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.