Thursday, October 19, 2006


Someone asked me today if blasphemy is an unforgivable sin.
And I wondered “What is blasphemy?” I remembered a moment as a 7 year old when I heard a boy in my class use a word with such emotional expression that I immediately wanted to say it to. It was in Afrikaans and sounded like “Gghhortt”. I have since heard “God” said with many other inflections. But never as guttural and expressive as then. But when I tried it on my teacher she let rip at me. Something in the Ten Commandments about ‘taking the name of the Lord in vain”. And I have carried this vague guilt about saying God’s name ever since. And have tried my best not to insult God again. But was this ‘blasphemy?’

So I looked up the meaning of the word. Blasphemy : it is a combination of two Greek words: blaptein, "to injure", and pheme, "reputation". And it is mostly used in connection with that which is holy. So blasphemy is to injure the reputation of God.

I do not believe that the Creator is in any way perturbed when someone uses the word “God” or “Jesus Christ” as an expletive. While this certainly shows lazy linguistic skill, it cannot dent the ego of God. It can, of course, be offensive to someone who respects God.

Similarly I do not believe that the Creator needs us to defend God’s honour. God is perfectly capable of self-defence. So when Salman Rashdie, or Dan Brown, offer ideas that are uncomfortable, they make people unhappy. But God is not perturbed by human opinions.

But I do see blasphemy:

* I see blasphemy in those who go to Church on Sunday, and then on Monday seek access to the world’s oil reserves through bullying, threats, and war.
* I see blasphemy in those who pray for God’s blessing before unleashing bombs that kill innocent people.
* I see blasphemy in people who use the name of Jesus to insult and denigrate those who are lesbian or homosexual.

And these are sins that will be hard to forgive. Because they claim to be done in the name of God. And as such they injure the reputation of God.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Fear of Friday the 13th is a pervasive superstition..This is the day that intersects both the unlucky number 13, and the unlucky day of Friday – a double whammy.

Some tell of 13 being the number who sat down for the last (unhappy) supper with Jesus. But there are also much older stories of people being unable to count beyond 12 (ten fingers and two feet). Any number beyond this was the fearful unknown number full of vague and unimaginable possibilities - and therefore a number to be avoided by any peace-loving person.

As for Friday: Scandinavian mythology marks this as the day of Freyja, and as such was associated with the worship of Love. Fish was offered to this goddess, and love was made on Freyja day. As with many other customs "adopted" by Christians missionaries, ‘Freyja day’ is no different. Fish was accepted as the correct Friday diet. But the worship of Love on the Friday of each week was frowned on by the Church, who believed that mourning was the only appropriate response to the crucifiction day of Jesus. So what began as a celebration of love became an unhappy day instead. 'And on a Friday fil al this meschaunce,' wrote Chaucer in 'The Nun's Priest's Tale'.

Which is all bullshit as far as I am concerned. Because today is my birthday. I was born on October the 13th, and so far in my life I have experienced eight Friday 13th birthday celebrations. And they have all been very happy events. Today has been no exception. I had a very contended breakfast with my wife Jenny. I had an amicable lunch with my good friend Alex. I have had many, many happy SMS greetings and phone calls from friends. And I had a great supper at home with my family.

Of unlucky Friday 13th? Dicken’s Scrooge would have said “Bah. Humbug.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Not a Church-goer

Yesterday I buried a good man. He had lived for 80 years, and died very suddenly of leukaemia. Here was someone who had started his own company and provided employment for many people in the garment-knitting industry. Someone who participated in Rotary for 35 years, organising major fund-raising events for scholarships for deserving children – for which he received the Paul Harris Award. Here is someone who gained his pilot’s licence so that he could volunteer to fly mercy missions for Red Cross. A man who is remembered by his children as one who paid attention to their lives and encouraged their dreams. His granddaughter spoke at the funeral of a Grandfather who taught her fishing, and gave advice on boyfriends and other important 12 year-old issues.

He walked on the mountains every Sunday morning. Sometimes instead of the mountains he would go to sea in his boat, or go into rough terrain in his 4X4 Pajero. This was a real man’s man, who gathered other men around him and inspired them to live life more fully. There were many, many men in church, attesting to this fact.

This man did not go to church. His wife did. And she asked if I would be willing to lead the funeral service. And I heard her apologetic tone that he had “not been a churchgoer.” As if not going to church was some shameful thing!

So here’s the thing: going to church does not qualify a person for anything. We are not better for being a church-goer; we are not wiser, or happier, or more loved by God. In fact I have met some of the most bigoted, spiteful, hateful, pompous people in church. And I know some of the most gentle, generous, compassionate people who have nothing to do with any church.

You see – I believe that God does not keep a register of “Sunday’s absent” from church. There is no heavenly reward for the number of hours given to church. Church is a human invention that meets a human need. And if it meets your need – then fine. But please do not feel guilty for not being a “church-goer”. What really counts is whether we have led lives that are Christ-like: Are we compassionate? Do we strive for justice? And do we show mercy?

Personally I believe that by collecting Christ-followers around me I will find courage when I am weak, and a place of accountability when I am arrogant. But the bureaucracy of organised religion, and the strutting of peacocks in clerical garb, and the blatant manipulation of people’s fears in order to keep bums on seats have nothing to do with Jesus. This is about the human attempt at control. And I want nothing to do with it.

So please bring the unchurched to be buried – and to be married, and encouraged, and to be blessed. I do not care if you are a member of a church or not.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Bible as Sacred Myth

I believe the Bible to be myth… sacred myth. Before you get the wrong idea, read the following extract from Karen Armstrong’s “A Short History of Myth" (Edinburgh; Canongate Books 2005)

Today the word ‘myth’ is often used to describe something that is simply not true. A politician accused of a peccadillo will say that it is a myth, that it never happened. When we hear of gods walking the earth, of dead men striding out of tombs, or of seas miraculously parting to let a favoured people escape from their enemies, we dismiss these stories as incredible and demonstrably untrue. Since the eighteenth century, we have developed a scientific view of history; we are concerned above all with what actually happened. But in the pre-modern world, when people wrote about the past they were more concerned with what an event had meant. A myth was an event which, in some sense, had happened once, but which also happened all the time…mythology is an art form which points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence….a myth, therefore is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information….if it forces us to change our minds and hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a valid myth.

I am totally frustrated with people who want to reduce the Bible to factual information. And then they try to ‘prove’ selected texts as historical fact. Much of the Bible was never written as fact. It was written as myth. It was intended to transform the lives of those who encountered its stories. I absolutely believe the Bible – as the sacred myths that guide my life. And in choosing to believe, I have found challenge, transformation, and new hope.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Francesco di Bernardone 1182 - 1228

He is one of the heroes of my faith. A man who voluntarily chose to challenge the prevailing culture of the day, and has left an indelible mark on history. Today is the feast day of Francis of Assisi, who was instrumental in founding the monastic Orders of the Poor Clares and the Friars Minor.

He gathered a group of people around him who were committed to a life of apostolic poverty. This meant letting go of the need for possessions, choosing to share the gospel of Jesus from the perspective of the poor, and emphasising the love of God for all of creation. Everyone was a brother/sister, and all of creation was to be treasured. Francis challenged his culture’s obsession with clothing as a sign of status, and possessions as a sign of achievement. And Francis brought a compassion for the poor, the forgotten and the ignored.

Francis had his blindnesses: he was anti-Muslim and pro-Crusades. In 1219 he helped the Crusaders capture Muslim-held Damietta in the Holy land. The man who created the great prayer for peace was unable to see his part in creating violence! What makes him my hero is this blend of both greatness and fallibility. Greatness is not about being perfect. Greatness is the ability to keep the vision alive – despite the personal flaws.

A man like Francis gives me hope that I might be able to hold to a Godly vision despite my personal flaws. Please pray for me.