23 December 2006
Sermon - Outlandish Renewal
22 December 2006
In an effort to convey to his fellow Israelites in simple, direct terms the sort of life God expects them to lead, Micah speaks of three essences:
He has told you, O man, what is good.
And what the Lord requires of you.
Only to do justice,
And to love goodness
And to walk modestly with your God (6:8).
The insistence on justice follows from the Torah's admonition, "Justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20). Tzedek, the Hebrew for "justice," is the root of the word tzedaka, which is translated as "charity," but which literally is a derivative of "justice" (from the biblical perspective one who does not give tzedaka is not merely uncharitable, but unjust.)
Micah's injunction "to love goodness" recalls Deuteronomy 6:18, "Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord," and Proverbs 2:20, "So follow the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just."... (PamBG: I have omitted here some supporting arguments the author makes from the book of Jeremiah.)
Micah's final demand is "to walk modestly with your God." The sort of faith that leads one to believe that he or she knows exactly what God requires in every situation can make a person arrogant. This passage demands humility of believers.
The pursuit of justice, an obsession with doing good deeds, and humility, these are what constitute for Micah a godly person. As Rabbi Hillel (first century B.C.E.) remarks after offering a similar ethical statement of Judaism's essence: "All the rest is commentary" (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a).
21 December 2006
Hermeneutics and Kerygma
Over time, I've given a lot of thought to this topic that you raise. I've come down to thinking in terms of "dangers" that threaten the liberal and "dangers" that threaten the conservative. For the conservative, I believe, the danger is being "anti-hermeneutical." I.e., not realizing that the biblical texts often require sophisticated wrestling in order to yield their truths. You can't be pedestrian in your reading of the Bible! For the liberal, the danger is being "anti-Kerygmatic." I.e., not realizing that the biblical texts bear a powerful witness, Word, Kerygma, and vitality, that transcends the limitations of their human authors. What do you think??I thought this comment deserved a discussion of its own.
I'll open by saying, as someone raised in a denomination that believes the bible to be verbally inspired, inerrant and infallible (hereafter VIII), that the "anti-hermeneutical" comment resonated a lot with me. I'm not wildly well versed on the academic side of this; I don't know how or if VIII scholars go about developing an anti-hermenutical argument. I DO know that, amongst the people in the pews, there will be a rigourous denial of "interpreting" Scripture, so one is hardly going to get them to admit that they have a process for doing so.
Equally, I also had the experience of studying for a theology BA in the 1970s, and the anti-Kerygmatic approach was rife in academia at the time. I've said - and I believe it's true - that to write a paper indicating that one believed in God would have resulted in a very low grade. By my senior year in university (fourth and last year), I was already thinking that there had to be a better way somewhere in between total disbelief and inerrantism (or at least somewhere a bit more conservative than Tillich and Teillard).
20 December 2006
How to Dialogue with "Liberal" Christians
This might blow up in my face completely, but I would like to offer here some suggestions about "how to talk to 'liberals'". (Just one remark. I'm thinking of a number of different web conversations, so if you think this is a veiled dig at you, it isn't.)
First, a definition. I'm defining "liberal" as anyone who does not believe the bible is verbally-inspired, inerrant and infallible. (Hearafter "VIII") I am aware that this definition is simplistic and non-nuanced. So....
1) Be aware that the group of people do not believe the bible is VIII includes a huge range of theologies and approaches to the bible. Many "nonVIII" people self-define as evangelical. Ask an individual what he or she believes on a particular point of doctrine and don't assume that you know their views.
2) Many or most of us think that we believe in the bible and we think that we value and respect the bible. Many or most of us are very sincere in our desire to read the bible faithfully and to be obedient to God.
3) Many or most of us probably don't think that you are insincere or that you have bad motives. We just disagree with your theology.
4) Most of us probably think that we have given quite a lot of consideration to our theology, especially those people who have degrees in the subject.
5) Please do not expect to convert us to your point of view after a couple of exchanges on the internet. Patience is required.
19 December 2006
Link: Ten Thoughts on the Literal and Literary
This especially resonated with me:
Fundamentalist ethics are rule-based, and the answers to moral problems are found, decontextualised, at the back of the (good) book. Jesus’ preferred method of ethical instruction, however, is the parable, “subversive speech” (William R. Herzog II). Indeed Richard B. Hays argues that a “symbolic world as context for moral discernment” is fundamental to the entire New Testament. “The kingdom of God is like this.” Enter the story, work it out – then act it out!It seems to me that this decontexualised, rule-based approach is how many (most?) inerrantists seem to miss the fact that Jesus used subversive speech, was a pacificst and really did teach that loving God and loving other people was the most important Commandment of all.
In a decontexualised, rule-based approach, one can overlay all one's own social presuppostions on to the rules. Lo and behold, you then have a religious system that supports any existing human power-structure. Constantine 1, Jesus 0.
Sermon - Prayer and the Nearness of God
I am a humble aristocrat. God has given me more than the common people and I thank him for it every day.
I am a humble boss. God has recognised my superior moral example and I try to live up to it by showing my subordinates how to think and live.
I am a humble husband. God has recognised that someone must have control over women and he's given me that responsibility. I try to make sure my wife's opinions don't get in the way of her doing what is right.
I am a humble parent. God has given me children and it is up to me to tell them who they are. Children must be seen and not heard.
15 December 2006
God of ALL Creation
I especially agree with this statement:
This popular restriction of Christian ethical focus to family issues should be called out for what it is: a capitulation to consumerism and nationalism; a species of syncretism; an effective confession that Christ's sovereignty does not extend across all areas of life.I want to be absolutely clear that I think that issues of personal morality are important for those who want to be disciples of Christ.
However, God is also extremely concerned with issues like the alleviation of poverty, stewardship of the environment and civil rights for all people.
To suggest that these social matters are purely secular ideologies and not the concern of Christianity is, in my opinion, a failure to truly understand that God's reign extends to every aspect of human life.
14 December 2006
Peace on Earth
Any comments would be greatly appreciated - although I'm near deadline now. I'll take the criticism that I'm not trying to be evangelistic - I'm not. I'm trying to appeal to people of all faiths and people of no faith.
As Christmas approaches, the Christian Church awaits the birth of Jesus Christ, whom Scripture also calls ‘The Prince of Peace’.
Our world today is in desperate need of peace. Fortunately, the values of peace and tolerance are shared by people of all major faiths as well as by people of no faith.
In recent years, our society has grown fearful of the unfamiliar. Jesus had a solution to this fear. He visited the people who his society feared, he ate with them and got to know them personally. Jesus followed the central precept of Judaism: ‘Love God and love your neighbour’. His love was not sentimental; rather it was expressed in his fundamental respect for the personhood of each individual.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Saviour of the world. But whoever you are and whatever you believe, each of us can participate in the work of the Prince of Peace by respecting people of all backgrounds and faiths, by promoting tolerance in public life and by seeking justice for all people.
May our town, our nation and our world be blessed with true peace this Christmas season.
13 December 2006
Prayers of St. Ignatius and John Wesley
Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty,John Wesley's Covenant Prayer (modern version)
my memory, my understanding
and my whole will.
All that I am
and all that I possess
You have given me:
I surrender it all to You
to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough,
and will desire nothing more.
I am no longer my own but yours.
Your will, not mine, be done in all things,
wherever you may place me,
in all that I do
and in all that I may endure;
when there is work for me
and when there is none;
when I am troubled
and when I am at peace.
Your will be done
when I am valued
and when I am disregarded;
when I find fulfilment
and when it is lacking;
when I have all things,
and when I have nothing.
I willingly offer
all I have and am
to serve you,
as and where you choose.
Glorious and blessèd God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
May it be so for ever.
Let this covenant now made on earth
be fulfilled in heaven.
Ignatius of Loyola and John Wesley
John Wesley was born in 1703 and died in 1791. He was an Anglican clergyman and the son of an Anglican clergyman. Although credited with being the Father of Methodism, he did not set out to found a new denominantion. His interest was rather in a spiritual revival within the Church of England and bringing the message of the Gospel to those who were not readily able to hear it - especially the poor (who were normally not welcomed in churches).
In my opinion, Ignatius and Wesley had broad commonalities in their ministries. Both were passionate about God and Christ, both were passionate about living lives dedicated to discipleship and service, both were concerned with the development of people's prayer lives and both were concerned about practical help for the poor.
I also think that both men were "reformers" in the broad sense of the word - calling the Church of their time out of an institutionalised religion and into genuine service. Both were absolutely passionate about what Catholics term "Apostolic Ministry" and what Protestants term "The Social Gospel".
I love both St. Ignatius' prayer of commitment and John Wesley's covenant prayer. I'm not the first to spot the similarities, but one has to wonder whether Wesley's prayer was influenced by Ignatius' prayer. Or perhaps both prayers simply sprang spontaneously from the commitment that these two men felt for God?
St Ignatius and Me
I first "met" Ignatius when I went to university to study International Affairs in 1975. I had chosen that university specifically for their International Affairs degree but because it was a Jesuit university, we were required to study two modules of theology in our first year and two in our second year (university studies are a four-year affair in in the US, for those who don't know)
It's hard to find the words for what that first theology module was like. Ignatius would have said - I think - that I found my "vocation". I fell madly, passionately in love with theology (and if I'm being brutally honest, at that time I was more in love with theology than with God). After my first year at university, I changed my major (changed my course of study) and began to study Theology rather than International Affairs.
It was through the Christian community at university - particularly the Jesuit community - that I learned about Ignatius of Loyola. I learned about his way of meditating from scripture: how to "put" myself inside a biblical story and ask God to speak to me through it. This was not about getting "the correct interpretation of the passage" - as it has been in my inerrantist denomination - Ignatian scriptural meditation was simply about allowing God's word to speak to me, many times in very surprising ways that had nothing to do with "the right interpretation" of the text.
I left university and, as many young people do, I became a sporadic church-goer for a variety of reasons. For a very long time I also considered that I was not a Christian. But I continued to practice the Ignatian way of prayer that I learned in university. With the benefit of hindsight, I think that I can safely say that this prayer-practice may well have saved my faith. So I poodled along for a very long time until one day - after about 2 years of trying to gently nudge me - God made it dramatically clear that he wanted me to commit every fibre of my being to his service.
I responsed to that call, "pushed doors" - as they say - until one day I found myself accepted into the preliminary stages (Foundation Training) for the Methodist ministry (The Methodist Church of Great Britain). Once again, I encountered Ignatius. As prospective Methodist ministers, we were being trained in the Ignatian way of prayer and taken through sections of The Spiritual Exercises!
In theology college, I found myself choosing Ignatius as the subject for my module on Contemporary Spirituality and this past July, I attended a short retreat at Loyola Hall near Liverpool. There I met three other Methodist Ministers on retreat and one of them encouraged me to find a Spiritual Director, so I now find myself with a Jesuit Spiritual Director.
So, St. Ignatius now seems like a permanent feature in my life. I have no idea why this is the case, but I'm certain God is at work; I shall just keep pushing these Ignatian doors to see what happens.
P. S. I didn't set out to write a post like this, but I think there must be a reason for having done it, so I'll take a breath, trust in God and post the story in faith that it touches someone for some reason. God willing, the next post will be on the subject I originally intended to write about.
12 December 2006
Valuing the Other
Mimetic spirituality operates out of fear. Fear of divine retribution. It does not care about the concrete consequences expressed in relation to ‘others,’ except as they attract or repel this retribution. In short, it is self-centered and its predominant approach to God is that of ‘do ut des’ (I give in order to get). John implicitly tells the crowds that their expectations that run high for deliverance include deliverance ultimately from negative mimesis and its social effects. Then as now self-worth equaled net worth. The ‘crowds’ were exhorted, in short, to value the other. Mother Teresa is an excellent contemporary example of someone who understood this aspect of the prophetic message.If the above seems like jargon to you, let me attempt my own translation and paraphrase. Christianity is not a religion whose primary goal is for "me to stay out of hell"; it is not a religion based on the fear that "God is going to get me and you if we don't toe the line". The goal of Christianity - like Judaism - is to love God and to love others - all others, whoever they may be.
Focussing on "staying out of hell" makes a person self-centred and it can also make him or her self-righteous. Focussing on the good of other people - because we rejoice in God's valuing of us as human beings - can have far-reaching, positive social effects. Social justice and tolerance is something the world sorely needs at the moment.
09 December 2006
Sermon - The Good News of Repentance
08 December 2006
Very entertaining. Especially for Grumpy Old Men and Women.
07 December 2006
Words of Wisdom
If that's too technical for you, here's an excerpt:
when we are struggling we spend our time longing and searching to re-create a previous encounter with God that was profound or meaningful, instead of creating a fresh and new relationship with Him for every moment.
06 December 2006
Bibliography - Non-Violent Atonement
I thought I'd post the bibliography here for two reasons. First, so that it might be useful to others. Secondly, so that others can mention additional works.
Addendum on 7 December: I've decided to update the bibliography as suggestions are added to keep things neat. (Cue Dawn saying "How J") I've taken Michael's comments on board and started a new section entitled "General Resources on Atonement"=====
Bibliography – Non-Violent Atonement
Alison, James. 1998. The Joy of Being Wrong: original sin through Easter eyes. New York: Crossroad Publishing.
----- 2003. On Being Liked. London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.
----- 2006. Undergoing God: dispatches from the scene of a break-in. London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.
Fiddes, Paul. 1989. Past Event and Present Salvation: The Christian Idea of Atonement. London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.
Gorringe, Timothy. 1996. God's Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence and the Rhetoric of Salvation. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Green, Joel B. and Baker, Mark D. 2000. Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: atonement in New Testament and contemporary contexts. Downer’s Grove, Inter-Varsity Press.
Mann, Alan. 2005. Atonement for a 'Sinless' Society: engaging with an emerging culture. Milton Keynes. Paternoster.
Moltmann, Jürgen. 1993. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ As the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Minneapolis. Augsburg Fortress Publishers.
Soelle, Dorothee. 1967. Christ the Representative. London. SCM Press.
Sykes, Stephen. 1997. The Story of Atonement (Trinity and truth). London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.
Young, Frances M. 1983. Sacrifice and the Death of Christ. London, SCM Press.
Weaver, J. Denny. 2001. The Nonviolent Atonement. Cambridge. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
General Resources on Atonement
Aulen, GEH. 2003. Christus Victor: an historical study of the three main types of the idea of the atonement. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
Gunton, Colin E. 2004. The Actuality of Atonement: a study of metaphor, rationality and the Christian tradition. London: T&T Clark.
One Percent Have 40% of the Wealth
Until I get around to it, what better apologetic for political liberalism than The Guardian's article: World’s richest 1% own 40% of all wealth, UN report discovers
Unfortunately, I think it's too easy to read this article and think that it's talking only about multi-millionaires.
Perhaps the most important fact is buried in the seventh paragraph:
Half the world's adult population, however, owned barely 1% of global wealth. Near the bottom of the list were India, with per capita wealth of $1,100, and Indonesia with assets per head of $1,400.Madsen Pirie, director of the conservative Adam Smith Institute, disagrees that the distribution of global wealth is unfair. He said:
"The implicit assumption behind this is that there is a supply of wealth in the world and some people have too much of that supply. In fact wealth is a dynamic, it is constantly created. We should not be asking who in the past has created wealth and how can we get it off them."What Pirie says is true to some extent. However, it's disengenuous to suggest that less-developed countries stand on an equal footing with the developed countries in terms of their potential ability to create income and wealth.
Imagine two teams playing a game of "Monopoly" where there was one game but two sets of cards and two starting "banks". Group one starts with $10,000 and group two with $500. Group one's set of cards says things like "Collect $450 from other players every time you pass Go." Group two's set of cards says things like "Collect $10 from the bank every time you pass go." It doesn't take a genius to figure out who the cards are stacked against and who is going to become bankrupt.
The issue at hand is not about the fact that wealth can be created. It's about the fact that developing countries are not on an equal footing with respect to either monetary capital or industrial capital. The international economic system's rules are stacked in favour of those who have these things. Rather than seeing the weaknesses of the poor and responding with an offer to help level the playing field, the wealthy spot the weaknesses in the system and exploit them at the expense of less developed countries.
Any student of scripture would know what Jeremiah, Isaiah, Malachi, Amos, or a whole host of other prophets would have to say to that.
05 December 2006
What are we for?
It sounds like a stunning lecture and Kim's post is definitely worth reading.
When I was growing up, the denomination to which I belonged had a debate about whether or not people with severe learning disabilities could be saved, if they could not understand the gospel message. Although that denomination - thank goodness - has now decided that God will be merciful to such people, there were a number of leaders at the time (this was in the 1960s) who thought that those who could not understand the gospel message could not be saved. (Sounds like "salvation by cognition"!)
Dr. Young's idea - that the vocation of those with severe learning difficulties is to bring the gospel to the rest of us - seems much more like the sort of thing that a God of Good News would do.
03 December 2006
The Wrath of God
...the wrath revealed in the gospel is not the divine vengeance that should have fallen on us falling instead on Jesus, but rather the divine nonresistance to human evil (cf. Matt 5:39), God’s willingness to suffer violence rather than defend himself or retaliate. It is the permission granted us by God to afflict ourselves unknowingly; it is the divine nonresistance to human evil. It is God’s unwillingness to intervene in the process of action and consequence in the human world by which we set up and operate the system of sacred violence, and so paradoxically a sign of love as the refusal to abridge our freedom and a respect for our choices even when they are catastrophic.There are interesting connections here with theodicy and free will.
For those not familiar with the Girardian concept of "sacred violence", the basic premise is that all human societies maintain internal cohesion by first identifying and then expelling/murdering a scapegoat. The completion of the violence against the scapegoat results in a temporary and false "peace" for members of the "in group" as they contemplate ultimate matters of life and death in the wake of the violence. But sacred violence does not last and must be repeated over and over in order to keep the "peace".
The concept of sacred violence and its inability to bring about permanent peace is why I am increasingly coming to reject penal substitionary atonement as a legitimate theory of atonement. PSA seems to substitute the temporary, human, sinful tool of "sacred violence" for the divine and permanent tool of God's "Shalom".
The idea of "God's wrath" essentially being His refusal to interfere in our human, violent wrath is intriguing. It is certainly consistent with the commentaries on Matthew 13 - the Lectionary reading a fortnight ago - which insisted that "wars and rumours of wars" originate in human society, not in God.
Sermon - Waiting and Hoping
01 December 2006
D- List Blogger
Hey, I'm a D-list blogger, according to Are You an A List Bloglebrity?
Hat tip to the B-listed Christian celebrity blogger Maggi Dawn, who won't know me from Eve. But ya gotta give credit where it's due!
29 November 2006
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
Christ King of Heaven and Earth
25 November 2006
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,Hat tip to Richard at Connexions.
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!
23 November 2006
Prayer for Peace
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?
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"?
19 November 2006
Sermon - Wars & Rumours of War
17 November 2006
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
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 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 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
09 November 2006
Letters to the Editor
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
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
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.
26 October 2006
Link: Got the Time?
24 October 2006
Photos: Coventry Cathedral
Link: A Bath and A Blessing
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.
Sermon 22 October 2006 - Identity in Christ
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
Sunday 15 October Sermons
20 October 2006
Link: Evil as Nothingness
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
It Takes All Kinds
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
Thoughts on Faith
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
Pray as you can, not as you can't
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
Wesylean - but only just
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
Sundays 1 & 8 October Sermons
I've caught up on my sermon blogs.
Sunday 1 October 2006
- Thanksgiving as an Act of Faith
- All Can Be Saved
Sunday 8 October 2006
- Faith and a Thankful Heart
Letter from PA Amish Community
08 October 2006
On Being a new Minister
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.
War and Peace
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
Light and Life
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
What does one say?
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.
28 September 2006
I know "What Would Jesus Do?" was tedious, but I think it focussed the mind. Equally, "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" focuses the mind, I think.
And now for a "Seinfeld moment". Labyrinths. What's the deal with that? I totally do not "get" labyrinths. I don't understand why people find them helpful and I particularly hate it when one gets told that there is "a special surprise for you from God" in the middle.
I don't mean to denigrate labyrinths. I know that a lot of people find them helpful and I think that it's my duty and my job to present people with all sorts of alternatives to praying so that each person can pray in a way that is helpful to them.
It's just that I totally don't "get" labyrinths. About the only bit that I find even remotely helpful - and we're talking reasonably remote here - is actually physically walking them. There is something moderately helpful in walking in a slow and controlled manner. Therefore an on-line version seems totally pointless to me.
I think I'm a grumpy old woman.
26 September 2006
This past Saturday, I had the privilege of marrying my brother. Um, marrying my brother to a wonderful woman. (That linguistic turn of phrase provided one of the sermon's lighter moments too!)
The marriage took place on the very beautiful Island of Catalina, off the coast of Long Beach, California.
Bro is on the right, new sis-in-law on the left. You can see the top of my head just behind the bride. A very acommodating and friendly American priest co-presided to make the whole thing legal.
A great day with no hitches.
May God bless R and R in their new life as husband and wife.
17 September 2006
Link: What is Liberal Theology?
I have always said that my theology is "liberal in process and orthodox in doctrine". Joel's post points that out, I think, without necessarily using those words. I think his 22 points amount to a "way to do theology" - to a process. And, as he points out, the conclusions can be quite varied. Like him, I'm nowhere near being a Tillichian.
I expect that a lot of theological conservatives would say that having a conservative theological process is the only way to be certain that one will have orthodox outcomes. I disagree. I'd point to the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians and those who believe in "The Rapture" all use conservative theological processes. Indeed, one of my bugbears - as many people will know - is that it sometimes seems to me that all you have to do is call yourself a theological conservative and then you can spout any old heresy you like and people will believe that it's orthodox.
For many of us, having "liberal" (as per Joel's post) theological processes, is the only way to be a Christian with integrity. It doesn't help Christianity to blame other Christians for the decline of the church; I think the situation is a lot more complex than that.
Sunday 17 September 2006 - Sermons
These are not meant to be elegant written prose, although I have turned my notes into text so that the sermons are readable.
Today's sermons are:
* God, But not as we expect
* All need to be saved
06 September 2006
You Could Say That
The post by Ben Witherington entitled What is the Character of God? is a good example. It's a great piece of Methodist theology and offers a good corrective to the sort of the theology that has God planning natural disasters, famine, drought and war and then demands that Christians name these things as "good" because God allegedly pre-destined them to happen.
Ben has used the "N-word" - narcissist - a word with which I am in wholehearted agreement. To suggest that God's primary focus is self-aggrandizement or self-praise is to totally misunderstand the concept of God's glory.
Anyway, go read Ben's article. He's a conservative and a man, so I rest under the cover of his authority. ;-)
This article was a bit of a "double whammy" for me. Firstly, at the time, I was struck by the comment that sticking with daily prayer is often more of a "plod of determination" than a "dance of exaltation". This was a great encouragement at the time as I was in one of those plodding places and having someone articulate that determination rather than exhaultation is OK was just what I needed to keep going.
The second thing I was really encouraged by in the article was Richard Giles' comment that most ministers: "actually get paid and housed to do what we would give our right arm to do anyway." This was a good and positive thing to read two weeks before I was about to start a new vocation as a minister.
Well, the first five days have been busy but, at the moment, I feel I can say "amen" to Giles' comment. A friend had previously articulated to me that being a minister was "Having the greatest job in the world to the greatest people in the world" and it feels that way at the moment.
I know this sounds like "honeymoon" stuff and I also know that it is honeymoon stuff! But it's good to feel like a honeymooner at this stage, when I'm supposed to feel that way. I think this post is more for me than for anyone else, but it might be good to look back at it and read it in the future if I need to remember my reasons for respondiong to the call. It most certainly is a privilege to be allowed into peoples' lives and to see God working in the lives of people.
Blessed be the name of God, our incredible Creator.
04 September 2006
Only problem now is that I have a killer week. But thanks to Sally for her broadband prayers. Dang, those evangelists are goooood! ;-)
28 August 2006
I’d just thought I’d share it here, however. I’m hoping we’ll be on broadband some time the week of the 4th of September. Don’t even ask.
Community is important to me and I believe that community is an important part of living as a Christian. I am therefore pleased to have been asked to introduce myself to Christians in Kidderminster through the ‘Five Alive’ newsletter.
You will immediately realise upon meeting me that I do not have a British accent. Before you wonder whether you should ask if I’m Canadian or American, let me tell you that I am American. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio but I have been living in London for the last 18 years. In fact, you are likely to notice that my husband, Trevor, sounds very much like the North Londoner that he is.
This is my first appointment as a Methodist minister. I trained for ministry at Wesley House, Cambridge where I have completed my course-work for an MA in Pastoral Theology; I will be working on my dissertation over the next eighteen months. Before beginning my training for the ministry, I worked for a company that advised employers on setting up pension schemes for their employees.
I am keen that Christians of all denominations cooperate together in their communities and I have something of an ecumenical background myself. I was raised a Lutheran, studied for my first theology degree at a Roman Catholic university and have previously been a member of the Church of England. To top it off, the church from which I began my training for the Methodist ministry is a combined Methodist and URC congregation.
Some of my friends might tell you that I like to be a bit different. While I know that many Christians have chosen John 3:16 as their favourite bible verse, my favourite bible verse is 2 Corinthians 5:19 “...in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (NRSV)
This is my favourite bible verse because like John 3:16 it us that we are saved through Christ. But it also tells us that our salvation comes in the form of reconciliation with God; our relationship with God is now a peaceful one because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And because we now free to be at peace with God, we are also called to be bearers of that message of peace and forgiveness to the world.
This is a message of faith and a message of action. It is a message that is both ‘spiritual’ and ‘this-worldly’. I think that John and Charles Wesley would have approved.
Perhaps you can see that there is a connection between the message of reconciliation and peace-making on the one hand and the idea of community on the other hand. At the extreme, without a spirit of reconciliation there can’t be any kind of functioning community. This is a message that I believe the world at large is sadly in need of at the present time. But sometimes we as Christians do not act out this message in our own lives.
I believe that it is possible for Christians to unashamedly proclaim the truth of Christ and him crucified whilst at the same time treating people of other faiths and of no faith with dignity and respect. Indeed, I believe that we are commanded to do so when we are told to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
So what does all of this have to do with me?
These are the things that I believe; these are the reasons that I am passionate about the gospel. I rejoice that God has reconciled me to himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I believe that God calls me not only to tell others that all are reconciled to God through Christ, but also to live a life of reconciliation in the here-and-now.
I believe that Christians can become people of reconciliation by being regular in those activities which John Wesley called ‘the means of grace’. For Wesley this meant being regular at prayer, bible study, public worship and participation in Holy Communion. As a member of the Church which is the priesthood of all believers, it is my intention to regularly make use of these means of growing in discipleship. Although I will most likely need both God’s and your forgiveness somewhere down the line, I also hope to be a person of community and reconciliation. Please pray for me as I will pray for you.
26 August 2006
How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place
We’re both taking Thursdays as our day off (even though I have not yet officially started) and this past Thursday, we took the Severn Valley Railway from Kidderminster (see below) to Bridgenorth.
I can’t adequately describe the Severn Valley Railway as I’m not a railway buff. However, it is an ‘historic railway’ run entirely by volunteers and funded by private membership which began in 1970. It runs steam engines and passenger carriages from the 1930s. The stations are all kitted out to be historically accurate, as exemplified by the Kidderminster station below.
Bridgenorth is simply a beautiful town in Shropshire. Here is a photo of a stunning view.
18 August 2006
Having major problems getting broadband installed. The situation is not likely to be rectified any time soon, unfortunately.
13 August 2006
The new house has gone from looking like it’s a storage facility to looking like it’s been hit by a hurricane. And that’s definitely an improvement! (See photo below.)
But it’s not all bad. (See photo below.)
I’m not allowed to appear at the churches to which I’ve been assigned until the 1st of September, so this morning I went to the local Anglican church. The churchwardens, R and B were very friendly and introduced me to a number of people and then I found myself part of the parish announcements.
The area is quite attractive and the people are very friendly. Twice over the last few days we’ve had shop assistants approach us and ask if they could help! I’m also finding that people are asking about my American accent and that it’s helping to start conversations.
I’m still on dial-up, though, and won’t get broadband sorted for probably another two weeks or so.