28 August 2006
I’d just thought I’d share it here, however. I’m hoping we’ll be on broadband some time the week of the 4th of September. Don’t even ask.
Community is important to me and I believe that community is an important part of living as a Christian. I am therefore pleased to have been asked to introduce myself to Christians in Kidderminster through the ‘Five Alive’ newsletter.
You will immediately realise upon meeting me that I do not have a British accent. Before you wonder whether you should ask if I’m Canadian or American, let me tell you that I am American. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio but I have been living in London for the last 18 years. In fact, you are likely to notice that my husband, Trevor, sounds very much like the North Londoner that he is.
This is my first appointment as a Methodist minister. I trained for ministry at Wesley House, Cambridge where I have completed my course-work for an MA in Pastoral Theology; I will be working on my dissertation over the next eighteen months. Before beginning my training for the ministry, I worked for a company that advised employers on setting up pension schemes for their employees.
I am keen that Christians of all denominations cooperate together in their communities and I have something of an ecumenical background myself. I was raised a Lutheran, studied for my first theology degree at a Roman Catholic university and have previously been a member of the Church of England. To top it off, the church from which I began my training for the Methodist ministry is a combined Methodist and URC congregation.
Some of my friends might tell you that I like to be a bit different. While I know that many Christians have chosen John 3:16 as their favourite bible verse, my favourite bible verse is 2 Corinthians 5:19 “...in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (NRSV)
This is my favourite bible verse because like John 3:16 it us that we are saved through Christ. But it also tells us that our salvation comes in the form of reconciliation with God; our relationship with God is now a peaceful one because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And because we now free to be at peace with God, we are also called to be bearers of that message of peace and forgiveness to the world.
This is a message of faith and a message of action. It is a message that is both ‘spiritual’ and ‘this-worldly’. I think that John and Charles Wesley would have approved.
Perhaps you can see that there is a connection between the message of reconciliation and peace-making on the one hand and the idea of community on the other hand. At the extreme, without a spirit of reconciliation there can’t be any kind of functioning community. This is a message that I believe the world at large is sadly in need of at the present time. But sometimes we as Christians do not act out this message in our own lives.
I believe that it is possible for Christians to unashamedly proclaim the truth of Christ and him crucified whilst at the same time treating people of other faiths and of no faith with dignity and respect. Indeed, I believe that we are commanded to do so when we are told to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
So what does all of this have to do with me?
These are the things that I believe; these are the reasons that I am passionate about the gospel. I rejoice that God has reconciled me to himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I believe that God calls me not only to tell others that all are reconciled to God through Christ, but also to live a life of reconciliation in the here-and-now.
I believe that Christians can become people of reconciliation by being regular in those activities which John Wesley called ‘the means of grace’. For Wesley this meant being regular at prayer, bible study, public worship and participation in Holy Communion. As a member of the Church which is the priesthood of all believers, it is my intention to regularly make use of these means of growing in discipleship. Although I will most likely need both God’s and your forgiveness somewhere down the line, I also hope to be a person of community and reconciliation. Please pray for me as I will pray for you.
26 August 2006
We’re both taking Thursdays as our day off (even though I have not yet officially started) and this past Thursday, we took the Severn Valley Railway from Kidderminster (see below) to Bridgenorth.
I can’t adequately describe the Severn Valley Railway as I’m not a railway buff. However, it is an ‘historic railway’ run entirely by volunteers and funded by private membership which began in 1970. It runs steam engines and passenger carriages from the 1930s. The stations are all kitted out to be historically accurate, as exemplified by the Kidderminster station below.
Bridgenorth is simply a beautiful town in Shropshire. Here is a photo of a stunning view.
18 August 2006
13 August 2006
The new house has gone from looking like it’s a storage facility to looking like it’s been hit by a hurricane. And that’s definitely an improvement! (See photo below.)
But it’s not all bad. (See photo below.)
I’m not allowed to appear at the churches to which I’ve been assigned until the 1st of September, so this morning I went to the local Anglican church. The churchwardens, R and B were very friendly and introduced me to a number of people and then I found myself part of the parish announcements.
The area is quite attractive and the people are very friendly. Twice over the last few days we’ve had shop assistants approach us and ask if they could help! I’m also finding that people are asking about my American accent and that it’s helping to start conversations.
I’m still on dial-up, though, and won’t get broadband sorted for probably another two weeks or so.
08 August 2006
07 August 2006
Despite my participation in Christian discussion groups on the internet for the last six years, it is only upon entering the world of conversational blogdom in the last few months that I've heard the phrase "It's a Gospel issue" used frequently.
Now I had previously understood this to mean that "This doctrine is so important, that if you step outside of the orthodox understanding, you have stepped into heretical territory."
Now I'm told that "a gospel issue" isn't actually about being heretical, but it's about an idea that is so "dangerous" that it compromises the spreading of the Gospel. Fair enough, I can live with that definition if I've misunderstood. But my first question is how do other people define "gospel issue"?
Secondly - and more importantly to me - if "a gospel issue" is about compromising the spreading of the Gospel, how do we determine what is a "gospel issue" and what isn't? It seems to me that we can make almost anything "a gospel issue" if we use the slippery-slope argument. But then that makes every little jot and tittle of someone's doctrine a "gospel issue".
What do you mean by this term and what are your standards for determining what is and what is not "a gospel issue"?
1. One book that changed your life: Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense by W. H. Vanstone.
It was a book that I read when God was calling me back into faith and into the church. My own faith challenge was never “Is there a God?” but “Is God good or is God both good and evil?” This book helped me to affirm in my heart that God is good.
2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
I don’t normally read books more than once. I probably have done but I can’t think of one off-hand.
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: probably Margaret Silf’s Wayfaring which takes one through St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.
I can’t imagine having only one book on a desert island, but I think this book is probably not only as good as any, but better than most.
4. One book that made you laugh: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson.
This book didn’t only make me laugh, it made me explosively guffaw at inappropriate times on public transport. If you have some knowledge about life in Britain and you want everyone to think you are a stark-raving lunatic so they won’t sit next to you, this is the book for you!
5. One book that made you cry: Anyone who knows me in person knows that I could probably cry reading a book on particle physics.
Probably I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh. Although I’m somewhat nervous about Christian exclusivity, this is one of those amazing stories about God bringing someone to faith in a miraculous way with very little prior knowledge of Christianity or the bible. I have known two un-churched people of “Christian” background who God brought to faith in miraculous ways.
6. One book that you wish had been written: The History of the Kingdom of God: The last 500 years.
7. One book that you wish had never been written: Das Kapital by Karl Marx.
The reason I wish it had never been written is not so much because of the book itself but because of a story I heard about Marx’s childhood – if the story is true. The story is that Marx wrote a paper for his Lutheran confirmation class where he asserted that Acts 2:44-45 were verses to be enacted in this world. He was failed on the grounds that this was not part of Christian discipleship today. How would world history have been different if Marx had become an activist Christian?
8. One book you’re currently reading: The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver.
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Reaching out without Dumbing Down: a theology of worship for the turn-of-the century culture by Marva Dawn.
This is on my bookshelf and I keep meaning to read it.
10. Now tag five people: Sally Dave Will Sandlestraps Dave
06 August 2006
My last service at my home church (see right) this morning. It was the first Sunday of the month and so the worship group sang before the service; I was invited to sing one last time. I'd been worried I would get emotional but I got through the before-service singing just fine.
The worship service was led by a Local Preacher and an "on note" Local Preacher from another church. We stood to sing the first hymn - Seek ye First the Kingdom of God - and I started crying during the "Alleluias" in the second verse. I cried during the second hymn too and then managed to compose myself for the rest of the service which was about how Jesus meets our real, spiritual needs.
What was the closing song? I, the Lord of Sea and Sky. I'm not sure if I even got through to the first chorus and then I just decided that I was going to let other people sing around me and be resigned to the fact that I would just cry through the rest. The woman next to me linked her arm in mine as we finished the last two verses and I felt like I was part of a Christian community and that we we holding each other in our hearts.
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
05 August 2006
You know its getting serious when the airing cupboard starts emptying.
Yesterday, I was feeling quite sad about leaving North London behind. Even though I'm excited to be getting to Kidderminster, leaving is still sad. I've actually lived in London for as long as I lived in Cleveland, Ohio - the city where I was born. So, as an adult, I've lived in London the longest of any single city.
Yesterday (Friday), I went for a walk and was feeling sad about leaving. Friends M and G1 and I had just had dinner together on Thursday. G1 lives just down the street and, as I was walking, I ran into her husband, G2. He said "Hi, how's the move going?" Poor guy, I chose that moment to burst into tears. But he was quite good about it. Even looking forward to going, leaving is emotional stuff. Today is Wonderful Husband's last day at work in the London store.
04 August 2006
Moving day minus four.
Today's word is "dust" d-u-s-t. Not a good thing when you have chronic sinus problems and are allergic to dust.
The post-carrier (the one who delivers packages - do you think we've had too many packages delivered these last three years?) gave us a "good bye and hope you enjoy your new home" card. That was touching.
03 August 2006
Anthea Cox, Methodist Co-ordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social Justice, says; “The Prime Minister has talked of “getting a UN Security Council resolution, which will give us an opportunity both to have a complete cessation of hostilities and to do so on a sustainable and lasting basis." We call upon the British Government to demand an immediate ceasefire and to distance itself from the US support of the Israeli military campaign in Lebanon. We welcome the Government’s call for a UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon and urge the disarming of militias in Lebanon as part of a negotiated settlement.”more here
Long-term British residents interested in volunteering for The Retreat can check out this link.
02 August 2006
We're moving. Some of you knew that.
Two "In Real Life" friends who I only recently learned read my blog said via email "I feel like I know what's going on because I read your blog." So I'm waving to R in New York and M in London.
But what do you say about moving? It's messy. It's disorderly. Wonderful Husband T is running around packing boxes and generally being organised. The post-carrier remarked that the skip (dumpster) outside our house was the neatest skip she'd ever seen.
I suspect that T and I are probably less flustered by moving than many people, but T is definitely less anxious about the whole thing than I am. I think we're both looking forward to where we're going and I'm quite excited (as well as apprehensive) about being a new minister. It's just hard to leave London and hard to leave the friends I've made after almost 18 years here.
But, at the end of the day, moving is moving. I don't have a lot of insightful reflections on the process. Unless "Arrrrrgggghhh!" qualifies as an insightful reflection.
Kim Fabricus has written an excellent article entitled Ten Propositions on Penal Substitution.
He seems to be approaching the subject from a Girardian point of view, which is most certainly an approach that I am enthusiastic about. I would think that fans of the Preaching Peace Website and blog ought to find Kim's article interesting.
Below is some text from a paper I wrote for an MA module on another subject. The paper was not trying to develop a theology of atonement per se. In this section of the paper I was simply trying to explain what I believe "non-violent atonement" to be. (Astute readers will also understand from this why I believe that it is an abomination for Christians to believe that God chooses sides in a war of violence and wants one side destroyed.)
Philosopher Robert Birt's...defines ‘bad faith’ as hiding the truth from myself that ‘I’ am not the only subject and that the other is not an object; this describes what Christians would name as sin. In Christian terms, bad faith might be defined as hiding the truth from oneself that one is not sinless and that the other person is not the only sinner. However, in a Christian construct, when one sees oneself as the only subject and all others as objects, then God also becomes an object. This is idolatry and, in denying one’s own sinfulness, one effectively pronounces that God is a sinner.
It is apparent then, that human bad faith – human sin – is an outrageous affront to God. Were God a human being, it is not hard to imagine that faced with another’s endless invalidation of God’s subjectivity and with another’s endless pronouncement of God as sinner that a lesser god might retaliate with violence. But in the face of endless humiliation, the Christian God does what no human being can do: the Christian God endlessly and peaceably offers forgiveness to those who name God ‘enemy’, thereby offering a way out of the vicious cycle of humanity’s violent objectification of God.
God in Christ breaks into this vicious cycle by offering himself on the cross of what Girard would call our violent mimetic rivalry (2004: 10); simply put, God offers himself for sacrifice on the cross of human anger. This construct effectively posits that Christ’s sacrifice propitiates our anger, not the Father’s anger. (Alison, 2004) Christ is not only crucified for my sin, but he is also crucified by my sin.
If Christ’s death were the end of the matter, then the victimiser would have won and the world would be without hope. However, Christ’s resurrection witnesses to the fact that God’s ‘yes’ is to that which gives life; were this not so, God could simply condemn all of humanity to death and be done with the whole sorry matter of sin once and for all. James Alison states that Christ went willingly to the cross because of his faith in God’s ‘complete aliveness’ (2003: 65) – i.e. his faith that God does not will death. Christ went to the cross not to tell us that we are God’s children, but to create the possibility that we be God’s children. (2003: 64) The cross was necessary, because ‘…we cannot, as we are, imagine beyond, or outside, our formation within death.’ (2003: 63)
Far from being a hopeless vicious circle of violence and retaliation based on a number of different subjective and contextual truths, the Christian ethical system begins with the idea that it is God - creator, redeemer and sustainer of all that exists – who bestows dignity and subjectivity to each human person regardless of skin colour or any other criteria that humans use to disenfranchise the other . The cross allows all human beings to step out of the vicious circle with their God-given human subjectivity intact. The consequence of God breaking into this vicious circle is that our ‘murderous rivalry’ is taken up by God in Christ on the cross and transformed into the possibility of becoming something that is life-giving.
Therefore I believe that ‘the cross’ is a way out of the sinful human cycle of violence that results from sacrificing one human being on the altar of another’s righteous anger. By making the first move toward reconciliation with us, God incarnate as the only genuinely innocent party in history, opened up the possibility of reconciliation within God’s cosmic creation.