Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Down and out in Cambridgeshire (no hills)

Not really down and out, but have had a couple of 'downer' days, overshadowed by going to see someone very sick indeed in our local 'mega-hospital' - Addenbrookes in Cambridge. This person is such a fighter, so defiant of any attempt to control her life that to see her helpless and wired up to umpteen machines and any number of tubes was a bit of a shock to the system. It really put the kybosh on my visiting for a couple of days so i have cracked on with getting my act together administratively and generally catching up with emails, phone calls and diary schedules.

It did make me reflect on the dangers of ministry in that we get to know and, indeed, to love these folk and sometimes have to see them go through hell and still be expected to keep going - often without support - and take the flack for all the difficulties the Church is going through, and the criticism for not doing things the way people want (normally in a style redolent of the archetypal 1950s/Carry on England style Vicar who spends all his (!) time on a bicycle drinking tea and visiting parishoners...)

There was some encouragement - in that for myself I had wondered if I was immunising myself to certain feelings by going through some pretty awful experiences with people over the past year or so - a lot of deaths, some of them tragic, many of them difficult (not all, but most). Some real struggles by people i care about where i have felt helpless and only able to offer a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. At some times I've wondered if I was deadening myself to other people's pain, or suffering from compassion fatigue - but yesterday made me realise that I still care, and if I do stop caring then its time to hang up me cassock and move on...

Its still such a privelege to serve these folk, even if all i can offer is tea, sympathy, a shoulder and prayers....

The prayers make a difference though.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Stewing in my brain

Have been thinking quite a bit about 'transformational theology' since reading 'The Art of God' by Christopher Irvine - this wonderfully crafted book of theology addresses the way in which our worship is founded in the transformational nature of encountering God's Spirit. It is very much based in the western liturgical tradition but draws from a variety of sources, Scripture, poetry, early Church teaching etc etc to help us consider again just what is happening in worship.

i was struck by many things in the book, it is very readable but pretty dense theology, but one thing that really made me think was the way he talked of worship as 'doing' - it is not something that happens to us or for us, but something into which we enter actively, even when the words are being read to or for us (as in the Eucharistic Prayer, for instance). My own concern is that in worship I can 'do a good show' as a worship leader, but the purpose of what we do is to offer ourselves for change, being changed by an encounter with God. This is a very simplistic way of expressing what comes through with depth and richness in the book, and it is something we should all know, but perhaps it is not always at the forefront of our mind when we gather in Church or elsewhere to worship... Do we go into a service or time of worship thinking 'How is God going to change me today?' Or do we go in expecting to be entertained or distracted from the world around us for a while?

Of course all of life has the potential to be transformative, but worship is the apex of what we were created to do, and indeed to be. We are God's handiwork, and as I said when i last mentioned this book in an earlier post, worship is the studio in which this artwork is fashioned.

I also thought (again) how much i enjoy reading and thinking about good theological reflection, and this book certainly is. I must now put these words into a sensible review for the magazine that was kind enough to send it to me!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I am not a heretic!

Had problems with the phrasing of the questions, so not sure if some of my understanding of Christian Theology was well represented! Anyway, had a go on another online quiz (now my lunch hour!) and the results are:

You scored as Chalcedon compliant.
You are Chalcedon compliant.
Congratulations, you're not a heretic.
You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man
and like us in every respect, apart from sin.
Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant

100%

Pelagianism

75%

Monarchianism

67%

Nestorianism

50%

Socinianism

42%

Arianism

33%

Modalism

33%

Monophysitism

33%

Adoptionist

25%

Apollanarian

17%

Albigensianism

0%

Docetism

0%

Donatism

0%

Gnosticism

0%

Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com

Speaking online

My earlier sermon at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, is now online as a download - you too can hear me struggle with my maths (yes, I said two thousand millenia, then later two hundred centuries - good job i only claim to be a theologian, not a mathemetician). Anyway, the files of a selection of this terms sermons on the Apostle's Creed are here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

More from Dave, so even more funny stuff

I love this cartoon...

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

More funny

Dave Walker's Cartoon Blog is a great way to spend some time having a laugh whilst having a think, the link is in the sidebar here, so i recommend a visit. He's started a site called 'we blog cartoons' which gives the opportunity to share some of his stuff and he even provides the chance to 'hotlink' which is very generous as it involves stealing some bandwidth from him! I will endeavour to work out how to uplink images to the blogger server, but for the time being here is something which made me smile - go to his site to see more

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Distractions and diversions

Well, have laid off the blogging partly because a) have had nothing important to say and b) have had a busy few days. Its been good busy rather than bad busy, though, the new bike has filled up hours as i have taken it out in preference to any other form of transport recently! I don't know how long this will last, but i am making the most of every available situation to ride, even in the wind and rain which have been pretty constant since picking it up on Thursday! (Not a fairweather biker me!)

Had some very good things going on, a short and even enjoyable PCC (Parochial Church Council) meeting, wedding rehearsal and wedding, baptism (done admirably by the Curate), couple of hospital visits, a number of services, the Annual Meeting previously mentioned, some sermon writing, some praying (we do that every now and then!) as well as some good time with family (completely adorable kids and scrummy wife) and a great 'bikers and babes 50th birthday' party on Saturday - at which i was the only one who took a bike! Lots of biker gear being worn, even without the machines themselves, and a great local band called Cloud 8 who do some seriously good covers!

Yesterday talked about Jesus command to love one another at the services i led - a reminder that we don't follow a list of rules and regulations as Christians, but a command to love one another as he has loved us, even to the extent of laying down our lives (metaphorically and literally) for our brothers and sisters! One or our Ordinands on placement told a brilliant story to illustrate this, concerning a Japanese POW camp, which had the whole congregation rapt and was very thought provoking, it is apparently a true story and when i can remember the details i may post it here. I would be interested to find out if it really is true, or whether apocyphal!

Got to go, have a group of schoolchildren coming to see the Church here, so want to fortify myself with a ham sandwich before they arrive!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Theological fun

I know its not really theology but i had to add this....

Your Deadly Sins
Pride: 40%
Sloth: 40%
Lust: 20%
Envy: 0%
Gluttony: 0%
Greed: 0%
Wrath: 0%
Chance You'll Go to Hell: 14%
You will die from faulty botox injection.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Another funny 'what are you' thing

Looked up what muppet i am with the muppet personality test

You Are Kermit

Hi, ho! Lovable and friendly, you get along well with everyone you know.
You're a big thinker, and sometimes you over think life's problems.
Don't worry - everyone know's it's not easy being green.
Just remember, time's fun when you're having flies!

got it!

This is it, the eagle has landed, life begins anew...

Yes i took delivery of the blue beastie yesterday, and rode back from Peterborough in comfort and with great joy! Have to admit that at one point i found myself singing the words Nempnett Thrubwell to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus - now that's a confession!

Rode it up to Ely Diocesan Office today for a Committee for Family and Social Welfare meeting of which i was vice chair - even on a motorbike there is no way to blast through a contra-flow, so ended up being late for the annual meeting!

It's great! I plan to go out for a quick visit to a local hostelry this evening, just for the joy of riding it again!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

As promised

BALDOCK (n.)
The sharp prong on the top of a tree stump where the tree has snapped off before being completely sawn through.
Douglas Adams & John Lloyd The Meaning of Liff Pan Books

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

grrrr, arghhhh, agggg

What a day!

Had a less positiv experience today of Royston than mentioned in post previously. Was part of an audience of 30 invited to go and see Show of Hands at a showcase in London. It surprises me that i have not mentioned this group before, an excellent acoustic duo whose music is fantastic comprised of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, multitalented multi-instrumentalists based in the West Countr (God's own land) .

Anyway, accolades aside, i thought a leisurely train journey down to London, would be in order followed by a trip up to Stanmore to visit a young boy in the National Orthopaedic Hospital who had recently had a spine straightening operation. This was the plan.

i arrived in Royston (op. cit) to find not a single parking space, and tried the roads near the station to no avail. So I belted (at a speed unusual for my volvo, but not illegal) to Stevenage, where all six of the very large car parks were full. These endeavours to find a parking space and make use of our public transport system had taken some time, so i decided (after some venting of frustration in the car - I leave that to your imagination) to try the non-preferred route. I set off down the A1 in the 'fatmobile', as it is affectionately known, and tried to get to London by car, with the plan being to dump the car as soon as possible and take a tube/train/rickshaw as possible. Traffic lights, hold ups and various stresses later i finally gave up at 12.58pm, two minutes before the gig was due to begin, when i found myself stuck in traffic at Baker Street - so i turned back and (via a somewhat circuitous route) made my way to Stanmore.

Why am i writing this - purely to let off steam about my inability to use public transport, my frustration at missing a brilliant band playing in an intimate setting and because i feel the need to grumble. What made it worse was that i had forgotten to take the phone number of the organiser to let him know my predicament and fill the valuable space that my frustrastions had left!

Now, if i'd had a motorbike to take me it would have been another story - so i phoned the dealer where my new friend now resides and arranged to pick it up on Thursday not Saturday!

The one highlight of my day was going on the new bypass at Baldock - am not in favour generally of cutting through vast swathes of countryside to build roads, but this was lovely, and probably has saved the residents of Baldock a huge amount of hassle by opening early!

Must look up Baldock in the meaning of liff!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Basic Theology 2 - the sermon

I believe in the Incarnation!

As you continue your trek through the Apostle’s Creed I am here to offer my two pennyworth about Jesus in fifteen minutes or less, at least I only have to look at two thousand millennia of teaching on the incarnation and not at any other subjects!

It would be easy with the part of the creed that I am covering this evening to be distracted and talk about whether the Virgin birth really happened. Whilst it is a fascinating argument, I am not sure that going off into such realms will really advance us on our journey of faith here this evening. Though the assumption of human form, enfleshed through the human nature of Mary and enlivened by the Holy Spirit of God is an important part of the theology of Jesus being both God and Human, it is an explanation, rather than part of the core theological concerns of the Creed. I don’t want to disappear into talking about what some do and do not believe, but in the spirit of the creed to talk about what we as Christians are claiming when me make these statements in the Creed and to talk about what we do believe.

If we, as Christians, claim to know Jesus, how much of that knowledge is (to be frank) ‘made up’ – by ourselves, by the Churches we are a part of, by a lack of understanding of what the Church believes. IF we want to know Jesus better, then I think we need to know what we believe about him….

By many people’s standards Jesus was a failed teacher with a disastrously short ministry and a life ending with a fiasco. Yet those who had shared Jesus life for three or so years had no problem at all expressing both the human and divine side of him. There was something more that they had to express, and their talk of ‘resurrection’ added something beyond normal comprehension to their message.

Sometimes these early Christians struggled with the words they had, sometimes they took over words being used for something else and sometimes they made up new ones. As this understanding was passed on the most important thing that was passed on what that Jesus was absolutely and completely human, and at the same time utterly and completely divine. He was God made flesh. Hence St Paul in Philippians talking of Jesus writes down a hymn that had probably been in circulation for a while
“who being in very nature God
he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped
but made himself nothing
taking the very nature of a servant
and being found in human form
humbled himself and became obedient to death
even death on a cross’.

And so we’re off. This becomes the first problem. The educated Romans, Greeks and Jews who heard this message could not believe that a God would really go through this. So the logic dictated that Jesus wasn’t really human. Or that he was much more divine than human. So Jesus only seemed to be human.

St Paul himself encountered this 1 Cor 1:23 explains that ‘Christ crucified’ is ‘a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles’. Many thinkers in the Jewish world thought Jesus could not have been divine because he suffered and Gentiles whose thought was based on Greek philosophy said that Jesus could not have suffered because he was divine.

For those who like to read up on heretics one of the most strident on this was Clement of Alexandria. His Christ had no physical passions, neither digested nor excreted, had no need to eat (sustained by Divine power). The only reason he did seem to eat was (says Clement) to confound those who might have thought we wasn’t human. (Clement obviously knew otherwise….)

In this kind of thinking the logos (the word of God) which is Christ, takes on human form like a costume, (like and Edgar suit for those who’ve seen Men In Black’) and fails to become fully human. The man Jesus thereby serves as a front for the deity but is not God made man.

But why is it so important for God to be Incarnate? To be made flesh. To be conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary And why such a crucial part of our creeds! The early Church was convinced that Jesus was (and is) a unique person – exactly what God would look like if he became human. This revealed something about God’s absolute commitment to humanity and also made it possible for us to become God-like. The death of the real, physical Jesus was also the means through which God healed the rift between God and humanity, and if he was only pretending to be God then surely our salvation is only a pretence. Gregory Nazienzan (end of 4th Century) said ‘…what has not been assumed, has not been healed.’ It was only through the reality of God becoming human in Jesus that the reality of salvation was made possible.

For the early Christians this was the crunch issue. In some way God had completely taken human form and thereby had changed reality, making it possible for humanity to share life with God at a deeper level than ever before. They wanted to make these things clear:

That God is eternal and unchanging. Always of the same nature and substance.
That the Word (Logos) exists within this eternal unchanging God and remains God at all times.

YET They wanted to maintain that

Jesus was God Incarnate Not just taking the appearance of flesh, but becoming human. This meant that they wanted to stress the uniqueness of human nature alongside the uniqueness of the Divine nature.

So Jesus was described as being two hypostaseis – two substances or two Ousia, two natures. This is often summed up in the term ‘the hypostatic union’. These natures are so perfectly fused that there is one prosopon/persona, one concrete reality that is Jesus.

And this is what the earliest fighting was about in the Church. Various individuals popped up with their own concerns and disagreements. – a rough guide to these might mention, Marcionites, Montanists, Gnostics, Arians, Appollinarians…all of which and more I could continue at length on, but wont.
These heresies and more all offered a challenge to a Christian faith, which was inclusive, that claimed God was one God, always the same, that this God had, in Christ, become human and thereby had identified with the material world and embraced it, and had made it possible for all people to know and be more like God. Many of our greatest thinkers in the Church, the Early Church Fathers and others set about refuting those things which were contrary to the understanding passed on by the first Christians, the work of such theologians culminates in our creedal statements, both the Apostle’s (as it is traditionally known) and Nicene creed.

These are the definitive documents of the early Church – which is why we still use it today. But it is important to read it and know it if we are going to say it Sunday by Sunday or whenever.

Why is all this important (you may well be asking). Well it so often impacts on the Church of today, we have forgotten our roots and so often forget who it is we follow and why he is unique and special. If we fail to grasp exactly what it is that the Church spent so many centuries coming to grips with then we perhaps fail to grasp exactly what our faith can be about.

Orthodox Christian Faith has always maintained that Jesus is exactly as we are, but without sin. He felt as we do, he suffered, he laughed, he ate and drank, he got tired, he got angry etc etc. Yet at the same time there was something about him, and this was made clear after and due to the resurrection, that he was God. Not just like God, not just inspired by, but actually God. It is this God who understands exactly what it is to be human and this human being that is an expression of God to us.

If Christ is fully human, then he really does understand exactly what its like to be us, not in a detached and clinical sense, but in a true, earthy and real sense.
If he is fully divine Jesus offers us the hope of eternity straight from God. He offers us the chance for an intimate relationship with a God who is truly involved in and engaged with the world.

We are called to be Christ-like, and through God’s spirit we can be so. We strive for perfection, therefore, not thinking that we are bound to fail but that if we are called by God we know it is possible for us to be perfect like Christ. FOR HE WAS EXACTLY LIKE US – YET WITHOUT SIN. I think that so many Christians start by saying I can’t be like Jesus because he was special. Yes he was, but only in the same way that we can be special, say the teaching of the early Christians, those who knew Jesus, and those who knew them..

If we are constantly pushing Jesus divinity then we will miss out on what he achieved as a human being, if we just see him as a human being (albeit divinely inspired) we will lose out on all that he achieved for us through being God made flesh. It is only in taking the issues the early church spent so much time on seriously that we can understand just how much God can make of us, as brothers and sisters of Christ, fellow heirs. And then we can get to grips with being, in Christ, who God really wants us to be – fully human.

So I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary….

Amen


Basic Theology

Preached at Emmanuel College Cambridge last night and had a very enjoyable evening! Fantastic choir, beautiful worship and the sermon was OK too. I preached on the part of the Apostle's creed which deals with the incarnation and decided to take a view, echoing a talk i did at Greenbelt a few years back, that some basic Incarnational theology was in order.

In discussion with the Dean of the College afterwards (v nice supper, not good for the figure but very enjoyable) he remarked how little basic Theological education there is in our Churches, and i think its true. Whilst i enjoy preaching Sunday by Sunday and try to include theological thought in there as well as Biblical application, there are lots of basics in our faith that many people have not really been informed of. I have been trying to get Greenbelt to do some 'basics of faith' talks for a few years now, but haven't caught the imagination of the talks planning committee. The Church at large, and GB in particular, is caught up in contextualisation and contemporary thougth - crucial, but perhaps a step away from what some people need. I think talking about who Jesus was and what the Church believes about him, about a Theology of Church, about explaining our traditions, is often sacrificed on the Altar of 'are we relevant' concerns. Not that for a moment i think we shouldn't address things in that way, but i do wish that the basics, the foundations, were there for the Church to build on....

Maybe this is controversial, maybe there is much more than i think, but it does seem, even in conversations i have with very thoughtful and committed Church members, there is a dearth of basic theological education.

'scuse me a moment whilst i climb down of this very high horse...

sermon to follow as next post and then you can all pick it to bits and explain why my thinking is inadequate ;-)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A bit of liff before bed

ROYSTON (n.)
The man behind you in church who sings with terrific gusto almost tree quarters of a tone off the note.

Douglas Adams & John Lloyd The Meaning of Liff Pan Books

Looking forward to a bit of Royston tomorrow (or rather, later today)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Da Vinci Code

Had to put the title just because it might pop up on about a gazillion search engines!

I have completely ignored the arguments about the DaVinci Code because, in my humble opinion and all that, its not worth it. It would be like arguing about a James Bond book, or Robert Ludlum (choose your thriller writer!) - I don't try to get my theology from novels, even Christian ones (I've read some horrendous Christian novels).

On the other hand, there is a very good response from the rightly revered Rt Revd NT Wright which can be found here. Worth reading.

Save SPCK!

Noticed on the Cartoon Blog that Dave Walker is starting a one man campaign to save SPCK - Christian booksellers with a wide remit in selling material from a variety of publishing houses and not tied to a big distribution contract in the way that Wesley Owen is owned by STL/Authentic...

I like SPCK so herewith (and in the links sidebar) a link!

save the SPCK

Save the SPCK!

Inspiration for Worship

Today was the training day that i mentioned in earlier posts - and what a fantastic day it was. Helped by one of the colleagues from my own team the small group of worship leaders being trained started the day with worship, then straight into some innovative and forcefully presented ideas for All-Age & Family Friendly worship and talked about making a worship space that really invited and embraced all ages with a reminder that worship for all ages is not worship for Children, and that including children did not mean dumbing-down or over-simplification. As she said, 'we should put as much effort into welcoming children as we do into bringing in adult members of our Churches - why is it that we put them in a corner with a tatty teddy, a few old books with their covers missing and some incomplete jigsaws yet wouldn't dream of offering a hymn book with pages missing or a prayer book that was old and worn out to the members of our congregation'.

Challenged and inspired by this myself and another collegue (who is actually the planner and co-ordinator of the course) then covered such diverse issues as worship for youth, technology and 'alternative' worship and some theological reflection on worship as Evangelism. This led in to a very worthwhile practical exercise of putting together some worship based around particular scenarios that had been encountered in various Churches. It was creative, dynamic, hard work, but immensely enjoyable and gave me some great ideas for worship tomorrow at Eltisley, one of my parishes, where we are having an 'All Age Service' on the theme of 'Philip and the Ethiopian Official (don't think i want to spend half the talk discussing what a Eunuch was!

It was a great reminder of the creativity and commitment that exists in our Churches, and of the gifts and talents that abound in our worshipping communities, talents so often pushed down by a misbegotten sense of Clergy being responsible for everything! I know this isn't always the case, and is less the case in non-Conformist churches, but in the c of e, especially in Rural areas, it is still a common misconception that 'we don't do x or y - that's the Vicar's job'. I'm not trying to shirk responsibility, but when worship and Evangelism become the work of the whole body of Christ, then we see our Churches grow and flourish and we fulfil our Biblical Mandate of being 'one body, with Christ as the head'.

Now its time for me to prepare my bit for tomorrow, with a need to apologise that I've not had time to meet with the family worship team to plan the service, and will be taking on most of it myself. Ironic, but reality at present until things settle down a bit. Next week looks hopeful, though!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sublime and ridiculous

Its amazing how quickly my posts have strayed from the heavy theology of asking about 'the nature of prayer' and 'Ruth offering a perspective on postmodernity' to 'what time of day am i' and, my favourite, motorbikes!

Having said that i make no apologies for the motorbike stuff, am looking forward to picking up my new machine on Saturday week and riding down from Peterborough on it! I can only describe the feeling i had on my test ride as a bit of 'Nempnett Thrubwell' which is taken from the book 'the meaning of liff' (or its later reissue 'the deeper meaning of liff') by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd...

This wonderful book uses odd place names, mainly in the UK, to give us 'a dictionary of things that there aren't any words for yet' very funny, and perhaps you will find a few cropping up in other posts.

Nempnett Thrubwell (n.)
The feeling experienced when driving off for the very first time on a brand new motorbike

Douglas Adams & John Lloyd The Meaning of Liff Pan Books

There's also a website with the definitions! Link in the title of this post too!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A thing of beauty


Well, thought having mentioned it I should show it to you all...

Unfortunately Jem, the 250 went in part exchange, but it needed some work done on it which costs next to nothing for a dealer to do, but would be a fortune if you'd done it. We can discuss how to get you biking another time!

Very Excited

Bought a new motorbike - BMW K1100LT for those that like to know these things. If you don't need to know the details then it is blue and shiny and a very nice bike to ride.

When i say new, i do mean 'used', just new to me!

Filling in time

Waiting for someone to drop in for a meeting so i thought i would pop on and say hello! Like many of my postings i'm actually starting with no idea what i want to say, so 'hello' may well be the deepest part of this post!

Am in the process, still, of preparing the 'Worship Leader's Day' - this is part of a very exciting move in the Diocese of Ely to not only claim it wants lay leadership, but to actually do something about it. We are training a small group (about 15) of people who will have an active part in leading worship in their parish Churches. These Churches are all rural, and all have Clergy, or at least have Clergy coming soon if they are in interregnum, so it's not just a stopgap measure to try and fill the gap left by not having a Vicar. It may not seem radical but in the overclericalised world of the C of E (esp in rural areas) its a great breakthrough and a wise move on the part of the Church towards actually getting more people involved.

My only concern is that it could be a response to a drop in Clergy numbers, not based on the theological premise of 'every member ministry' or, more accurately, 'The priesthood of all believers'

Got to stop now, meeting about to begin

Shameless self promotion

Whilst looking through the Greenbelt lineup for this year I found that the cd of my talk back in 2002 is still available. Just thought I'd let you know because it is one of the talks i've done that i am most pleased with. It was called 'Faith and Belief' and was part of some writing I had done about what the nature of the two are.

I don't make any money from it, so I'm not trying to sell them!

Had a look at what time of day i am

You Are Noon

You are upbeat, ambitious, and never at loss for energy.
You have a lot that drives you in life. The desire to be the best, and a secret hope of fame and power.
And while you definitely have a Type A personality, you are still fun to be around.
You have a ton of charisma and a genuine interest in others. You are adored by many.
What Time Of Day Are You?

Not quite sure how accurate this is, but it made me feel good - though if anyone has any idea about what it means to have a type A personality please let me know.

Made me laugh too, which makes it all worth it

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Keeping it real

Thanks to Dave for thoughts on my previous post - words of wisdom ' Don't be a slave to the blog...'

Enjoyed setting up new shape blog - ie new links, some extra buttons and generally getting to grips with how these things work (or don't, sometimes) it was a small exercise in being creative and felt very rewarding!

It seems the best way to blog is a little at a time, i have really enjoyed reading a variety of blogs lately, esp through ukGodblogs and britblog and the most engaging have snippets with the occasional longer post. Was grateful to Ali for her response to my uber-long Ruth posting and think i might try and put in a longer thought, hopefully with some depth every now and then but on the whole may keep it slimmed down and toned up. You never know, perhaps I too could do the same physically too.

I read somewhere (on someone's blog probably) if you can't spend less than ten minutes a day blogging then you are blogging too much! Not sure if I agree completely, but get the sentiment.

Am in process of planning a day for those on a Worship Leading Training Course that I am helping to run. The theme is 'For those outside the usual congregation' - which is most of the world then! Obviously lots to think about, and my ten minutes is up!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Going mad with blogger

Have had lots of fun in past couple of days doing some rather dodgy (ie haphazard, not illegal or immoral) cutting and pasting with html and adding links and other buttons etc etc as somd of you may have noticed.

Actually, i say some of you, but i really have no idea if this is ever read - except that every now and then i get a comment, which i am always grateful for - so i have added a site meter, which was looking rather pathetic with a zero on it when i put it on. Anyway, it might give me some idea of whether anyone pops by and doesn't comment - and if it still looks lonely in a couple of weeks i will change the code (i can do that now, waheey) so i only can see the site stats and pretend that all this wordage does go somewhere...

freecycling

Before i drag myself off to bed i thought to myself that i should say something about freecycle - all the rage at the moment, and very useful - not two things which usually go together...

Got something you want to get rid of? Don't bin it, freecycle it. Need something - you can always ask (well, as long as you've done some sharing yourself, at least that's how our local one works). Also plenty of chance to pick up stuff that you may well need which someone is trying to get rid of.

Clear? As mud, i expect, read what it says here and find out if there is a group in your area.

Sad loss

I know I'm late in finding this out, but sad to see that Rob Lacey died a week or so ago. He had fought with cancer for some time. Rob was innovative, funny and a great actor and writer. He was most well known for his 'street Bible' or 'Word on the street' and i was amused and shocked (in a good way) by his 'guerilla Bible readings' where he would read out his own paraphrase of scripture to somewhat surprised passers by. He contributed to 'Just Worship DVDs' Vol 1 and Vol 2 and some stuff for a RUN (Reaching the Unchurched Network) DVD called InMotion the stuff he did was excellent - creative, thought provoking, spiritual.

Thoughtful short pieces from Conrad Gempf and Dave Walker

Another quickie

The observant amongst you may have noticed firstly that i did manage to edit my bookmarks to add the witness mag and that i have removed e-church active online magazine. The sad decision was made to cease producing the magazine and the cost of keeping the site up was prohibitive. They are looking into archiving the material (very good stuff) when they find a sympathetic (ie preferably free) host but for the time being the e-Church active link just takes you to a rather sad page saying goodbye. I did feel a deep sorrow when i found it was folding, because i thought it was good stuff and because it was my first ever proper writing break - thanks to Brian and Richard at amp for keeping it going and to Sue Elvidge for the sterling editorial job. Fortunately we can still see Sue's work on Surefish where she writes various articles and amp (active media publishing) is still going and producing other good stuff.

All things must pass.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Just a quickie

Reading the good as ever Sarah Dylan Breuer Lectionary Blog I followed a link to a very interesting Mag called The Witness - 'an Anglican voice for justice' available both in hard copy and online, i believe- worth bookmarking, and when i have the time i will add to my links.

Reflections on Ruth

These thoughts are based on Ruth 1.16-18 & 1 Peter 2.4-12

Bible verses are all linked because I don't want to break copyright, so please do follow links to read...via 'The Bible Gateway'

Ruth – finding our true home

I want to talk a little bit about what’s going on in our world today as we start our series of these great figures in our history of faith – today looking at Ruth, next time Esther, then Daniel and finally Paul. You might wonder what Postmodernity has to do with Ruth, but on some very close reading of the text and a fair amount of reading on the whole postmodern thing I hope that we can use this stuff to offer a bit of new thinking about the way we engage with the world today.

There is no such ‘thing’ as postmodernity – its just a phrase that various thinkers and writers have used to gather together their thoughts on the state of the world today.

It perhaps helps to know that when people talk about Modernity they don’t mean the modern world, they mean the way that we have thought since the Enlightenment. Certain things have marked the past few hundred years that influence the way we think and act and do. There has been a great belief in the progress of human beings – often known as the myth of progress – that left to its own devices humanity is getting better and better – this is tied up with belief in the power of science, the rightness of democracy, education for all, improvements in healthcare etc etc. With this came great faith in the institutions that offered this, schools & universities, hospitals and medical care, governments and armed forces, police and emergency services, even the Church and more…

You’ll probably have noticed that our society doesn’t have the faith it had in all of these institutions. We only have to read the papers to see stories about failures in healthcare, government, crumbling universities, hostility to the Church etc. Our society doesn’t’ have faith in these institutions any more. This is what those who are postmodern thinkers have been talking about for a few years now. Our society doesn’t believe in institutions any more and many people are suspicious of anyone who claims to have the truth – this is summed up in the wonderful phrase ‘suspicion of meta-narratives’ which I had to use at least once!

The other side of this is that many people today feel rootless, without any foundations to build on, we (as a society) have lost the feeling of community, and don’t know what to believe. They don’t know where they belong. Nor do they seem to want anyone to tell them where to belong. This is postmodernity! And is more than I planned to say when I started on this….

By now you’re probably saying ‘and what about Ruth’?

Well, as we look at these great Biblical figures we’re not simply reading through the books and telling the story – but we are trying to look at the person themselves. What is it about someone like Ruth, Esther, Daniel or Paul which can inspire and guide us today? How can these heroes of faith help us in our walk of faith today.

The story of Ruth takes place somewhere around the time of the Judges, possibly quite soon after the Israelites have taken over the promised land. We believe this because Boaz called the son of Salmon, husband of Rahab who saved the spies at Jericho by hiding them. More of that later, though. We don’t know who wrote the book of Ruth, though there is some speculation that it might have been the prophet Samuel and there is some thought that the Biblical genealogies which mention Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse and David miss out certain less well known figures in the line, or the generations between Salmon and Obed cover about 360 years between the three of them!

It is thought that the story of Ruth takes place somewhere about 1100 years before Jesus. The book of Ruth is described by one writer as ‘a pearl in the swine pen of the Judges’. It certainly offers a very different account of life in Israel during that period to the exploits of Samson – with whom she may well be contemporary.

The story of Ruth is well known – but I will recap it as quickly as I can. It starts, like most stories, with a man I quote – chapter one verse 2 ‘The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.’

Elimelech dies, and his sons marry Moabite women, Orpah & Ruth, and then they die too. So we have Naomi, with no husband and no sons to care for her, effectively now outside the usual social structures, feeling abandoned by God and by the world – and she decides to return to Bethlehem – but encourages her daughters-in-law to stay and find new husbands in their homeland. After lots of weeping Orpah stays but Ruth says these wonderful words
Ruth 1.16-18

In Bethlehem Ruth is a loyal daughter in law and seeks to care for Naomi. She goes out gleaning – picking up the leftovers from the harvest – in order to store food for the two of them. In the course of this she meets Boaz, the owner of the land, and kinsman to Elimelech, and discovers that, with a bit of stretching of Deuteronomic law, he can take responsibility for her and take her as his wife thereby assuring both Ruth and Naomi of the future security they need.

The way this happens is slightly convoluted and shows great courage and faithfulness on Ruth’s part. As a stranger, a Moabitess, in Israel she gleans without realising it is her kinsman’s land – and through the goodness of Boaz is provided for generously as he instructs the reapers to leave extra grain for her as they harvest. He also feeds her along with his servants, an act of generosity upon a stranger, and Ruth takes the risk of going to Boaz at night and lying with him as she seeks him to be what is known as the ‘kinsman-redeemer’ he honours her bravery and loyalty and has to negotiate the marriage with another who is a nearer kinsman than him – who doesn’t want the responsibility of taking on the inheritance of Elimelech and slips into anonymity. In the end Ruth and Boaz are married and have two sons, one of which, Obed is King David’s grandfather – and eventually therefore in the line which leads to Jesus.

Within this rather romantic story, certainly offering a counterbalance to much of the power-play and violence of other histories of a similar period, we have layer upon layer of meaning – and plenty that should help us as we consider our place in God’s work in a world which is lost and seeking meaning.

In response to my extended preamble about post-modernity we see in Ruth someone who is an exile, someone who is an alien – a stranger and an outsider in another society. She is the ultimate postmodern person – rootless, away from home. Yet she is not without meaning, and is actually rooted deeper in ties of love and loyalty that give her strength, purpose and hope in what might seem a hopeless situation.

It would be hard to overemphasise the desperateness of Ruth and Naomi’s position. Having lost a husband and her sons Naomi is considered afflicted – she herself believes that God has treated her badly and wants says on her return to Bethlehem in Chapter 1 verses 20 & 21

Without men to give her meaning (at least in the social structures of the day) then Naomi and Ruth are without any obvious hope – Ruth has left everything that might have given her security, or the hope of another Moabite husband – someone from her own culture – that might have offered a more immediate hope. And what has she committed herself to? She commits herself to Naomi and to God! Verse 16 of Chapter 1.

She gives herself faithfully into God’s hands. Her roots go deeper than her culture, than her country, than her surroundings. She finds her identity, who she really is, in her relationship with Naomi and with the God who she vows to serve.

And her faithfulness is rewarded. She is blessed by God – as she gives herself completely into God’s hands.

This doesn’t mean that she passively waits for God to sort things out, though! She goes to the harvest fields and gleans, working hard to care for Naomi and herself. She is also, as one Roman Catholic priest once said of the virgin Mary ‘a canny cookie’ – she and Naomi, upon discovering that Boaz is well disposed towards Ruth actually takes the step of submitting herself to Boaz – lying at his feet, as it says in Ruth Chapter 3 verse 7 (there is a whole discussion amongst Biblical scholars as to what that means, but that is for another time, perhaps).

This is all part of a plan that Naomi and Ruth work out together. They don’t just sit back and let things happen, they take the step of working out what might be best and following that plan of action.

Ruth is not passive, her faith, and indeed her trust in God, does not allow her to say ‘what will be will be’ but she acts in faith, and God honours that action.

We see also that as she discovers things are not as simple as they might have been, when she finds another kinsman who has the right of being ‘kinsman redeemer’ she and Boaz work out between them the best course of action. He commits himself to seeking the best for them and sends Ruth on her way with a token of good faith, 80 pounds of barley for her and Naomi. Ruth then lets go, and allows the situation to unfold, waiting faithfully again for the result.

As it happens, or rather, as God makes it happen – which is implicit in the story and made explicit towards the end in verses 14 and 15 of Chapter four when some nameless women of the city speak to Naomi


We have from Ruth principals which we should carry into our own lives of faith;
Faithfulness she steps out in faith, even when the situation seems hopeless.
Loyalty she remains loyal to Naomi even when everyone else seems to desert her. In the same way we are called to be loyal to our family of faith, the Church.
Ruth is Active in Faith she does not absolve herself of responsibility when she arrives in Israel.
Bold – Ruth is brave and courageous – there was a chance she would be rejected by Boaz, and even worse, would have been exposed ridicule if it were revealed that she went to him at night.
Patient – Ruth allows the will of God to be worked out as she allows Boaz to negotiate with the other kinsman over who should take responsibility for the family of Elimelech
And over and above all of this is a sense of love that comes from Ruth, it is the source of all she does and all she is in this story. Love is her root and her grounding and her faith in a God of love is the source of all she does.

All this and more should inspire us, and challenge us as we seek to engage with a world that is in upheaval and people seek meaning and a sense of identity in a fragmented and distrustful society. We are not called just to sit back and let the world get on with things. As we see a world sinking into a malaise with no markers of truth and no absolute values beyond the fact that everything is relative we still have a calling to tell our story of redemption.

And it is the very fact that we don’t just batter people into submission with doctrine that can help us to engage with a world that is suspicious and hostile to anything that claims to be the truth. It is the lives we live, filled with loyalty, faith, love, courage, patience and faith that will draw people to knowing Christ who we believe is the way, the truth and the life. We build our faith not on argument and words but on Christ the cornerstone. We too feel like strangers and aliens as we seek to live out the values of God’s love and God’s kingdom in our lives – our message to a world that feels in exile and rootless is that we too know what that feels like as we wait for a time when we are truly at home and see our God face to face.

Just as the story of Ruth can inspire and guide us, so sharing our own stories of faith, and the stories of faith in our Scriptures, can show those sceptical of anything that claims to be truth that we are not trying to indoctrinate, but we invite them to share in our story – the story that, like this wonderful story we have considered this evening, is one of redemption, of hope, and of a sense of rootedness found not in things or places, but in a loving, faithful God who welcomes us all to be a part of his loving family. The God who includes even strangers and Aliens – from the prostitute Rahab to the outsider, Ruth, in his plan – not only that but who gives the outsider an important part in his work, as both of these were ancestors of the one who draws us all into God’s life, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Still blogging!

Well after the joys of the election and my dental surgery (not sure which was worse) i am now back on the go and have just finished a rather weighty talk about the book of Ruth which tries to apply some of the content of that wonderful, romantic, episode in the time of the Judges to our present 'Post modern' world (eeek, the PM word.! i might just post it here, although it stretches to quite a few words.

i do love doing theology, it does stimulate the old brain and faith cells. Plenty to think about, perhaps it will be my next post. I will see if i can blog it through WORD and then you can comment for yourselves, or ignore it completely as seems most expedient for you...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Staying up late

Don't know why i do it - am watching election results come up on the BBC Website and feeling depressed. Its not that i feel invested in any of the political parties - my alliegance to Labour has disappeared over the past two years and I left the party 18 months ago - Gulf War, approval of GM crops, PPI, etc etc meant i couldn't hack it any more - plus no one bothered to contact me when i said i wanted to leave so felt no enticement to stay.

There is just something incredibly boring about watchin election results, and feeling let down whatever the result! Sometimes i wish the map just turned green or yellow or something different. I think it is the samey-ness that is so wearing, even with gains by one party or another there is a kind of inevitablitity about it all.

Plus it always seems ages for South Cambridgeshire to declare, so my own sense of personal investment is limited until that point.

Am going to bed now. Got to have dental surgery tomorrow. Preferable to watching any more results come in though!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What do we do when we pray?

Am preparing a talk for a group this evening on prayer, and have chosen the theme at the head of this post. After twenty six years of active Christian living (or at least trying) this is still something I struggle with. What are we doing when we pray?

On the very basic level I believe we are changing ourselves, or being changed by our encounter with God and that prayer is at least about that transformation that occurs as we place ourselves at God's disposal and pray with honesty and humility 'your will be done'. From this I beleive comes a network of those who are seeking God's way and are transformed into being the answers to prayer. In this way prayer is world changing.

But what about praying for those things upon which we, and possibly no other person of faith, can have an impact? Does God change the world when we pray? I remember a wonderful, rather quirky, Jesuit lecturer on my undergrad course who said that if God answered prayers in the way that people wanted him(her) to then South West London would be full of number 74 buses from all the people asking to get in to town faster. This coupled with a firm belief that God doesn't move people and events around like pieces on a giant chess board means that I have some scepticism about supernatural intervention through prayer.

Yet, that part of me which is alive in faith says 'but this must be possible'. It's not a logical, reasoned argument, but a belief in a God who can make a difference in the world over and above the actions of human beings. OK, so God may not make London Buses move to suit the needs and desires of prayerful postulants (if there is any thing which is infernal in this world it is probably the UK's public transport system - constantly raising hopes only to dash them on the cold tarmac and rails of our nation) but my understanding of God is of one who is active in the affairs of this world and from whom there is no place or situation that is distant.

So what happens when we pray?

Still don't know, don't think I will until some other time when I get to see God face to face, but I still hold on to the belief that prayer changes more than just ourselves. Perhaps, in the end, that's all faith can do, keep holding on.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More going on

Didn’t mention, as wanted to keep in a separate post, of a visit over the weekend by another clergybeing – one previously mentioned in postings – Chaplain to a northern University College and all round great bloke…

Over the course of the weekend, when not distracted by various concerns, we managed to fit in some deep thoughts about what we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re going.  he mentioned my previous expressions of ‘not quite envy’ about his lifestyle – relatively free, travelling, academic engagement alongside pastoral work and talked about his ‘grass greener’ vibes to do with my situation as a country minister, with a family and a nice Rectory, various interests and, explicitly mentioned, motorbikes.  I’m not sure why I mention this, but it was a nice reminder of what I am blessed with, and how learning to live where we are – spiritually as well as physically – is a difficult part of our self-integration.

Came away from the weekend with profound sense of gratitude for all I am blessed with – and for friends who have rich lives of their own who help me see how rich mine is.  Thanks Jem!    

Getting On With Things

Had a few days away after Easter and have hit the ground running on my return.  It was a bit of an odd ‘holiday’ as I spent two days of it preparing and doing a funeral (for my wife’s Grandfather, fantastic man with 100 years of very full history behind him), then had to come back for an Annual meeting for one of my parishes, then return early for another annual meeting – all very important and worthwhile, but rather messed up the ‘holiday’ possibilities.  

Anyway, am now back in full flow and getting things sorted after the busy-ness of Easter and all that it involves.  As previously mentioned, it was a fantastic Easter, but so busy that all the normal stuff gets put on hold somewhat…  So far the day has been full of admin, phone calls and sorting out the piles of paper that accrue when one goes through an extended period of ‘dumping stuff’ because there is so much going on.

One thing I have been picking up on is my reading and there are some books which are really grabbing my attention at the moment.  I’ve read a couple of Terry Pratchetts that I really enjoyed – I love his take on stuff, and the Wee Free Men and Thief of Time are great books in the Discworld series.  On the novel front I am also (finally) reading ‘Brick Lane’ by Monica Ali which is wonderfully written and very thought provoking.

What has struck me recently, though, is the Theological books I am reviewing – one of them is a masterful exposition of the nature and purpose of worship by Christopher Irvine called ‘The Art of God’ which is beautifully summed up in the blurb on the back ‘We are God’s art and worship is his studio’.  This book is concerned with the transformative purpose of worship, and indeed of the whole Christian life – with the basis being that we as human beings are made in the image of God (abeit a marred and often distorted image), that salvation is the restoration of that ‘Imagio Dei’ (possibly spelt wrong () and that sanctification is about being made in the likeness of Christ through our Christian journey.  Obviously this doesn’t do justice to the rich texture and depth of thought in the book, but I highly recommend it.  I am also reading a book in preparation for a sermon to be preached at one of the Cambridge colleges in the near future about ‘preaching the Apostle’s Creed’.  I have taken the subject of Jesus Christ, Son of God and plan to use some of the material I put together for a talk at Greenbelt a few years back on the importance of Incarnational Theology in Christian Faith but this book, called The Life we Claim by James C Howell is an enjoyable theological romp through the central tenets of our Faith.  Finally I am just about to embark upon a book I received a few months back from the Author’s agent called ‘The Soul at Work’ by Margaret Befefiel.  It looks like a fascinating and very well written work concerned with ‘Spiritual Leadership in Organisations’ and the second Chapter is called ‘Leadership for Transformation’ so will build upon my present fascination with transformational theology.

Thought I would share these, just to let the world know that despite being caught up with the everyday work of ministry, most of us try and keep our imaginations pumping and our theological springs well oiled (I will let you imagine what that means).  

The question that arises for me now is ‘what kind of book should I write????’  Am thinking of one about theology for most of us – as I don’t think that the Church at large is brilliantly served in terms of general theological writing containing the basics of Christian thought.  What I mean by this is that we tend to focus on one thing or another, and the big issues in the Church at present seem to be about morality and our view of Scripture – but there is so much more about our Theological heritage, Church tradition and structure, engaging with a world where there is a ‘suspicion of metanarratives’ (any thing that claims to be ‘The Truth’ and explain everything.  There is something about telling our story as Christians, rooted in the story of the Church and of Scripture and allowing ourselves to engage with that story and then to engage with the world that at the moment eludes me.  I say at the moment, I have been talking of writing this book for two years and have little more than adapted versions of old talks to show for it.  

So that’s me at the moment, don’t get much for ages then it all pours out in one go!  Got to get on with making my study inhabitable and visiting some sick parishioners before my evening meeting.  More another time, no idea what that might mean, though.