Wednesday, 29 June 2011

More on spiritual fitness – how does it happen?

I posted a couple of weeks ago about some sessions we're having on my course that are about Christian virtue, or developing Godly character. Personally, I think this is one of the key roles of every church; how does the church (meaning the entire group of people that comprise that community) encourage and enable its members to grow in Godliness? But can we plan for it, or do people just naturally become more virtuous if they are part of a healthy Christian community?

I don't think it does just happen naturally. Certainly, I think we could develop our Christian character a lot more with consciously-planned activities, materials and support systems. I'm with Dallas Willard (again...) on this one. In a passage from page 344 of The Divine Conspiracy noting the lack of intentional, planned discipleship in churches, he says this:
Imagine, if you can, discovering in your church newsletter or bulletin an announcement of a six-week seminar on how genuinely to bless someone who is spitting you... Or suppose the announced seminar was on how to live without purposely indulged lust or covetousness. Or on how to quit condemning the people around you. Or on how to be free of anger and all its complications.

Willard goes on to invite the reader to imagine a church sign that says 'We Teach All Who Seriously Commit Themselves to Jesus How to Do Everything He Said to Do'. Isn't that what our churches should be all about?

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A trip to Wimbledon

I went to Wimbledon on Wednesday! My friend Clare goes most years and I thought I'd go along as well this year, seeing as I quite like tennis and always enjoy going to live events. Usually it's music concerts or Southampton football games, though I really should go more often than I do. Must go see Saints a few times this season, seeing as we're in the Championship now... (/Total fair-weather fan)

Anyway, Wimbledon. Clare and I got to the back of the queue at around 11:30 and made it in to the complex itself at something like 12:30 and met up with a couple of Clare's friends. It was raining so the only tennis on offer was Venus Williams versus Kimiko Date-Krumm under the fancy new roof on Centre Court. We watched it for a bit while sitting on the grass on Henman Hill / Murray Mound / Robson Green (arf). Cracking game though, just a shame that we were all gradually getting rather wet. Here's a picture of that lovely roof in action, courtesy of the official Wimbledon website:

I did get to see some live tennis, once the weather cleared up at 3:30 or so. We made it in to Court 3 to see plucky young Brit Heather Watson come up just short against French baseliner, Mathilde Johansson. Through my not-at-all-biased eyes, Watson had clearly the better game but hurt her elbow early in the second set and really lost her rhythm. What a shame. Still, Watson (and also Laura Robson) could go far. Top 30 in the next year or two, perhaps...? And then we got re-sale tickets (if people have to leave early then they can hand in their tickets to be re-sold for £5) for Centre Court and saw the tail end of Roddick-Hanescu. I was really pleased to get a bit of time in one of the main courts!

Do go for a day if you get a chance. I loved the whole experience; it's something really special to witness and share a sporting event with thousands of other people. And Wimbledon is an amazing mixture of everyday punter and upper class posh person. You've got all the people who, like us, queued up for £20 ground passes, rubbing shoulders with the folks on corporate hospitality or with debentures that start at a cool £13,700 for five years on Court One. The current debentures are all sold out, I'm sorry to say, but don't panic...
There is a market made in the debentures by market makers Evolution Securities Limited and no doubt your stockbroker or bank manager will be able to advise you in this respect.

Going back to the Brits, once again Andy Murray is the only British player even close to making it to the fourth round. It's so frustrating: James Ward had chances against Llodra in round one, I'm sure Watson would have won if it weren't for her elbow injury and Laura Robson gave Sharapova some difficulties. Ho-hum, next year... And come on Andy!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Spiritual fitness

We had a lecture about 'Christian virtue' at my theology course session last night. What's Christian virtue, I hear you ask... Well, the definition we were given for 'virtue' is basically 'good character', so Christian virtue just means a Christian understanding of what good character is.

Yesterday's lecture was an introduction to the topic of Christian virtue and next week we'll be moving on to look at the church's role in developing it, helping us to become better people. We were left last night with the analogy of churches being like gyms: just as gyms help us develop physical fitness so churches should help us develop spiritual fitness; that is, Christian virtue. I'll look at this in a bit more detail in a moment, but I should just say that I'd change the analogy slightly. I'd say our churches should be like fitness clubs, rather than gyms. A gym is a building and churches are communities, not buildings. So something like a fitness club (which still meets a gym but is more obviously about the people) works a bit better for this analogy, I think.

Let's have a bit of Bible to illustrate what we're talking about with Christian virtue, from Galatians 5 and 2 Peter 1:
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So Christian virtue is not about academic learning, spiritual experiences, social action or correct behaviour, good and important though all these things are. These good things should all flow out of our good character, our virtue:
Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

All of this leads me to wonder how good a job our church meetings, structures and programmes are doing at developing this good character, this Christian virtue in us. I blogged a couple months ago about church meetings and this was my conclusion back then:
So in our church meetings (and in all our interactions with one another; it's not just a Sunday thing!) we should be strengthened – built up – and equipped to do God's work.

I'd like to add to this a little bit, in the light of our lecture yesterday. And that's to say how we are equipped to do God's work: we are equipped by being transformed into people of good Christian character, people full of 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control'.

Dallas Willard (whom I have mentioned in the past) says this:
There is now lacking a serious and expectant intention to bring Jesus' people into obedience and abundance through training... Somehow the seriously thought out intention – not just a vague idea or wish – to actually bring about the fullness of life in Christ must be re-established.
Do you think he's got a point?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The football off-season

The football season is over then. Man Utd have won the Premier League without having to be all that great, Liverpool are resurgent under King Kenny (hooray!), England were horribly shown up by playing a week after Barcelona put on an absolute master-class to win the European Champions' League and Southampton got back into the Championship (hooray again!).

It's all been a bit quiet on the Southampton FC front but things are already getting interesting in the Premier League. Martin Jol is back, as manager of Fulham. This is an excellent thing. I thought Jol was funny and straight-talking in his time at Spurs and as far as I remember they played some good, successful football while he was in charge. Roberto Martinez is the favourite to become Aston Villa manager, which could also be a good move. Certainly good for Martinez; he'll get to test himself at the next level up and if he does well at Villa then he could find himself in the running to be the next manager of one of the top clubs. Like Jol, he gets his teams playing good football.

The big thing for me as a (completely casual, never been to the city let alone to the stadium) Liverpool fan is the signing of Jordan Henderson for Quite A Lot Of Money. Here's a picture of Henderson signing his lovely new contract, courtesy of the Liverpool FC website.

Now I don't know much about the guy but this is what a Sunderland fan had to say in the Football365 mailbox:
After the world cup, many of us began to really notice the sheer lack of technical talent in the England set-up. By this, I'm not talking about crossing or shooting ability, I'm talking about close control, quick passing and most importantly of all, tactical awareness. Jordan has these traits in abundance... [he plays] patient, intelligent football. His touch in tight situations is excellent and he always seems to find a one-two or a small gap to get the ball through to a team-mate...
Now that sounds pretty promising! A midfield of Lucas, Mereiles and Henderson with Spearing and Shelvey providing talented young back-up. Excellent... What's that you say? No, I've not forgotten Steven Gerrard; I think he's past his best and Liverpool should let him go if Man City, Chelsea or some other moneybags club want to swap fifteen million English pounds for him. What do you reckon?

I'm quite looking forward to finding out what else will happen over the football summer off-season. Like I said, I've not seen anything much about Southampton but maybe that's a good thing. No bigger clubs sniffing around Chamberlain, Lallana or any of Saints' other top players? (*cough* Arsenal) I should think Saints will do just fine in the Championship with the current squad so bring it on! Must get to St Mary's to watch a game or two next season...

EDIT - Perhaps I spoke too soon regarding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Friday's Daily Mirror has a story saying he'll be off to Arsenal, with a £12 million deal to be confirmed on 1st July. We shall see.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

My bit of public service for this morning

Oh My Word. I've just seen something about a survey that found only one in seven people (14%) knew the difference between 'debt' and 'deficit'. Here's the question:
The government says it wants to eliminate the budget DEFICIT in five years. From your understanding, if it succeeds, will total government DEBT in 5 years time be…
And here are the answers:
14% - Higher than it is now
23% - About the same as it is now
36% - Lower than it is now
10% - Fully paid off
18% - Not sure
No wonder Labour didn't get absolutely wiped out in the last election; it seems the vast majority of the country don't realise just what a mess they've made of the UK's finances!

So here goes with my attempt to explain what the difference is between those two words beginning with 'D'.

Debt – how much money you owe in total
Deficit – the difference between your costs and your income over a certain time period

That's it! Simple as that. So if you take out a £150,000 mortgage to buy a house, you are now £150,000 in debt. That's usually fine because as long as your income is higher than your costs then you'll gradually pay the mortgage off (unless you're on an interest-only mortgage but that's another story...). But if you're personal finances are in deficit, meaning that you're actually spending more than you earn, then your debt will increase; you'll owe more than what you initially borrowed to buy the house.

Here's the bit that people in the survey evidently didn't grasp. Reducing the deficit just means that your debt won't be increasing at such a fast pace. And if you manage to get your deficit down to zero (so your income and outgoings are the same), you'll still be in debt but your debt will stay the same. It won't go away though.

Returning to the UK's national finances just to finish, if we do indeed reduce the deficit to zero in five years' time that means our debt will still be increasing over the next five years. It just won't be increasing so rapidly. And in five years' time, if the deficit is then zero, our debt will stay steady (but we'll still be coughing up the interest payments on one and a half trillion pounds or so of debt). Simple as that, right?

Friday, 3 June 2011

New music from a favourite artist

Being a big fan of music, I always get excited when one of my favourite bands or singers releases a new album. Sometimes it's a bit of a let-down (like Maximo Park's 'Quicken the Heart' from two years ago) but when the expectation is fulfilled, it's a beautiful thing. I remember hearing 'Don't Lose Yourself' by Laura Veirs for the first time, on the radio, just before her last-but-one album was released. Loved it instantly.

Well, this time I'm impatiently waiting for Patrick Wolf's new album. Mr Wolf is a funny one; he left home aged 16 or something, wears all sorts of crazy clothes and is just outrageously talented. He plays roughly 800 different instruments at last count. This album will be his fifth and, judging from the couple of songs I've heard, it's quite a big change of sound from his previous one. Mind you, that's pretty much par for the course with Patrick Wolf! His first album was very electronic, sample-driven; the second one (my favourite) full of acoustic folk, then on the third he went all shiny pop and his fourth album marked a shift back to the electronic, quite hard-edged and almost industrial in places sound of album number one. Here's a song from each one of his four albums, starting with Lycanthropy from 2003:

Patrick Wolf's not that well known so I won't be surprised if you haven't heard of him. I first became aware of him through reading an article on Drowned in Sound, a music review and discussion website. I've found out about quite a few artists through reading about them on Drowned in Sound and then checking out a few of their songs on the internet. Mind you, it's been at least a year since I discovered a new band – recommendations in the comments, please!