Tony’s Summer Reading – Part 5: 7 Myths About Singleness

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I continue my series based on the books I have read over the Summer by looking at one of the most important books I read, 7 myths about singleness by Sam Allberry. This is a book I would encourage everyone to read, single or married, because the myths described are so prevalent and need to be called out.

For example he debunks the myth that singleness is too hard.

Talking of romantic comedies.

“Behind the comedy of such movies lies a serious belief, one that is widespread in the Western world today: without sex you can’t really experience what it means to be truly human.”

Against this myth he presents Jesus,

He is the most complete and fully human person who ever lived. So his not being married is not incidental. It shows us that none of these things—marriage, romantic fulfillment, sexual experience—is intrinsic to being a full human being. The moment we say otherwise, the moment we claim a life of celibacy to be dehumanizing, we are implying that Jesus himself is only subhuman.

He compares marriage and singleness and how we view them, often unhelpfully

The temptation for many who are single is to compare the downs of singleness with the ups of marriage. And the temptation for some married people is to compare the downs of marriage with the ups of singleness, which is equally dangerous. The grass will often seem greener on the other side. Whichever gift we have—marriage or singleness—the other can easily seem far more attractive.

Again, many of our default settings see singleness in terms of deficiency. It is the absence of a good thing—marriage, and the romantic and sexual fulfillment marriage seems to represent. Single people are unmarried, while we would never think of married people as unsingle. It is singleness that seems to be wanting and deficient. The only way to cope with it is if God gives you some special superpower. 

There is a need to challenge those who defer marriage for ungodly reasons without demeaning those whose singleness is either not their choice or has in fact been chosen for the sake of the kingdom. There is also a need to affirm the goodness and advantages of singleness without unwittingly playing into selfish motivations of those for whom singleness seems easier. 

He challenges the perspective that being single means you are alone and there is no intimacy. I have been challenged that on occasions I have even inadvertently said this myself.

But the choice between marriage and celibacy is not the choice between intimacy and loneliness, or at least it shouldn’t be. We can manage without sex. We know this—Jesus himself lived as a celibate man. So did Paul. Many others have done so as well. But we are not designed to live without intimacy. Marriage is not the sole answer to the observation, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

He rightly challenges us to rediscover true friendship, a type of intimacy that singleness lends itself to.

That our culture imagines that intimacy occurs only in the context of sexual attraction goes to show how little our culture actually understands and really experiences true friendship……We need to rediscover a biblical category of intimacy that has been neglected in our cultural context and sadly even in many of our churches—friendship. 

There is a powerful chapter that debunks the view that singleness wastes our sexuality.

If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency. …..Celibacy isn’t a waste of our sexuality; it’s a wonderful way of fulfilling it. It’s allowing our sexual feelings to point us to the reality of the gospel. We will never ultimately make sense of what our sexuality is unless we know what it is for—to point us to God’s love for us in Christ. 

He concludes by acknowledging and describing the challenges of singleness whilst recognising that marriage also has it sown difficulties. He believes that historically the pendulum has swung one way and then the other when it comes to whether marriage or singleness is most worthwhile or spiritual. Today, in our culture singleness is undervalued. I agree that we need to redress the balance. Reading this book is a good place to start to do that!

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony’s Summer Reading – Part 4: Other Books Read

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In my previous blogs I have talked about different books read over the Summer, here is another.

I have always found books written by people who are not believers writing about famous Christians fascinating. Roy Hattersley a labour politician has written biographies about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and William and Catherine Booth, the founders of the Salvation Army. He is clearly an admirer of them and is challenged by their faith. Books well worth reading. William Tyndale: A very brief history written by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg is similar, and much shorter.

Tyndale was alive in the early 1500s and translated the New Testament and the first five books of the Old Testament into English which at the time was highly controversial and for which he was eventually martyred. His translations formed the majority of what we know as the Authorised version of the Bible.

Bragg recounts Tyndale’s life, his passion for ordinary people to be able to read the word of god in their own language and the price he paid to do that. His dedication in learning Greek and Hebrew, his need persecution which resulted in him being exiled from England and living in constant threat in Europe having to move to a new city frequently to avoid capture whilst writing. He was eventually captured martyred in 1536 aged just 42 because he made the Bile available or ordinary English people to read. Amazing!

However, it was the translation itself that impresses Bragg.

“My initial reaction to Tyndale’s Bible was just a tinge of disappointment. So small. It could fit in an inside jacket pocket. And so plain, unprepossessing, it could have been anything at all. Nothing said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the light.’ Yet as I sat and was allowed to turn the pages, I was moved not only by the struggle that had gone into the production of this wallet- sized volume, but by the course it would take and the majestic way its influence would grow through the next five centuries.”

He describes that influence,

“A central point being made by Tyndale was that Christians should not be organized into a pyramid of privilege, but should be a ‘congregation’. This is how he translated the Greek word ekklesia– hitherto translated as ‘Church’, with all that implied……They (all people) were now equal before the Testament, and from this would later grow the ideal of mass democracy. Equal before God. Equal before all men.”

It is suggested that Tyndale was a great influence on Shakespeare who quotes from Tyndale’s translation of the Bible no less than 1,350 times.

I don’t agree with all the conclusions drawn, which go to far. E.g. 

“I see it as no accident that Anglican congregations have fallen away since the King James Bible was abandoned.”

However, I think it is worth noting the respect that an influential unbeliever has for the Word of God and the way they believe it has changed society for the good. It should challenge us not to take it for granted.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony’s Summer Reading – Part 3: Books from a different cultural perspective

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In my previous blogs I talked about the value of reading and gave some details of the general books I read over the Summer. Most of the books I read were from a Christian perspective and I start discussing them now.

Over the last few years I have tried to read as much as I can by Christian authors from different cultural perspectives from my own. Three of the books I read this Summer fit that category.

It was a joy to find a book written by Arab Christians leaders with contributions from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine amongst others. Their reflections on the church in the Middle East and the Western church was challenging and stimulating. In some cases, shocking. I would recommend you read the book. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Church-Disorienting-Times-Prophetically-Adversity/dp/1783684348/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1566292537&sr=8-1

I have written two blogs specifically on this book, so I will not say anything more now. Watch this space.

Another book seeks to identify ways that western Christians have consistently misread the Bible. I found it insightful. Some of the areas it identified were not new to me, but many were. I have also written several blogs based on this book that will be published in due course. It too can be purchased from amazon.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Misreading-Scripture-Western-Randolph-Richards/dp/0830837825/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2NRMGEA9LYR8L&keywords=misreading+scripture+with+western+eyes&qid=1567778172&s=gateway&sprefix=misreading+scripture%2Caps%2C171&sr=8-1

The third book was written by Ben Lindsay, a young church leader from an Afro-Caribbean background leading a predominantly white church in East London. It is called “We need to talk about race”. In many ways it parallels the popular secular book, Why I’m no longer talk to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge but from a Christian perspective.

Ben believes that many people of colour struggle to feel integrated and included in white majority churches and that 

Too often minority groups have shied away from expressing the reality of their experiences because they do not want to come across as victims. They do not want to be defined by those experiences and they tire of defending themselves to majority groups who accuse them of self-indulgent navel gazing, and question whether their views, experiences or struggles are real.

He talks about specific challenges that minorities face

I recognize that it is human nature to compartmentalize people. We develop biases and stereotypes based on our experiences or the images presented in the mainstream media. People of colour live with the effects of these stereotypes on a daily basis. 

One of the biggest battles for people of colour is to find and then keep our cultural accent – an expression of our cultural heritage. 

He defines the privileges that white people have

Privileges such as not worrying about what to wear because you’re not going to be racially profiled by the police or be a victim of mistaken identity. Privileges like not seeing your physical presence as a constant threat to women, who automatically cross the road or hold tight to their handbags on approach. Privileges like not having to overcompensate when finding positive images of your race in books, films and art for your children because of the lack of representation in mainstream media. Privileges like being able to discover your family history and legacy with ease. Privileges like seeing people who look like you in the highest employment and leadership positions. I could go on.

He talks about some of the issues we have spoken about as a church, for example

there is a huge difference between churches being diverse and churches being inclusive. Attracting black people to church isn’t difficult. For many of us, as black people, church is a major part of our life and heritage. Creating inclusive communities, however, where black people feel that they are a valued part of the culture, not just observers, is more complicated.

This is something that is a very high priority for us. 

Lindsay’s also speaks directly about the issues of race within the church. 

Elevating our togetherness over our differences can result in ignoring the specific issues related to a particular people group. Equally, raising our individuality over our collective identity as Christians can result in tribalism, subcultures and division. 

For racial reconciliation to be achieved, for radical solidarity to be realized in the UK Church, black forgiveness of white racial wrongs cannot be the only answer. White confession and repentance also need to happen. Confession and repentance for denying racism exists. Confession and repentance for a lack of impetus to correct racial inequality in the Church. Confession and repentance for ignoring the repercussions of overlooking white privilege. These racial wrongs have to be recognized and addressed. Whether it’s the white church member who constantly forgets or mixes up a black person’s name on a Sunday or banter that is actually racist, many have gone straight to the forgiveness and reconciliation responsibility of the black aggrieved and failed to acknowledge the obligation of the white offender to repair the relationship. 

I recognise that this speaks directly to me, I have been guilty of issues remembering names and banter that I subsequently realised was racist. I suspect we all have things to repent of.

He reminds me of the greater cost for minorities.

While structural and organizational issues can cause integration fatigue for people of colour, subtle micro-aggressions from white majority culture can make leading in a church environment even more difficult for a black person.

Amongst his many recommendations are

With the rise of the far right globally and the spike in hate crime nationally following the vote to leave the European Union, now is the time for the Church to shine a light on the darkness of racism.

Does church growth, slick worship, generic social action programmes, a cool website and overseas mission/church planting trump making local connections, listening to the needs of local families and developing projects/programmes in partnership with the local community? I believe the Church can be a major force for societal and structural change, but we are going to need to engage with and listen to the people who are suffering injustice.

I can just say amen to this!

I would recommend you read the book, it is available on our bookshelf or via link below.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Need-Talk-About-Race-Understanding/dp/0281080178/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1CHPXEWWJW2KD&keywords=ben+lindsay&qid=1567780116&s=gateway&sprefix=ben+lin%2Caps%2C149&sr=8-1

Or if you do not have time to read the book, try this blog that he has also written.

https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2019/July-2019/Why-we-need-to-talk-about-race?utm_source=Premier+Christian+Media&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=10696655_Christianity+Sunday+07%2F07%2F19&utm_content=Race&dm_i=16DQ%2C6D9LB%2CN7J5XM%2CP6ZW2%2C1&fbclid=IwAR0tWDPH8QhUomIMT8hImMQnwATmjrpF8XFBqSNU-ce8sw7MpEaTXkS8cXY

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Why do we bother with Newday?

Newday really is a week which allows our young people to connect with others and connect with God.  I have been to most Newdays since 2004, when it first began and over the years, I and those who I have gone with have experienced; floodings, stadiums full of young people worshipping, we’ve seen healings and lived with disappointments, heard teaching which is life changing and powerful,  we’ve sorted out disagreements and we’ve been so exhausted we could barely make our way back to Luton. So despite the expense and at times inconvenience why bother? We bother because I believe it really is a worthwhile investment for our young people, they come back with very different experiences but I know that the worship, teaching and issues discussed at Newday and the friendships formed there have an impact on our young people, whether they realise it or not.

Linda Geevanathan

 

 

 

 

Thoughts from a Newday first timer!

Newday was an amazing experience that I won’t forget. I have been to other Christian festivals in the past but this one was different, it focused on the youth more and really encouraged us to have a stronger relationship with God. During the week I witnessed people committing their lives to God, amazing healing and I felt the Holy Spirit. Newday has helped me to strengthen my faith and belief in God and has encouraged me to want to learn more about God by attending church more and reading the Bible. Also I now have more amazing Christian friends that I know I can turn to for advice on becoming a better Christian. It was such an amazing, fun week!  

 

Thoughts from our young people

Newday for me is the best time of the year. I love the atmosphere and being able to connect with God! I look forward to Newday for many different reasons such as doing challenges set by the leaders, building friendships and getting to know new people and most of all, I look forward to seeing how God works in different ways throughout the week, not just in my life but in others as well. It’s incredible to see what God can do in just a week! I have made so many friends because of Newday and I feel as though we are all really close and we are more like family then friends! This Newday, ND19, was one of the best Newdays I have been to! I felt God really speak to me and connect with me throughout the week, and a lot of negative emotions that I had kept inside for so long were finally gone. I had to let go of these burdens in order to feel free, and let me just tell you, I felt amazing and finally at peace with every chaotic & upsetting thing that had happened in my life! I learnt to let go by giving everything to God!

 

Newday was such an amazing experience and I’m sure it gets better each year, being with all my friends, people my age and with other young people who love god is so fun. Everything was so informative and I learned so much I loved new day and I can’t wait to go again.

Tony’s Summer Reading – Part 2

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In my previous blog I started to share about some of the books I read over the Summer, the longest and most academic was work “Peacemakers Six months that changed the world: The Paris Peace Conference of 191 and its attempt to end war.”

This was a very long and fascinating read, but I learnt so much. It focused on the efforts of the leaders of 5 nations, the victorious allies at the end of the first world war to deal with the demise of the Ottoman and Austrian / Hungarian Empires and what should happen to defeated Germany. The five being America, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan. 

I learnt things I didn’t know, e.g. Iraq was a country created by the conference with no real logic, other than convenience. It didn’t exist before 1919. Within its borders were Sunni and Shiite Muslims plus Kurds. They had nothing in common. The world is still being impacted by this flawed decision.

I was also impacted by the fact that two of the five were only interested in getting what they could from the proceedings. The Italians and Japanese just wanted to grab as much as they could for their nations. Italy wanted what became Yugoslavia, Japan wanted much of China. Neither were interested in the wider picture and didn’t engage in the wider discussions. Neither got what they wanted, and eventually stormed out of the conference in protest. The other three worked together and despite massive arguments and being in conflict for the best part of 6 months, left very close friends and felt they had done their best for the world rather than for their own nations.

I hadn’t grasped that the concept of a nation state with a single nationality is such a new concept, being first talked about at this conference. Therefore the idea is only 100 years old.

However, this was not possible in the world of 1919

“It was not possible, then, to put all the Poles in Europe into Poland and all the Germans into Germany. In Europe alone 30 million people were left in states where they were an ethnic minority, an object of suspicion at home and of desire from their co-nationals abroad.”

However,

“The Second World War showed yet another solution – the murder of unwanted minorities. In 1945 mass expulsions completed what Hitler had started and Europe was left with only minuscule national minorities, less than 3% of its total population.”

A major question that people ask is whether the treaty of Versailles, the way the conference dealt with Germany, made the second world war inevitable. MacMillan says,

“With different leadership in the Western democracies, with stronger democracy in Weimar Germany, without the damage done by the Depression, the story might have turned out differently. And without Hitler to mobilize the resentments of ordinary Germans and to play on the guilty consciences of so many in the democracies, Europe might not have had another war so soon after the first. The Treaty of Versailles is not to blame. It was never consistently enforced, or only enough to irritate German nationalism without limiting German power to disrupt the peace of Europe. With the triumph of Hitler and the Nazis in 1933 Germany had a government that was bent on destroying the Treaty of Versailles………. Hitler did not wage war because of the Treaty of Versailles, although he found its existence a godsend for his propaganda.”

The final verdict on the conference was 

“The peacemakers of 1919 made mistakes, of course. By their offhand treatment of the non-European world they stirred up resentments for which the West is still paying today. They took pains over the borders in Europe, even if they did not draw them to everyone’s satisfaction, but in Africa they carried on the old practice of handing out territory to suit the imperialist powers. In the Middle East they threw together peoples, in Iraq most notably, who still have not managed to cohere into a civil society. If they could have done better, they certainly could have done much worse. They tried, even cynical old Clemenceau, to build a better order. They could not foresee the future and they certainly could not control it. That was up to their successors. When war came in 1939, it was a result of twenty years of decisions taken or not taken, not of arrangements made in 1919.”

All very fascinating, for me at least. In future blogs I will reflect on the Christian books I read.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony’s Summer Reading – Part 1

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A challenge to any church leader is Acts 6v1-4, where the administration of the church is handed over to others so that the leaders could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. I try to set aside time every day to do this, but it is particularly over the Summer that I can give greater focus and time to this. This Summer was no exception. I feel well fed having read 12 books and spent extended time in reflection and prayer. Whilst I recognise that I have a unique role and calling to this as the leader of the church I feel it is worth sharing some of the books I have read and why you might like to read them yourself. That is what I will be doing in this and subsequent blogs.

Two of the books I read were novels. I don’t read many novels; I love doing so but decided a number years ago to ration myself to a couple over the Summer and maybe one at Christmas. My favourite genre is detective novels but whatever works for you I would encourage you to read some novels to relax and inhabit a different world. Novels do this in a different way to TV or the cinema.

I also enjoy history and read 2 history books, both by Margaret MacMillan a Canadian who is a Professor at Oxford University. The first book, History’s People gives pen portraits of historical leaders and draws out what can we learn from them. For example, Bismarck, Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are the focus of one chapter, which concludes

“for all their dissimilarities, the three men were favoured by time and circumstance, each was prepared to seize the opportunities he was offered, and all three shared the key characteristics which made them such effective leaders: they had great goals they wanted to achieve, and they had the talent, skills, and determination to persist and bring their countries with them. That does not mean that they did not make mistakes. All did, but they were able to learn from those mistakes, and most importantly of all, they knew when to make compromises. They managed, for the most part, to avoid the trap that powerful leaders can so easily fall into — and that is the one of thinking that they were always right.”

Another chapter groups together such unlikely leaders such as Woodrow Wilson (president of America during the first world war), Margaret Thatcher, Hitler and Stalin! They are presented negatively and in contrast to Bismarck, King and Roosevelt.

“ALL FOUR LEADERS…….. lived in times that gave them great opportunities, and all four had the inner drive and conviction to seize them. Their successes hardened their self-confidence to the point where it became unshakeable, and it was from that point that they plunged wilfully ahead. The Greeks believed that hubris was usually punished by a dramatic reversal of fortune. Wilson and Thatcher did pay a penalty in the humiliation of political defeat. Hitler committed suicide when it became clear that his dreams to dominate the world had come to nothing. Stalin, alone among the four, did not pay the price for his hubris in his lifetime. But if there is an afterlife, perhaps he has seen the end of everything he worked for with the collapse of Communism worldwide, the end of the Soviet Union, and the dismantling of its empire in Eastern Europe.”

I am challenged by the need to learn from mistakes, make compromises and to recognise that I am not always right. Maybe this is a lesson from history that current leaders could benefit from learning.

A very interesting book, not just recounting history but helping us learn lessons from history. I enjoyed it so much that I then read her major work “Peacemakers Six months that changed the world: The Paris Peace Conference of 191 and its attempt to end war.” More about this in my next blog.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

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