Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Top 10 Blogging Moments of 2009

In 2006 I wrote 306 blog posts.
In 2009 it was just 25.
The main reason: all frivolous drivel, footy banter and party photos now find their home on Facebook.
Scraping away the trimmings has left exposed the blog's more serious core, the moments when I scratch my head and ponder and invite you to do the same.
And looking back over the past 12 months it appears that scraping away the trimmings has left exposed my captivation for the historical figure of Jesus. You might say I'm obsessed by him.
If that makes you feel uncomfortable, then I apologise. Click on.
But if it leaves you just a teeny bit intrigued, then I invite you to bravely dip your toe inside my top 10 blogging moments of 2009:

January 09 - How To Turn Down £500,000 A Week
March 09 - Jesus the Non-Christian
March 09 - I Resurrected Jesus
April 09 - Wake Up and Rave
April 09 - Nemo: The Prodigal Fish
June 09 - The Bible in Miniature: A Tale of Two Trees
August 09 - When Worlds Collide
October 09 - Pythagoras' Theorem: It Makes Me Wonder Why
December 09 - The Gladiator Who Defied An Empire

And some light relief to finish: here's a reminder of happier times back in March, when I could describe Liverpool football club as 'awesome'. Well, I couldn't leave the footy out completely, could I?!

Thanks for exploring with me in 2009. Our adventure continues in 2010.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Are You Not Entertained?' - The Gladiator Who Defied An Empire

'The General Who Became A Slave. The Slave Who Became A Gladiator. The Gladiator Who Defied An Empire.' - good, ain't it! Tingles down the spine just thinking about it. Such epicness.

Rather surprisingly for me, the last time I watched Gladiator, the historical narrative of Jesus took on new light. Before the movie I'd been reading about what it meant to call someone 'Messiah' in the first century and I'd learnt that, for many, the Messiah was someone who would defy an Empire. He'd be a revolutionary like Moses, a man who had liberated his people right from under the nose of Pharaoh himself, ending centuries of oppressive Egyptian slavery.

Roll on to the first century AD and the descendants of Abraham (apparently privileged, chosen, loved by God) find themselves embarrassingly ruled over once again. This time their own nation is occupied and governed by the world's greatest superpower, the Roman Empire. To defy the Empire in the first century, to liberate and free, the Messiah would surely need to be the greatest, mightiest warrior of all time, an absoulute master with the sword.

Yet Jesus said, 'Put your sword away!'
His line of attack was distinctly non-violent.
And he was crushed.
His revolution was quashed with sheer ease.
Jesus suffered a humiliating, bloodthirsty slaughter.
On a Roman execution stake.

Set 150 years later, Gladiator shows that the Roman Empire was still as powerful, and as bloody, as ever. If Jesus' mission had been to overthrow the Empire, his mission had blatantly failed. But bizarrely, some did claim success for Jesus. These 'Christians' continued to defy Caesar's rule by declaring 'Jesus is Lord.' But this irritating rabble could be easily kept under control. They made for excellent entertainment in the Colosseum.

But then in AD 312 something strange happened.
Utterly bizarre.
Some might say miraculous.
The ruler of the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine, declared himself a Christian.
How weird.
How weird is it that the Empire that killed Jesus, three centuries later suddenly decided to worship him?!?

The scenario is bizarre ... and problematic. I mean, how does the rich, ruling authority respond to quotes like, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit' or 'Blessed are the persecuted' or the teaching to 'Love your enemies'? Or the idea that Jesus was Jewish? I wonder, for example, how does a Roman understand the relevance of Jesus being a Son of David?

All of which leaves me thoroughly intrigued. To what extent, I ask, was the Empire impacted by Jesus' teachings? Until 312 AD Jesus' teachings had only been followed by a persecuted minority - so to what extent did the powerful majority have to rethink things?

Which brings me back to Maximus Decimus Meridius and Gladiator. With the horror of Russell Crowe's heart-wrenching cry, 'Are you not entertained?' ringing in my ears, I scanned some wiki pages and found evidence that Christian Emperors continued to sponsor gladiatoral combat.
Hmmmmmmm. Thumbs down.
But by the late 5th century the horrifying sport was viewed as just that ... horrifying.
Rome was entertained no more.
Thumbs up.
Perhaps Jesus' non-violent teachings had gradually chipped away at the mindsets of the mighty, powerful, violent and bloody superpower.
Perhaps Jesus' non-violent approach to revolution had won after all.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The benefits of being three-nil down at half time

Ever thought it strange that about three quarters of the Bible is marked as 'OLD'? Why be bothered about old stuff?

Last night I was left stunned when reading a chunk from the 'New' bits. 'If the first covenant had been faultless' Hebrews reads, 'there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it.' (8:7)
My thoughts raced away. Though the basic sentiment is preschool - new is better than old - this implies that the first attempt wasn't good enough. It says God's first covenant wasn't faultless. You what!?? God's covenant, God's word, it had faults??!
Maybe quotes from Leviticus, for example, should carry a health warning: handle with care, they've been rubberstamped 'old', they weren't good enough, they've been surpassed.

What the...

What the flip is going on here? Why would God not get it spot on the first time around?

Let's turn our thoughts to the Bible's bigger, overarching narrative. Let's turn towards the end of the Old Testament.
Cos the Old sets the stage for the New.

As a direct consequence of the inadequacies of the old covenants, the book of Lamentations is as dark as it comes. 'Jerusalem's streets,' it begins, 'once bustling with people, are now silent. Like a widow broken with grief, she sits alone in her mourning.' From amongst the rubble of destruction one onlooker writes, 'I have cried until the tears no longer come.' (2:11)

Interwoven amongst prophecies of the dark times described in Lamentations, Jeremiah offers hope. 'The day will come' says the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves a wife.' (31:31-32)

The old covenants WERE drenched in the deepest, most intimate, passionate love but the relationship broke down. It all ended in devastating heartbroken grief. Nevertheless, surrounded by rubble and screams of grief, the onlooker in Lamentations declared, 'I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I dare to hope when I remember this: The unfailing love of the LORD never ends.' (3:21-22)

Enter Jesus...

Cos you see, the dawning of a new day carries most impact, significance, joy and euphoria when it ends a time of the utmost pain and suffering.
To quote U2, 'There's always pain before the child is born.'

I call this the Istanbul phenomenon. Liverpool winning the European Cup in 2005 wouldn't be half as europhic, exciting or memorable if they hadn't been 3-0 down at half time.
Fans had to experience the pains of the first half, to fully appreciate the joys of the second.
And it's the same with the Bible.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pythagoras' Theorem - It Makes Me Wonder Why

Say the word Pythagoras and buried memories of secondary school mathematics come flooding back, perhaps causing our chests to contract in fear. In our minds, Pythagoras means triangles.

But for Pythagoras, a Greek living in the 6th century BC, life was about much more than triangles, or indeed maths. His teachings deeply entwined religious thoughts with mathematics. Pythagoras believed that mathematical proofs - powerful, timeless, concrete truths about the world - were sacred.

In the fourth century BC, Plato - who was influenced by Pythagoras' philosophical ideas - claimed that Pythagoras left a way of life. In fact, to some, Pythagoras was such a great, life-changing teacher that they thought he could be divine, a gift from the gods.

All of which makes me think of Jesus.

See the thing is, 2000 years on, billions actually devote their lives to Jesus, trying to follow his way of life. They worship him as divine.
Yet billions just link Pythagoras' name to a property of triangles.

Now that massive difference intrigues me.
It makes me curious.
It makes me wonder why.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Bible In Miniature: The Marriage of Heaven and Earth

In the beginning, heaven and earth were the same place. In the garden of Genesis 1 and 2, soil and spirit were one. There was no sacred-secular divide. God dwelled with his people.

Then came disconnection, division, disruption. Heaven and Earth separated. They became incompatible.

Centuries later one man, God in human flesh, material and spiritual as one, bridged the divide. By fully engaging with, and triumphing over, disconnection, division and disruption, Jesus made heaven and earth compatible again. And instigated the Bible's grand finale: the marriage of heaven and earth.

'Prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband', heaven will come down to earth. The two will become one again.
And in a glorious, climactic crescendo, a thunderous voice will declare, 'Now the dwelling of God is with his people.'


See the thing is, for many the purpose of Christianity is to get into heaven.
For many this future destination will be spiritual.
Think floaty.
Think clouds.
Other than the mission of rescuing souls, for many today's life and today's world have no purpose. A few years ago, I even heard one preacher totally disregard 2005's efforts to 'Make Poverty History'. Because the point is to escape elsewhere.
I just couldn't believe my ears.

Thankfully, Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, presents an alternative view. In 'Surprised by Hope,' he writes, 'What you do in the present - by painting, teaching, digging wells, writing poems, caring, etc - all these things will last into God's future'.

And in a recent podcast (16/8/09) Rob Bell said, 'Our hope is not in evacuation from earth, but in engagement with it.'

We engage with earth, we pursue the end of poverty, because heaven and earth are engaged for marriage.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

When Worlds Collide

Isn’t it surprising when something suddenly makes sense. Like something really important to you. Something that you’ve heard so much about. Something you’ve investigated, researched, and really pondered. Something you’ve decided is true and maybe even committed to. Something you’ve centred other ideas around.

When something is so deeply rooted in you, isn’t it surprising when it suddenly makes logical sense. When you have the light bulb moment, the Eureka, the ‘oh, of course’.

This happened for me recently when I was reading ‘Mere Christianity’ by C.S. Lewis, a book published in 1952 which aims to present complex concepts, the depths of theology, in a straight-forward accessible way, without losing any of the depth. This achievement would have made Lewis groundbreaking for his day and has since made him one of the most quoted authors across the whole church spectrum. Author of Narnia, and Science Fiction too, what a fascinating guy!

Anyway, sorry to leave you hanging in suspense. Back to my ‘wow’ revelation:

In my last blog post I claimed that the heart cry of God to humans is, ‘Choose Life.
But hold up right there you crazy blogger, if there’s one thing humans can be certain of it’s that we will die. To 'choose life' seems like a rather limited opportunity.
In fact, let's ramp this up a notch: the very notion of a being who lives forever, creating objects that don't live forever, well it's a contradiction, isn’t it? Utter nonsense. Particularly if the ‘Artist’ claims to have ‘painted’ in his own image.

Conclusion: There is no Artist ....

Unless ...

Unless the two worlds collide.
Unless life becomes death.

Cos that’s what ‘Christians’ believe: God, who cannot die, became man, who can.

And here comes my light bulb flash:

If Jesus was fully human then of course he would die – it was inevitable.
But if Jesus was also fully God (and that’s a big ‘if’) then of course he would live forever. Of course he wouldn’t remain dead – the resurrection at the very heart of Christianity becomes inevitable.

'Christians' believe, to quote C.S. Lewis, ‘By dying this Godman disabled death itself.’
And because of that success, we can truly, fully ‘Choose Life.'

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Bible in Miniature: A Tale of Two Trees

In the beginning, there's a choice.
It's a choice between two trees.
Only one of them is called 'Life.'
'Choose Life.'
'Choose Life.'
'Choose Life.'
In the finale, only one tree remains.
It has been chosen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Metanoia by MGMT

This week I learnt a Greek word.
Cos we all need a few Greek words in our lives.
It literally means 'Change of Mind.'
A U-Turn.
A 180.
In English it's the rather intimidating word 'Repent.'

So imagine my surprise when the very same day I found (through the wonder of Spotify) that possibly the most popular band of 2009, MGMT, have a song called 'Metanoia'.
Shedding some light on our often confused concept of repentence, MGMT sing:

'Metanoia, reshaping the world
It can teach you
And reprogram you
It can show you the flood
That's trapped inside'

Friday, May 29, 2009

He's On His Way To Wembley

I love visiting major stadiums so when Cambridge United reached the Blue Square Playoff Final (aka Conference) I snapped up the opportunity. A massive 32,000 fans turned out, with Cambridge fans out numbering their rivals by atleast 12,000.

But that didn't stop Torquay running out 2-0 winners.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pete's Fantasy Football End of Season Review

Huge congratulations to Phil Harford who, on the final day of the season, fought off the considerable challenge of Josh to win £30, claiming both the overall league title and the April-May minileague.
The rivals were locked together all season finding themselves in 6th and 7th after the first minileague, with Alex, Chris and Craig making the early running. This initial trio of leaders all ultimately slipped into the bottom half of the table, and by the end of November it was David Franklin who lead with Josh and Phil hot on the heels in 2nd and 3rd. David also couldn't maintain his title challenge, slipping overall to 8th.
Into David's place Martin rose up to lead for a brief period at the end of January but like all leaders before him he too fell away, leaving Josh and Phil - far and away our most consistent competitors - to fight it out alone in the final few months of the season. It was nail biting stuff and with just two games left there was only one point in it ...
The decisive difference surprisingly came from a striker who had a difficult season: Robbie Keane's two goals in Spurs' final two games helped Phil to victory by 16 points!

1 Phil Harford 1287
2 Josh Dalby 1271
3 Martin Atkinson 1198
4 Scott Bamber 1084
5 Stuart Hassard 1083
6 Gabriel Smy 1079
7 John Webb 1077
8 David Franklin 1040
9 Joel Gill 1024
10 Dan McDuff 1004
11 Keith Holland 990
12 Pete Cross 989
13 Steve Kreeger 980
14 Alex Mitchell 974
15 Richard Siau 960
16 Chris Atkinson 958
17 Paul Windo 958
18 Will Gharu 943
19 Muzoora Bishanga 936
20 James Winward 926
21 Jonny Mullin 924
22 James Lomas 906
23 Gregg Ruff 904
24 Craig Ireland 892
25 Paul Whelan 884
26 Tristan Taylor 816

April and May League Table
1 Phil Harford 292
2 Josh Dalby 276
3 Scott Bamber 262
4 Gabriel Smy 259
5 John Webb 247
6 Martin Atkinson 245
7 Keith Holland 242
8 Paul Windo 229
9 Richard Siau 225
10 Dan McDuff 222
11 Stuart Hassard 216
12 David Franklin 212
13 Will Gharu 212
14 Jonny Mullin 206
16 James Lomas 205
15 James Winward 190
17 Steve Kreeger 184
18 Gregg Ruff 182
19 Muzoora Bishanga 179
20 Paul Whelan 178
21 Tristan Taylor 176
23 Chris Atkinson 171
22 Joel Gill 168
24 Craig Ireland 167
25 Pete Cross 159
26 Alex Mitchell 141

April & May Top Scorers
Ronaldo (cpt) 45, Benayoun 37, Torres 35, A Cole (cpt) 34, Arshavin 33, Steinsson 32, Cahill (Bolton) 32, Carragher 31, Keane 30

Reina 109, Cech 105, Van der Sar 105

Vidic 160, Lescott 149, Terry (cpt) 134, Warnock 113, Carragher 111, A Cole (cpt) 111, Alex 104, Figueroa 103, Jagielka 102, Samba 101

Ronaldo 163, Gerrard (cpt) 154, Lampard (cpt) 151, Barry (cpt) 98, Young (cpt) 96

Anelka 124, Agbonlahor 113, Robinho 112, Torres 103, Berbatov (cpt) 97, Rooney 89

Monday, May 25, 2009

My 'Big Church Day Out' Highlights

Down the road from my house, a sell out 14,000 crowd basks in remarkable sunshine and soaks up the sounds of some great bands, including my personal faves Delirious?

Yes, I did say down the road from my house. I know - I still can't quite believe it!!

Here are my musical highlights from a great day. Apologies for the poor sound quality but enjoy the pics.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nemo: The Prodigal Fish

5 years ago I first watched Finding Nemo and thought wow, that communicates to me about God. Since then I just haven't got tired of talking about it!
Last night, I decided that an audience of Cambridge students facing the onslaught of exam term was an appropriate setting to dig out my Nemo obsession once again. Only this time, for the first time, it was recorded.......
So here, for your entertainment, is an edited version of a talk that analyses the story of a Dad who searched the oceans to find his lost son, Nemo; and how this can impact our view of God.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Wake Up and Rave

Something doesn't quite feel right when morning begins as others continue to party the previous night away.

For the last 5 months this amusing sensation has greeted me on Saturday mornings as Radio 1's dance anthems wake me from my slumber at 5.15am.
A bowl of cheerios, a coffee and a rave later and I'm ready to get stuck into my weekly job, which I like to entitle, 'Media Co-ordinator.'

A better description would be 'Putting the magazine inserts into newspapers.'

Over the weeks I've developed a curious fascination pondering the great variety of newspaper headlines.
How does a paper choose which story to lead with?
What does their audience want to read about?
Do they want the focus on politics or poverty? Fashion or finance? Climate change or crime? or even celebrity?

There is incredible diversity across the papers. But what intrigues me the most are the swings between positivity and negativity.
While most leads are obviously sensationalist, some papers seem to be constantly doom and gloom, with others more frequently upbeat.

Even if they're covering the same story.

So not only is there a diversity of lead stories, there's also a range of perspectives within the stories.

Now I know the presence of diversity in this world is not exactly an earthshattering revelation. But as I sit on my knees and slide papers across the floor in the early hours of Saturday mornings I do find it strangely captivating.

Maybe even beautiful.

Or maybe that's the early morning cheerios, coffee and rave kicking in.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jesus the Non-Christian

I have a t-shirt in my cupboard that contians a graffiti style collage of words that describe Jesus. Way. Light. Warrior. Love. And so on.

On a night out a while back I remember a group of friends staring long and hard at my t-shirt and then laughing loud. They'd spotted what looks like a Union Jack in the artwork.
They are right to laugh.
Cos Jesus was certainly not British.

More than this though, one of the words on the t-shirt actually annoys me.
Jesus is described as 'Christian'.
Now that is just wrong.
Full on error.
Cos Jesus was certainly not Christian.
Jesus was Jewish.

Jesus never even introduced the term 'Christian' which means 'Little Christ'. The word wasn't even chosen by the earliest followers. Alternatively, it was originally an insult that just stuck.

So in order to understand Jesus, 'Christians' need to be studying Judaism. His followers need to understand Abraham and Moses and King David and concepts of slavery in exile and prophecies of freedom in exodus.
For Jesus to be seen as a great revolutionary, the 1st century social landscape needs to be considered. One where the Romans called the shots. And one where Jesus' community were lower class.

Because to fully appreciate freedom, it helps to understand oppression.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Resurrected Jesus

I've been writing a narrative surrounding the Jesus story recently - as you do.
So when someone asked me the other day, 'What you been up to?' it amused me greatly to respond, 'Oh, I just resurrected Jesus.'
Some might say I have a warped sense of humour.

But the more this phrase hung around in my head the more I thought it might have truth in it.
I mean, of course, I didn't physically resurrect Jesus.
But I did have a huge part to play in it. As did you.
I was the motivation for it. As were you.

God is love and love desires relationship.
As God's creation - as his pride and joy and majesticly, maticulously crafted workmanship - love longs desperately to have relationship with us.
Relationships are two way.
Love wants to be a two way thing.
Love desires love.

Now get this: Jesus claimed to be God - that's why he was killed.
But if for one crazy nanosecond he was actually telling the truth about his identity, that means that God lay dead in the grave.
Which is a major problem for God.
Cos we can't have relationship with a dead God.
Hence life bursting forth from the grave to comprehensively conquer death.

It is won. It is finished. The ultimate relationship is possible.
We can't earn the love.
We can't increase the love.
We can't decrease the love.
But we can accept it.
We can choose it.
And we can respond to it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Fray Album

It took me quite a while to catch the buzz around the Fray's debut album but eventually I got there. I liked the lyrics and most songs on their own but as a whole album felt it was a bit samey and dragged. I bought the new Fray album last week hoping for bigger and better things, but after several listens it's yet to really grab me.
It's just alright.
It's just more of the same.
So if you like your rock soft and contemplative then I'd recommend it, but if not, don't bother.
The strength again is the depth of the lyrics. In particular I love this song - it's challenging, obscure and intriguing and yet probably speaks a lot of truth:

'Happiness is just outside my window
Would it crash blowing 80-miles an hour?
Or is happiness a little more like knocking
On your door, and you just let it in?

Happiness feels a lot like sorrow
Let it be, you can't make it come or go
But you are gone- not for good but for now
Gone for now feels a lot like gone for good

Happiness is a firecracker sitting on my headboard
Happiness was never mine to hold
Careful child, light the fuse and get away
‘Cause happiness throws a shower of sparks

Happiness damn near destroys you
Breaks your faith to pieces on the floor
So you tell yourself, that's enough for now
Happiness has a violent roar

Happiness is like the old man told me
Look for it, but you'll never find it all
Let it go, live your life and leave it
Then one day, wake up and she'll be home
Home, home, home'

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How To Turn Down £500,000 A Week

How can you turn down £500,000 a week? Kaka's decision has shocked the world of football.
Despite having to drop to playing for Man City, how can you turn down £500,000 a week!!!? Surely no-one can!?
Kaka - who's never been one to shy away from expressing his beliefs(!) - explained his decision like this:
"I believe I have made the right choice.

To have gone to Manchester City could have been a great project but in the past few days I have prayed a lot to understand what the right team would be and in the end I have decided to remain here.

I don't want anything else, I just want to be well and be happy in the place where people love me."

With stupid money dangled in front of his nose, it seems Kaka decided he prioritised other aspects of life over money. And somehow this decision - which concludes the most astonshing transfer story in football history - was settled on during a private session of prayer.

Now that shocks, baffles and challenges me just as much as it does you.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Or Are We Dancers?

The Killers are back and have successfully managed to infect our minds with a brilliantly catchy phrase once again. Having previously graced us with the seemingly profound but utterly meaningless (or is it?!) 'I've got soul but I'm not a soldier', we're now left pondering the one question eternally aching our hearts: 'Are we human? Or are we dancers?'
It's as deep as a puddle in a summer drought. And yet it's genius.

Another track off the great new album left me scratching my brow in equal measure, searching for meaning where there probably isn't any. Or is there? If anyone can make head or tail of the following expertly crafted poetry, I'd appreciate your revelation:

Change came in disguise of revelation, set his soul on fire.
She said she always knew he'd come around.
And the decades disappear
Like sinking ships but we persevere.
God gives us hope but we still fear, we don't know.
Your mind is poisoned.
Castles in the sky, sit stranded, vandalized.
The drawbridge is closing.
Saw Cinderella in a party dress, she was looking for a nightgown.
I saw the devil wrapping up his hands, he's getting ready for the showdown.
I saw the ending where they turned the page, I threw my money and I ran away.
Sent to the valley of the great divide
Out where the dreams all hide.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Pete's Top Ten Blogging Highlights of 2008

Occasionally I find the blog a useful way to offload. Occasionally some thoughts tumble out in a readable fashion.
Which means friends, I have pleasure in presenting to you below some of my more successful moments of pondering from 2008.
Grab yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and have a good old nosey through the posts. Feel free to smile, laugh, appreciate, be stimulated, agree or disagree:

- The Pivotal Moment

- Jesus the Drunkard

- The Rejected Romantic

- Kenya Review

- Love is...

- Summer Blast: The Meal Deal

- How Do You Start a Revolution?

- Lost: Redemption

- A Cold and a Broken Hallelujah

- Joy: My 2 Minute Sermon

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Pete's Top Ten Highlights of 2008

Below are links to my top 10 highlights from the last 12 months for you to browse. A massive thanks to all the fun-filled people who made these moments so memorable!

- Birthday: Athlete Highlights

- Greatest Ever Varsity Pool Match

- Champions of the UK (and the final frame)

- Robinson May Ball

- Graduation

Summer Sandy Beach Banter

- Weddings: Beth and Will. Abi and Mark.

- You Are My Joy

- Summer Blast: Smiling it up. Rock Star.

- Pokot, Kenya

The test of a great moment is whether it'll be talked about in 5 years time. Fitting into that category from 2008 for me will be my achievements in pool, the graduation and Kenya.