Monday, 10 December 2012

Martin Luther on Prayer

Martin Luther on Prayer:

But why should we make our prayers known to God? Doesn't he already know them, even before we begin to pray? Doesn't he himself come to us first, inspiring us to pray? Answer: St. Paul says this to teach us what a righteous prayer should be. Namely, that it should not be thrust into the wind, prayed onto some doubtful excursion, as those who do not consider whether God hears it or not, always remaining uncertain--in fact they think they will not be heard. That, however, is neither to pray nor to ask, but instead is to test and mock God. For, if someone asked me for a pfennig, but did not believe or think that I would actually give him one, then I would not listen. I would think he is mocking me, and is not being serious. Now then, how much more will God not listen to such howling! A prayer should be made known to God, that is, we should not doubt that God hears us and that it comes to his attention, we should be assured that they reach him. If we do not believe that God hears it or that it comes to his attention, then certainly it does not. As we believe, so it happens.

Church Postil (1522), Fourth Sunday in Advent 37

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Letter from Egypt

Just had an email from a friend in Egypt. Egypt always seems to steer where the Arab world goes, so what happens these is important for the world - some stinging criticism of the west here too...

Dear friends,

Egypt needs your help to complete the revolution it began last year. It was started by truly pro-democratic forces that were tired of oppression and corruption; the result was the downfall of Mubarak.

Unfortunately the Islamists jumped on the bandwagon when they saw the uprising beginning to succeed. In the confusion they broke open many jails to release their and Hamas' members. Because of their intimidating use of religion and the manipulative economic tactics they use to buy votes, they "won" the presidency by the slimmest of margins (just over 50%). Unfortunately it seems almost certain that Egypt's top military leaders at that time cut a deal with the Islamists and handed them the presidency in return for not being held accountable for their own corruption. Subsequent events have confirmed this in the minds of millions of Egyptians: top military leaders were given honorable discharge.

The first few months of Islamist rule have been dismal. The freedom of the press has been under attack. The harassment of women and Christians is alarming. The economy and infrastructure continue to deteriorate. Weapons and other resources have been passed to Hamas in Gaza. Radical groups are threatening the stability of the Sinai Peninsula.

With their cloak of sham democracy, Islamists are now trying to force a very flawed constitution on the country. Political leaders, judges, lawyers, constitutional experts and journalists have rejected the constitution as well as the way it is being proposed to voters. Several assistants to the president have resigned in the last few days in protest at his actions. Millions of people have poured into the streets all over the country since his dictatorial announcement of November 22. Unfortunately, peaceful demonstrators have been attacked in the last few hours with deaths and injuries being reported. Among those demonstrating are students, friends and other loved ones. As a sign of the nations's outrage, Muslim Brotherhood offices are being attacked in several cities. But they retain their power through intimidation and heavy funding (and international backing?).

We need your help. Firstly we need your prayers. We also plead with you to communicate this message to your church, other organization, influential friends, press and/or government leaders: Are we supporting freedom in Egypt? Do we want an Islamist Mideast or a truly democratic one? What is happening in Egypt is remarkable. Millions of Muslims are rejecting those who are using their religion as a tool for political gain. Christians are standing next to these moderate Muslims and together they are making a difference. But why is so much of Western media strangely silent or ambiguous in the message that it is sending?

Specifically we want the president to rescind his unconstitutional declaration of November 22 and gain the consensus of major political parties on the proposed constitution before it is submitted to a referendum. We also demand that the government protect peaceful demonstrators and bring the attackers of the last few hours to justice.

If Western countries don't stand against religious bigotry and defend freedom now, they will have to answer before history and before the people of the Mideast who are tired of hearing pro-democractic rhetoric from the West and yet see contradictory behavior.

Please let me know if you need more information or have questions. Once more we are asking for your prayers and the use of your influence however small it may be. The way Egypt goes will influence the entire Arab world.

You can use this email in any way you deem to be wise and effective. If you are concerned by the ramifications it could have on us, please consult me ahead of time.

Rescue the Arab Spring from turning into a cold and dead winter.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Euro 2012 - The tournament that money cannot buy

Euro 2012 has been growing on me. I hate the adverts with fake fans waving flags, corporate sponsors pretending to like football, The facepaints, the Mexican Waves - and Ireland’s footballers’ (but not the fans’) performances have been disappointing. On the whole, however, it has been pretty good so far. But there is one thing I have particularly enjoyed – the fact that no-one can buy this tournament.

If you have read my previous blog, you will be aware of my depressed state about the state and future of football. Clubs who got rich by winning the lottery, instead of long-term hard work and careful management won the big prizes. Cardiff have had to change their shirt colours because their new Malaysian owners think red is a lucky colour and the Chinese prefer dragons to bluebirds.

The thing I really like about the Euros is that no-one can buy the cup. Money is irrelevant in this competition. Players play for teams not because they are paid a fortune, but because it is their country; teams are bound together not by a billionaire’s money but by national origin; fans support the team not because they are successful but because that’s their country.

International football these days is of a lower standard than club football. Teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid Bayern Munich etc. have more time together, and can be assembled from any part of the world. If you don’t have a good left back you go out and buy one. If there isn’t a good English left back, then tough, you have to make do with what you have. As a result, club football has overtaken international football as the pinnacle of the game. To be honest I have always favoured club before country. But I just wonder if the tide will turn. As more and more of club football gets dominated by the lottery of billionaires buying toys to play with, maybe international football will be the only place left where football retains a bit of purity, the only place where money does not win.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Money and the Future of Football

Ever since Man City won the Premier League and Chelsea won the Champions League I have felt rather depressed about the state and future of football. I’ve have fired off the odd frustrated tweet about how Money has finally won the day, but usually get messages back accusing me of sour grapes because Man United didn’t win anything this season. 140 characters is not enough to mount an argument, so this is to explain my point.

It’s not that I don’t like them. I actually quite like watching Man City play. Mancini, Kompany etc. have been truly gracious in victory (Chelsea are a different story, but I won’t go there!). And for the umpteenth time, yes of course I know Man United have spent a lot of money in recent years. It is impossible to win anything big in football these days without spending money. The point however is how that money has been acquired and the degree to which that money swings the ability to win trophies. The difference between Man City & Chelsea and all the other main clubs at the top of the EPL (Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United, Spurs etc.) is that Chelsea and Man City alone have been massively boosted by the random injection of unimaginable amounts of cash by individual donors, money which at least in Abramovitch’s case is highly dubious, as pointed out by Dave Boyle in a recent article.

Roman Abramovitch and Sheikh Mansour could have chosen any club, but happened to choose Chelsea and Man City as objects of their largesse. In other words the money acquired has little to do with their identity or history as a club, skill at management, whether or not they have bought or sold well, levels of support, fan loyalty etc. United, Liverpool, Arsenal etc. have survived and sometimes thrived, instead by virtue of a gradual build-up of good management, tradition, stewardship of resources etc. In fact for many of them, their owners have been a handicap to success rather than a bonus. The Hicks & Gillette era at Liverpool was an unmitigated disaster. United have spent £71m on debt repayments over the past 9 months - they could have bought two Eden Hazards for that, with some change left over. In addition, the money Chelsea and Man City receive means they can offer players virtually what they want, which means that clubs such as Arsenal and United will struggle to attract top players any more, or at least ones for whom the pay packet is a primary factor in who to sign up for. In addition it means that clubs like Portsmouth and Leeds have almost gone bankrupt as a result of trying to keep up, and more will follow in time.

It is hard to see how Chelsea and Man City would have won what they have won this season without Abramovitch and Mansour. These donations have hugely tipped the balance in their favour, and the result is that there is no longer a level playing field in English football. If City & Chelsea can trump anything United, Arsenal or Liverpool can offer, the latter will find it hard to get the best players. While such injections of cash were not met with success, it was possible to cling to the hope that tradition, good management of resources and old football nous would win out. But this season, finally the big donors got what they wanted. And that is truly depressing for the future of football.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Wearing the Cross

Last weekend, there was a bit of discussion around wearing the cross as a public demonstration of Christian faith. Cardinal Keith O'Brien suggests Christians should openly wear a cross as a symbol of their belief. Giles Fraser, however perfers the empty tomb as a symbol (interesting - what would an empty tomb lapel badge look like?). For him, the cross is a symbol of torture and the domestication of Christianity to empire.

To my mind, both miss the point about the way the cross works as a Christian symbol.

Originally it was pagans who mocked Christians with the accusation that their leader had been executed on a cross - a form of execution reserved mainly for slaves and criminals - those to be humiliated. The cross was the asymbol of defeat and shame with which Christians were taunted. And yet before long, those very Christians turned the accusation on its head by decorating their churches and signing themselves with the cross with a delicious touch of irony, turning something shameful into a badge of pride.

This manoevre, turning an insult into a badge worn with pride is a sign of a confident and assured movement. To shift focus a little, in the 1990s, opposition fans at Old Trafford used to mock the home fans' rendition of 'Glory, Glory, Man United' with their own version: "Who the f*** are Man United?" today, after years of triumph and success, United fans themselves sing the latter version with gusto, turning everything on its head. In the 1950s and 60s the word 'black' was considered to be an insult to what were at the time called 'coloured' people. in the C20th, Homosexuals turned the originally insulting words 'gay' or 'queer' into titles of pride. Even the word 'Christian' was originally coined as a Latinism by the very Roman authorities in Antioch that sought to suppress the new superstition that was arising in the city, which then became adopted as a self-chosen designation by the movement.

The use of the cross by Christians is exactly that kind of confident ironic paradox - the turning of a badge of shame into a sign of identity. It isn't a sign of Constantinian political religion, as Giles Fraser fears, or a defiant stand made by beleaguered Christians in a secular culture,  but a touch of self-mocking irony - a sign of the overturning of values that happens in the kingdom of God, which is why Christians should wear it with pride. And a smile.

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