30 September 2007

It's Funny...

It's funny how trends can start with just a remark.

I've just started rereading Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus. I actually read it when it first came out in 2004 but I gave my copy to a friend and I needed to get my hands on the book again.

The reason that I needed to get my hands on it again is because I'm working on a paper about theologies of atonement.

Anyway what's 'funny' about Chalke's book is that in 2004 it opened a whole can of worms in the UK on the subject of 'the correct theory of atonement'. But, as I break open the cover again for the second time, I'm reminded that the book really isn't primarily about atonement theory at all. I'm not actually certain what it is, perhaps actually a follow-on to Dave Tomlinson's Post Evangelical.

Certainly, Chalke's book is a plea to recover the teachings of Jesus as central and important to what it means to be a Christian. I also think that Chalke's book is what is now the recognisable post-evangelical plea for church communities to be safe places to struggle with faith-issues. Something that, in my experience, is not possible in church communities that take a hard line on any doctrinal issue, be it penal substitutionary atonement, resurrection or 6-day twenty-four hour creation.

Anyway, I've just cracked open the book again for the second time, so more later.

29 September 2007

Living the Gospel

As my harvest sermon for tomorrow will make clear, I don't think that 'the Gospel message' is simply about professing Jesus Christ as Lord so that one will go to 'heaven' when one dies.

Non-Methodists may disagree, but it's fundamental to Methodism that 'all can be saved', in other words, that God's offer of salvation extends to every person who has ever lived or who ever will live. The conclusion that I arrive at from 'all can be saved' is that every single person is equally beloved by God and is equally precious and with equal dignity. Furthermore, God's central commandments are to love God and love my neighbour.

I therefore conclude that I too am commanded to treat every person as equally precious and with equal dignity. That means every person is important to God and should be important to me. I confess that I don't always live this out as I should do, but this is what I believe.

I want to stress that I do not in any way deny the importance of Christ's divinity, his atonement or any creedal statements. I'm simply putting emphasis on what some call 'the social gospel' because I think it has been denied for too long.

This might seem obvious to many people, so why am I saying it? Because there has been some suggestion in the British Methodist blogsphere that a minister's time is far too precious to be spent engaging in allegedly 'ineffective' things like conducting weddings for non-church members. Apparently, unless the wedding (or presumably a funeral, a baptism or a visit) results in a conversion and larger numbers of people in church, it's not worth the minister's time.

When I talked about the church's responsibility to the wider community in country villages, this was regarded as 'socialising'. Amazing how the church trying to love its neighbour by caring about them ends up sounding like two corporate fat-cats swigging G&Ts whilst betting on the horses.

I simply don't believe that it's possible to preach the message: 'God loves you, but I won't care about you until you start coming to church.' Any fool can see past this sort of hypocrisy; people are not stupid. How on earth do you preach that all people are of equal worth to God and then act as if an individual is not worth the church's time? How does this fit with 'Let the little children come to me and don't forbid them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these?'

By all means, pray for revivial. But don't expect anything to happen if the church is not prepared to to see non-Christians as people who are worth our time.

Sadly, the church all too often reminds me of Lucy Van Pelt's comment in the old Peanuts cartoons. Lucy says 'I love mankind, it's people I can't stand.'

22 September 2007

21 September 2007

What Kind of Coffee are You?

Time for some fun on a Friday Morning. Apparently, I am black coffee. Cheap? Moi? Hat tip to Lutheran Chik

You are a Black Coffee

At your best, you are: low maintenance, friendly, and adaptable

At your worst, you are: cheap and angsty

You drink coffee when: you can get your hands on it

Your caffeine addiction level: high

17 September 2007

How to be a (Woman) Minister?

This post has been inspired by a number of different blog posts and articles I've come across recently about 'women ministers' (scare-quotes because 'men ministers' isn't an issue for anyone). Some of these have been positive, others have been negative, others have been seeking opinions. These are my musings and come with the caveat that I'm still very much aware that I'm learning to be a minister.

One of the posts, and one of the articles (from the same 'stable') were asking the question about how women in ministry would change patterns of leadership. This is a complicated question and one I'm not sure I can answer with much certainty. I did comment on the blog post that, from my experience in business, patterns of working in the secular world have already moved to emphasise 'team-work' rather than top-down hierarchy. I don't know if team-work is more 'feminine' or 'female' than hierarchy. Certainly, my male colleagues when I was in business worked as happily in teams as did the women; I really didn't observe what I thought to be much differences between the genders in 'ability to work in a team'.

What does seem to be the case, though, is that many people who voice negative views about women in ministry - at least in blogs and internet discussion groups - often seem to express a vision of ministry that seems to assume that the role of the minister is to be the congregation's 'Commanding Officer' or 'CEO' and that his main roles are: 1) to shape congregants with his teaching and preaching into good soldiers for Christ and 2) to branch aggressively into new 'markets' and activities with his Spirit-inspired Lone Ranger Vision Thing.

My impression is that many of the men who are voicing these opinions are relatively young, often in their twenties or early thirties. How experienced are they with leading groups of people? 'Even' in business - where employees are paid to do what 'bosses' tell them - it can be difficult to lead people, especially if one does not attend properly to the 'softer' issues. Within a voluntary organisation the 'soft' issues are everything because people don't have to be there if they don't want to; even more than in a job, people can and do vote with their feet.

The above is one issue. The other issue is that preaching and 'CEO strategizing' are very small parts of the 'job specification' of a Christian minister. Visiting people, listening to people, just 'being there' for people is a very big part of the job. I think that historically, women have valued listening to people and just being there for others more than men have done; there might be something 'genetic' in this, but I'm convinced that men can do these 'listening jobs' just as well as women do if they value them.

Action is also important and men have probably been historically better at this than women. But, I think the 'action' of a Christian disciple should be oriented toward helping other people. The 'helping' might be at an individual level and it might be at a strategic level (e.g. campaigning for trade justice), but I don't think it should ever be directed at building up a church simply for the sake of being 'a successful minister.' Too often, the vision of 'successful ministry' that we seem to work with is the vision of 'growing congregations'.

I suspect that the Gospel is too subversive to ever be popular with the masses; it really does ask us to 'become like little children'. But it doesn't just ask us to 'become like little children' in order to be saved; it asks us to recognise our total dependancy on God every moment of our lives. Including the belief that honouring God's commandments will bear fruit even if they don't meet our own criteria for 'success'.

15 September 2007

How to be a Christian?

The issues raised in this post along with a few other remarks I've seen in the media this week have got me thinking.

In the Anita Roddick interview, she talked about being surprised at a
Greenbelt festival to find out that this Christian festival is'big...organised....joyful...free'. She said I have fallen for the zeitgeist that says anybody who has a religious inclination has no sense of rationale or intellectual understanding and therefore should be dismissed. She talked of her surprise in finding that Christians were involved in trade justice.

Separately, I was struck by a comment on
this post on the New Statesman blog (HT to Methodist Preacher) that: Many people find that a pre-scientific, Biblical world-view is incompatible with an acceptance of a scientific account of human origins and the history of planet Earth.. This suggested to me a wholesale writing-off of Christianity on the basis that it demands the acceptance of an ancient cosmology.

Maybe in this culture, the first Good News we have to proclaim as Christians is that we are passionate supporters of trade and ecnomic justice and that Christian faith is compatible with modern science? Just thinking out loud.

A tribute to Anita Roddick

Here is tribute to Anita Roddick that is well worth reading on the God's Politics/Jim Wallis blog.

14 September 2007

Scary Sacrament

Well, you learn something new every day on the internet, but sometimes you wish you hadn't.

On his blog, Ben Witherington plugs his book
Making a Meal of It which looks like it might be worth reading.

I was more frightened by one of the comments which gave a link to
The Remembrance Cup which might surely be the 'Pot Noodles' of the Eucharistic elements, but without the dignity of Pot Noodles.

In another interesting comment, one person writes about places of worship where...
There is often no reading of Scripture, no 'epiclesis' - a call upon the Holy Spirit to act before the words of institution, no thanksgiving prayer, and no symbols, ie. no loaf of bread and no chalice and the significance is usally reduced to a mere memorial -an academic recall of what Jesus did. Believe it or not, I have personally attended churches where the sacrament is treated in a cavalier fashion - a "self-serve" station is available throughout the service; or a declaration there is no time in their worship services for the Sacrament - do it if you wish in your small group!
I'm not even sure what to say. Other than, please Lord don't let this happen here. And people wonder why the British Methodist Church insists on 'good order'. I think the link and the quotation are good examples of what can happen without 'good order'.

13 September 2007

Simpsonized Pam

I'm feeling grotty and have no profound thoughts today, so it's time for a bit of fun.

Here's I how I would look as a Simpson's character. Courtesy of
Simpsonize Me. Hat tip to Real Live Preacher.

11 September 2007

September 11th

I don't know that I have anything profound to say about 'September 11th'. As a 'Girardian', I feel that the theory of violent mimesis is particularly useful in understanding a lot of the dynamics behind the events of '9/11' as well as the current 'war on terrorism'.

Very briefly, the theory says (among other things) that societies maintain internal cohesion by identifying and expelling scapegoats. That is, a society has to be genuinely convinced that some person, category of person, or groups of people is responsible for all of a society's problems and that peace will reign when that person or those people are 'destroyed' in some way. The Islamic war on the West is an example of this as is the Western war on Islam. As was the war on communism; in fact, I'd venture to say that the 'war against Islam' has simply replaced the 'war against communism' as our collective scapegoat. And, following Girardian theory almost to the letter, once we'd expelled the communist scapegoat, our peace was fragile until we found another scapegoat.

Girard, I think, offers a compelling lens through which to read not only the history of nations but also Christian theology.
+ + + +

On September 11th 2001, at 8:00 am my husband and I boarded an airplane in Cleveland, Ohio bound for Houston, Texas. As was the case in New York, it was a beautiful, clear day and the flight was proceeding without any problems. I had just finished eating the carry-on breakfast we'd been given when the pilot announced that we were going to have to land in Little Rock, Arkansas due to a problem with air traffic control.

It was not until we landed some time later that we were told that we had landed 'because a national emergency had been declared'. I don't actually know if the pilot knew about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or whether he was simply sparing himself the trauma of breaking the news to the plane.

After several unsuccessful attempts at ringing my parents in Ohio, we were finally able to get through to tell them we were OK. I remember my father saying 'Oh thank God!!!!' when I said 'Hi dad.' That was the last time I spoke to him before he had a stroke a few weeks later that left him with aphasia (a loss of his ability to speak properly).

My husband and I travelled by Greyhound Bus (Coach) from Little Rock to Houston the following day; a ride of about 8 hours, as I remember. We had been on our way to Houston to attend an annual conference sponsored by my then-employer; the conference was cancelled, needless to say. This was something of a surreal experience. The lady who had organised the conference in Houston actually had her offices at the World Trade Center, but she'd been in Houston early to organise the event. All of her immediate colleagues were on lower floors and were able to leave. The parent company lost about 390 people.

One woman I knew from another company who worked in the World Trade Center had been travelling on 9/11. None of the people in her firm who were in the WTC got out alive.

On the first anniversary of 9/11, I attended a mid-day service at St. Botolph Aldgate, a church where I regularly attended a noon-time Eucharist. Because of the location in the City of London, there were many firms where people had lost colleagues. What really cracked me up, though, was the card our firm sent each employee with the names of each person from our firm who had died. I couldn't look at it without crying and I still have tears in my eyes as I think of it now.

Prayers for the families and loved ones of those who died. Prayers for all those who have died at the hands of Western-sponsored violence. God's will for peace applies to all people, even those we want to hate.

10 September 2007

A Sermon and a Story

I've posted this week's sermon on my sermon blog: Take Up Your Cross

This was another difficult Gospel reading and, I think, a good argument for preaching from the lectionary. I'm not sure whether Luke 14:25-33 would have been my own choice of a text to preach on!

I've also posted a story I wrote based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 entitled
The Magical Seed Bush.

03 September 2007

Methodists and Conversion

We've been having a fascinating conversation over on: What is a Methodist Evangelical?. Please feel free to continue there if you have any further thoughts!
I wanted to pick up on Peter Kirk's comment on 'conversionism'. Peter wrote:
To me, the central issue which distinguishes evangelicals from other Christians, at least in the Church of England, is conversionism, the belief that what the mass of people need is not moral exhortation or participation in worship but to be born again. How far are Methodist evangelicals, and Methodists as a whole, in agreement with this?
Perhaps those who have been Methodists longer than I have been can answer that question for 'Methodism in general'. I think it's right to say that 'conversion' is central to Methodist thinking: 'All need to be saved,' according to the 'Four Alls'.

I'd like to do some personal thinking around the idea that 'people do not need moral exhortation or participation in worship, but to be born again.'

My own sense is that we need all of these things and that conversion alone is not sufficient. I think I'd also add that we need prayer as well; this might come under the cover of worship, but I want to make clear that public worship on a Sunday probably isn't 'enough', at least not if we are ever going to need to call on our faith in times of crisis.

First of all, on 'conversion'. I think that we all need to be 'converted' because we all need to repent. As most Christians know, 'repent' means to turn around. We all have a tendency to want to go our own way apart from God, be it actively sinning or simply just ignoring God, so we all need to 'turn around'. But this 'turning around' isn't just a one-time thing.

If 'conversionism' is a one-time big event, then I don't think it's sufficient. Necessary, but not sufficient. I worry if people think that all they have to be able to do is to name the time and the date of their conversion and then, as far as God is concerned, they are set up for heaven. I also would not want to exclude people who have managed to turn around, repent and convert without ever being able to name the time and the date. I do think that this can happen for people who have been brought up in a Christian family or another Christian environment.

I believe - and I think that this is very Methodist - that 'conversion' is an on-going thing. As someone said to me recently, it's not that we have been saved, it is that we are being saved. This 'on-going salvation' is, I think, another way of expressing the Methodist idea of Christian Perfection or Holiness. Once having 'given one's life to Christ', we are still in need of on-going growth, discipleship and perfection.

I think that the Christian community is extremely important in our on-going discipleship and I think that worship and prayer are important in this continued growth. I'd argue that this is also 'Methodist' - at least, it's Wesleyan. Wesley exhorted his followers to receive communion as often as possible and also recommended 'constant communion'. Certainly, the early classes and bands were nothing if they were not opportunities for moral exhortation and prayer.

That brings me to 'prayer' and I can't really point to anything particularly Methodist as I talk about prayer, although Methodists certainly have nothing against praying! I believe, mainly from personal experience, that putting effort into practicing a prayer life is vitally important. A retired Methodist minister remarked recently that, in his experience, the attitude of many elderly people toward God depended on whether or not they had a prayer life. I'm not talking about 'faith' as 'doctrines' but 'faith' as in whether or not people feel that they can turn to God in times of crisis. This rings true to me and would probably be another long post. Suffice it to say that I think that there is value in 'practicing' prayer even if we can't feel God at all or don't feel like praying.

To sum up, I personally believe that conversion is necessary but not sufficient. For me, to neglect or de-emphasise worship and growth in holiness is to be constantly 'drinking milk' rather than 'eating meat'.

02 September 2007

Sermon - Dishonourable God

I've posted today's sermon, Dishonourable God over on my sermon blog. It's based on Luke 14:1, 7-14.