Amy Winehouse and breaking the Golden Rule

Maybe my mind is just less well ordered than most people’s, but for me some the moments of real intellectual breakthrough come when I find myself thinking something that surprises me, and so am forced to analyse that surprising thing to work out why I was thinking it. Whether the thing turns out to be right or wrong, or just complicated, I understand better my own instincts and assumptions as a result. One such happened last week, in an ETS panel session in Atlanta. One of the other panelists, David Gushee, closed an impressive impromptu peroration with an appeal to ‘the golden rule’ – ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you.’ I realised that I was thinking that this principle was wrong. Doubting the golden rule, of course, is one of those ethical...

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The preacher’s task

I get asked sometimes if I enjoy preaching. I find it a hard question. I know I can’t not preach. And often, when actually preaching, I know that intoxicating experience of utter single-mindedness and control – ‘flow’ as they call it – which is dangerously exhilarating and addictive. Every worthwhile sermon I have ever preached, however, has hurt to write, as I have found that in the text that I wanted so much to avoid, and have been forced to face up to it. And Sangster’s old line, that every preacher sits down every time with disappointment and the hope that ‘next time I shall preach!’ rings true for me. These words probably reflect those two moments of pain more than the ecstatic moment of preaching that comes between. Read Revere Relish Reflect...

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‘Show, don’t tell’: bad preaching and mock reality TV for kids

Our seven year old daughter is presently obsessed by a CBBC show called ‘The Next Step’. I stand up and leave the room when the show comes on. Recently I finally worked out why. It’s because it is far too like bad preaching. And I hate bad preaching (particularly when I am the preacher).

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‘Sodomy’, celebrating the Eucharist, and other disgusting acts

One evening few weeks ago I tried out the perspective I have been developing over the past couple of years on a Christian ethics of sexuality on a lay audience for the first time (previously, I’ve aired it before academics and/or ministers); the general response was pleasingly positive, but, inevitably, there were folk who were not prepared to travel with me. One stood up to ask a question. ‘Dr Holmes [always a bad sign], what we are talking about here is sodomy. Do you not find sodomy disgusting when you think, when you really think, about what people are doing?’ Now, it was news to me that we were talking about sodomy: I’d talked a lot about marriage, a bit about fallenness, quite a bit about love, and a lot about asceticism, nothing...

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A mother in Israel

I was out preaching at another church this morning; I’d planned the sermon some weeks ago, before I realised it would be Mothering Sunday. This week I’ve struggled again with a commercialised festival that constructs a romanticised picture to celebrate, ignoring the pain this heaps on so many who for whatever reason cannot fit that picture. Pete Greig tweeted a wonderful litany this morning which captured this remarkably well; my response was to tell a story in the ‘children’s talk’ slot that explored a rather different vision of ‘Biblical motherhood’ than is usually offered. The style is visibly, to me, a second-rate Bob Hartman rip-off, but here it is: ‘A mother in Israel’ There are lots of mothers in the...

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