Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Welcome to the Chrysolis Blog Archive (2012-2015)

We are currently in the process of reworking our main website and as part of that process we are removing old blog posts from there and moving them here to this site.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Ten ways the Lord's Prayer threatens us all

This week the Church of England has had an advert about prayer "banned" from cinemas in the UK. Even atheist kingpin Richard Dawkins thinks it's a mad decision.

The commercial was a simple recitation of the Lord's Prayer from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and directed viewers to a new website promoting prayer:

Many comments on social media suggest that the prayer is viewed as a harmless little item about which no-one should worry. I partially agree; the advert is about as gentle a means of promoting spirituality or religion as one can possibly imagine. 

Yet, the contents of the Lord's Prayer are not as cosy as we might first assume. If we really listen to it then it is quite a threatening few lines of text. Jesus intended it as a model for all our prayers, and there are at least ten areas in which the Lord's Prayer would threaten us all if we prayed it in sincerity:

Threat One:                   Our Sense of Personal Choice.

“Our Father” - God is not described as an optional aspect of reality. He’s not something I can decide is "not for me". Our relationship (or lack thereof) with our parents reverberates through every aspect of our lives. So the prayer claims it is with God, "our Father".

Threat Two:                  Seeing The World In Only Material Terms.

“Who Art in Heaven” – Heaven, in the Bible, is not a far-away place people go when they die. It is a non-physical reality which interlocks with our own and of which God is a part. Reality, according to the Lord's prayer, is not limited to what we can measure and touch. It includes much more.

In C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy and Edmund meet a retired star named Ramandu:

“Aren’t you a star any longer?” asked Lucy.

“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu...

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

To pray the Lord's prayer is to agree with Ramandu, and with Jesus, that reality is more than physical and material.

Threat Three:                Freedom to Treat God as Only An Idea

“Hallowed Be Your Name” – To hallow something is to honour it and act as if it has worth. "Name", in Jesus' time, meant "the person that name refers to, and everything which can be said about them". Jesus says we should pray that God be honoured and that people live as if he were real. To pray the Lord's prayer, then, is to ask that we (and others) live life in light of his reality.

Threat Four:                  The Prioritization Of Our Own Agendas

“Your Kingdom Come, your will be done” - Jesus message was a political one. He positioned himself as the rightful king of the world. The maker of the world come as one of us and living among us. The movement he began was intended as a vehicle for the extension of his rule - his "Kingdom" - over all reality. He was not seen by contemporaries as a beatific halo-capped peacenik whose only crime was to smile too much. Every existing structure of society he encountered, whether religious or political, ended up wanting him dead. He was a threat to all their power and autonomy.

Even his very first public sermon to a group of peasants didn't finish with chit-chat over tea, custard cream biscuits, and murmurings of “thank you, vicar”. Instead an angry mob tried to throw him off a cliff. He’d told them God was stretching his hand out to embrace the occupiers as well as the occupied. He was King of Rome as well as Jerusalem and he intended for his Kingdom to include both groups.

But Jesus’ didn't describe this new Kingdom reality as being achieved through the mechanisms of geo-political state power. When Jesus said (during his trial) “my Kingdom is not of this world”, he wasn't suggesting that it is some ethereal entity which awaits us beyond the grave. He was simply affirming that it would be achieved by means quite different than those used by purely human governments.

Jesus modelled a life of self-sacrificial service, reality-affecting prayer, and verbal persuasion. These were his "weapons". He actively opposed military involvement and infuriated all shades of political opinion in his day by failing to endorse their agendas. This was no easy move. He grew up in an occupied territory which was subject to constant abuses of power from Roman soldiers and governors.

The expectation of his friends and family was that he pick a side. And yet his inner circle of twelve followers included a tax collector - a compromised Roman collaborator who enforced Caesar’s levies on the beleaguered populace – and also a member of the violently anti-Rome revolutionary (or even, one might say, “terrorist”) group the Zealots. His band of friends spanned the existing political spectrum without falling anywhere on it.

Even today Jesus infuriates for all the same reasons. He isn't advocating any of our agendas. Instead he is suggesting we get on board with him and follow his.

Threat Five:                  Our Otherworldly Spiritualities

"On earth as it is in heaven" - Heaven isn't a place you go when you die. It's a reality which comes here to us. The unseen, interlocking, realm of heaven is supposed to break out and manifest constantly around us. God's priorities - justice, kindness, compassion, goodness - are to shape our world here and now. A spirituality which is only about nice personal experiences and the hope of a pleasant afterlife is out of synch with Jesus.

When we pray for heaven to manifest on earth we are asking that the refugee crisis, the sex trade, poverty and economics, ecological abuse, global conflict, the fate of abandoned children, our neighbourhoods, our families, and everything else around us, take on a different form. Pray "on earth as it is in heaven" and you risk God replying "nice prayer, I'd love to work with you on this".

Threat Six:                  Our Comfort

"Give us this day our daily bread" - Not our daily cake. Nor our daily beer. Not even our daily sushi. Just what we need. And even for that we are dependent on God.

Threat Seven:             Our Smugness

"Forgive us our trespasses" - Shocking news! You and I are part of the problem. We don't get to be part of Jesus' Kingdom agenda just by being pleasant folk who hold acceptable opinions. We all need to be forgiven. Not just for unethical behaviour, but for marginalizing God and seeking to live life apart from him.

Threat Eight:              Our Bitterness

"As we forgive those who trespass against us" - The good news is that you can be forgiven. Nothing puts you beyond the reach of God's grace. The tricky consequence of this is that we are also expected to forgive others. Not just the sinners like ISIS we read about in the news. But the sinners we live with, are married to, were raised by, and with whom we work each day. 

Threat Nine:             Our Vending Machine Mindset

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" - God doesn't just want to forgive us for the messiness of our lives. He wants to help clean it up. We don't just confess. We also ask for help to change. For habits to be broken and compromising situations to be avoided. It's about wrestling things through in conjunction with him, not simply pressing a button and receiving absolution.

Threat Ten:             Our Current Mode of Life

If we believed the Lord's prayer then we would see ourselves as part of a reality which is more than physical, where there is a real God who expects his existence to shape our daily lives. We would respond not by asking God to support our own agendas, but would instead seek forgiveness for our own self-centredness, and begin following him in accordance with how he has made himself manifest in the life and teachings of Jesus. In the process we and also our surroundings would be transformed for the better.

It threatens to change our current mode of life. But maybe not all threats are to feared. Maybe some are to embraced. Or, at the very least, to be investigated.

Luke Cawley is Director of

Chrysolis and author of:

Monday, 12 October 2015

Speaking of Sin

This past weekend we launched the first Romanian cohort of Chrysolis Academy, our training program for emerging communicators.

One topic which came frequently up during our discussion times was the question of sin; what place does it have in communication about the Christian faith to newcomers.

My friend and mentor Michael Green is one the best thinkers and practitioners I know in this area. Don't let his age fool you; he's sharp and culturally aware.

He has a presentation he regularly gives on "Preaching Sin in Today's Culture", and it's one of the most useful talks to watch for anyone involved in communicating about Jesus to people investigating him for the first time. Check it out, here:

Monday, 5 October 2015

What People Outside The Church Think of Jesus

What do people in the UK think about Jesus? Check out this little video to see the fruits of recent research by the Evangelical Alliance: 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Upcoming Movie: Young Messiah

Jesus' childhood is the theme of upcoming Hollywood movie Young Messiah, based on a book by Anne Rice which emphasizes Jesus's humanity as much as his divinity.

Take a look at the sneak preview and share your reactions:

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Strange Case of Westboro Baptist Church

Westboro Baptist Church has hit the headlines again. This time it's been Rickrolled by a members of popular band Foo Fighters (Rickrolling is the noble art of blasting someone with a song by 80s pop idol Rick Astley).

You've probably heard of Westboro Baptist Church. They are famous for picketing funerals with signs proclaiming things they believe God hates. Apparently he is not fond of gay people:

According to Westboro Baptist Church, in fact, he is not even that well-disposed towards the world:

One humorous individual trolled a Westboro protest with his own proclamation that "God Hates Signs":

Interesting though Westboro Baptist Church is, however, it's also a tiny bit odd that they get so much media coverage. You can't go a month or two without them being cited or photographed in the national press. They are frequently portrayed as a major stream within the Christian church. Representative of the wider movement.

Yet Westboro Baptist Church itself has just forty members. Most are related to one another. The last UK city I lived in, Stoke-on-Trent, had at least thirty churches with larger memberships. The church where we are members, Swanbank, has more than ten times as many attendees as Westboro. And it wouldn't even make a list of the biggest churches in the UK let alone compare to the largest in the USA. Yet somehow Westboro Baptist keeps reaching the headlines.

I have never met a single Christian with even a slither of admiration for Westboro Baptist Church. When most Christians wave signs in public, in fact, it is normally this one which you've doubtless seen held aloft in the crowd at sporting events:

John 3:16, in case you've never heard of it, is a bible verse often understood by Christians to offer a neat summary of their message. It's underlined in this photo:

Yes, you read that right, it's about God loving the world, including gay people and everybody else too. And inviting the whole world to trust him.

Little wonder that most of us trying to follow Jesus today shake our heads in disbelief when we see Westboro Baptist Church being mentioned in a newspaper or on TV. Their message is contrary to the basic beliefs of most Christians, their signs are the inverse of Biblical teaching, and their membership is lower than many church youth groups. 

So why are do they grab so much attention? I'd love to hear your thoughts and reaction below!

Luke Cawley is Director of

Chrysolis and author of:

Monday, 11 May 2015

Modern Art, Sex, and Reality (by Gareth Leaney)

When I come across someone who doesnt like contemporary art (which is often), they usually mention one of two things.  One is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1992) by Damien Hirst, more often referred to as the shark in the tank.

The other is My Bed(1998) by Tracey Emin.  For such people, they epitomise everything wrong with the art world.  But, ever the contrarian, I love them both.  The great news is that My Bed (below) recently arrived back at Tate Britain, where it first went on show 1999 as part of Emins Turner Prize nomination.  So if youre within striking distance of London you can take a look for yourself.

If youre not familiar with My Bed, the title is pretty literal.  Back in 1998 Emin (below) spent four straight days in bed after a painful relationship break up.  When she emerged, from her bed and from her depression, this was what remained. 

She packed up the whole thing, down to the last cotton bud and cigarette butt, and installed it in Tate Britain when she was nominated for the Turner Prize.  (Emin didnt win, but her work hit the tabloid headlines in a big way, even overshadowing the eventual winner, Steve McQueen.  To this day, you occasionally hear Emin incorrectly described as a Turner Prize winner, usually with an air of disdain).

My Bed presents you with a couple of challenges, particularly if you like your art in beautiful flat rectangles.  The more immediate challenge is, what is it actually about?  This links with a bigger question: is it really art?  And then, inevitably, is it any good?  If youre less familiar with contemporary art, then you would probably ask similar questions about most of the work down one side of Tate Britain (the other side is full of beautiful flat rectangles, which tend to tick the boxes for people in a more straightforward way).

At the heart of it, My Bed is about transition and change.  It captures a pivotal moment in Tracey Emins life, where she made a decision to get up and move on.

In many ways its a kind of chrysalis, the hard, ugly shell left behind when a caterpillar goes through the traumatic but transformative process of becoming a butterfly.  Its an experience any observer can identify with: each night we roll into bed tired and weary, and emerge the next morning reenergised to face the day.  Emin cleverly represents a point of movement and change by freezing a moment of time that most of us would want to tidy up and leave behind.

The two suitcases, added later, add another layer to this idea of movement.  One is the battered old suitcase of Emins youth, the other is the sophisticated luggage befitting a serious artist.  They are arrival and departure, where shes been and where shes going.  But they are inseparable, connected and united by this moment.

My Bed is helpfully paired with some other works to give it contrast.  There are two similarly visceral paintings by Francis Bacon, which also share the feeling of movement and transition.  And there are a series of more recent paintings by Emin.  On one hand they appear very different - smaller and more subtle, even delicate.  But a closer look ties them directly back to My Bed - they are vulnerable and shocking in their portrayal of sexuality and the sexual act, and of the impact of both on a relationship and on a person.

In many ways, this is a self-portrait.  Actually it is more of a negative image, the space left where Tracey had been.  There isnt just a physical imprint left behind in this unmade bed.  The cigarette ends and empty vodka bottles; the slippers and underwear; the traces of blood and sweat, and the photographs - the physical objects tell a very real story of pain and eventual triumph.

There is also something very vulnerable about My Bed.  Even the title makes me a little uncomfortable, because I hate the idea of my bed - my own bed - sitting in an art gallery.  A bed is a private place, probably the most private of places, but Tracey Emin puts hers on display for the world to see.  And this isnt a sanitised, dry-cleaned and neatly-made version of events.  This is real life. Its the brutal honesty that runs through much of Emins work and, I think, what makes it so shocking and compelling in equal measure.

But is it art, and is it any good?  Wiser people than me have spent pages or writing and hours of chat to try to decide what constitutes art, and even more deciding what makes that art good.  My Bed tells the truth, and the truth is not always beautiful.  Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable, even brutal.  My Bedis made all the more uncomfortable because it feels so close to home.  Each of us makes our own version every day, only we don't choose to let thousands of people come and have a look.  We often claim, I couldve made that as though its a bad thing; here, I think its what gives Emins work much of its power.

As a follower of Jesus, I dont need to be afraid of the truth.  I can be realistic about the state of the world, broken as it has been by the impact of sin.  And I can be realistic about the ways that impacts my own hearts and the hearts of the people around me.  But I can also face the truth with optimism, because I believe in a God who changes things.  One other aspect to My Bed could be the idea of resurrection; Emin went to bed broken and hurting, and was ultimately restored to a new and different kind of life.  Its this hope of resurrection, of the ultimate change and transformation only hinted at by Tracey Emin, which allow us to face the truth about life head on.

Also, as I heard a guide telling a group looking at My Bedif its in Tate Britain long enough, everyone will like it anyway.

Gareth Leaney is Director of Training