29 November 2006

Confessing Weakness

This morning, as I try to do on a Wednesday morning, I attended the service of Holy Communion at my local Anglican Church and I prayed the familar words of the prayer of confession from Common Worship:
Father eternal, giver of light and grace,
we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,
in what we have thought,
in what we have said and done,
through ignorance, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.

It was the phrase "through weakness" that hit me this morning.

I've always thought that confessing having sinned through weakness was saying that one had done something like broken one of the
Seven Deadly Sins. For example a prayer on the order of, "Dear Lord, forgive me for having got angry at my Christian sister".

But this week, there have been times when I felt that I'd tried to do the right thing, that I honestly didn't know what to do for the best, and that I'd "missed the mark". It occured to me this morning, that I was forgiven for these sins of weakness too.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:8)

26 November 2006

25 November 2006

Very Entertaining

For some mightly funny new hymn lyrics with tunes included, run, don't walk to: THE WENCHOSTER CATHEDRAL HYMN BOOK

I hope that, as a self-professed liberal, I might be allowed to say that I think Let us with an open mind (Sea of Faith) is hysterical:
Let us, with an open mind,
Put the formal Church behind:
Sea of Faith, O let us sing,
For we don't believe a thing!

Cupitt's books we try to read,
But our minds he doth exceed:
Sea of Faith, O let us sing,
For we don't believe a thing!
Hat tip to Richard at Connexions.

23 November 2006

Prayer for Peace

I cry out this prayer for peace from the Education for Justice website. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of life, help us to choose life, not death.
God of life, help us to respect, not destroy.
God of life, help us treasure, not control.
God of life, help us see our value not in things, but in your gifts.

God of life, beat our swords into plowshares,
Beat our spears into pruning hooks,
Replace our shopping sprees with celebrations of community
Replace our busyness with contemplation
Change our things into gifts.
Change our violence into your peace.

God of life, help us to choose life, not death.

22 November 2006

What's Wrong with the Church?

Question: What's wrong with the Church?

The Right Answer™: Preachers and pastors are no longer preaching The Authentic Gospel.

Q: How can I know I'm preaching The Authentic Gospel?

TRA™: You will know if you are preaching the authentic gospel because people will start flocking to your congregation. All it takes is for the preacher to preach the True Word; if you do, God will bless your endeavours and people will come.

Is this just another version of "The reason you aren't being miraculously healed of your incurable disease is because you don't have enough faith"?


First off, I just wanted to share this photo. Taken at 2:45 pm out my back window. This is what early winter in the UK looks like!
I remember, when I first came to Northern Europe in 1987 (I was in Belgium before coming to the UK), how shocked I was at the dark winter days. (If Lorna reads this, I know it's even darker in Finland!)
Secondly, I'd wanted to write a post about thankfulness, but I didn't really know what to write. I don't have any deep and meaningful words about thankfulness. I only know that recently - within the last nine months or so - God has, for some reason, given me the gift and grace of thankfulness and I find myself being thankful for so many things.
And then I realised that the fact that I have grown very attached to winter evenings in the UK is maybe a sign of that thankfulness. I'm also thankful for this view. Don't ask me why, but Wonderful Husband and I both just love it. It's ordinary, but there really is something wonderful about it.
I ramble. Just wanted to share that with anyone reading.

17 November 2006


I loved this take on Grace from James Alison*:
Gratuity is experienced as the lack of retaliation where some sort of retaliation is to be expected, and then as the giving of something unexpected. This surprising nonreciprocation is what pulls the person experiencing it out of the reciprocating mode-of-being and enables that person to begin to recieve and then transmit love as something simply given.
To me, this explains why Grace can never be limited to a select few and why God can never be violent.

*Alison, James, The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin through Easter eyes, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1998.

16 November 2006

Universal Suffering

A lot of the time, the theological reading I do touches something deep within me and theology becomes a way for God to speak to me and to guide me on my journey. I don't often blog about these things because, in the West, we seem to separate "theology" from "spirituality"; the Eastern Church doesn't do that but sees all theology as having consequences for our "spirituality" and vice versa.

Anyway, I've decided to try to blog a bit about God speaking to me through theology. I've been going through James Alison's "The Joy of Being Wrong" with a fine toothed comb, so yet again, God has been speaking to me through this book.

I was lucky enough to go on retreat today and yesterday, and one of the images I brought with me into the retreat is Alison's idea that Christianity is not about who is in and about who is out because God revealed himself to us in Jesus - who became the innocent victim of human sinfulfness. If God is encountered in the innocent victim rather than in the victorious victimiser, then God is accessible to all people. This is how Alison see's St. Paul's road to Damascus experience.

This led me to meditating on Christ on the cross. God incarnate, freely gave himself to be killed by the human lust for violence. The God who we are called to pacifically imitate gave upself up to our rage, a rage born out of the fact that we think we can be God better than God. In our sin, we do not want to imitate God, we want to be "ourselves" and "have control" over our own lives and so we must kill God. In giving himself up to death at our hands, God overcame death through his resurrection. Sin and death no longer have dominion, but rather holiness and abundant / eternal life have dominion. Through Christ, we are now free to become that which we were originally created to be.

During the retreat, another retreatant spoke to me about finding God in death and darkness. He wanted to go one step beyond the idea of being able to see a green shoot in the midst of death and darkness, but rather to actually find God in the darkeness, without the green shoot. If God in all things, as I believe God is, then surely God must be present in the darkness even if we cannot perceive God.

It seems to me that "death and darkness" are part of universal human experience in the same way that the suffereing and death of an innocent victim is part of the universal human experience. However, it is huge leap of faith, I think, to be able to find God in the darkness without a green shoot there.

My fellow retreatant's word to me has touched me deeply, although I am not in a dark place at the moment. I feel that God is slowly teaching me to have faith in His presence everywhere, and showing me that everywhere means everywhere.

Thanks be to God!

14 November 2006

Highway Code - Folk Version

I thought maybe readers might like to add to a thread on the "folk version" of the highway code / traffic regulations.

I think my number one "folk highway regulation" is:
  • If there is an obstruction on my side of the road, I have the right of way to go around it and traffic coming in the other direction must stop.

Closely followed by:

  • If I put on my indicator light, I have the right of way and needn't look to see if anything is coming.

13 November 2006

Reflections on Faith

I’ve been having a few blogging conversations over the last few months about the nature of faith.

I also find myself currently carefully re-reading James Alison’s book
The Joy of Being Wrong for my dissertation. Today, I came across the following Alisonian idea: that “faith” is not about a creed so much as it is simply about the “reality of the concrete historical presence of Christianity”. By “Christianity”, Alison doesn’t seem to mean “the religion Christianity” but rather fact of all that God has done cosmically through Christ.

As I understand Alison – and I am willing to be corrected by someone with a greater familiarity with Alison’s works – he is trying to say that what the Triune God has done in Christ – in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ – is “really real”. And the “religion” of Christianity is simply stating the fact of this cosmic reality. Whether or not one “believes” this is much less important than that it *is*. It’s an intriguing idea.

In a couple of other places, I have been given to reflect on the nature of human doubt and certainty with respect to being a Christian disciple. One person has said to me that he thinks a certain Christian camp glorifies doubt too much and that this glorification of doubt is not helpful in making Christian disciples.

To another person, I’ve reflected that I’m more comfortable with those who doubt than with those who are certain. I think that this is because I have seen people who are certain that they are certain use their certainty to alienate people from Christ and also to hurt them. I’ve also heard people who are certain that they are certain proclaiming ideas that are highly dubious if not already recognised as heresy (e.g. prosperity gospel and certain forms of deliverance ministry).

I am rather taken with Alison’s idea that the “Christian faith” is more about the “fact of Christ” than anything else.

12 November 2006

More Sermons

I've caught up on posting my sermons for the last few weeks. I don't actually write them out in prose, so it takes me awhile to get them into a format for the blog. I won't post links to all of them, but today's sermon can be found here: Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

09 November 2006

Letters to the Editor

I'm beginning to think that, for purposes of morale, it might be wise for me to stop reading the letters to the Editor in The Methodist Recorder.

Maybe my perception is skewed, but it seems to me that we've had months and months of letters about how awful and incompetent Methodist ministers are: from our preaching, to our pastoral skills, to willingness to take on administration duties, to our inability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

According to The Methodist Recorder, as far as I can tell, the ideal Methodist minister:

  • Is 30 years old with 45 years' ministeral experience.
  • Is an expert in building children's and young people's ministry starting with nothing but a country chapel with 3 elderly ladies, a Fairy Liquid bottle and some sticky-back plastic;
  • Spends 7 days a week making pastoral visits and is happy to be a personal chaplain to all shut-ins;
  • Is an efficient administrator of all government regulations, reads 45-page fire codes in 5 minutes with full and expert comprehension, and carries out £150 safety checks in the church for 1S 3d;
  • Conducts trendy and lively all-age worship using presentation videos and all the latest worship songs whilst simultaneously preaching a gripping exegetical sermon and permitting nothing but Wesley hymns.
  • Is perfectly happy to be minister to six churches with 20 members each and would never, ever, mouth the heretical idea that actually 120 members in one congregation would release a lot of human energy and monetary resources.

05 November 2006

Love Yourself

This morning's Gospel reading (for Ordinary 31) was: Mark 12:28-34.

In thinking about the reading, I came up with the old chestnut that this commandment actually has three parts: the love of God, the love of self and the love of the other person.

I grew up in an environment that hated, loathed and despised that idea that human individuals might love themselves. Liking oneself in any way was the sin of pride, they said.

Clearly, disliking oneself is of no use to anyone. How can a person show the love or God or work for justice and righteousness if they are bound in fear by their own inadequacies? Ironically, disliking oneself can actually make us more self-focussed as we worry about what we "should" do, how others perceive us and as we constantly battle the fear of failure.

Is there a "good" way to love oneself? I think that there is a good way to love oneself. And that is by constantly querying one's self-love with the love of God and the love of neighbour.

Does my self-love energise me to praise, thank and worship God and to admit to God when I am wrong? Does my self-love motivate me to improve in acts of justice and righteousness? Does my self-love make me enthusiastic to give the love of God to others - not just trying to get them to think as I do about God - but actually showing them outrageous acts of kindness and mercy in a practical way?

I think that if we can say "yes" to these questions most of the time, then our self-love is Godly and is part of our becoming the person we were meant to be.

If my self-love makes me regard myself as better than others (and look out for the "thank God I am not like that Pharisee" phenemenon!), then it is probably the sin of pride rather than healthly self-love.

I suspect we all manifest both aspects of self-love and we need to ask for the ability to move away from the sin of pride. This does not, however, mean that all self-love is unGodly or unChristian.

03 November 2006

Link: Reluctant Prophet

Velveteen Rabbi has a great reflection on Jonah entitled Reluctant Prophet.

She writes:
We never get to see Jonah transformed by his questioning, nor by God's response. Because this story is not about new insight, but about living in the struggle. In the daily frustrating grind of trying to come to terms with who we know ourselves to be, and who we're called to become. In the disjunction between the world as we yearn to see it, and the world as it is, and the role we don't want to have to play in bridging that chasm. The story ends on a rhetorical question; the answer is up to us.