need to initiate the process. When we pray we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

If you are due to lead the intercessions, take some time to look at the readings set for the day, most especially the gospel lesson, and see if you are inspired to touch on particular themes (and trust your inspiration). Look at the prayer list in the black folder; I would not recommend reading out all the names left on the cross in the porch, but reading out all the names in our community who need praying for (the second list) is good. Catch the news headlines from the day before to see if there are any topical worldly issues that people may wish to bring before God.

Classic patterns (full texts available from Sam)
A five-fold pattern: Church, world, local community, the sick, the dead.
A three-fold pattern: world, church, individuals.
(These are addressed to God)
Bidding prayers (eg 9 Lessons, Good Friday) – these are addressed to the congregation, who pray in the silence and response.
Patterns can be used as a platform from which to jump off creatively, eg to include sung responses.

Suggested reading:
Leading Common Worship Intercessions, Doug Chaplin
Leading Intercessions, Raymond Chapman

A prayer before driving

Holy Father,
I place myself into your hands as I begin this journey;
I ask that your Spirit might help me maintain a trust and serenity throughout my journey so that, when I arrive, I might be a source of peace and good will to those whom I meet;
I ask you to help me hold in mind all the many things that I have no control over, especially how long it will take me to reach my destination;
most of all, I ask that you will keep me [and those with me] safe, and that I cause no suffering to those who share the road with me;
This I ask, in the name of Christ my Lord. Amen.

(Something I’ve been thinking about since preaching this sermon on Sunday, and since all my family have just gone away on a long journey!)

Another music meme…

This one originates with the artsy honker, and I think I was tagged on Facebook but I’m not sure…

1.What is your favourite piece of music for congregational singing? Why?
As the question is about music, and not just hymns, I should confess a strong fondness for Personent Hodie, which has several different words available (“God is love, his the care…”, “Long ago, prophets knew…”, “When our God came to earth…”). I first came across it (that I can recall) at a friend’s wedding, and I find it marvellously stimulating and uplifting. I think the WM organist is getting a bit fed up of playing it though ;o)

2.What is your favourite piece of music for performance by a group of specialist musicians within a liturgical context? This might be a worship band or a cathedral choir or just a very snazzy organist or something else entirely, but the point is that it is not congregational singing and it is live music in liturgy.

3.What is your favourite piece of music which makes you think about God to listen to outside of your place of worship? Why? This could be secular music.

4.What is one thing you like about the music at your usual place of worship? Have you told the musicians about this lately?