26 October 2006
24 October 2006
23 October 2006
It's worth trying to express the experience in prose, however, because it was one of those times when God just suddenly - and rather unexpectedly - broke through in a very real and very powerful way. It just happened. I don't think there was any particular reason why it happened; the service was certainly not one that was trying to "whip up an experience".
Admittedly, it was a wonderful service. It was a combined service with our Anglican brothers and sisters as well as visiting Lutheran guests from Eastern Germany. There were about 100 people at the service - a very unusual experience for a Methodist - and the mood was celebratory. Truth be told, I was feeling positive about "the world church" and the realisation that the small Methodist congregation in this village isn't the only Christian community in the world (obvious, but sometimes one loses that perspective).
The Lutheran minister and I were asked to assist at communion as servers, with the Anglican vicar, G, presiding. G served us communion first and as he gave me the bread, he used the traditional words "The body of Christ, keep you in everlasting life". Suddenly, for a split second, God in Christ was present. He was just there. And I caught my breath. Ohhhhhh! And then the moment was gone. Numinous moments are like that.
This was a "touchstone event" - an event that one can draw on in the future as a spiritual "touchstone" in times of struggle. However, it is going to take me months to work through exactly what it means. In my experience, these sorts of events happen only once every several years.
In the meantime, I am filled with the sense of God's presence as a great light, a great generosity. A God who is inexpressible creativity and benevolent yearning. I really can't find the words for the power of this creative, loving light. I wish I could find the words.
22 October 2006
You are the host
at the communion feast of life.
My soul aches for you,
yearns for you.
My whole being groans
to be near you.
I am such a poor servant,
yet you draw near,
flesh and blood,
calling me by name.
Here is this evening's sermon, which is off-lectionary: Identity in Christ
I've always found the Enneagram a bit confusing and have generally found the MBTI system to be more useful for my own purposes (I'm INFJ in case anyone's interested).
When taking the Enneagram tests, I've never really felt intuitively drawn to the type that was supposed to be my type (4). However, I think that there are things about my personality that have changed over the last couple of years, and so I changed a few of my answers to the "I have been..." questions. Thinking how "I have been" over the last two years rather than how I have been over the course of my adult life.
And the result is a score that seems much more intuitively correct. So I offer it's icon here. (N.b. responses warning me not to take these things too seriously aren't necessary.)
21 October 2006
20 October 2006
There is something about this definition of evil that gives a very rich meaning to the idea of God as Creator. The God who "fights" evil by being creative, by making something where there was nothing.
19 October 2006
For the last five or six years, I've become more and more convinced that both the "liberal" end of the Christian church (whatever that term means) and the "conservative" end of the Christian church (whatever that term means) need each other.
Yesterday, I was doing some of reading pertinent to my "continued theological education" when I came across the following thought on Wisdom. Wisdom, the author said, can either be acquired by accepting revelation or by an arduous process of discovery.
In discussing theology on the internet for the last six years, it seems to me that some people really need to question (arduous process of discovery) and some people are much better off and more comfortable simply accepting revealed truth. It seems to me, though, that these are two sides of the same coin.
I believe that the Christian church really does need congregations and traditions where the main approach to God is obedient acceptance of revelation (which most certainly does not have to be unthinking or naive). And we need other congregations that can accommodate those people who can't help but question God and tradition.
It seems to me that the current agitation for splitting into theological camps is unhelpful because when we decide to associate only with those people who agree with us, we lose the practice of and the experience of listening to those who we disagree with and lost the experience of learning to respect them.
There is much about being a person of faith that is about apprenticeship. We all need to practice learning how to respect people with whom we disagree.
18 October 2006
After replying, I thought "Darn, I wish I'd just made that a blog entry." So here it is below.
Faith is, I think, ultimately something that is done and that is lived out. I think we need we need the local church as our living teacher to show us how people of faith live, how people of faith hope and how people of faith struggle.
Faith is not mainly about propositional ideas. Propositional ideas might be signposts, but they are no more faith than a sign saying “San Francisco 250 miles” is San Francisco.
There is undoubtedly part of this journey where doubt is a big part of what is going on, but doubt doesn’t define faith. Theological fundamentalism isn’t faith because it requires one leap and then the rest is knowing and being certain.
Faith is not about certainty. Faith is living in a war zone and believing in the possibility of peace. Faith is losing a child and believing in resurrection. Faith is knowing myself to be a sinner and believing in God’s power to transform me.
17 October 2006
This is one of my "mantras". "Mantra" is a nice word for something that I repeat over and over until everyone else is bored of hearing it.
I was given this expression by Sister Anne-Marie Farrell who trained me and many prospective Methodist Ministers in our Foundation Training at the Guy Chester Centre - "A Place of Hospitality and Welcome" in Muswell Hill, London. (I'm putting in a plug!)
So, given that I say this over and over, why do I keep trying to force myself into some kind of concept of how I "ought" to pray?
Yesterday, I met with my new Spiritual Director. We were talking about this concept of "praying as you can and not as you can't" and he reminded me that the way I can pray today might not be the way that I can pray tomorrow.
I think that one of the reasons I get a bit stuck sometimes is that, actually, I can often be fairly regular in my prayer. I normally say the Daily Office from Common Worship Daily Prayer and this usually works for me. Bad Methodist that I am, I like set liturgy which I find often opens up a "space" for God to speak and work in me. But not always.
And then there are the lists. Prayer lists of all the people and other intentions (world issues, my own growth) that I want to remember to pray for. Lists can be good as they help to remember things as I get older. But lately, it's felt like I'm just praying through a list of stuff that doesn't seem very meaningful. (And why do people seem to feed this "prayer guilt" by providing us with ever more lists of things we "should" be praying about? The denominational prayer handbook. The District cycle of prayer. The Circuit cycle of prayer [OK not in our circuit, but in some] and the congregational cycle of prayer - how many prayer lists can one person cope with?)
My new Spiritual Director talked about how all of our life is a prayer and how God is everywhere. Stuff I say all the time. Then he talked about how sometimes we "tune in" to God more and other times less, but we hold God in our heart during all of our life. I liked the idea of a "formal prayer" as a tuning in.
Anyway, this morning I did away with the Morning Office (although I read the lectionary readings for today) and I did away with the darn lists of prayer intentions and I just sat in God's presence for about 20 minutes. First reading my bible and then just sitting there.
This morning, I prayed as I could. And it was good.
14 October 2006
I got a "tie-breaker" question. I had to choose between two statements: 1) "Karl Barth's theology is hugely important" and 2) "God's grace enables us to respond to him". Sorry, Karl, but God's grace wins every time!
I'm not at all surprised at being "Holiness/Weslyean". I'm gobsmacked I was almost neo-orthodox! The low scores all seem very true. No way am I fundamentalist and I'm absolutely not surprised to be only a little Reformed and only a little Charismatic.
You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.
What's your theological worldview?
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09 October 2006
08 October 2006
So what are the things that have struck me over the past month? Well, the combination of preaching and pastoral ministry for a start. I'd been doing both for a number of years - lay preaching and pastoral visiting - but these activities were not with the same set of people. Those I preached to I did not pastoral visit and those I visited, I didn't normally preach to.
There really is a huge sense of privilege in preaching to and worshipping with people one has visited (and this journey is only beginning for me). Giving communion this morning to people whose struggles I'm gradually getting to know was very moving. There was the added joy this morning of giving communion to a young lad who has only just started coming to church and learning what God is about. To see the smile on his face when he received communion and to pray silently for his growth in the Lord was a huge joy, a massive privilege - there really are no words for the experience.
My last thought on all this was something Lorna said many weeks ago. I can't find the actual blog-post, but it was something to the effect that our theology must meet the needs of people (something I know a lot of people claim to disagree with as felt needs are allegedly irrelevent or trivial or something). In my first four weeks, I've concentrated on visiting people who "need me most" (as Wesley told his preachers to do). In visiting a number of people who have a number of chronic / painful / ultimately fatal conditions, a lot of theological issues that are allegedly so important - like male headship or homosexual partnerships - not only pale into insignficance, but they genuinely are totally irrelevant to these people. And these Christian brothers and sisters have amazing testimonies of God's grace and of his presence with them in their illnesses. These testimonies are so inspiring and, as far as I am concerned, are the core of real faith.
To profess that God is good, to radiate joy in the midst of great pain and illness is to have real faith (and no, I've not had those experiences to have that kind of faith, so I'm not claiming it for myself). Reciting doctrine is babies' milk.
For me personally, it is point two that is the essence of the argument for Christians:
I don't really see how a Christian can support the concept of "Just War" - or worse, redemptive violence - without entirely removing from our theology Jesus, the cross and the resurrection.
it is incontestable that “God is Christ-like, and in him there is no un-Christ-likeness at all” (John V. Taylor). Jesus preached and practiced non-violence – no ifs, ands, or buts. And Jesus is the imago Dei.
05 October 2006
This morning is a gloomy morning and the weather is getting cold. We've not put the heat on yet and it was one of those mornings when you want to stay in bed so that you can stay comfy and warm.
When I went to light my prayer candle this morning, I could feel the heat from the flame and, because of the gloom, the flame of the candle even managed to throw some light into the room.
I sometimes feel that the comforts we have in our modern world mean that we risk being alienated from symbols like the flame of a candle. Physically feeling the heat of the flame and seeing the light that the candle threw into the room reminded me of the presence of God's Spirit.
As a glorious bonus, one of the readings appointed by the Common Lectionary for the day was Job 19:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
04 October 2006
Psalm 13 (NRSV)
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, "I have prevailed"; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.