Wednesday, 15 August 2012

It's (almost) like watching Brazil

Roy Hodgson (picture from The Sun website)
As I start typing this, we're into the 40th minute of England's football friendly with Italy. Roy Hodgson's first game as manager without any major pressure, where he can experiment and begin the process of building up to the next international competition. So far, I must say I've been very impressed. The players aren't afraid being in possession, there's a lot of movement off the ball, and some pretty nifty play at times. Adam Johnson on the right has particularly caught my eye with a couple of lovely moves, but the whole team is looking confident and ambitious.

Matches like this can be so useful for a new(ish) manager, being a great opportunity for him to take a look at fringe players and try new tactics and formations. Hodgson's taken this opportunity fully, I think; starting Cleverley, Johnson, Walker and Carrick and giving the 4-2-3-1 formation a go. Remember when Italy passed us to death in the Euros? Their star midfielder Pirlo had more passes than our entire midfield in total. Yes, I know they only won on penalties but we were so lucky to last that long, don't you think? Whereas in this game (no Pirlo, I realise!) we are competing in midfield and getting into some good positions. I'm optimistic.

My only negative is the big lad up front. Andy Carroll totally does not fit in this sort of system and I can well understand why Liverpool are trying to get rid of him, seeing as their new manager, Brendan Rogers, is also a fan of this tiki-taka quick passing stuff. On that note, I'm really excited to see how Liverpool do this season!

The second half is just about to start so let's see if England can keep up the good work. I expect there'll be a few substitutions so the rest of the game might well not be as fluent, but never mind. I've seen enough to give me hope that England could do all right under Hodgson's stewardship.

Monday, 13 August 2012


I was off work last week and had a marvellous few days of walking in the Peak District with my friend Gary. I don't do it often enough but I love getting out into the countryside, away from human-created noise, and tramping up a few hills. And as you'll see from these photographs, the Peak District has plenty of hills!

The thing I like most about walking, though, is that it really helps me reconnect with God. Partly that's about escaping from the city and experiencing a bit of nature, but for me it's mostly about spending several hours with a few close friends and having a good old natter. I especially love it when we talk about faith issues; anything from how much we're growing in godly character, to new songs we've recently learnt, to thorny doctrinal issues like what you have to do in order to be truly saved.

It seems the unhurried nature of a day out with a few people gives the perfect opportunity for wide-ranging and often deep discussion, leading to a real connection with my walking companions and with God. That's certainly been the case for me with this trip and I'm very thankful for the fresh sense of closeness with God. I've not felt this way much this year so it's a welcome relief.


Friday, 3 August 2012

Mind your language!

Words are important. It's so easy to give the wrong impression just by using a slightly ill-advised word or two. I read about a classic example of this yesterday, regarding the phrase 'kingdom of God;. Many Christians would say the key message of Jesus' teaching is 'the kingdom of God is near', the words Jesus used in Mark 1:15. Now I understand this to be good news; I have some idea of what the 'kingdom of God' means. But what about people without any background in Christianity? What might 'kingdom of God' mean to them.

Jesus used this phrase 2,000 years ago, in a time and place where the word 'kingdom' meant something. Indeed the phrase 'kingdom of God' (along with 'Jesus is Lord') was a politically-charged rebuff against the Roman empire and the emperor. But now, certainly in the western world, what meaning does the word carry? Isn't it something more like this:
A Monty Python knight in shining armour
If there is any electric charge to the language of kingdom today, it is the faint current of the quaint and the nostalgic, conjuring knights in shining armor, round tables and chivalry, damsels in distress, fire-breathing dragons, and Shakespearean thees and thous that doth go running hitherest and witherest. In Jesus' day, kingdom language was contemporary and relevant; today, it is outdated and distant.

This is from Brian McLaren's book, 'The Secret Message of Jesus', which I mentioned in my previous post about the fruit of the Spirit. McLaren is especially interesting in meanings and culturally relevant communication:
We must discover fresh ways of translating his [Jesus'] message into the thought forms and cultures of our contemporary world...
The network of God

So McLaren looks for phrases we might use instead of 'kingdom of God' that would get across the meaning that Jesus intended. How about 'dream of God'? You might then rephrase the 'Your kingdom come...' part of the Lord's Prayer as, 'May all your dreams for your creation come true'.

How does that feel to you? If you're new to Christianity or not a Christian at all, I'd love to know what 'dream of God' says to you in contrast to 'kingdom of God'. Does the latter leave you a bit cold, like McLaren suggests? Do please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The dance of God
McLaren tries several other metaphors, including the 'revolution of God', 'network of God', and 'dance of God'. All of these emphasise different elements of what Jesus taught the rule and will of God was all about, but none quite seems to capture the whole, complete meaning. I suppose, then, we shouldn't be afraid of using several different metaphors, should we?

In any case, I think McLaren is raising a tremendously important point about the language we use when we're talking about our faith in Jesus. If we're not careful, we can send a message completely at odds with what we're intending to communicate; and that message might be a real turn-off to many people.