28 February 2007

Interfaith

Velveteen Rabbi has some good thoughts on interfaith relationships in Interfaith work and the godblogosphere. She is a much better writer than I am so I will let her words speak for themselves.

I know that many people will disagree with me, but I think that there is something of The Holy in being able to metaphorically 'sit at the same table' with people of other faiths and listen to them with generosity rather than with an intent to convert.

If any readers know of any blogs where respectful interfaith dialogue is taking place, I'd be interested to know.

25 February 2007

24 February 2007

Sermons

Catching up on some sermon postings. Last Sunday was my Sunday off this quarter, so the current links are:

23 February 2007

The Temptation of Jesus

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke’s Temptation of Jesus. I'm not claiming to do an authoritative and exhaustive exegesis, but simply to share a few thoughts.

The article on "temptation" in my
Harper Collins Bible Dictionary notes that:
...the temptation takes place immediately after Jesus' baptism, which is interpreted as his commissioning for the messianic ministry, a ministry to be characterised by servanthood (Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; c.f., e.g., Mark 10:45). The temptation is not for Jesus to prove his divine Sonship to himself. Such Sonship is is never questioned in the NT. Rather, the temptation or "testing" is implicitly presented as Jesus' struggle over whether to obey God's call to be a servant-messiah or to interpret messiahsip in the traditional terms of power, strength, and conquest.
In today's issue of The Church Times John Pridmore writes:
The same seductive voice seeks to persuade the Church, as it sought to persuade the Lord of the Church, to be a power for good - to be a power for good. To use power to achieve what must be done may be a necessity for the army, but for the Church to do so is always idolatry. The temptation to "worship the devil" is not to do weird things in the woods at midnight. It is the temptation to stride the corridors of power. And, ever since the conversion of Constantine, there has been little evidence of the Church's attempting to resist it.
You know, I don't really even know how to elaborate on these two commentaries because it just seems so darn obvious to me.

But how many discussions have I had on the internet about how Christians must use power for good - indeed, about how we must use the power of military might for good.

How many blogs out there are calling for the Church to be powerful and for Christians to be powerful?

How many people go to church and pray to be given power by God?

Jesus chose servanthood rather than power, yet we seem to think that, unlike our Saviour and Lord, we can handle power. All that means is that we have fallen into Satan's seductive temptation.

21 February 2007

Perspective

Just a musing after having looked at a blog of someone who has been to a theology conference. The blog is filled with photo after photo of the speakers at that conference. All male. The pictures of all male speakers made me depressed and even angry (even though I know that in my egalitarian branch of Christianity that there are in fact very few female theologians).

Reflecting on it, I think that the reason I had those feelings was because it seemed like a pictoral collage of what it means to be a female Christian in such an environment: it means literally having no voice. It means censoring the voices of any human being who shares one of the most important things about my humanity: my gender. "Male only" Christianity is depressing not because men are awful or because they are depressing, but because it means that there is something "not quite 100%" about being female. Whatever is said about "all are equal", not allowing one category of person to speak makes that category of person unequal - whether the reason be gender, race, class or sexual orientation.

I honestly believe that there is a connection between silencing a category of person and violence. It probably would not be accurate to call this way of thinking "violent", but in Girardian theory, violence begins when individuals strive for (what I'd call) radical individuality at any cost. I must be an individual; I must not be like you and I must not believe that I am imitating you. At the extreme end of this behaviour, I will make a scape-goat of you and I will murder you. Less dramatically, I might bully you. Less dramatically than bullying, I construct a theory that you are not to speak and I get you to agree with my theory; if I do not have to hear your perspective, then I do not have any worry about being like you.

Just a theory. I wonder what others think?

19 February 2007

Threatening Letters

In the middle of January 2007, we completed the sale of the house in North London that we loved so much.

The house had been empty since the beginning of August hence we had not used too much gas or electricity. Of course, The Utility Company grossly overestimated our final quarterly bill based on our previous winter consumption of gas and electricity.

We duly informed The Utility Company of the actual metre-readings on the date the new owner moved in; we never received a bill for the actual metre readings but yesterday, we received a nasty letter from the Head of 'Customer Services' informing us that if we did not pay the original - over-estimated - bill, that they would take action that would adversely affect our ability to have access to credit. I hope we have sorted out the matter. I don't know.

This seems to be a new development, this instant sending of threatening letters, even when the company gets it wrong and I know that banks have recently been told to cease and desist with this tactic.

Personally, I feel able to stand up for myself and be assertive, but I think that there are a lot of people out there who don't feel able to do so. It seems to me that these sorts of letters are just taking advantage of people who don't understand what is happening. I'm suspicious that companies want customers to over-pay whilst they hold on to the cash for months, gaining interest on it before refunding.

I'm wondering if this is an area that ethical investors are looking into? It's just plain wrong to threaten customers for the company's own mistakes. (In the case of our Utility Company, they actually possessed our correct metre readings but had somehow failed to record those much lower metre readings into their billing system!)

14 February 2007

Five Years in Prison for being "Openly Gay"

The BBC reports on the The Nigerian Bill that will not only make gay acts a criminal offence, but will also make being "openly gay" a criminal offence. If I remember correctly, the bill also makes it a criminal offence for gay people to meet together and for anyone to participate in a "gay wedding", even as a guest.

The Anglican Church of Nigeria is wholeheartedly in favour of this bill. The Anglican Church of Nigeria is the sponsor of
CANA.

Is a Methodist entitled to have views on internal Anglican issues? CANA have put themselves under the oversight of a group of people who want to throw people into Nigerian prisons for BEING gay. This seems like topsy-turvy ethics and morality at its worst to me. I do not see how any Western Church can turn a blind eye to imprisoning people for their sexuality - no matter what our theology about gay acts. Even worse, how can a person in good conscience put themselves under the oversight of a group of people who are actively endorsing the removal of civil rights from gay people? Love the sinner and hate the sin? Sorry, your endorsements speak louder than your words.

11 February 2007

Sermon - "You Lift Me Up"

Methodist colleague "Turbulant Cleric" has published a very powerful sermon based on today's reading entitled: You lift me up.

If you only read one sermon this week, read this one.

09 February 2007

Dignity, Justice, Peacemaking

Over at the God’s Politics blog, Diana Butler Bass writes an interesting post: Paying Respects to Anna Nicole Smith.

The following text really caught my attention:
Christian tradition connects justice and peace with the practice of respecting the dignity of every person. The idea that every creature is dignified, related to God, formed in love, and connected to the whole of the universe forms the center point of Christian theology and ethics. Respect for each person in the web of creation supports the work of justice and peacemaking. Without a profound spirituality of human dignity, practices of justice and peacemaking may slide into the realm of power politics. The baptism liturgy strongly implies that without respect for human dignity, there exists no motive to strive for God’s justice and peace.
I agree with Bass that the dignity of every human person is somehow central to Christian theology. I am aware that some will think that this sort of idea risks going down the slippery slope to secular liberalism, but I think there is a good Christian case for the essential dignity of every person and Bass makes that point well.

08 February 2007

I Should Study - Er, Theology

A bit of fun. Given the fact that I DID major in theology, minored in history, considered studying music at one time and have spent the last 18 years analysing things, this quiz seemed to work rather well. (Now, if only I had the figure of that cartoon illustration!)


Your Scholastic Strength Is Deep Thinking



You aren't afraid to delve head first into a difficult subject, with mastery as your goal.

You are talented at adapting, motivating others, managing resources, and analyzing risk.



You should major in:



Philosophy

Music

Theology

Art

History

Foreign language

Snow

Lots of snow here today in Kidderminster. It looks more like winter in my hometown (Cleveland, Ohio) than winter in the West Midlands.




06 February 2007

Friendly Fire

The headline news item here in the UK today has been a story about friendly fire. US "tankbuster" aircraft fired on a British convoy in Iraq in 2003, killing one British soldier and injuring 4 others.

The US government subsequently refused to release information it had to a British inquest so that the family of the British solider could have information about the circumstances of his death. A video taken from the US aircraft was somehow leaked to British press and the recording was shown on the evening news.

If you read the Tabloid papers or watched the news this morning, there was a definite "them and us" feeling to how this was reported. "We" were the good British good guys and "they" were the American bad guys, and there was an unspoken and never-articulated implication that the American pilot had unconcernedly fired on the British convoy.

Except when the full video was broadcast on the evening news.

The papers and television are widely quoting one of the American pilots saying "We're in jail dude". The bits that are not being widely quoted were the American pilot expressing extreme regret and saying "I'm going to be sick" when it was reported back to him that he'd bombed the British tank unit.

I'm both British and American so I naturally don't want to get into "Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys". I do think it wrong of the US government for having tried to keep the information classified.

What I'm intrigued about, though, is the fact that the British press seems to want to spin this story to make out as if the American pilot didn't care.

I don't think this is institutionalised anti-Americanism in the UK. I think it's the sinful human propensity to want to make other people into enemies and bad-guys. We want nice, simple dualistic categories and don't much like to deal with tragedy. It seems to me that the lives of a number of people were ruined that day and a tragic - and yes, probably avoidable - accident happened. There is no clear "bad guy" here and no evil monster, so the press simply omits the information that puts a tragic human face on the US pilot.

If some of us can have some natural sympathy for an American and we can see how the press has spun the story to portray him as potentially evil, could we entertain the possibility that maybe some of the other people who we simplistically categorise as evil might also possibly be human too?

03 February 2007

Christian Peace Bloggers

Michael Westmorland-White at the "Levellers" blog has just started the Christian Peace Bloggers web ring. I've joined but I'm a bit nervous about being able to fulfill his criterion of blogging on peace at least once a week. So why am I nervous and why I have joined?

I've joined and I'm nervous for the same reason. I never set out to study Christianity with a "peace agenda" and I've not really studied any sort of "theology of peace" in depth. My convictions about peace and reconciliation have come out of my study and devotion as a Christian person. To me, peace and reconcilation are at the very heart of the Gospel. Being in a "peace blog ring" seems rather like being in an "Agape-love blog ring".

But maybe the fact that so many other Christians consider peace and reconciliation to be periperial issues or even matters of "worldliness" is part of why being identified as a Christian pacificist and reconciler is a necessary thing.

So I will leave the academic theology of peace to Michael and other ring members who have studied this issue in depth. For me, my basic belief is that selfishness, greed, competition and violence are all out-workings of original sin. I believe that peace and reconciliation (God with humanity and human beings with other human beings) are only possible through Christ and by the grace of the Holy Spirit; I believe that peace is an out-working of holiness. To say that "peace" is a worldly issue or something that God is not concerned about is to say that God does not care about holiness and that God does not care about salvation or reconciliation.

The basis for many of my ideas on peace and Christianity is Rene Girard's theory of mimetic desire.

Sermon - Forgiven Sinners, God Believes in You

Tomorrow's sermon is: Forgiven Sinners, God Believes in You.

02 February 2007

Speaking out for Reconciliation

Today's copy of The Church Times carries two interesting articles by Pat Ashworth on African views on the church and schism. (Thank you to The Church Times for not making us wait a week to see these articles posted on their webpage.)

The first article is entitled
Listen to the Majority African Voice of Grace. This article reports on an address given by the Rt Revd Musonda Mwamba, Bishop of Botswana to the Ecclesiastical Law Society conference. Ashworth writes:
In an incisive address, the Bishop concluded that the minority of Africans who had “the luxury to think about the issue” did not want to see the Communion disintegrate. They valued the bonds of affection, and would prefer to follow the process recommended by the Windsor report. He rebutted as “simplistic and a distortion of the truth” the belief that the African provinces were a monochrome body.
The second article is entitled Gay question is not central to faith says Tanzanian bishop. Asworth writes:

The Bishop of Central Tanganyika, the Rt Revd Godfrey Mdimi Mhogolo, has dissociated his diocese from the statement issued in December by the House of Bishops of Tanzania, the province where the Primates Meeting is to be held this month.

So much for the idea that "all" African Christians hold the same views on how the church should approach the issue of homosexuality.