30 January 2007

Playing God

I caught myself trying to play God the other day. Well, maybe more accurately, I was wishing for God's powers and perogatives without realising it.

One of our tutors in Foundation Training, a woman with many years in ministry as a Catholic sister, often repeated the phrase 'There is only one God, and it's not me.' I always thought this was funny. Of course she didn't think she was God and of course I don't think I'm God.

But then I caught myself feeling vaguely depressed over the last few weeks since Christmas. Nothing I could pin-point. Just a vague feeling that I wasn't 'doing enough' as a minister.

'Why am I feeling this way?' I asked myself. 'I believe in the power and efficacity of listening to people and praying with people; absolutely I do. I don't need the people I listen to or pray with to tell me that I've helped; I honestly don't think I do. Besides which, many of the people I visit do tell me that they've appreciated my prayers or my listening; objectively, I believe I've done what I could. So why the feeling of depression? Why the feeling that I wasn't 'doing enough'?'

Wonderful Husband to the rescue. 'Well, you visited so-and-so in hospital and the person told you they were grateful for your visit, but you weren't able to heal that person, were you? You couldn't make everything better.'

Ding! He hit the nail on the head! I wanted to be able to wave a magic wand and make everything better for everyone.

So, now I am repeating the phrase: 'There is only one God and it's not me.' Thank you to that tutor for these wise words born out of many years of ministry.

We may not see ourselves as worshiping idols, but it's easier than we think!

28 January 2007

Another Profile

Another Church in our Circuit asked me to write a personal profile for their newsletter. I thought I'd reproduce it below as I always like knowing a little bit more about people. And heck, why let a piece of writing go to waste? If this is of no interest to you, feel free to ignore it!

===

During the autumn of 2003, I applied for Foundation Training, thus beginning a period of discernment in partnership with The Methodist Church. At the time, T***** and I were living in Barnet, North London and I was attending Trinity Church Enfield, a large church that is a combined Methodist / URC LEP (Local Ecumenical Partnership).

My journey to ministry did not begin with a flash of lightening or an email from God (God’s will should be so clear!), rather it was simply an inkling that I should start walking in the direction of ministry and see where the journey took me. It was a case of pushing a door to see if it opened and then moving on to test the next door. I think that God requested this gradual process because I’m a person who likes to know exactly where I am going and how I’m going to get there. God did not allow this particular journey to be so clear and I was asked to walk by faith a bit more than I would have liked!

Perhaps I was not the most obvious candidate for Methodist ministry; I have only been a Methodist member since 2000, having previously been a member of an Anglican church, an ecumenical church with a URC affiliation, and the Lutheran church in the United States. Let’s not even talk about the fact that I got my first degree in theology in 1979 from a Roman Catholic university! However, the Formation in Ministry Office made sure I was thoroughly “Methodised” before shipping me out into Circuit and my ecumenical credentials are obviously second to none. Prior to arriving in Kidderminster, I studied full time for a year at Wesley House, Cambridge, completing the course-work for an MA in Pastoral Theology and I am currently working on my dissertation.

I “retired” from my secular work in 2005, having spent 22 years working in pensions, 18 years of which were in the UK. I came to the UK in 1989 from Brussels to work for B****** ******’s Pension Fund and in 1995, I joined a company called M*****, a consulting firm that helps employers structure their employees’ pension schemes. I very much enjoyed this work and I feel very lucky and blessed to have been able to work for two excellent firms in this country. I also feel very blessed to have been called to ministry in mid-life and I hope that I can bring some of my past experience and skills into this new calling (although please note for future reference that I have no desire to be Treasurer of anything!).

Although I was raised in a Christian home and even went to a Christian primary school, my own faith journey has not been particularly smooth. There was a time in my life when I did not consider myself a Christian because I felt that being a Christian involved believing 613 impossible propositions before breakfast. I sometimes envy people who say that they had a happy, loving, Christian upbringing but I also recognise that some of the “wrestling” that I have done with both God and – more especially with the Church – has helped me to talk to other people about faith. I have learned that God is faithful and that there are no questions, doubts or struggles that are off-limits to God; after all, God invented these minds of ours that enquire and struggle after Truth and Goodness.

T***** and feel privileged to have come to Kidderminster. We find the community and the Circuit to be friendly and welcoming and we thank you all for your warm welcome and your friendship. It is my prayer that, as a Circuit and a section, we can continue to strive to discern God’s will for us and I thank you all for your patience and your assistance as I learn the ropes of being a new minister.

27 January 2007

Warning: For Women Only! Men May Be Led Astray

In his post 10 Questions for Complimentarians, Internet Monk asks some entertaining questions as well as one I've actually been wondering about.

The context of the post is the dismissal of Dr. Sheri Klouda, assistant professor of Old Testament languages, from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on the grounds of being female.

According to Internet Monk, the President of Southwestern Seminary, Paige Patterson, not only believes in male headship (AKA complimentarianism) but a rather extreme form of it. According to Patterson, 1 Timothy 2:12 does not only apply to relationships between Christian men and women in church and family, but to all of their relationships, everywhere.

This causes Internet Monk to ask entertaining questions like:
If you are pulled over by a female police officer whom you know to be a Christian, how do you make her understand that she has no authority over you (assuming you are male)?
But one question that I've been wondering about (as someone raised in a male-headship church) is:
Should Christian women refrain from writing books, or papers, or internet articles, lest a Christian man should read them and accidentally learn from them? Or should such books and articles come with a warning label -For Women Only!-?
To me, the latter is an interesting question. I don't see the difference between teaching and the written word. If it is somehow anathama for a woman to teach a man by speaking to him, it doesn't make sense that it should be permitted for a woman to teach a man through the written word. I view both this blog and my sermon blog as a form of preaching. So, this post carries a health warning: For Women Only. Men should not read anything on this blog lest they be led astray.

Sermon - Christian Unity

Here is a belated link to last week's sermon on Christian Unity.

26 January 2007

Just Common Sense?

A day or two ago, I picked up a book on a book stall written by a Christian woman who was advocating that women should obey their husbands (AKA "complimentarianism", AKA "male-headship").

Now, I confess to only reading two pages, but this is what I read.

The author talked about how, marriage certificate in hand, she set out at the beginning of her marriage to change her husband into what she wanted him to be. She recounted how their marriage became more and more difficult for both of them as she set her sights on her own objectives of the sort of person her husband should be and tried with increasing lack of success to change him.

The bit where I finished reading said something like "Too many women train their husbands and obey their children when they should be obeying their husbands and training their children."

Well, guess what? This egalitarian agrees with all of those sentiments. It seems to me that this is just common sense.

Children should be lovingly and gently trained and certainly not obeyed; children need adults to establish boundaries at a young age and then to help them learn to establish their own boundaries as they get older.

And no-one in their right mind should ever marry a person with the thought that their spouse could be perfect if only this and that and that were changed. Assuming that a person has wisely chosen a spouse, the key to spiritual growth is in learning to love the person as they are rather than in trying to change them. The sooner anyone learns this in a marriage, the better for both parties. This is just total common sense.

My only point would be that this goes for both parties. Men should not expect to marry a woman so as to change her into My Ideal Wife any more than a woman should try to change a man into My Ideal Husband.

The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about law and grace; including the fact that grace does not mean that we should abandon ourselves to sinful behaviour. But I think that Paul's insight was that legal solutions to peace on earth don't work. If God actually did legislate that women must strive to change themselves according to their husband's command, this legislation isn't going to result in a loving, peaceful marriage. However, if both parties sincerely believe that they are to love the other and to do everything in their power to serve the other, then love will prevail. (This is actually a tautology because Christian love is, by definition, serving another.)

The Law fears freedom and sees the freedom of love and grace as potentially chaotic, therefore Law strives to control Other People. Ironically, it is only the very freedom that Law fears that will result in the peace and harmony that Law wants.

25 January 2007

Hope and Foolishness

United Methodist Bishop Wiliam Willimon has written a wise and hopeful article: Divine Wisdom Among Little Old Ladies which I think is definitely worth a read.

Willimon asks:
When will we ever learn the truth that God has chosen "what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are" (I Corinthians 1:27-28)?
I wonder if that should read: "When will we ever learn the truth that God always chooses 'what is foolish in the world to shame the wise...'" etc. etc.

If the Gospel is counter-cultural and if God has a preferential option for the powerless, the weak and the poor, why is it that we seem to require the same markers of "success" for the church that we do for secular culture?

We deride consumerism as being a false god but we expect business and the economy to grow X% per annum and - consciously or unconsciously - we seem to measure the success of our congregations by whether or not they are large and growing.

I'm not entirely certain why we seem to think that the message "Go and sell all your belongings, forgive your enemies, join these 'little old ladies' (sic) and come and follow me" is a message that is going to attract lots of followers.

20 January 2007

Christians and Creation

John Smulo makes an excellent comment on Christian attitudes toward creation in his post Spoiled Brats

This seems to be one of those "pond differences".

I could be wrong, but I have the impression that most most UK-based Christians would be in agreement with John no matter whether they call themselves "conservative", "Middle-of-the-Road", "liberal" or "please don't label me, I'm just a Christian".

For some bizarre reason that I can't understand, many American Christians seem to think that human beings don't have any responsibility for the environment and that claiming that we do is some sort of declaration against God's sovereignty. I certainly hope this view is changing!


I recommend to you John's article.

13 January 2007

Mark 2:17

Today's Gospel reading for the Common Worship lectionary seems "strangely" appropriate to a couple of conversations I've been having in blogsphere:
When Jesus heard this, he said to them, Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick: I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. (NRSV)
It's simply a fact from God's perspective that we are all sinners, and we are all broken people. But God calls us into his service as broken people. He doesn't say "I have no use for you until you are whole and sinless"; we will not be whole and sinless until we are citizens of God's Kingdom. God uses us as sinful broken people - despite the fact that we are sinful and broken, if you want to put it that way.

It's easy to slip into thinking either that "I cannot be a minister for God until I'm practically perfect" (I use the word "minister" here with the view that all Christians are called to minister in God's world) or "I am ministering so I must be perfect/seen to be perfect." I think that both are traps that we can easily fall into.

Personally speaking, I think that there is no such thing as a "perfect" human minister who has never needed God's healing and God's forgiveness; if such a person did exist, I'd question their usefulness.

11 January 2007

Contemporary Theology Book Meme

Chris at Sandalstraps’ Sanctuary has tagged me with a book meme which, truth be told, I don't really feel qualified to answer. At best, I'm an amateur theologian. At worst, a minister who knows too much theology for her own good. (joke!)

I don't really feel qualified to answer the first question at all:

THREE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WORKS ON CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGY

My sense is that the most important theological thing that has happened in the last 20 to 30 years is the "post-liberal" movement. This movement has rescued Protestants (particularly in the US) from having to choose between being a fundamentalist or a classic liberal. My sense is that this "movement" in some way "just happened" and I'm not convinced that those who have deliberately taken the label of "post liberal" were actually the engines of that movement. So, choosing from three theologians who I consider to be part of this Christian Zeitgeist and picking books pretty much at random:

1) The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright
2) Naming the Powers by Walter Wink
3) A Community of Character by Stanley Hauerwas

THREE LESSER KNOWN BOOKS ALMOST EVERYONE SHOULD READ

The first two books probably aren't "lesser known" to anyone who has attended theology college in Britain in the last ten years, but they are probably "lesser known" in the US. I think the last book is still "lesser known" in both contexts.

1) Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense by W.H. Vanstone. Having made the remark about post-liberalism, this book is in a bit more of liberal paradigm, but I think that questions of God's love in a liberal world-view are still relevent to many and this book was written before the theological world knew anything of post-liberalism.

2) Participating in God by Paul S. Fiddes. Takes up where Vanstone's book leaves off. Speaks into a post-liberal Christian context and also speaks of many relevent things like "How does prayer work?" and the concept of community.

3) The Joy of Being Wrong by James Alison. You had to know I'd say this. It's a tough read. This is Alison's doctoral thesis in book form. It's not an exaggeration to say that this book turned my faith upside down. As a friend put it, "You are acting like you met Jesus".

I'm tagging:
Michael, Stephen and John. I'm going to give it a flying try and tag Rachel at Velveteen Rabbi to see if she bites and gives us a perspective from a different faith.

My American Accent

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Midland
The Northeast
Philadelphia
The South
The West
Boston
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz


I thought it would be amusing for an American who has lived in the UK for 18 years to take the test "What American Accent do you have?" (Hat tip to Lutheran Chik)

In taking the test, though, I can see that the fundamental way I pronounce words has not changed even if I've picked up "British-isms" like "Spot on."

"Inland North" is absolutely right as I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio.

And, yes, I do call carbonated drinks "pop" and I'm grateful to have moved to a sensible part of the UK where sensible people call carbonated drinks "pop"!

09 January 2007

Self-Giving Love

I'm currently reading Miroslav Volf's Free of Charge. The following text really resonated with me:
Untetherd from God, self-giving love cannot stand on its own for long. If it excludes God, it will destroy us, for we will then deliver ourselves to the mercy of the finite, and therefore inherently unreliable, objects of our love. The only way to ensure that we will not lose our very selves if we give ourselves to others is if our love for the other passes first through God, if we, as Augustine put it succinctly and profoundly, love and enjoy others in God.

08 January 2007

Hebrews 1

The following text from Hebrews was given as today's lectionary lesson and it really spoke to me:
1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3, NRSV)
I know I've said it before, but some things are worth repeating: Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the exact imprint of the Father's very being. The evangelist John tells us that if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father.

This is one reason why the bible must always be read in the light of Christ - never mind the fact that "all the law and the prophets" point to Jesus. Christians should not let anyone tell them that the Father is more wrathful and than the Son. Don't buy a theology that acts as if Jeus' life and teaching were irrelevant and that only his death on the cross matters, any more than you would buy a theology that says the opposite.

07 January 2007

What US City are You?

Just a bit of fun. I took the quiz and, as it happens, Boston is probably one of my favourite US cities, closely followed by New York.



You Are Boston



Both modern and old school, you never forget your roots.

Well educated and a little snobby, you demand the best.

And quite frankly, you think you are the best.



Famous people from the Boston area: Conan O'Brien, Ben Affleck, New Kids on the Block

06 January 2007

03 January 2007

Brian McLaren on Saddam's Execution

I have not written on the execution of Saddam Huessin. To be honest, I've been a bit tired and depressed (I tend to be quite affected by the lack of sunlight in the winter) and Saddam's execution seemed too overwhelming to write about. Plus, I'm so tired of being told in blogdom (this never seems to happen In Real Life) that I'm not a "real Christian" because I am a pacifist and do not believe in Capital Punishment.

At any rate, Brian McLaren has succinctly and eloquently communicated the feelings I had upon hearing the news and I also agree with his theology. I commend to you the article How Does Saddam’s Execution Make You Feel?

Immigration and Presuppositions

It’s interesting how our presuppositions can affect the conclusions that we come to.

According to a group called “Migrationwatch UK”, the average immigrant benefits the UK economy by 4p a week or £2.10 a year. I’m not going to dignify this group by giving them a link but you can read the
BBC’s coverage here.

Now, it seems that those of us already here are supposed to throw our arms up in horror and exclaim “Only £2.10 a year benefit to the economy per immigrant! That’s not enough! Keep ‘em out!”

The default presumption seems to be that we will all want to keep immigrants out of the country unless there is some sort of huge economic benefit to us. Why?

I come to this issue thinking like a Christian minister (a Jewish rabbi would think the same way). I come with the thought that “hospitality” is our obligation as followers of God. I come to the issue with the thought that I’m obliged to help someone in need even if it costs me money.


So “Migrationwatch UK’s” statistics sound like good news to me. These statistics mean that each immigrant is paying his or her own way. Not only that, but each immigrant is actually adding something to the economy! Someone tell me why this is supposed to be bad news?