27 December 2007

Guilt and Repentance

This topic has been running around in my head for awhile since there was a discussion about 'guilt' - several weeks gone now - on a Christian discussion group. I want to tie it in with some concepts from a sermon that I did for the Second Sunday in Advent on the topic of 'repentance'. I don't actually imagine that most people read my sermons so I wanted to briefly address the concepts of guilt and repentance in a shorter post here.

As might have been predicted on the discussion group, some people expressed the idea that 'what the world needs now is more people feeling guilty; too many people don't feel guilty about anything any more.' Now, that may or may not be true, but I think it's important to emphasise that the sole function of 'guilt' is to get us to move on quickly to doing what is right.

Guilt should function to say: 'What you did is wrong' or 'You should be doing X or Y.' That's it. Basta. End of story. Move along, no more to see here.

For many people the worst possible thing that can happen with guilt is that they remain in guilt and wallow in guilt. And I'm afraid that there are many people in this world who will encourage that wallowing. As if feeling guilty were A Good Thing for it's own sake. It's not.

My evangelical friends would now tell you - and they would be right - that Christ died to take away the guilt of our sins. What that means in the everyday world is that, according to God, being wrong can be forgiven and being wrong will be forgiven.

But I firmly believe that the bible - both Old and New Testament - makes it perfectly clear that God's main concern is that we move on from our guilt and repentance to do what is right.

In my sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, I used a quotation from the American Christian author and theologian, Frederick Buechner(1):
To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, 'I'm sorry,' than to the future and saying 'Wow'.
As a Church and as people, we'll do a lot better to find God's 'wow' for justice, for inclusion, for peace and for compassion than we will sitting around wallowing in guilt. Seeking God's 'Wow' is also a much better alternative to the blame-game.

May 2008 be a year of 'Wow' for all of us.

(1) Buechner, Frederick, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC; HarperOne, 1993, New York p. 79.

26 December 2007

Methodism: Dissing is Futile, Vision is Everything

I've been an amateur practitioner of Ignatian Spirituality since my undergraduate years at a Jesuit University in the 1970s. I don't claim to be an expert, by any means, although I've made some study of Ignatian Spirituality for my own devotional purposes.

The thing that I really like about Ignatian spirituality is that it actually provides fairly simple, common-sense guidelines for spiritual discernment. How do I find God in ordinary situations? How do I know that it's God talking and not The Enemy?

The principle is simple although the practice of the principle most certainly is not. Using Protestant Evangelical language: a committed, saved Christian who is genuinely trying to seek the will of God will find energy and motivation when he seeks to do the will of God. The Enemy will not normally tempt a committed Christian by trying to get him to perform blatently sinful acts. The Enemy will tempt a committed Christian by presenting him with apparently 'Godly' options. Jesus' temptation in the desert fits this model well.

One way that I suspect that The Methodist Church in Great Britian may be falling into the temptation of The Enemy (define her / him as you will; I believe) is our constant talking ourselves down. As an organisation, we have very effectively communicated the message to both our members and to the general public that we are dying, that we are useless, that we are ineffective and that we have nothing to offer. In other words, we have been very, very, VERY effective in 'dissing' ourselves. Everyone is now 'on message' with this, including the secular media.

I believe, in fact, that Methodism has a great deal to offer the world. By history and tradition our rendition of the Gospel is a very powerful 'vision statement': The Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that is: 1) now and 2) not yet. 1) A 'now' kingdom that we are called to work for in our discipleship in this life; 2) A future, eschatological, 'supernaturally'-initiated Kingdom that will come when God decides and by his mighty hand mediated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is a vision that I can get excited about; I don't understand why we are not holding this vision before the Church at every opportunity.

The human mind does not work well in negatives. We will not inspire anyone - members or others - by constantly talking ourselves down. If we keep saying that we are useless, then this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy just like the little boy whose parents tell him he will never amount to anything. Hold before the Methodist people an image of a dying, gospel-less denomination and we will become that dead thing.

I genuinely believe that by and large Methodists and Methodism know what the Gospel is. My challenge to us is to hold this vision of the The Kingdom of God constantly before each other and before ourselves. Whenever we are tempted to say 'We are useless because our numbers are declining', I hope we can hold Christ and the vision of the Gospel before each other to encourage one another. I hope we can stop repeating our narratives of discouragement.

This is not a call to complacency. It is, in fact, a call to action and a call to stop using our energy to discourage ourselves and one another but rather to encourage each other and to work for the Kingdom. Who knows what God's purposes are? This may be a time when we are being called to patience and perserverence so that God may do things we cannot even imagine in the future.

22 December 2007

Merry Christmas

I may do a 'summing up the year' thing after Christmas, but right now things are a bit hectic.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas.

14 December 2007

Forgiveness without Reconciliation?

In his post, What’s Wrong with Penal Substitution?, James F. McGrath makes the very interesting point that
The penal substitution view of atonement takes the metaphor of sin as debt and literalizes it to the extent that one's actions are viewed in terms of accounting rather than relationship. It is not surprising this is popular: in our time, debts are impersonal and most people have them, and it is easier to think of slates being wiped clean and books being balanced than a need for reconciliation. But the latter is the core element if one thinks of God in personal terms. And for God to forgive, all that the Bible suggests that God has to do is forgive.
I've been puzzled for awhile why people hold to penal substitution with such emotional ferocity. In their book Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker explain the attraction of penal substitution by our society's obsession with assigning blame to individuals.

But I think that McGrath is on to something here. It's the same thing that many Jewish people complain about with respect to Christian forgiveness: that our moral system doesn't require us to seek reconciliation with the people who we have hurt, but that we simply pray to God and all our sins are forgiven.

I think that the popular view of Christianity as practiced in the West has its roots in 'quietest' tendencies. Quietism stems from the idea that sinful human beings cannot be reconciled with God unless God makes the first move. It goes on to say that because human beings can do nothing to be reconciled with God, that any attempt by human beings to 'do good works' is a rejection of God's grace. So any attempt to grow in holiness is often condemned as not believing in salvation by faith alone.

This whole system turns Christianity into a 'God and me' religion. God saves me by grace - however I think that happens - and then I don't actually have to change anything in my life. If I wrong someone, all I have to do is pray to God for forgiveness; I don't need to attempt to communicate or reconcile with the person whom I have wronged. 'Reconciliation' thus remains a 'spiritual' thing between me and God and it imposes no difficult practical demands on my life.

12 December 2007

All Cultural Atheists Now?

Richard Hall has posted a very amusing open letter to Richard Dawkins: Please, Professor Dawkins, Can I be a Cultural Atheist?

Wonderful stuff!

09 December 2007

Archbishop Sentamu: Wow!

The Revd Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, was a guest on Andrew Marr's talk show this morning. The subject of the interview was Prime Minister Gordon Brown's boycott of the European-African Summit on account of the presence of Robert Mugabe at the meeting.

Sentamu, a Ugandan, has had plenty of personal experience with protesting against African dictators as he was previously a critic of Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. Sentamu believes that Brown's boycott is justified.

The Archbishop accused Mugabe of taking the identity of Zimbabwean citizens and 'cutting their identity to pieces'. Sentamu then removed his clerical collar and
cut it into pieces to demonstrate his point. He then stated that he would not wear his 'dog collar' again until Mugabe was out of office.

In my sermon this morning, I asked the question 'What makes you say Wow?' Well, Sentamu's action on live television made me say 'Wow!'

I think this action is one of classical biblical prophetic symbolism. I think I will do the same. People will probably point out that I'm not wearing my collar and then I'll be able to explain to them why.

It's also, of course, important to make sure that other, practical things are done and that we don't only confine our actions to the prophetic and symbolic. Sentamu urged us to pray, march and protest against the regime in the way that Britian did with Ian Smith's regime. He urged every Britian to give one pound so that the homes of people in Zimbabwe and Darfur can be rebuilt when the time comes.

I'd urge you not only to watch the short video link, but also Marr's entire conversation with Sentamu. Inspiring, prophetic stuff.

Sermon - Repent and Say Wow!

I've published today's sermon, Repent and Say Wow, over on my Sermon blog.

08 December 2007

Royal Mail: No Christmas Stamp Conspiracy

On the 30th of November, I wrote a post about a a rumour I heard that the post office would only sell Christmas stamps 'under the counter' if someone specifically asked for them.

I've since seen a variation of this rumour to the effect that the Post Office were trying to 'push' the 'non-religious' angel Christmas stamps so that sales of the 'Madonna and Child' Christmas stamps would be low and that they could claim in future years that there was no demand for 'relgious' Christmas stamps.

Dave Faulkner contacted the Royal Mail about these rumours. You can see his latest post on the subjet here. The text of the Royal Mail's official statement is reproduced below from Dave's blog:
We have become aware of an incorrect assertion being made about the motives behind the sales of our Christmas stamps. There is absolutely no intention on our part to suppress sales of the Madonna and Child stamps in order to be able to claim there is low demand for religious stamps in future years. Indeed, we have produced tens of millions of them, and we want to sell them!! We have given publicity to both types of Christmas stamps, and the availability of both has been widely covered in the national and local press. Furthermore we plan to have the Madonna and Child stamps available every Christmas in future, alongside each year's "special" set, which will continue to alternate between religious and secular themes.

05 December 2007

Preaching about Sin and Repentance

A cyber-pal of somewhat long-standing (I think I can claim that, Steve?), Steven Manskar has written the first post I've ever read on the subject of The Church Needs to Hear about Sin and Repentance that I think I've ever agreed with.

In Christian cyberspace, my impression is that the people who talk about the subject of 'preaching about sin' are generally talking about individual sins that someone else commits that (allegedly) a good bit of willpower and moral fibre could solve. Let's face it, sex, drugs or - no, not rock'n'roll - drink.

Steve's talking about one of the sins that our society commits where the blame lies squarely on Western society's values rather than on someone else's alleged lack of willpower. Good post. Go read it.

03 December 2007

The Gospel of Inclusion

My friend Dave over at 42 says he is sliding down the slippery slope of thinking that Christianity proclaims a Gospel of inclusion.

Dave writes:
I guess at the end of the day it comes down to whether you think the gospel is more about inclusion or exclusion. For me that is no contest. Jesus made it clear that the two greatest commandments were about love and according to the gospels he reserved his anger for those who abused religion to exclude others. So if there is a knife edge with slippery slopes on both sides then I am always going to err on the side of love and inclusion as that appears to bring me closer to the Jesus we meet in Scripture. Now that he something to be joyful about as we slide down that slope - wheeeee!
Preach it, brother!

02 December 2007

Sermon - Swords into Ploughshares

I've posted today's sermon for Advent 1 over on my sermon blog: Swords into Ploughshares.

01 December 2007

2011 UK Census Run by an Arms Manufactuer?

Regardless of whether or not they keep my personal data private, I don't want the 2011 UK census managed by the US arms manufactuer, Lockheed Martin, simply on princicple. Lockheed Martin is one of the shortlisted contractors to provide data capture and storage services for the 2011 Census.

this post and perhaps the UK public can nip this in the bud before it has a chance to happen. Sign the petition and write to your MP.

Me Church

I came across this which gave me a giggle: Me Church.

I make no further comment!

Happy Advent

What better way to start the season of Advent than with a Carol?

Here is one that had me giggling: We Wish you an Intelligently-Designed Christmas

How do you hat-tip an email list? Consider it tipped.

30 November 2007

A Non-Conspiracy Theory

I recently received a couple of emails informing me that that the Post Office are selling Christmas stamps 'under the counter'. In fact, both emails were strikingly similar and one was passed on to me by a minister.

The emails said that the Post Office is only willing to sell this year's Christmas stamps if the customer specifically requests Christmas stamps. They said that postal workers are not allowed to offer Christmas stamps or ask the customer if they want them. The reason cited was 'to avoid offending radical secularists'.
So today whilst at the post office, I told the lady behind the counter about the rumour and I asked if this was true. She looked at me like I was mad and then rolled her eyes and said 'Honestly, I don't know how people come up with this stuff.' She went on to explain that businesses sometimes don't want Christmas stamps but that she 'could usually tell' if someone was buying stamps for business or personal use.

She stated that staff do offer Christmas stamps to people during the holiday season but that they will say 'It's Christmas stamps, is that OK?'

As Christians, we are supposed to be interested in truth. It serves no one to spread these kinds of rumours.

27 November 2007

Va Bene!

My 'Inner European' is apparently Italian. Quite appropriate for someone whose paternal grandparents were born in Italy, I think. Although I suspect that my love for all things carbohydrate may have had something to do with it!

Hat tip to
LutheranChik’s inner Swede.

Your Inner European is Italian!

Passionate and colorful.

You show the world what culture really is.

25 November 2007

Sermon - Christ the King

I've not blogged my sermons for awhile and I've just done some catch-up on my sermon blog.

Today's sermon was for the festival of Christ the King and it can be found:

23 November 2007

A Free Sample of the Gospel

First, I should acknowledge that I've not blogged about the sad death of evangelist Rob Frost, Methodist minister and founder of Share Jesus International.

I don't normally blog about 'news items' and I find it hard to craft a suitable post in this instance. Rob's death at the age of 57 is obviously tragic. He was a visionary, a called and gifted evangelist and I know that his ministry touched the lives of thousands of people. I'm sure that all Christians who knew of his work were sad to hear of his untimely death. How can one not mourn such a loss?

The Share Jesus International website gives some information about Rob's last days as does President of Methodist Conference, Martyn Atkin, in
this post on the blog he shares with Ruby Beech, the Vice President of Conference.

I was really struck, however, by Martyn's tribute to Rob Frost in this week's edition of
The Methodist Recorder. Martyn said that:

...(Rob) was an effective evangelist - a "free sample" of the Gospel rather than a salesperson.

I can't think of a more wonderful tribute to any Christian life.

I pray for the grace to be a 'free sample' of the Gospel. I pray that all my readers will have the grace to be a 'free sample' of the Gospel.

May Rob Frost rest in peace and rise in glory and may his family and all those who mourn him be comforted in the knowledge of the Resurrection.

22 November 2007

Thankfulness Meme

Oh dear, this gets complicated. Sally tagged me with a meme started by John Smulo.

Here are the rules:
1. Write down five things that you're thankful for.
2. Tag five friends who you'd like to see participate in this meme.
3. (Optional) Include a link to this post and encourage others to place a link to their completed meme in the comments section of
this post so we can keep track of the thankfulness running around the blogosphere.
OK, so here are five things I'm thankful for:

1) Health. I don't mean to sound corny, but the older I get and the more I see and hear of people in pain and distress from health problems, the more thankful I become for my health.

2) My husband. What do you say without sounding corny? We were married late and have only been married 15 years versus some friends 25 or 30 years, but we are a fantastic team.

3) My ministry. What do you say this without sounding arrogant? This is a 'second career' for me. Being a minister of word and sacrament was not something women did when I was growing up. It's an awesome thing to be called to and it's a wonderful privilege to be able to do it in mid life.

4) Friends. No really. We see God in the people around us and we feel his love by giving and receiving love.

5) Music. Music makes the sould dance.

I don't really like tagging people. Please feel free to do the meme yourself and post your thankfulness on John's blog.

20 November 2007

Shameless Request for Donations

My better half is growing a moustache (no comment!) for 'Movember' in aid of Prostate Cancer.

You can sponsor his moustache by visiting his website here and following the instructions.

11 November 2007

Oversight is Important

I generally try to keep away from commenting on the issue of whether or not homosexual acts are in and of themselves sinful. Mainly because, as I've said before, I don't think that this is a gospel issue that should split the church.

However, I'm getting more and more concerned about the theology of Anglicans who are putting themselves under the oversight of bishops who support the imprisonment of gay people. I don't think that this is a pendantic point in the slightest. How can any Christian support this kind of theology let alone put themself under the oversight of someone who supports it?

Conservative Anglicanism is shooting itself in the foot theologically by - ahem - getting in bed with these bishops; it's indefensible for a Christian to advocate such action. The people in Jesus' time thought that lepers and prostitutes were a dangerous threat to society and Jesus touched them and ate with them. Christians simply cannot hide behind purity laws to justify such beliefs.

04 November 2007

A Post-Modern God?

I've been dipping into The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach by Carrie Doehring. This is a book mainly about pastoral care but, in the book, Doehring defines three theological stances: pre-modern, modern, and post-modern. These are but illustrations to understand the different stances.

A pre-modern pastor would try to help a grieving Christian over the death of a loved one by defining the deceased's life in terms of an 'objective' soteriology and prescribing the mourner's response. If the deceased meets the criteria for 'being saved', the instruction is to rejoice in their salvation. If the deceased does not meet those criteria, the mourner is instructed to look forward to their own salvation.

A modern pastor would use the tools of biblical critical methods and systematic theology as well as the tools of counselling and psychology. This is a reason-based approach.

A post-modern pastor would try to understand how the mourner's perspective is unique because of a myriad of factors, including life experience, gender, race, class, age, etc. The pastor will help the mourner to find his or her own religous meaning in the context of this particular death.

Putting the idea of 'postmodern theology' in the context of pastoral response was something of a revelation to me. One of those 'D'oh!' sorts of moments when what seemed complicated seems a bit clearer. A lot of Christians like to criticise postmodernism, but if you look at the three-pronged approach to pastoral care (using all of the above tools) that Doehring recommends, it seems like a very appropriate and logical tool-kit.

So, my question is: if postmodernism is so threatening to Christian theology, is the claim therefore that God can only be found in 'the objective' (ISTM the premodern and modern contexts) and that there is no such thing as the presence of God in the subjective? It seems to me that to make such a claim would be ridiculous. It also seems to me that 'the presence of God in the subjective' is, to some extend, the old idea of having a personal relationship with God.

I continue to suspect that the postmodern challenge to Christianity is a challenge to the institution of the Church and not a challenge to theology per se. We have to be willing, to a certain extent, to allow people to find individual meaning within Christianity. On the other hand, I continue to believe that because Christianity is about relationships, that it's not desireable to be a solitary practitioner of Christianity if one can help it.

I'm trying to work this out in my own mind, so pardon me if this is too much of an incoherent ramble.

03 November 2007

Women leaders don't have what it takes

This article in yesterday's New York Times (hat tip to Cecilia) informs us that that women simply don't have what it takes to be leaders. So says research by Catalyst, an organisation that that studies women in the workplace.

But hold on a minute, what is this 'it' that we women don't have? Well, in the US and the UK, 'it' is the ability to inspire other people. And American and British respondents don't think that women have the ability to inspire people.

Norwegian women, on the other hand, apparently have no problem inspiring people. Except that the Norwegian respondents value delegating ability in their leaders and Norwegian women, apparently, can't delegate.

Hmm, so Norwegian women can inspire and American and British Women can delegate, but all women are missing that 'it factor' that it takes to be a good leader. Just so I understand that correctly; being a woman, it takes me a bit longer to understand things.

And I doubt this will come as a surprise to any of my sisters:

They [women] are expected to be nurturing, but seen as ineffective if they are too feminine.... They are expected to be strong, but tend to be labeled as strident or abrasive when acting as leaders.

30 October 2007

Ten Twenty Thirty Meme

I'm going to consider myself tagged by Kathy whether I actually have been or not.

The meme asks what were you doing 10, 20, 30 years ago. Thirty years ago!? What? Has time gone that quickly? Yes, I know it's trite but I really think it was only yesterday that I was in university.

In October 1997, I was living in London with my Wonderful Husband and we'd been married for five years. I'd spent two years working for a company that's now called
Mercer Investment Consulting and things were just about to get fun. No, really. My team was in flux. Investment consulting in the pension context as a discipline was brand new. The department was small and everyone had to do a little bit of everything. I was doing exciting work in the UK and on the continent and things would get really exciting in 1999.

In October 1987, I had just finish a one-year post-graduate course (translation in American: a graduate course) in European Economic History at
College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium at the age of 30 and was working in Brussels for a firm of American stockbrokers who shall remain nameless. The stockmarket crash of 1987 made life difficult and we were being pressured to sell things in a way that I thought was unethical. Needless to say, I didn't stay there very long!

In October 1977, I was Junior at
Georgetown University studying theology. I'd gone there to study in the School of Foreign Service, but ended up falling in love with theology. Here you can see where the interest in theology and in international affairs meets. I loved studying theology. I felt like a total fish out of water at Georgetown but I made some friends who I'm still in contact with. I found being a 20 year old difficult and I'm much happier to be 50!

Edited to add the tags! I tag: Fat Prophet, Dave and Michael

28 October 2007

A Prayer

Lord, you have told us in your Scripture
that your word will not return to you empty;
others tell me that if your people are simply godly and faithful
that your church will grow.

All that sounds good, Lord,
but as I look as your people who have tried to be faithful
I see a people who are tired and discouraged.

As far as I can tell - and I know that only you know our hearts -
these are people who love you,
people who genuinely want to serve you,
people have have genuinely served you.

And what I want to know, Lord, is:
What have they done wrong?
What is their sin?
What have they done wrong that they are now tired and discouraged?

Was it the house groups, Lord?
Was it the modern praise songs?
The traditional hymns?
The Sunday School?
The two youth groups?
What have they done wrong?
Why is it their fault?

And why is it my fault that I can't find a quick fix?

Is that really the way you operate, Lord?
Do you always reward your good and faithful servants with 'success'?
I seem to remember that the best and the most faithful
of your servants died on a cross.

And if he said, 'Please let there be another way',
may I dare to pray the same prayer?
And if he said, 'Not my will but yours be done'
then, Lord, give me the strength to also pray that same prayer
and really mean it.

Lord, I don't know what you're up to.
It doesn't seem that any of us do.
Help us to see you working.

Help us to believe that our belief in hope doesn't depend on success.
Help us to believe in you.
Help us to believe.

26 October 2007

Link: God's Economy

Kathy has written an inspirational post entitled God’s Economy over at Beyond Words. Go read it.

25 October 2007

Heart Knowledge is Better than Head Knowledge?

Although it's an amalgam of several different sources, the post on Anti-Intellectualism in Christianity over at Beyond Rivalry really spoke to me on a number of levels.

Not that I consider myself an 'intellectual', but I sometimes feel that we in the Methodist Church particularly value the question: 'How can I use this idea within the next twenty four hours to achieve some kind of concrete result?' There is certainly nothing wrong with this kind of pragmatic focus, but I do sometimes wonder whether we have also devalued the exercise of stepping back and actually thinking or praying about whether our actions are oriented toward God, our Christian values or our identity.

I also do worry that we (I'm speaking of the British Methodist Church here) by and large think that faithful academic theology is useless. We seem to think that unless immediate theological reflection can be done which results in a thought I can use in the next twenty-four hours, that studying theology is a waste of time. I don't think most of us are in the camp of thinking that theology ruins one's faith, but I'm not sure that collectively as a church we value theological study.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not an academic but I've found that the theology I've read just for pleasure has served me well over the long term. I don't always have immediate 'use' for it, but I do feel that it's given me a good foundation both for preaching and for my own faith. John Stott seems to think so too and he can hardly be accused of being a liberal.

21 October 2007

Sermons - Us and Them and One World Sunday

Over on my sermon blog, I've just published:

The themes of both these sermons are rather similar.

20 October 2007

Methodist News from 'The Church Times'

Once again, the Anglican periodical,The Church Times reports 'Methodist news' ahead of the The Methodist Recorder.

Slipped into the article entitled Methodists fill top posts in new set-up (not availiable online to non-subscribers) is the news that this week's meeting of The Methodist Council has decided that there was no wish to review the 1993 Derby resolutions. I think this is an important decision and has only got a passing comment at the end of the article.

The main topic of the article is the already-announced fact of Martyn Atkins' appointment as General Secretary and Secretary of conference and the - I believe - hitherto unknown fact of the appointments of: 1) John Ellis as 'The Secretary for Team Operations'; 2) Mark Wakelin as 'Secretary for Internal Relationships'; 3) Christine Elliott as 'Secretary for External Relationships'.

Mark Wakelin is well known to and well-loved by many new ministers and Foundation Training students as the current Director of The Guy Chester Centre which has been offering Foundation Training in the London area for a number of years.

17 October 2007

What People Said Today

I paraphrase two things that were said to me today:

At a Funeral Visit Mum was a good person. We don't believe you have to go to church to believe. Church people aren't any better than anyone else and a lot of times they are worse. (Female, estimated age 40)

At a Communion Service in a Residential Home All this business about 'inclusion' is something you didn't hear 30 years ago or even 15 years ago. I wish I could say that it's Christians who are promoting 'inclusion' but it isn't. Christians, by and large, are still promoting 'exclusion' and 'inclusion' is being promoted by the government and the world at large. (Female, estimated age 80+, staunch church-goer)

These remarks reminded me of a comment on
this blog post on the ‘Preaching Peace’ blog:
I can't seem to go to worship any longer or be anything but a fringe participant in my semi-former faith community because of exactly what you say here, that institutional religion is designed to contain violence; and, I'd add, from my observation and experience, it often (maybe always?) does so by mandating and maintaining circles of exclusion and inclusion. I don't want to scapegoat 'church' and yet I don't see how I can be part of it, either, because of the way it operates and its intention in so operating.
I see that a separate blog entry on the 'Preaching Peace' blog is attempting to address this question.

As a minister, this is an important question for me and one which I find that I don't have a coherent answer to. I know why a faith community is important to me, but it's hard to answer the question as to 'Why church if it is an excluding institution?

12 October 2007

Carpe Diem - God Willing

When I was worshipping with a predominently African congregation in London, people frequently said 'I'll see you on Sunday, God willing' or 'I'll be at the meeting on Thursday, God willing'. Now, I suppose that this could sound like a trite or superstitious addition to their sentences, but you had to be there - as they say - to know that this was meant in all sincerity. Most of these people were immigrants themselves, and they had a deep understanding that their fate was not in their own hands, but in God's.

Yesterday evening, an acquaintance was brimming with enthusiasm for her new-found freedom in retirement. She talked about how she was trying to be careful not to fill up all her time immediately having retired but was thinking about what she really wanted to do. In the meantime, she told me, she was going to clean her house of decades of clutter. I said, 'It might sound awful, but it's probably a good idea to do that while you can.' Now I have no idea whether this beautiful lady is a Christian, but she looked at me and her eyes lit up and she said with a very big smile and more enthusiasm. 'You're right! Oh, every day is a wonderful blessing not to be taken for granted!' (I think we shared a 'God moment' right there.)

This morning, as I came downstairs, I tripped and fell down the stairs hard on my backside. I had to lie on the floor for some minutes and catch my breath. That was about four hours ago and my brain still feels scrambled. I think there is going to be a big bruise you-know-where and I'm finding it painful to sit. Many people I know struggle with horrible, on-going pain on a day to day basis. I do not and I'm generally fit and healthy.

However, the conversation last night and the events of this morning remind me that we are held in existence by the will of God. So, sieze the day (carpe diem), God willing.

11 October 2007

Reaching 20-somethings

Here is a post from a 'twenty-something ministering to twenty-somethings': Newsflash! The Key to the 20-Somethings is Not Musical Style.

Fellow Boomers, if you want pop music praise songs in church, great. But admit that it's for you and don't pretend that it's the only thing that will get your kids into church.

To me, the post presents the biggest problem of all for elderly congregations that want to attract younger people. People want to stick to their own age groups. It takes young people to attract young people. You need a core group of active 20-somethings to attract 20-somethings.

09 October 2007

Learning, Growing and Goofing

I don't mean 'goofing off' as in 'wasting time.' I mean 'goofing' as in 'sincerely trying and getting it wrong.'

Will made an excellent comment in a previous post when he wrote about going to a leadership conference:
I heard from a guy talking about how we tend to focus on our weaknesses rather than trying to grow our strengths. I wonder if when we (or those teachers in our churches) focus on what we are doing wrong almost exclusively if we hear a message that God is more of a hatchet man waiting for us to do something wrong rather than praise us, and even more encourage us, in what we do right.
Sometimes we can learn by listening to the experience and the warnings of other people. Other times, the only way we can learn is to do our best, to try something and to get it wrong. This process is part of being human and, I think, it's also a big way that human beings learn.

I think that sometimes I live by a 'better safe than sorry' approach to God. I assume that God's biggest demand of me is that I don't put a foot wrong, that I don't goof up. But when you think about it, shouldn't 'grace' help us to dare in the service of God? To dare to be prophetic? To dare to do things differently? And, if we get it wrong because we sincerely tried to serve God, won't God forgive us? Certainly if we believe that he is a God of mercy and a God of grace, we can believe in God's forgiveness.

08 October 2007

God is Love - I'm Confused

I've often joked that I grew up believing that the message of the Christian Gospel was something like: 'Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of your sins, so the Father has to let you into heaven but he's really pissed off about it because he hates you.'

I didn't grow up in the UK and I didn't grow up a Methodist, so I frequently get told that my experience is due to having grown up in a strict denomination in the United States and that this experience is pretty much unique to me.

Then, as I reread Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus, he writes (in 2004, so not in The Dark Ages):
...in the popular mind, this is exactly who the God of the Bible is: a sadistic monster, a powerful and spiteful punisher of people who are having a tough enough time on earth as it is...Most people today, if they believe in God at all, think that he is power and that power is all about the domination of others. (p. 47)
So what, exactly is the deal? Does 'everyone' believe that God loves them? Are Chalke and I (and Gerard Hughes, for that matter - thinking of his 'Uncle George') all wet? My conversion came when I began to believe that God loves me; is it really the case that few people need to hear this message?

07 October 2007

Sermon - A Theology of Sharing for Harvest

I'm on holiday this week, but I've just posted last week’s sermon on my sermon blog.

I was asked to do a sermon on 'the Christian theology of sharing' and I reckon this sermon is what one of my members calls my 'radical left wing sermons'. (Probably not so radical or left wing from a British point of view; probably enough to have me up on heresy charges from an American point of view!)

06 October 2007

Happy Autumn

I'm on holiday after working 14 days straight and it feels like a luxury! I've not gone anywhere, but there is some very beautiful countryside around here. Here are some photos of little bits of God's creation for all to enjoy.

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.

30 August 2007

What is a Methodist Evangelical?

I've just come back from attending a conference on Methodist Identities at Cambridge.

One of the presentations I found very interesting was given by the
Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone, a research fellow at the conservative evangelical Anglican think-tank Latimer Trust. His paper was on the objections of both Methodist and Anglican Evangelicals to Anglican-Methodist union in the 1960s.

As a non-cradle Methodist, one of the most interesting revelations to me from this presentation was the fact that Methodist Evangelicalism and Anglican Evangelicalism were not historically the same thing.

For various reasons, I think that I have always tended to view Evangelicalism in the 'Anglican manner'. With apologies to Atherstone, I was not able to copy down the characteristics of Anglican Evangelicalism that he rattled off rapidly by heart, but in my own definition of 'Evangelical' in the 'Anglican manner', I've seen belief in penal substitutionary atonement and belief in the bible as God's infallible revelation to humankind as being two big hallmarks of evangelicalism.

My reluctance to see the bible as infallible revelation and to affirm penal substitutionary atonement as the central and most important doctrine of atonement have made me want to demur in calling myself an 'Evangelical'.

I now come to find out that, historically, this has not been the definition of 'Evangelical' within British Methodism, although a number of the participants expressed the opinion that the Anglican definition may be currently gaining a foothold in Methodism. Atherstone reckoned that the British Methodist Church during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was decidedly theologically liberal and that Methodist Evangelicals were simply Methodists who were commited to evangelism.

I asked Atherstone after the session whether this wasn't simply the old battle between Arminianism and Calvinism. Wouldn't a conservative Calvinist view Arminianism as theologically 'liberal' by definition? Atherstone agreed with me on this point: that Arminianism is 'liberal' by evangelical Calvinist standards.

I found this interesting because I think it explains some of my confusion when Methodist friends who appear to me to be decidedly theologically moderate insist that they are 'Evangelical'. I do fear, however, that the Anglican form of Evangelicalism is creeping into Methodism. That, of course, is my own bias.

25 August 2007

Sexism and the British Methodist Church

The British Methodist Church is currently asking members and churches to contribute to a consultation on sexism and racism.

After reading a couple of blogs lately, one thought has occured to me with regard to sexism and I offer it as a point of discussion.

I'm not sure that the British Methodist Church takes the theology of 'complimentarianism' seriously. This is a theology that says that men and women are ontologically equal before God but that God requires 'functional subordination' of women to men.

We don't take this theology seriously because we don't hold it. However, 'complimentarianism' is held by many Christians in the United Kingdom including the growing 'New Frontiers' denomination. Complimentarianism is 'preached' by the Calvinist theologian John Piper who seems to be increasingly popular with many younger Christians in the UK as well as in the US.

I think that we need to vigorously refute the theology of complimentarianism and we must not stick our heads in the sand and write it off as a theology that is only held by those on the fringe of Christianity. We need to know why it is that we believe in the equality of men and women before God and we need to be able to articulate good biblical and theological arguments. If we cannot articulate why it is that we believe in biblical equality, then we are vulnerable to the charge that we are just following secular thought. (The organisation
Christians for Biblical Equality can provide guidance and reading.)

22 August 2007


Who would have thought that there were so many 'Happy Fifthieth Birthday' cards in the world? Wonderful Husband gave me a lovely bouquet of flowers. It might sound trite, but I thank the Lord for good health, a wonderful husband and the opportunity to be a new minister in mid-life.

19 August 2007

Sermon - Division and Peace

Today's sermon was Division and Peace.

We had a wonderful service with our Anglican neighbours. Theirs is a team ministry that includes three Anglican churches in the area; they all worship together during August. We joined them as Methodists at one of their churches and they will be joining us next Sunday.

How fantastic it was to have almost 100 people in the congregation rather than 20 or 30. There was an awful lot of goodwill and I hope that we can all work together more closely in the future.

18 August 2007


I love this post by Velveteen Rabbi: Shabbat shalom.

I love the joy of worship and the attitude of thanksgiving to God that it conveys.

17 August 2007

God and Healthcare

I reckon that this will be controversial, but I'm amazed at the (pejorative adjective deleted) theology that's coming out of the US Christian blogsphere about what they call 'socialised medicine'.

Their main theological argument seems to be that God demands that people help others with a sincere heart. They seem to be arguing that medical care for the poor not be given by the State because this precludes giving 'with a sincere heart'.

Am I the only one who thinks that this logic leads inescapably to the theological conclusion that, 'It's more important to God that the well-off give with a sincere heart than that the less-well-off live a decent life'?

These people typically claim to be 'biblical', but you really have to wonder if any of them have read the Prophets. Are we reading the same bible??? Anyone who reads the bible and sees a God with a heart for the poor and oppressed is apparently creating a theology from their own subjective 'feelings' and is not genuinely biblical ('Give unto Ceaser....' apparently trumps the cows of Bashan). It makes me want to scream. It's like reading an apologetic for Apartheid.

I think that there is another entirely different question about how well State healthcare works. But even with all the problems in the NHS (and they are many), it's nothing near like the hyperbolic statements I'm seeing on US blogs.

The efficient delivery of healthcare is an issue that is separate from Christian theology; we might end up honestly disagreeing about what the best delivery system is. However, I wish Christians would stop making the argument that God puts the rights of the well-off to decide when and if they give to charity before the needs of the less well-off to live a healthy and dignified life.

12 August 2007

Rowan Williams on Christian Marriage

I recently purchased a copy of Open to Judgement, a book of Rowan Williams' sermons published in 1994.

I was quite interested in his sermon - given to a university audience - on the subject of 'Is There a Christian Sexual Ethic?' Like many people, I've been unimpressed with the usual arguments for marriage and monogamy that are made by Christians, even though I agree that monogamous, faithful, lifetime partnerships are the best way to work out Christian discipleship in the sexual arena.

Below is my personal attempt to briefly outline the ideas in this sermon.


For many in our culture, it won't do to simply try to assert 'simple, traditional, biblical' teaching in the area of sexual ethics. Ours is a culture that prizes individuality and experimentation. People believe their circumstances are more varied than tradition allows and they believe that they need the ability to develop by trial and error.

Many individuals, including Christians, operate a sexual ethic on the basis of whether or not a relationship is hurtful or threatening to anyone: me, my partner, or anyone else. Some Christians may feel a little bit guilty at ignoring traditional teaching but they feel that they can't take it seriously.

Both the traditional approach and the 'new approach' (my term) have some Christian principles. The first talks of sacrificing one's own immediate gratification for the sake of discipline. The second talks of honesty, care, and taking responsibility for one's own choices.

Both approaches show an awareness that sexuality is a place of powerful emotion but both also suggest that people can 'get it right' once we understand the correct principles.

The problem is that the Christian Gospel is sceptical about me getting it right. It's sceptical about the usefulness of rules in getting it right and it's sceptical about using 'inner conviction and sincerity' to get it right. If the scepticism is correct then neither legalism nor good intentions will deliver a properly Christian sexual ethic.

However, the Gospel addresses itself to the 'deepest strata of injuredness and self-dividedness.' The Gospel says that 'pain, powerlessness, injury, despair, bewilderment, are laid open to a God who does not condemn or desert, but works tirelessly in the middle of our very betrayls and evasions to bring life.'

If life can communicate the meanings of God, then one's sexuality can be sacramental and speak of mercy, faithfulness, transfiguration and hope. The writer of the letter to the Ephesians tells us that married love is an image of the love between Christ and the Church. Christ gives himself up for the sake of his people and becomes dispossesed for the sake of another's life. In marriage, the husband's sacrifice is mirrored by the wife's obedience and both become dispossesed for the sake of the other. 1 Corinthians 7:3ff talks of mutual rights and belonging whether neither partner owns or governs their own body but makes it over to the other.

Married love is sacramental because it involves a lasting, not just momentary, resignation of control. It is a yielding to the other, a putting your own body at the disposal of another for that other's life or joy. What God has done for our life and joy we learn to do for God's joy: the joy in heaven over the return of the lost.

Within the Christian tradition, this surrender normally take place within marriage. Why? Partly because instinct warns us of the destructive energy that is the shadow side of sexual passion. 'Making oneself over' to another is always risky, especially if it is not a mutual exercise but an asymmetric one; I may give myself over to someone's greed or egoism.

Our yielding to God would be terrifyingly uncertain if we did not take it for granted that God was 'faithful', bound to us by covenant and by solemn self-commitment. This is why Christian tradition wants to talk about fidelity as the thing that makes sexuality meaningful in relation to God.

The grace that is to be discovered in nakedness and yielding can be itself when we give up the self-protection of non-commitment, experiment and gratification, when we go down the dangerous route of promising to be there for another person without having a 'get out clause'. A commitment without limits set in advance means that we have a lifetime to 'create each other' together. Without commitment, a relationship is in danger of one person turning themself over to another who manipulates them.

Williams says that our main question with regard to Christian marriage should not be 'Am I keeping the rules?' nor should it be 'Am I being sincere and non-hurtful?', it should be 'How much am I prepared for this relationship to signify?'