A perfect media storm hit on Sunday morning as news broke that major cinema chains had ‘banned’ a short film advertising the ‘Just Pray’ website.  The outcome was that (so far) over 350,000 people have watched versions of the film on youtube, plus many have shared on social media and many others have blogged discussing the issues raised.  I recommend Stephen Croft’s blog (once you’ve finished this!)

David Cameron, Boris Johnson and even infamous atheist Richard Dawkins have all been quoted as critical of the cinema’s decision. This perfect storm excites attention with some major collisions.  The national institution the Church of England, (the video opens with a shot of the hugely respected Justin Welby) big business (Cinema chains), religion, pluralism, freedom of speech, taking of offence and the question of what is controversial viewing? – pitting wanton violence and gratuitous sex against prayer and faith.

It also raised a question of how we see the Lord’s prayer.  Is it a beloved piece of our cultural and religious history, a political statement offensive to other faiths, a gentle heart’s cry to a God others don’t want people to believe in, or a powerful experience of realigning our lives to God’s will and asking him to reshape the world around us?  Or maybe all of those things, – I’m a both/and person.

As someone who enjoys social media, I found the timeline of this perfect storm fascinating.  Many anglican clergy get up early on Sunday morning, to pray and engage with the news, to prepare for the day ahead.  Early on Sunday lots of church leaders tweeted the news of the ban immediately, promoting the advert and baffled by the cinema’s extreme censorship.  It then went fairly quiet from Christians, as we went to church to worship God.  Later in the day, reactions and responses abounded.  Was it outrageous to promote prayer? Was this really offensive to other faiths? Was the C of E being churlish? Lots of freedom of speech on social media means lots of opinions, reactions and many people playing the ‘I know best’ game.

One theme emerged for me.  It’s foolish for Anglicans to play the victim in this row.

The nature of a victim is that they are powerless on one level.  However a victim mindset can give us alternative feelings of power.  A victim can harness the empathy of others to gain support for their cause, a victim can use blame to attack or undermine others.  To take a victim posture can be a powerful form of defensiveness, it is seen as cruel to reflect back to a victim their own faults or self destructive behaviour, a victim can absolve themselves from responsibility. A victim mindset can alleviate a sense of powerlessness, with a damaging form of subversive power, which grabs power for ourselves (immaturity) and prevent us from empowering others (maturity).

The early church was persecuted very soon after Jesus ascended to heaven.  Disciples of Jesus have been persecuted throughout the past 2 millennia and the atrocities of persecution continue around the world today, accelerated currently through the atrocities of Daesh in the Middle East.

The church in the UK experiences very little of this persecution, but we are increasingly marginalised, mocked and restricted bureaucratically from explaining the good news which we long to share with those around us.  Just as a rational person needs to acknowledge global warming, we too have to acknowledge there’s a powerful secular agenda in our culture which wants to silence Christians from sharing the message we know brings hope and new life to others.

Let us not become victims in facing that challenge.  We are adjusting to a new era sociologically where the power and public voice we once enjoyed is rapidly eroding away. It is tempting to believe we are victims and attack those who try to silence us in the public square.  To yield to that temptation would be foolish.

Ironically, praying the Lord’s prayer, (rather than just tweeting about adverts portraying it) prevents us from becoming victims.  Whether we pray the Lord’s prayer as a set piece of liturgy, or as a structure line-by-line for a conversation with God. (My brain needs that time to engage with the huge truths in it)  we recognise our powerlessness and God’s power.  To pray the Lord’s prayer moves us from victims to citizen’s of God’s kingdom.

My friend Hugh Balfour many years ago highlighted that in the Lord’s prayer we ask God for His Presence, Provision and Protection.  All of these demolish the victim mindset.

As we turn to God as Father, we recognise that He is in heaven, enthroned above every power.

In our powerlessness, we invite heaven to invade earth, trusting in God’s power to bring change around us.

We ask for daily bread, not the power of luxury of riches, but the humility of dependence upon God.  Through history his creative answers to that simple prayer have been stunning and miraculous.

We ask for forgiveness, because the opposite to a victim mindset isn’t using our power to win, it is choosing to yield.  When we recognise our mistakes, we humble ourselves and take responsibility for how we have hurt others.  We yield to God, not to defend ourselves but to trust Him.

The same is true as we choose to forgive others.  A victim blames, attacks, undermines, a disciple of Jesus forgives, releases, breaks the cycle of power games and oppression.

And then we ask God to protect us.  Not from ‘those evil nasty people’, but from the influence of spiritual forces of evil.  We recognise that our battle isn’t flesh and blood, it isn’t cinema execs or secularist trolls on twitter, but the principalities and powers in the spirit realm which battle against the God who overcame them through sacrificial love.

Finally, we pray declaring that the kingdom, the power and the glory are not ours, but they do belong to our Father.  We don’t ask for vindication, political or cultural power, but we choose instead God’s kingdom, power and glory, as we wait for that to be fully seen here in earth.  In praying this we choose patience rather than taking offence.

Praying the Lord’s Prayer with our heads and hearts engaged, demolishes our temptation to play the victim mindset.


U2: Hope and Heart-space

IMG_1041Every few years my favourite band U2 go on tour.  Like many fans, I do everything I can to see them live.  That involves, buying ludicrously expensive tickets months in advance, planning holiday dates and arranging accommodation, it becomes a top priority to fit this special treat into life.  Those 3hrs of entertainment are worth it, because a U2 concert, for me, is like nothing else.  They have become landmarks in my life, not because my life is tied to 4 musicians I’ve never met, but because I find amidst the huge sound, inspiring melodies, soaring guitar solos, lights, graphics and provocative ideas, part of me is awakened from beneath the layers of daily life.
Full immersion into this entertainment experience is partly aesthetic escapism, but also a chance to access the deep recesses of my heart, remember what I’ve stored in there and review what has changed since I last looked.

IMG_1050I went to see U2 on Friday night.  How was it this time?

It was brilliant, clever, hugely creative and majestic. The range from the heart wrenching melody of ‘October’ accompanied by graphics of devastated Syria to the larynx-straining chanting of the big rock anthem classics like Pride, was worth the effort. But I’ll leave the detailed reviewing to the professionals.  I had paid for more than just 3 hrs of entertainment, musical analysis or nostalgia. I invested heavily in a U2 gig in order to be awakened spiritually and emotionally.

The shock for me last night was that God met with me in the midst of one of my least favourite U2 songs. (God likes to mess with my tastes) ‘Bullet the blue sky’, a searing, loud piece of rage against violence & its causes.  Here was a singer, 3 brilliant musicians and an army of graphic designers and video technicians, their combined efforts giving a powerful shout against injustice. IMG_1046

Bono is a prophet, some of you diss him, some of us recognise his genius.  He’s not a ‘God just told me something no one else knows about you’ prophet (I love that type of prophesy), nor a ‘God is angry & is going to smite you if you don’t repent’ prophet (I’m less keen on  prophesy which misses the good news of the new covenant).  Bono is a justice prophet, a Spirit-inspired voice to challenge the bland and self-centred world we live in and I love that type too.

IMG_1075I mentioned that God-met me in ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’. 

Often my encounters with God include him asking me a  question.  Last night he asked me this:

‘Do you have hope that culture can change?’

U2 have been doing that for 35 years.  Bono has given his life to challenging injustice, with rage, melody, poetry and friendship with powerful people.  I believe he’s made a difference.  U2, have made a lot of money, enjoyed fame & travelled the world successfully as entertainers. But the power of their work is still a creativity born from a prophetic hope that speaking against injustice will make a difference.   The average age at the concert, was way above 40, (I felt young) and the ticket prices meant you had to be a die-hard fan to be there.  I was amongst 1000s of others who have over the years given headspace to making the world a healthier, humbler, more peaceful place, inspired by this prophetic voice.   Of the 9 people I knew at the concert, 6 were clergy, no doubt there were many others in leadership in all spheres of life, who have been challenged to think about justice, peace and honesty and live shaped by that.  It can’t be measured, but I believe Bono’s voice has made this world a better place in many ways.

IMG_1067In recent years it seems to have become trendy to criticise U2.  There was a cacophony of cynicism when Apple paid for their latest album to be automatically given as a free (deletable) gift on iTunes.  Millions of pixels of witty sarcasm were typed and tweeted knocking their music, message and manner.  In a digital age of mindboggling diversity of music, to knock another’s musical taste is petty.

I believe the reaction was not about music but about two other things: tribalism and cynicism.

U2 have been famous for a long time, most people over 35 have decided by now if they love them or hate them.  Our nature to form tribes with those we agree with & throw spears, bombs, judgement it witty put-downs at our opponents is part of the human condition. I’d like to enjoy U2 without the music I love being mocked, but sadly those who knock U2 seem to be as forceful with their own opinions as the new atheists…

More significantly, is the underlying battle between cynicism & hope.

One of my favourite quotes is ‘whoever has the most hope, has the most influence.’  – Bono is bold, passionate & outspoken. He uses art to provoke & I believe he’s fuelled both by rage at injustice & hope for a better world. Underlying much of the negativity aimed at him I’ve heard a tone of cynicism. Is some of the cynicism aimed at Bono a dismissal against the hope he carries?

And is that ok?

IMG_1056Finally:  ‘do you have hope that culture can change?’

A U2 concert reminds me of the many problems in our world, the pain and the division which our safe suburban lives can hide from.

U2 use art to bring hope and to challenge thinking.  Like all good art they do so by asking questions not telling us what to think. The quality of the music (& visuals) gets attention, not just through fans turning up, but by powerfully accessing those deeper parts of our soul.

I’m fed up with manipulative, dogmatic preaching. I live in a generation which has been taught to think by question not dogma.  Prophets change culture when they open up our heartspace for the Holy Spirit to bring hope.