30 June 2006

'Women are a turn-off'

There is an interesting side-bar article by Christine Miles in today's issue of The Church Times (link here) entitled: 'Women are a Turn Off'. In other words, many men view the church as being a pervasively female-dominated culture, even though most church leaders are still men.

There are too many mother and toddlers' groups, too many children's groups and too many women's groups. The songs we sing are subjective and declare our feelings about Jesus as our lover. (I have to admit that some of the 'Jesus is my boyfriend' songs really make me want to gag too.)

According to this article, many men are motivated by money, sex and power and they think that they are going to find life's answers in these things rather than in church.

Men apparently don't want feelings in church, they are apparently more likely to relate to objective truth, declaring who God is. They want the church to support and enable them in their work-place and to support and enable them to have friendships outside the church. The article links to the The Christian Viewpoint for Men website.

I have a lot of questions about the viewpoints that this article highlights from The Christian Viewpoint for Men; as a woman, I'm in no position to dispute their findings and some of them ring true to me. I'm also reminded of a conversation on Ship of Fools by a young man in his 20s who said many similar things.

A big question that it raises for me, however, is how far does the church go to accommodate some of these 'needs'?

'How to apply Christian principles in the workplace' sounds like something we should definitely do for men and women; applied theology at it's best.

Enabling people to have friendships outside church seems right too although I remain confused exactly how the church 'makes' this happen.

But 'motivation by money, power, and sex'? OK, I accept that a lot of non-church going men buy that they can find the meaning of life in these things, but I don't see how Christianity can pander to that philosophy without being untrue to itself.

And 'objective truth declaring who God is' - I'm not sure what that means? If it means 'theology my way or the theology highway' well, then again I have a problem with that. If it means more theology in church than we have now, bring it on!

Blessing Civil Partnerships?

Blessing Civil Partnerships? - Why I do not think that the theology of homosexual acts is a Gospel issue

I am going to attempt to briefly set out why I do not think that a person's theology of homosexual acts is a 'Gospel issue' from the point of view of British Methodist theology. In order to be brief, I will not be able to fully expand every point; otherwise, I would write an essay rather than a short article.

The Gospel Message - As Kim Fabricus so pithily articulated it in Ten Propositions on Preaching - is 'You are forgiven and therefore now free to repent'. That's about it. Accepting God's forgiveness and repenting results in what John Wesley would have called 'New Birth'.

I think that Methodist theology makes it very clear that the fact of God's forgiveness comes from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and not from human repentance. The idea that God's forgiveness comes first and draws out our repentance is made quite clear in Methodist theology in Wesley's affirmation of both prevenient grace and his affirmation of original sin. I'd argue that if you don't believe in prevenient grace or you don't believe that humanity has an 'inborn capacity for sinning' then you are not being faithful to Methodist theology.

I want to assert that:

1) The holy use of sex is a discipleship issue, not a Gospel issue.
2) Justice is a discipleship issue, not a Gospel issue.

1) The holy use of sex is a discipleship issue, not a Gospel issue.
Whatever you think 'a holy use of sex' is, I would argue that sexual maturity is a discipleship issue. If we do not agree on what a holy use of sex is, does God withdraw his offer of salvation from those who are incorrect?

I have heard some say, 'But at least we all agree, for instance, that murder is a sin.' OK. We might all agree that gluttony is a sin but how fat can a person get before it becomes a 'Gospel issue'? Do we really all agree that being fat is a sin? Does God withdraw his offer of salvation from people who think it's OK to be fat? If we think that this issue is not so clear-cut and that there is room for different opinions, might that not be the same for our debate with respect to the holy use of sex? Particularly since British Methodism has agreed as a body that promiscuity and adultery are sinful.

2) Justice is a discipleship issue, not a Gospel issue.
In forgiving us before we repent, God treats us better than we deserve to be treated. In thankfulness for this grace, we are called upon not only to be 'just', but also to be gracious in the same way that God has been gracious to us. However, again, this is a discipleship issue, not a Gospel Issue.

Working for Social Justice is the necessary response of the Christian who has recognised God's fogiveness; if we think that it's not necessary to work for Social Justice, we risk having missed the whole glorious point of God's free offer of forgiveness. The importance of social justice is as core to Methodism as is spiritual 'New Birth'. But Social Justice is not the Gospel message any more than sexual holiness is the Gospel message.

I think that we need to be theologically clear on these two points. When we begin to confuse either personal morality or social justice with the 'salvation' or 'justificiation' that we are freely and undeservedly given by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we turn the Gospel into the work of human hands rather than the work of Jesus Christ. To be blunt, we are committing idolatry. We are proclaiming salvation by works rather than salvation by grace.

The Gospel message is 'God forgives you, therefore you are free to repent'.

Personal morality is not the Gospel. Social Justice is not the Gospel.

Once we are clear on these issues, it is my opinion that we have a theological basis for being able to live together in disagreement. I would also argue that being willing to live together in disagreement is not a 'fudge'; rather it is agreeing to 'love our neighbour as ourself' in the knowledge that 'God first loved us.' There are many people with strong opinions on both sides of the issue who know what a difficult challenge this is.

29 June 2006

Cartoon Illustrations for Sunday

I can't draw a stick-figure to save my life and that is only a very slight exaggeration.

I asked my very talented husband to draw me some line-drawings for the children on Sunday (these are 3 to 5 year olds).

If you go to http://www.garrud.co.uk/ and click on 'Church Cartoons' you will find the drawings of Jairus, his daughter, the women with the hemorrhages and Jesus.

If these are helpful to you, feel free to down-load them.

27 June 2006

What's Wrong with The Great Commandment?

I stand accused of believing that we are commanded to love God and love our neighbour. Those commandents of which Jesus said 'On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.' (Matthew 22:40, KJV)

These very negative sentiments about The Great Commandment are sentiments that I have heard quite a few times before.
whatever goes, just Love God and love each other and you will be ok
And I'd like to know what is wrong with The Great Commandment? Why does believing that The Great Commandment is at the core of the Christian message imply 'whatever goes' or 'anything goes'?

Why do people diss The Great Commandment? Why do people think that behaving with Christ-like love is easy?

Gender Justice Committee

A link to the British Methodist Church's Gender Justice Committee website.

Service with a Smile

You know you're dealing with the owner of the shop when the fact that you are buying a lot of items for 20p elicits a smile rather than an exasperated sigh.

So, thank you to the lovely proprietor at All Saints Pastoral Centre Bookshop in London Colney where they carry an extensive variety of bookmarks/prayer cards for 20p as well as folded greeting cards / prayer cards with beautiful illustrations by Sr. Mary Stephen CRSS for 95p. The greeting cards are really useful for notes of thanks and encouragement, so I bought six of those too!

(Sr. Mary Stephen designed the illustration that The Methodist Church of Great Britain has used for it's year of prayer, Pray Without Ceasing.)

(No, the bookshop does not give me royalties! It's just nice to be able to give credit where credit is due.)

26 June 2006

Lord, Help me Overcome My Strengths

There seems to be a lot of painful stuff going around blogworld and email list world at the moment about women in the ordained ministry and women as preachers. A male minister in a mainstream denomination that ordains women repeating sexist mals mots about women preachers being comparable to dogs walking on two hind-legs (you know the quotation). On a mailing list (with a public feed, so I'm not breaking confidences) an FiF priest chides a woman who waited for decades to enter the ordained ministry for not having patience. (!) Then, of course, we have those who believe in male headship who are now calling themselves 'complimentarians' which sounds much more reasonable.

Lord, thank you for the reminder that, as a woman minister, I will always be on the margin whether I want to be or not.

Thank you that, as a woman, I will never feel entitled to ordained ministry - something that no-one should ever feel entitled to.

Give me the charity to pray for those who dislike my ministry because of my chromosomes; give me the charity to love them when I find it difficult (like now!)

Give me the grace to minister to all people - of both genders - who feel rejected and disempowered by the establishment, especially the established church.

Lord, thank you for the reminder that no-one properly ministers in their strength, but only in your Spirit. Help me to overcome my strengths. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

24 June 2006

Joke - Raising Children

Once upon a time there was a mummy balloon, a daddy balloon and a baby balloon.

One night, after everyone had gone to bed, there was a fierce thunderstorm. Baby balloon had never seen a thunderstom before and she was very frightened, so she tried to crawl into her parents' bed so that they could keep her safe.

Urgh. There wasn't quite enough room. Then she thought, 'If I just let a teeny bit of air out of mummy, maybe there will be enough room for me to snuggle here in the bed.' So baby balloon let a teeny bit of air out of mummy.

Urgh. There still wasn't quite enough room. Baby balloon thought 'If I just let a teeny bit of air out of daddy, maybe there will be enough room for me to snuggle here in the bed.' So baby balloon let a teeny bit of air out of daddy.

Urgh. There still wasn't quite enough room. Baby balloon thought 'Maybe if I let a teeny bit of air out of myself, there will be enough room for me to snuggle here in the bed.' So baby balloon let a teeny bit of air out of herself.

The next day, mummy and daddy were very, very cross with baby balloon. Mummy sat her down and said:
'You let me down,
You let your father down,
But most important of all, you let yourself down.'

22 June 2006

College is Over

College finished yesterday - Wednesday the 21st.

It's been a whirlwind of a year. Some of us had papers due right up to Friday the 16th. Monday the 19th was a full day with our last seminar in the morning and then a trip for the leavers and probationer ministers (Hi Dave!) to a funeral director and a cremetorium in the afternoon. That was interesting and very helpful to have an idea of what others do with respect to 'the funeral process'.

Then, on Tuesday, I attended a funeral that was taken by a colleague's husband who is an Anglican curate. Being half Italian-American (and that half of the family being by far the largest in number) the vast majority of my experience has been of Italian-American funerals and funeral Masses. Not very helpful for a UK Methodist minister! I wanted to see a 'typical British funeral'. Although I understand that funerals vary quite a lot around the country, I suspect Tuesday's funeral was as close as I'll get to one!

Yesterday, Wednesday, was mainly filled with eating together, packing up my room and saying good bye. I found it difficult to say good bye because I felt I'd not really had time to get my head around the fact that I was leaving.

I'm looking forward to moving and to going into Circuit, but even if you're looking forward to where you're going, it can still be difficult to leave good friends behind. I do believe, however, that being able to say good-bye is part of what it means to follow God's call into the future and into the unknown.

May God bless all in ministry, especially those taking up new postings in the next few months.

16 June 2006

Fallen in Love?

Just a thought-experiment here as a result of both on-line and "real life" discussions recently.

What if we asked the question: "Have you fallen in love with God?" instead of "Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?"

Sometimes I think that Christianity has been reduced by some to "salvation by doctrine". It's been reduced to holding the "right" ideas about bodily resurrection, theories of atonement, creation, whatever.

But I don't think 'right doctrine' is the essence of what Christian belief is about.

'Belief in God', in Christian terms, isn't about holding the right ideas about God (as if we could). Christian belief is about falling in love with God so that one trusts God completely - with all of one's being.

Metaphorically, it's the sort of belief that one has when one throws oneself off a precipice into the arms of one's beloved, knowing that the beloved will catch them. It's not about reciting physics formulas to prove that one's beloved is strong enough to catch one.

The Convent - Episode 1

There seem to be mixed opinions over on Ship of Fools, but for my money, the first Episode of 'The Convent' was every bit as good as 'The Monastery'.

In the past, I've had the privilege to be a 'prayer companion' and the most marvelous thing about being a prayer companion is that you can actually see God working in people's lives. I think these shows come about as close to that experience as one could do in the context of mass media.

I was impressed by the love and patience that the nuns showed to the guests. And even though some of the guests were having a hard time with the community's discipline, I felt that they did seemed to be trying to engage with the prayer disciplines and with God. All the guests seem to have some fairly substantial issues to deal with.

14 June 2006

The Convent

The BBC series The Convent begins tonight on BBC 2 at 9pm. Since I'm at college, my husband will be recording it for me and I look forward to watching it on the weekend.

If this series is anywhere near as good as
The Monastery, it will be well worth watching. (I missed the recent show, 'The Monastery Revisited' and would appreciate hearing comments on it if anyone saw it.)

I have long thought that the traditional Christian prayer disciplines of contemplation and mediation could potentially be helpful to spiritual seekers in helping them to connect with God. I felt that 'The Monastery' validated my suspicion and it will be interesting to see if 'The Convent' validates it or not.

11 June 2006

The Home Stretch

I'm 'coming up to the home stretch' with my papers. One more two-part paper due on Friday. It's been a rather intense month.

I'm been quite tired mentally and emotionally as a result of having to write all the papers and I have to confess that I'll be happy when it's all over.

I have been reminded this last month of the importance of being constant in my prayer life and about taking time out to relax. The latter has not been easy when I've felt that I've needed literally almost every waking moment to complete my work.

I've felt, though, that God has been faithful in reminding me of his presence. It's been a period where there have neither been easy reminders of God's presence nor great experiences of God's absence. Just God's steady presence, in many ways, reminding me that he is there if I trust in the promise of his love.

04 June 2006

Getting a Sense of the Sacred in Blogworld

Someone made a comment in another blog that Christian bloggers spend too much time arguing about theology and not enough time being pastoral. I have a lot of sympathy for that viewpoint. My only problem is that I don't consider myself to be very good at writing on 'spiritual' or pastoral matters and, if I'm being honest, I'm probably also a bit hesitant about letting everything in my 'spiritual'/emotional life hang out in the public marketplace for all to see.

I've had some sort of 'intuition' all my life that theology isn't what being a Christian is all about. I can only come back to those words 'a personal relationship with God in Christ'. I'm almost hesitant to repeat those words any more because they have been used so often to bad effect that I think they have almost become meaningless.

What makes me sad, in blogword and in discussion groups, is all the bickering over theology that goes on. I wonder whether there is any way to gain a sense of the sacred in blogword? No answers, just a question.