We’re all gods now

and so Scotland needs a new Blasphemy Law

Or maybe the law isn’t being Revoked, just Rearmed and Re-aimed

‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are ‘gods’ ”? If he called them “gods”, to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be set aside – what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, “I am God’s Son”?

John’s gospel: chapter 10 verses 33-36

I’ll admit I was rather surprised to see the National Secular Society and the Christian Institute joining forces on a FreeToDisagree.scot campaign.

For whatever reason — and possibly because mid-pandemic is as good a time to bury bad law as any — activists seem to have chosen now to throw out the old blasphemy law (that the Scottish government claim has been inactive for 175 years) and bring in a new Hate speech bill.

This post isn’t an attempt to explain why this is both dangerous and stupid (see FreeToDisagree about that) but simply an observation of what’s going on under the surface.

I was initially surprised by the prominence given to the removal of blasphemy on the Scottish Government page Calling for Views on the proposed legislation. But then as you read through the legislation you can’t fail to notice the way sex is given particular prominence. “Why are politicians and media/activists so obsessed with sex?” we might ask. Actually the two come together if we look at it more clearly.

Let’s step back a little to figure out what’s going on.

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Unless the Lord builds the house

“Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labour in vain.
  Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain”

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

Here we are over 3 months after the lockdown got fully going in the UK, the 132nd of March (31+30+31+30+10) as some wisecracks have put it. Had it not been for delays finding and buying and moving into a house and then the lockdown we had hoped to get to Nigeria again in March. In many ways Elizabeth and Helen in particular seemed to be ready for that in March (and so was I), but God had other plans, so here we are.

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Too long away

Kai! (Exclamation)
We have been away from Nigeria for too long!

It sometimes just strikes me. One way I notice is that when I call up translators on the phone or sign off to friends in Nigeria I have to work just a little bit harder to remember all the correct greetings. And the funniest thing happens. I find that I forget the most recent language I’ve been learning & using (Ishɛ), fumble around and maybe even forget the right Hausa and then find myself wanting to use C’Lela which I learned in NW Nigeria in 2001, or Gworog, which I’ve hardly touched in the last 4 years. Memory is a funny thing.

Joining in a wedding online

But at least today we got a little taste of Nigeria as a mostly Scottish-raised Nigerian lad got married to our minister’s daughter at church today (online). Somehow or other they managed to have not just photos, but some videos of traditional Tiv dancing complete with black-and-white striped traditional fabric and stripy face-masks! While some people outside of Nigeria have heard of the sizeable Igbo and Yoruba tribes, and some may even have heard of the Hausas and Fulanis, not too many have heard of the Tiv, but they’re a pretty substantial tribe in the central south-east of Nigeria. We have some Tivi colleagues in Jos who are working as missionaries with us, and who have introduced us to some of their traditional dances and traditional dresses. So for us it was especially meaningful to see some Tiv culture, hearing some good Nigerian cheering and ululating from family on the livestream, and it reminds us of our second home that we’re missing, even while we are in our Glasgow home.

In many ways this was a complement to a wedding of our colleagues Richard and Anna in Nigeria a month and a half ago. As Richard told me they did the culturally unspeakable thing of getting married without either family present in person!

This COVID season has stressed us and forced a lot of us to think through again what is really important about what we do. While we would have loved to be at weddings in person the fact that they have just gone ahead with a handful of people in person, and most of us online, stripped down to almost bare essentials, speaks volumes.

What matters isn’t impressing people, or having a big fun party, or getting the seating plan just right, but a public commitment and promise to each other in the sight of God. All the extra cultural expectations can sometimes obscure what really matters and the fact this is wild, crazy, dangerous and good.

Julie and I loved the fun of My Big Fat Greek Wedding,* but maybe “My Slimmed Down Covid Wedding” is even more meaningful. The real wedding feast is still to come.


(* Some Northern Irish people may recognise a few familiar aspects)

Valuing God’s Images

Two weeks ago, shortly after protests began over the gratuitous public murder of George Floyd, the chapter of Bible to read with my daughters was Numbers 35. It couldn’t be more relevant for contemporary America… and actually the whole world.

“ ‘If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 17 Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 18 Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death…. 20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies 21 or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer… 30 Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 31 Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death…33 Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.’”

Numbers chapter 35 verses 16-33, NIV

I think that covers suffocating someone with a knee while he warns you he can’t breathe. It pollutes the land. 

Wandbild Portrait George Floyd von Eme Street Art im Mauerpark (Berlin)

Neither capitalist nor socialist, God values human life above property, the weak above the powerful. We see that from how we’re told God made humans in his own image. As someone wisely pointed out, it’s a

which I take to be a nicely indirect way of reminding us that we have statues of God everywhere — living and breathing human beings. That’s why God refused to allow any idols to be made representing him in wood, stone or metal.

We all do well to remember that.

Those are the statues we should defend; especially those living and breathing statues God has sent our way to care for.

Reopening/Reconnecting

I just got an email from our church in Nigeria about a protocol for reopening tomorrow (June 21) in socially safe manner, with this delightfully understated line:

9. Members that do not feel motivated to adhere to the guidelines in this document are welcome to remain home for their and others’ safety.

I may be wrong but I think I detect something of the firm but humorous hand of the senior pastor Solomon Guruza behind that!

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Last Post: Tears to the eyes

Today is VE day: Victory in Europe Day. 75 years ago peace broke out in Europe, and today as Europe struggles along mostly locked down with an unseen enemy laying waste to the economies and life of the countries, trumpeters and buglers are being encouraged to play the Last Post at 2.55pm from their homes.

I’m not sure whether Elizabeth will be able to manage it (she’s still rather new to the trumpet and the high notes are tricky) but I thought I’d look up the music to give her a shot.

I felt unexpectedly emotional. Why is it that I can look at something like this and end up feeling like that? (I’m not moist in the eyes, it’s just hay fever. Honest.)

The Last Post from www.mfiles.co.uk

And why should I not be surprised if very few other people feel the same way?

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Covid-19 Tips from Nigeria: A second burial Ceremony

It’s hard in these coronavirus lockdown days when loved ones die and you can’t be with them at the end and when funerals can’t happen. Christians know it doesn’t really matter for the dead, but for the living. Some funerals are being live-streamed, but every attempt falls short. What can be done?

It occurred to me that a rural community in NW Nigeria might teach us something.

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Job, Poetry & Coronavirus

Some reflections from Job, poetry and coronavirus

If Leviticus is the deathbed of many a read-the-Bible-in-a-year resolutions, I reckon Job is generally just ignored or never reached, which is both a pity and quite understandable. Happening to read it in the last month or so with my 11-year old daughter Rebekah, I’ve really been struck, however, by its relevance as wisdom for our time… and not just the first couple of chapters, a few memory verses in the middle and the last bit.

Let me back up. Reading the Bible with Rebekah is quite interesting; there’s always some good interaction, even if brief. Having directed what we read for most of her 10 years of hearing the Bible, I’ve let her have a bit of limited choice in what we’ll do and she’s interested in getting into hitherto uncharted territory.

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April 16: House Move!

In Brief

Easter Sunday Church with the Tron; rainbow by EasterMeansHope.com

In Glasgow:

  • We’re GO for completing buying our new flat moving in from tomorrow, Friday!
  • The UK’s been in lockdown for about 3 weeks or so.
  • We switched a little into home school mode before Easter, but having a garden would be nice.
  • One of Julie’s elderly relatives (Ethel) is sick with Covid-19.
  • We obviously have no idea when we’ll be able to return to Nigeria.

In Nigeria:

  • No confirmed Covid-19 cases in Plateau state (where the city of Jos is).
  • International and state borders have been sealed for over a week and total curfew enforced in Plateau to stop it coming in.
  • We spoke with our friends and before the end of March sent a little financial help to ensure they could get hold of enough food.
  • Some colleagues have been safely evacuated to the USA, but most are just staying where they are in Nigeria.
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Spiritual Beings

My smart friend and colleague Ben Kuwitzky quotes from Martin Luther:

“If God had wanted me to die thinking I was a clever fellow, he would not have got me into the business of translating the Bible.”

…and even more so when you’re working outside your own culture.

Ghost-busters logo
(From https://pixabay.com/photos/ghostbusters-logo-ecto-1-cadillac-1515155/)

I was reminded of one of my own humbling moments as I read some helpful tips on translating the tricky word πνευμα / spirit / ghost Some time in late 2012 I think, I was working with an enthusiastic, impatient and somewhat struggling Ninkyob* translation team, we came across various spirit-related words in Luke’s gospel and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of relying completely on an English gloss given by the translators to understand the words they were proposing for the Ninkyob translation. After all, when you’re discussing key spiritual or unusual terms through a second language there’s a distinct danger of getting trapped in catastrophic circular reasoning that simply conceals and reinforces misunderstandings. So I thought it would be clever (and useful) to step back a bit and talk more generally about how Ninkyob people discuss ‘spiritual beings’.

What could possibly go wrong?

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