I'm not blogging here any longer, and I'm afraid I probably won't pick up on any new comments either. I'm now blogging at The Evangelical Liberal but I'm leaving these old posts up as an archive.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What you've been missing...

Apologies to all my beloved devoted, faithful and regular readers (hi Terry). I must confess I've entirely neglected Colourless Green Dreams for the last six months since starting up a new and more focused blog over on Wordpress (I hear the 'boo hiss' from the Blogger community), The Evangelical Liberal. This is a blog 'to explore more open and liberated ways of being a Christian, particularly for those who have struggled to find their way within the evangelical tradition'.

Do come and join in the fun. I've been called stupid and a liar by an atheist, warned that I'm in danger of hell by a fundamentalist, got into fruitless debates with some very nice Americans about US foreign policy and Osama's death, and generally engaged in all sorts of interesting conversations. Come and contribute - I've missed you. :-)

In the meantime, here are some of the highlights from the past six months:

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

New year, new blog

Happy New Year to everyone. Isn't it rubbish being back at work?

Never mind, in honour of the new year I've finally got round to setting up a new blog, The Evangelical Liberal. Don't worry, I'm not going all dodgy - well, no dodgier than I've already been for a long time. The title is simply about reclaiming Christ's good news ('evangel') from the religious right, and his freedom ('liber') from the opposite extreme.

It's mainly a blog for anyone who still sees themselves as a broadly evangelical Christian, but finds mainstream, conservative evangelicalism too straitjacketing, black-and-white and overly concerned with correct doctrine at the expense of a genuinely transformed and authentic life. It's about a search for reality, warts and all, rather than an ideal systematised theology that bears little relation to real life.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas story - A shepherd's carol

Some of you may have already read this short yarn last year, in which case I can only say - why not read it again? Christmas is after all the time for re-runs and repeats. ;-)

Or else have a look at my other recent Christmassy contributions:
A Christmas carol
Merry Christmas... bah humbug

A shepherd's carol

The most terrible happenings last week – terrible; I still can’t speak about it… the dead of night, all those little ones, and their mothers and dads looking on helpless as those cruel soldiers strike down like wolves on lambs, Yahweh have mercy… I can’t bear to think about it. Terrible, terrible happenings. Such loss, such horror, such barbarity, and for what? For what? Things round these parts won’t be the same for many a long lambing.

And yet, and yet... there was that other night, two years back now, and nothing that happens can change that. Strange things happened that night, wonderful things beyond explanation. The brutality of kings and Caesars is nothing new to these parts, heaven knows, but this – this was something not heard of in all the ages. Thinking about it again gives me hope... helps ease the hurt...

Read the full story

Monday, 13 December 2010

Tithing, obedience and bad exegesis

Honestly, why do some people - particularly pastors - get so hung up on tithing? Yesterday's daily devotional from Purpose Driven Life (TM) contains this paragraph:

"Often we try to offer God partial obedience. We want to pick and choose the commands we obey... I'll attend church but I won't tithe... Yet partial obedience is disobedience."
And back in August 2009, the same good old Rick Warren went a little further. After quoting on tithing from Deuteronomy 14:23, he wrote:

"We develop spiritual fitness when we honor God by giving him a tithe every week... Why would anybody have to do that? Because God says so and that’s reason enough. If you don’t do it, you’re disobeying God."
Sorry, but that's just wrong, and irresponsibly wrong at that. Tithing is an Old Testament command; the New Testament equivalent is simply giving, and it is not so much a command as a request based on gratitude to God and love and care for others.

Bad exegesis

Failing to tithe is in the same category as failing to follow regulations on sacrifices for mildew infestations
It's plain bad exegesis (not to mention pastorally abusive) to rip a couple of verses about tithing out of Deuteronomy and Malachi and then claim that not following them is disobeying God's command. Tithing is part of the old Mosaic law and relates to the temple-centric structure of ancient Israelite society. Jesus doesn't mention tithing (except in a slightly disparaging passing reference to the Pharisees' habit of tithing herbs); it forms no part of the instructions to Gentile converts in Acts; and even Paul doesn't refer to it. Tithing simply is not a binding command on Christians, and failing to tithe just is not disobedience to God. Full stop.

Picking and choosing

Rick Warren talks freely of the danger of 'picking and choosing' which biblical commands we will obey. But he himself is picking and choosing which Old Testament laws he deems still to apply to Christians.

Failing to give, most importantly failing to love and care - these are the real spiritual problems to address in our lives. Failing to tithe comes into roughly the same category as failing to follow Levitical regulations on proper sacrifices for infestations of mildew.

The cynic in me can't help wondering occasionally whether tithing would be preached on so often if it did not directly financially affect churches and their leaders...

(NB I should point out that this does not apply to the leaders of the church I belong to, who take a very sensible and liberating attitude towards personal giving.)

Friday, 10 December 2010

A Christmas carol

After ranting on about Christmas in my last blog post, I thought it was time to contribute something (hopefully) a bit more positive. So here's a rough demo version of a new carol what I wrote. :-)

Into the dark of Earth's long night

Into the dark of earth's long night
Shines the star of heaven's light
Into the heart of winter sky
Rises this star so bright, so high
Guiding us with its quick’ning ray
Heralding long-awaited day
Into the dark of earth's long night
Shines the star of heaven's light

Into the dark of sin and shame
Blazes the light of heaven's flame
This flame which burns so pure and strong
Promising end to harm and wrong
Bringing to us love's holy light
Come to restore our broken sight
Into the dark of sin and shame
Shines the light of heaven's flame

Into our winter deep and long,
Sound the notes of heaven's song
This song which melts the frozen heart
Breaking its ice-bound chains apart
Making our souls and spirits sing
With the joy of coming spring
Into our winter deep and long
Sound the notes of heaven's song.

A bunch of my other songs and tunes are available here.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Merry Christmas one and all (bah humbug)

I love Christmas and I hate it; I look forward to it and dread it in almost equal measure.

On the one side is all the sheer insanity of the crass commercialism starting earlier each year, with its attendant tide of tasteless tinselly tat, dancing snowmen and singing reindeer; the annual ear-torture of Christmas singles and ceaseless repetitions of Slade, George Michael and Chris de Burgh; the hideous 'Christmas specials' and family films about elves, and X-list celebs appearing in puerile pantos in a hopeless bid to revive their careers.

And then there's the needless nightmare of Christmas shopping and the pressures of present-buying for people who don't need anything and card-writing for people who ceased to be your friends years ago. And finally there's all the endless enforced jollity and sociableness with people you probably wouldn't normally pass the time of day with. (NB - no reference to my own relatives and in-laws of course, who are all lovely and who I still want to be on speaking terms with, especially if they're planning to buy me presents. :-))

Put all this together and just for once I'm tempted to support my arch-nemesis Ollie Cromwell in banning the whole sorry business for good. If all this was all there were to Christmas, I'd hate it with a venomous passion and join with Scrooge in a hearty chorus of 'Bah humbug!'; I'd be glad if the Grinch truly had stolen Christmas and never brought it back. For all this isn't Christmas; it's X-mas - to paraphrase poet Gordon Bailey, X for a wrong answer; X for something messed up and crossed out; X for a meaningless kiss; X for the 'ex' of something that used to be but is no longer, like an ex-girlfriend.

The light shines in the darkness

And yet... there is another side which all the tide of tat, Slade, commercialism and false jollity can never quite drown out, though it tries its hardest. I just can't deny that buried under it all and gleaming through the gaps there is a genuine magic to Christmas, something of true wonder and beauty. It is the wonder of a lone star in a night of unrelenting midwinter dark; the beauty of a lone voice singing an ancient and lovely carol amid the brassy blare of Xmas noise.

True Christmas is an unexpected light in the blackest darkness; an unlooked-for hope amid the deepest despair; a sign of life and truth in the most unlikely and unlooked-for place. It is a child born in poverty and obscurity to bring new life and light to the world; it is a song sung not by Slade but by angels, and heard not by frustrated shoppers but by frightened shepherds in a forgotten backwater. "The people that walk in darkness have seen a great light... the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

(I don't, by the way, object to fairy lights and Father Christmas, which have the magic of myth and childhood and expectancy, and like all good myth have roots in something of truth and beauty.)

It's no coincidence that both some of the best and worst, happiest and most difficult times of my own life have been around Christmas. Seventeen years ago I suffered a severe breakdown at Christmas, and yet on the back of that I found faith, new purpose and a new life; and three years later at Christmas I got engaged to the lovely and long-suffering person who for some reason has consented to share a life with me.

I hate Xmas because I love Christmas. Bah humbug to Xmas; Merry Christmas one and all.

Saturday, 4 December 2010


Okay, the snow's mostly going now, here at least. I know it's been disruptive, dangerous for some, but I love snow. It makes me feel like a child again (not that it takes much). And it's just so beautiful.

So here's a kind of meditation on snow - and kind of on God - that I wrote 3 years ago in another snowy patch:

Snow meditation

Snow – this symbol of purity and grace, a bridal raiment,
Shining robe of righteousness upon the undeserving earth.

A miracle – billions on billions of snowflakes,
Each unique – like us.

Some see holiness and God like snow –
Cold, unliving, unfeeling, freezing out life,
Destroying crops, disrupting life and
Causing men to stumble as they walk.

I see snow like holiness and God –

Joyful, playful, life-enhancing,
Ready to be sculpted by small eager hands

Like love, covering a multitude of sins and filth and ugliness
(even Croydon is lovely on a snowy day)

Settling alike on poor and rich, great and small,
Clean and dirty, worthy and unworthy

If only for a brief hour, a day
Like a fleeting smile,
A glittering diadem placed upon the brow.

Covering like a mantle, a fur-rich blanket,
Like wool upon sheep

Self-sacrificial, incarnational,
Coming down to us from heaven
Mixing with our muck and mud, our feet and hands,
Consenting to be trampled, mangled, muddied, man-handled,
Flung about, destroyed.

We wreck the snow, despoil it, fling it, dirty it
But it stays silent, like the sheep before the shearers
And though it fades and melts and turns to muddy slush
It will return.

And when it melts, it leaves us clean.