Saturday, September 30, 2006

So, postmodernity it is then...

Have been trying to get my head around the whole concept of postmodernity/postmodernism, and admittedly not succeeded very well.

What can't be denied (though i am sure there are plenty who will) is that Western culture is undergoing a radical shift in outlook - though there is some debate as to whether we are in the apex between two ways of understanding the world, at the end of one (modernity) or the beginning of another. Are we late modern, post modern, the malaise of the modern or what?

Perhaps it would help to think a bit about what Modernity as a 'world view' is (very broadly speaking, i don't claim to be an expert). Modernity is a post-enlightenment, rational/reason based view of the world characterised by a belief in the constant progress of humanity through technology and reason, the growth of institutions, the elevation of reason and rationality and science and a sense of always moving forward towards ultimate truths. This is a woefully inadequate summary, but the main strands of modernity seem to have arisen from the enlightenment and 'the age of reason' coupled with reform and revolution over the past five centuries or so - so read up on that to get a better idea.

The two world wars, international pandemics, looming environmental disaster, and a sense that 'maybe we aren't actually going forward' has caused a loss of the optimism that was built in to the project of modernity. Alongside this a resurgence of a quest for meaning and rediscovery of spiritual searching has meant that rational arguments don't hold the sway they used to. There is a mistrust of those that seek to impose their viewpoints on others and an overwhelming feeling of the individual as arbiter of truth. This is a situation that seems to have crept up on our society and offers challenges to all institutions and groups that claim to have a 'hold on truth' - so the church obviously has to respond to this in some way. Interestingly, the church, especially (but not exclusively) those of a 'reformed' tradition has bought into the model of the rational, modern way of being and doing in a big way. We need to think about what we truly are, about the characteristics of the postmodern world and how we respond to this. But that's enough for now, an opportunity to disagree with me follow - leave a comment.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thinking continues

Have rediscovered my interest in 'postmodernity' - ie considering what cultural change our society is undergoing and wondering how the church should respond to it. Am reading a couple of books on the subject 'Who's afraid of Postmodernism' and 'the out of bounds church' as well as continuing to plough through my emerging church reading matter.

I say this because having started reading and thinking on this all about 12 years ago i just left it and got caught up in the world of 'church' and 'ministry' - so often focussing on maintaining the church as it is and keeping things going (whilst on a pretty steep learning curve with regards to what it means to be a priest!) without, in many ways, engaging very much with the society around the church. Of course i constantly interact with people, and pastor those both inside and outside the church, but i wasn't necessarily doing the thinking and praying and engaging with things that perhaps i should have.

I do feel that over the past few months i have done a bit of waking up, and am moving in my own personal spiritual life and within my role as a minister to re-committing myself to mission rather than ministry. That's a whole new subject, though, and one which could take a lifetime to unpack.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

So true

Another we blog cartoons offering, and right on the money I reckon

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

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

Still musing on Merville

Don't know if I mentioned that last week's conference was in Merville, France (Nord Pas-de-Calais) so the title might not make much sense - not that i am making any claims about making sense anyway!

The title i chose for my last post on these things sums things up really 'random acts of theology'. The week seemed to be a week of small explosive bits of theological reflection and revelation. We had a series of Bible Studies/readings by the Rector of Guildford, Revd David Bracewell, which took the story of Jonah and verses from 2 Corinthians and, via lots of anecdotes and jokes and stories, used them to guide some reflection on the conference theme 'the hope of our calling'. Some (many?) didn't like David's style, but for me it was enjoyable and had both depth and levity in it. Sessions one and four were excellent, two was good, and three happened but didn't stand out quite as much as the others!

The theological reflection by the Bishop of Huntingdon, Rt Revd Dr John Inge, which opened our conference series of Keynote speeches was, as always, excellent and filled with hope. Anne Dyer, Warden of Cramner Hall, Durham presented a powerful and moving reflection on 'being broken in ministry' using contemporary and classical works of art to guide our thinking. I was disappointed to miss Jean Vanier talking about his experience in the making of the L'Arche Communities and challenging us to consider our attitudeds to disability. It was rather more theological than that and again was, I am told, challenging and moving but i was too tired to make it through. Likewise I felt ill as Prof. Ann Loades spoke about worship, so had to leave (this was not a response to what was excellent Theological stuff, but probably due to having a bit of a bug which although minor has taken a few days to shake off).

The Worship was enjoyable and refreshing, though i did miss Morning Prayer as I was making the most of being away from small children that wake me early every day. There was a rich tapestry of worship styles, including Taize style night prayer, Common Worship services, BCP (1662) Evensong, 'Fresh Expressions' style and an informal evening worship which i enjoyed preparing and leading, but was terrified about. I know that all worship is for an audience of one (!) but the congregation were pretty well up on this leading worship business and not reknowned for holding back comments about what they don't like - plus trying to play in a beautiful but echoey chapel brought a whole new dimension to the music...

Anyway, all this together plus and opportunity to have some quiet, to pray, to talk and to enjoy the company of some pretty fantastic colleagues meant that the level of reflection and general responsiveness to what God might be trying to say was pretty high really. And some of the deepest and most challenging revalations came in conversation and over mealtimes. My thoughts about being a different person since my last conference came from talking to one of my colleagues from my own ministry team and reflections about the nature of ministry and our calling to be leaders came from a variety of encounters and engagements over the week.

As you can probably tell, the issues, ideas and hopes of this past week are spinning around my head at high speed, so i will go on thinking and praying - but as I've generally blurbed about the conference i will try not to keep coming back to it, after all you weren't there so you're probably bored of hearing about it!

Some music

I thought I'd not mentioned any music for a while, so I will take the opportunity to add a few links from a favourite artist of mine who is a wonderful songwriter and musician and whose music i have enjoyed for the last decade. Pierce Pettis:

I am in fact listening to this as i write, a masterful exposition of the singer-songwriter craft. Or if that sounds too pretentious a wonderfully written, well played, well sung album filled with intelligent lyrics and excellent melodies, coupled with Pettis' bittersweet observations of life and musical craftsmanship.


Highlighting both his songwriting gifts and guitar skills, as well as a cracking cover of the Mark Heard classic 'tip of my tongue' this is a great album for inspiring smiles and tears. Highlights include 'god believes in you' and a wonderful one for parents 'my little girl' - in fact every song is a highlight


Possibly my favourite Pettis album - though it depends on what time of day you ask me! This is full of thoughtful and beautifully written, played and sung songs. I love the instrumental 'Grandaddy blew the whistle' which really does give the atmosphere of an old steam train journey. My favourite track of all time, whatever time of day it is, is found on this - 'Absalom' which gives a very different approach to a well known Bible Story and helps the listener to enter into the Bible text in a whole new, engaging and heartbreaking way. 'Hold on to that heart' is also another high spot on this one.

Don't share much about the music i listen to despite the fact that my life is filled with the stuff. Try some of this out and enjoy. I am about to listen to Absalom and then go to bed...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

up and running

...at least in 'trial' format, the podcast and website are now available to check out and give feedback for. As it might not interest everyone (anyone?) and because it is still in trial do send me an email fracme[at]yahoo.co.uk if you want to listen to it.

Its about church, theology and all that stuff....

Blue like Jazz

Whilst away the main book i read was by Donald Miller called 'Blue like Jazz' - there's a fair amount of buzz about this one around as it offers what Miller calles 'nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality'.

It's a good read and approaches the issues of faith and what it means to be a Christian in a very accessible way. A collection of essays, the language is straightforward and the style quite simple, yet there is plenty to think about in this book. Some of the insights are surprising, some seem banal yet are filled with meaning. It's a book of contradictions - simplicity with depth, poignancy with humour, meaning in meaninglessness. It's certainly a good introduction to the core of Christian faith, which is Jesus Christ, and responds to many criticisms aimed at church and Christian believers with down-to-earth yet passionate conviction.

Its laid back style, which some might find infuriating, belies the passion with which Miller has sought to know Jesus. It doesn't try to answer any questions, but offers obvservations on the deeper reality of faith and meaning. Worth buying, IMHO.

Random acts of theology

So, I continue to think about the encounters of last week. It was a very helpful conference in lots of ways, not least because there was no compulsion to go to anything! I went to all of the Bible Studies, some of the 'worship', and just over half of the keynote speakers! Just over half because there were four - one i missed due to being over tired and one i had to leave because i felt nauseous and flushed.

I'll probably say more about all the different sessions another time (then again, maybe not - i can just keep you all on tenterhooks then - whatever they are) but I had revelation this last week as to how I have changed in these last few years. Three years ago, when we had our last Clergy conference for the Diocese of Ely, I went to everything - mandatory or not. At that time I identified myself as a 'Myers-Briggs E - Extrovert' meaning that my energy came from being with people, and in case of tiredness i would head for the nearest group of people and feel better through that. Now if i were to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator again i suspect i would still have 'E' as my preference, but would be much less weighted that way.

What i really appreciated on this conference was space, the chance to read, the chance to be alone. the opportunity for quiet, the one on one conversations rather than having 'small group discussions'. It is from this that some of my deepest reflections came, often inspired by the talks and studies of the day, but as a result of going over the issues by myself or with others.

To really grasp what a revelation this is you would need to know just how 'E' i was, and that I would be the one who hunted out parties to go to, who would find excuses to be with folk, who would do anything just to have some company - preferably a large group - to recharge my batteries. Now the depth of life seems to be in the quieter moments, with my wife and with Jack and Katherine, with a couple of dinner guests or in a conversation over coffee. This creates both a sadness in me and a sense of having moved on, grown even, less fear of what it means to be me alone, or me in genuine relationship with another person. It means moving on from 'encountering' people to 'engaging' them.

I guess i could see it reflected more in my passions - again back to being with family, playing guitar alone rather than for an audience, reading, writing, riding a motorbike rather than driving, TV rather than movies at the cinema or drama at the theatre.

So the conference allowed me to see something more of who i am, not a loner by any stretch of the imagination, but someone who has found more of his spirituality, more of who he is, in silence and solitude.

I've not really got to grips with the random acts of theology mentioned in the title, that is much more a reflection on the whole conference, so more of that next time.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Another we blog cartoons offering


cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

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

Still Learning

My trip away for the Diocesan Clergy Conference reminded me of one thing - I've still got so much to learn. I knew this anyway (one of the things i say when i visit couples preparing to have their children baptised is 'if i ever claim to have everything all sewn up about faith then its time for me to give up as i've obviously misunderstood faith completely') but the sessions that were offered, the conversations I had with my fellow Clergy, the times of worship, and the opportunity to sit and read gave me that chance to refresh my ignorance that reminded me that after 30 or so years on this Christian journey i am still always beginning.

One of my late lamented Theology lecturers, Fr Michael Nevin, put in his Ph.D thesis that no one ever becomes a Christian, there is just the daily possibility of becoming Christian - a reference to his interpretation of St Augustine's theology. That resonates with me as i constantly wonder at the daily offering of God to myself, and that a relationship with Christ, in Christ, for Christ is a dynamic, transformational event. There are days when my faith feels more real to me, more engaging, more challenging, and other days when my faith is simply 'there'. Part of growing as Christian is to recognise that feelings, though important, are not the foundation for our faith, they are part of faith.

So, back to last week. The ride was great fun, and my BMW k1100 lt took the rough with the smooth when it came to my riding. There was a moment on the M25 when a car came a bit closer than I'd like, but as it was in slow moving traffic i had time to avoid any bumps. The roads in France were clear, though windy, and the bike made short work of the miles. I arrived very early, though low on petrol, so i went into the local town and had 'une demi' before meeting up with the other Clergy at the conference house. The staff at the 'Maison D'accueil' were, indeed, very welcoming and the surroundings were not luxurious but were comfortable. I will say more about the content of the week another time, but the mix of worship, biblical studies, speakers and time to chat to my friends and colleagues was as perfect as such an event could offer and the content itself was excellent. Again, keeping up with the idea of not giving folks too much to read in one go i will go into detail later.

Since coming back have pretty much been on the go constantly, in fact have just come back from a visit and am now stopping for lunch before next round! As i said last night, fatigue was pretty overwhelming, and not having the chance for a day off has meant that there is a certain lack of focus in my life (even more than usual) - it will take a day or two to get back on an even keel, i think.

Will keep processing and keep posting over the coming days.

but before i go to bed

found this and liked it

Your Theme Song is Beautiful Day by U2

"Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away"

You see the beauty in life, especially in ordinary everyday moments.
And if you're feeling down, even that seems a little beautiful too.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Too tired to blog

It was a fantastic few days away and i will go into detail at another point, but have been struggling to keep awake for the past two days, so am going to continue the hiatus for another day or two.

Pretty stupid staying up until midnight, but there are some things I don't seem to be able to get out of the habit of....

Monday, September 18, 2006

A brief hiatus

I'm not going to be blogging for a few days, i did wonder about presenting this as a blog fast, which i have seen a few others do - often citing very high ideals for doing so. Unfortunately i have no such ideals, I am going away early in the morning for a conference of all the Clergy in our Diocese.

It should be a good few days, with the usual seminars, talks, worship that goes on at these conferences, the bonus is that, for financial reasons, we are going to France! Odd as it may seem, it is cheaper to bus 150 Clergy to northern France to a nice ex-seminary (where they serve wine with the meals) than to go to a less comfortable but nearer British Conference Centre.

Another bonus is that i am going on my motorbike and a few of my guitars, amps, music books, pedals, leads etc have made their way in 'the van' that is taking most of the gear. So I don't have to spend four hours or so on a bus with 50 other Vicars! Not that i would mind that, really, the Clergy of this Diocese are a good bunch. It will be fun to zap along the French motorways on my beemer though.

If i do find an internet cafe i may well end up blogging anyway, otherwise see you soon.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Thoughts for today

A long post, so you might not want to dive into it!

We are starting a series of talks on 'Jesus and...' and this is my introduction for the theme, about 2500 words, so quite a trek - took about 30 minutes or more to deliver. I don't claim to be a great preacher, or to be a fanastic theologian, but offer this to anyone who might be interested...

Team Evening Worship
September 16th 2006

Jesus and people

Welcome to our new season of Team Evening Worship, and as you (I hope) may know we are embarking on a series of ‘Jesus and…’ – getting back to the real heart of our faith as we look to Christ and try to know a little more about him in order that we may know him more. Tonight’s thoughts are based around ‘Jesus and people’ – I would like to say it was deliberately cryptic choice, but to be honest it was the only thing I could think of to describe the very broad approach I want to take for the next twenty, twenty five minutes or so because I want to say something about the what happened when Jesus encountered people and when they encountered him. It’s not something I can pin down to one Biblical passage, so excuse me if we do a bit of hopping about through our Gospels, and excuse me if you have heard some of this in the past few weeks as we have gone through various stories in our Gospel readings in our normal Sunday services which may crop up again.

But before I dive in I just want to say something about the theme of ‘Jesus and..’ Why come to such a theme – surely everything we do and are as Christians is about Jesus and about our relationship to Him. Well, absolutely, but as I talk to people (both Christians and not) we have a certain two dimensional picture of him. Perhaps it’s the tradition of the way we read our Gospels in Church but often there is a kind of storybook character that people identify with Jesus. There’s also the misunderstanding that somehow Jesus was something ‘different to us’ – a kind of superhuman, a perception I have spent a lot of hours in the pulpit trying to dispel. The Biblical witness and the teachings of the early Church are quite clear on this – Jesus wasn’t God pretending to be human, Jesus was human: hungry, thirsty, angry, sad, confused, tired, dependant on a life of prayer and needing time to be alone with his Father God to give him the wisdom, grace and strength he needed to fulfil the mission God had given him.

We don’t have a picture of Jesus who is ‘out there’ – someone or thing distinct and separate from us, but a Jesus who is in here, in the thick of things, going through the stuff we go through, knowing what is like to feel pain and sadness, to laugh and cry. And in the Gospels, though they don’t seek to be autobiographical in the way that we have autobiographies today, we have a picture of a full human being, someone who we are called to be like. Jesus is ‘one of us’.

So as we go through these meetings in the coming weeks, keep in mind that those who recounted these stories are trying to show us something of our saviour who calls us to follow him – not as a disembodied spirit, nor a superhuman, but as one of us seeks to draw us closer to himself that we may see him as he is, and know him more and more.

And if we bear that in mind then our coming weeks should surprise us, disturb us and challenge us. And we begin with our consideration of what happened in the stories we have when Jesus interacted with people.

Other weeks we will, I’m sure, consider the teachings of Jesus and what he said with regards to certain issues, but I would contend that we gain a fuller picture of Jesus when we see him with people, and we’re now going to consider a few of these encounters.

Again, my apologies for any repetition, some of these stories are so well known, and pop up again and again in our cycle of readings. I hope that through the Spirit we will be blessed with some new insight into some of these readings, even if I do end up saying some things you’ve heard me say before.

Who is this Jesus? Well we know that he was a teacher and preacher, someone who through the Spirit of God healed the sick and cast out evil spirits, who performed great signs of the power of God. But looking at some of these stories we can see more than what might be obvious on the surface of things.

First of these well known stories is the time Jesus meets a rich young man. Mark 10.17 (matt 19.16)

Unusually, though this story is found in Matthew and Mark, Mark (normally thought of as the more sparse Gospel) has a lot more detail. We are told the young man fell on his knees before Jesus and calls him good to which Jesus response ‘why do you call me good? no one is good – except God alone’ Of course because we know that Jesus is God in human form this is a point at which Jesus is stating something about himself – perhaps trying to elicit faith from the young man by saying ‘you have seen something about be, now act on that’.

Then Jesus recites the commandments to which the young man responds ‘I have done all this since I was a boy.’ We are then told in Mark something that falls out of Matthew’s telling of the story ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him’. He then goes on to challenge him to sell all he had and give it to the poor – something we know he couldn’t do, and he ‘goes away very sad’.

So what do we learn from that encounter? Well, I’m not going to go into the issue of wealth because that will be the focus of our thoughts in a couple of weeks. But in that encounter we see three things which I want to draw attention to…

One is that Jesus intimates something about himself, something that we have to recognise to really respond to him – that he is God. This is something that informs our encounters with him today – we begin with the premise of Jesus divinity. Alongside this, of course, we hold on to his humanity, and we must never separate the two. In encountering Jesus we come face to face with God in human form, and he shows us what it is possible for us to be, fully human, and fully alive in the Spirit of God.

Secondly in this story we see Jesus’ encounter in terms of a loving relationship, Jesus looked at him and loved him. We don’t read that Jesus had pity on him, or thought he was a nice chap. We are told that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Likewise that is how Christ looks on us – with eyes of love, total and utter love. If we think of those we love, and how we see them – even in our own imperfect way love should make us think the best for others, to look at them not with judgement but with mercy. But that love was not a soft love, not soppy or weak, but a tough love that was willing to ask tough questions. Which leads me on to my third point.

Jesus knew what this man needed, he knew what prevented the young man from enjoying the fullness of life that Christ proclaimed. He looked in love on that young man and met him where he was. Jesus didn’t give a blanket statement about ‘well, what everyone needs to do to be a true follower of mine is…’ He said ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. I don’t think Jesus was trying to say something about riches in general (though Paul may disagree with me on that next week!) but about the effect his riches had on that young man.

And that’s my starting point for these talks – that our relationship, our encounters with Jesus have these foundations – we see Jesus as both man and God. That every encounter with Jesus comes from a place of his love for us. And that Jesus meets us where we are, with concern for our particular circumstance, needs, desires, distractions, hopes and fears.

The second passage I want to look at carries on from this. Luke 8.43 -48.

The story takes place in the middle of another story – which I don’t want to go into – of the daughter of Jairus who is dying. Jesus is on his way to see the daughter of Jairus’ and a woman with twelve years of haemorrhaging touches him and is healed.

Now in order to get the full picture of this we need to think about what having menstrual bleeding for twelve years would have meant to this woman. She would have been constantly unclean in Jewish society, excluded from worship and untouchable by anyone who wanted to take part in any Jewish religious ritual. We see the same in the parable of the good Samaritan, when the Levite and the Priest who passed by on the other side on their way to the temple didn’t stop to help in case this man was dead and they would have been excluded from taking their part in worship.

So this woman hears that Jesus is coming to town and she snatches, in secret, a touch of the hem of his garment. Nothing ostentatious, she probably wanted to keep it quiet, keep out of the limelight – because of course for many years she would have been avoided and unwanted in many ways, certainly by those who were of a religious inclination.

But she doesn’t have the chance to slip back into the shadows as Jesus calls out ‘who touched me’. And when she confesses he affirms her own faith and blesses her with his words ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you.’

And from this I want to draw two particular points.

Firstly that Jesus, although he is busy – in fact is on an urgent errand – stops and takes time to talk with someone who has been excluded from society. He doesn’t do the tele-evangelist thing and say ‘whoop, another one healed, lets move on’ – he takes note of this woman, and lets her know he is taking note. Again he gives her what she needs most, this time a word of affirmation (rather than the challenge given to the rich young man). If we look through our Gospels we see example after example of Jesus touching the unclean, the leper, showing love to the unlovely and the outcast, giving people what they need even when they don’t know it.

Secondly Jesus works with her faith, he affirms that it is her faith that has made her well – not magic, not his own special power, but her faith. He says he feels the power go out of him but then goes on to say ‘your faith has healed you’. He states the partnership that makes this miraculous event possible – when faith and Jesus meet, great things can happen.

So we have further messages for us – Jesus has time for us. He wants to affirm us and to take note of us. I know some Christians who seem to act as if they are bothering Jesus when they pray, and without saying it they give an attitude of ‘un, well Lord, I know I’m a worthless worm, but if you would just graciously turn to me for a moment…’

That’s not the picture we get from Scripture, we have the picture of a God who loves to have his children come to him, who loves it when we want to be in his presence – a God who always has time for us. In the example of Jesus we have one who longs to hear us, and for us to encounter him.

Also, of course, we have an encouragement to trust, to have faith in Jesus. To turn to him with our faith to work in partnership with him so that he can do great things in and through us.

And thirdly Luke 19.1-10 – Jesus and Zaccheus. I don’t want to say a lot about this because it is pretty self evident what is happening here – and we see again this aspect of Jesus encounters with people that means he takes note of them, he affirms them, he meets them where they are.

Zaccheus was obviously seeking, he climbed up a tree for goodness’s sake! And Jesus responds to his seeking by inviting himself to tea with him – a meeting that is so life changing that Zaccheus does exactly what the rich young ruler couldn’t bring himself to do – he gives away his money, repaying any he had defrauded, giving to the poor.

We see here evidence of what is perhaps the most important point and a theme which runs through the record of every encounter we have with Jesus – after an encounter with Jesus people are never the same again. The result of meeting Jesus is transformation, life is never the same. For those who reject Jesus they go away sad or angry or bitter. For those who come to jesus and hear his words they go away changed, given this extraordinary gift of love and faith that comes from Christ.

it’s not too much of a leap to consider how important this should be for us. We should long to encounter Jesus, in our prayers, in our Bible readings, in worship, in all people that we meet (even the scabby and unlovely) and we should be prepared to be transformed by that encounter (as much as we can be prepared to be changed!).

But it is not only about what happens about when we encounter Jesus. All of these stories of Jesus give us examples, inspirations, challenges as to how we should act with those who we meet – for we have Christ within us, as St Paul says. We are called to be Christ-like in our encounters with others – and even in this relatively short study of three encounters we have plenty to live up to! We are called to meet people where they are, to see them as valuable in God’s eyes and to love them unconditionally, we are called to reach out and touch (physically and emotionally) the untouchable, we are to affirm faith in others and to bring faith to them, we are called to open ourselves and others up to the touch of grace and transformation that comes from God in Christ, through the power of God’s Spirit.

I hope there’s enough there to be going on! As we see more of this startling, exciting, challenging, disturbing, transforming, loving, life giving, life affirming saviour who we follow may we be changed by him and grow more like him. Amen.

This is me

apparently...


My Personality
Neuroticism
43
Extraversion
47
Openness To Experience
65
Agreeableness
91
Conscientiousness
5
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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Faith and reason

A couple of days ago i said that it is impossible to argue anyone into the love of God. This comes out of the vitriol i have found on the blogsphere against religious faith, the main argument against which is 'it isn't reasonable'. I do believe Christianity stands up to intellectual scrutiny, and that it is a rational system of belief (although there are certain key elements that cannot be reduced to rational propositions) but in the end Donald Miller in the excellent 'blue like jazz' when he talks of a conversation he had with someone at college sums it up like this:
"I had no explanation for Laura. I don't think there is an explanation. My belief in Jesus did not seem rational or scientific and yet there was nothing I could do to separate myself from this belief. I think Laura was looking for something rational because she believed all things that were true were rational. But that isn't the case. Love, for example, is a true emotion, but it is not rational. What I mean is, people actually feel it. I have been in love, plenty of people have been in love, yet love cannot be proved scientifically, and yet love canot be proved scientifically. Neither can beauty. Light cannot be proved scientifically, and yet we all believe in light and by light see all things. There are plenty of things that are true that don't make any sense.'
It's not a perfect answer, but it gets close to how I feel too.

Sitting thinking

About what to say tomorrow... The readings for the day are Proverbs 1.20-33, James 3.1-12,
Mark 8.27-end
and the one that stands out as 'obvious candidate' for thoughts for the day is the reading from Mark where one minute Peter tells Jesus 'you are are the Messiah' and moments later Jesus is saying to him 'get behind me satan'...

Not an easy one to tackle in an 'all age service' - which is the main service tomorrow. But then the James and Proverbs readings don't offer an obvious hook either, at least not one that i think young and old can grasp.

Also tomorrow evening I am doing a longer talk on 'Jesus and People' - part of a new series of 'Jesus and...' talks we are starting in our 'informal service'. I plan to talk about the way that people encountered Jesus and his encounters with them - I might even post both sets of thoughts here if it seems appropriate.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Its my day off

So no blogging, at least not at length

have got motorbike repaired (broken valve in the rear tyre) so am now ready to go to France next week for a clergy conference - I'm also planning to have a bit of a blast tomorrow, but will have to wait and see if i can fit it in with my appointments

back to family time! see you (or not)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Religion but no brains

I just read a quote on a blog that said 'there are two types of people in the world - one with brains and no religion and one with religion and no brains.' (apparently taken from an 11th century text)

Obviously I disagree with that, some of the most intelligent people i have ever met with are committed Christians. Interesting how those who seek to dismiss religious faith have to make themselves feel better by saying those with faith are stupid. Not that i deny that religion doesn't make people do stupid things! Or rather that some people who profess religious faith do stupid/abusive/careless acts - but we could say exactly the same about atheists or agnostics or whatever.

My experience has been that in the end, those who disagree with faith end up shouting at the 'faithful' - there are some things that arguing doesn't achieve. No one has been argued into the love of God!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I like my new look

My blog that is! Now i have got everything up and running I am quite pleased with how it has turned out. Unfortunately the only person i have asked the opinion of is my co-conspirator in the podcast world, Brian. Brian has a good eye for this kind of thing and is a graphic designer and generally creative type and he says he preferred the old layout...

At least Jem seems to like it...

Prayer room pictures





I promised a few weeks back to try and add some prayer room pictures from our 24/7 prayer room (or rather weekend of 24 hour prayer) so here are some.

Done!

We actually managed to record an hour's worth of material for our podcast, taking in such themes as accountability, every member ministry, commitment, and church structures and institutions. It was a fun and revitalising way to spend a couple of hours in an aftertoon and the results will soon be available for anyone to download and criticise, or comment on or whatever.

Podcast here we come

Me and my friend, colleague and co-conspirator Brian plan to do our first podcast recording today, though my expectation is that we will drink lots of coffee, wonder about what to say, smoke too much and then come back another day to do it. I have set aside a couple of hours for this out of a hectic day because i am off to a long meeting this evening and want to do something theological and ecclesial with some time...

If and when this all comes off, please don't expect to hear the end of it!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Interesting conversation

Over at Sunday Papers I've really enjoyed taking part in a conversation about incarnation, theology and trinity - which for many of you will stretch the boundaries of what constitutes an interesting conversation, but Mark Porthouse (who is also a webdesigner and graphics bod, if you want to follow his link) has put forward lots of interesting things to think about so check it out...

Like to keep the theological brain cells ticking over, it's a site worth blogmarking for that reason... Or you can always come back here and follow my link to the site...

Blogger Beta

Following Moog's comment about blogger beta i have now discovered I can switch to beta and i have, hence many of my links have gone astray and the scheme for my blog has changed. This was not unexpected and i saved all of the links i wanted to keep in another file for cutting and pasting later.

Beta looks and feels great, it is easy to use, more intuitive, more variety - unfortunately i still can't manage to add two sidebars (one on each side) as none of the available templates support it and i don't know enough to do that myself. Unfortunately, despite having put all of my links in again, played with colour scheme and generally got the blog feeling like i wanted to none of it will save - i have tried a number of times, i have logged out and in again, i have taken out some of the changes and left others, then tried taking out most of them, then just changed the font and absolutely nothing happens to the blog itself - the preview comes out looking just as it should, but nothing will save.

So, for those of you who like to have a look at any of the blog directories, technorati, even nosey around my site statistics via sitemeter it is all on hold until blogger beta decides to work. Also the links to the few books i am reading, or books i've recommended like 'the Art of God' are all awol for the time being.

You'll see if anything changes! If you're reading this then at least i can still post!

Dave Walker - cartoon blog

He never fails to raise a smile - sometimes we need it... actually most of the time we need it


cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

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

September 11th

Having passed the day (at least here in the UK) I just wanted to say something about the fifth anniversary of the atrocities committed on September 11th 2001. I have been impressed, on the whole, with the blogsphere's response to this anniversary and particularly moved by many of the tributes to the 2996 people that died that day which have appeared on many blogs - each one remembering one individual.

If i could add one thing, it would be an equal remembrance for those who have died since, in terrorist atrocities, factional fighting, and as the result of nationalist and fundamentalist aggression. The world often seems a dark place to live in, and those who have remembered the significance of the individuals who paid the price for fanaticism and intolerance are seeking to reclaim some of the light of those lives extinguished by these acts of terror.

I hope we can all continue to seek the light and turn away from the darkness.

Monday, September 11, 2006

No longer taking risks with links???

I wrote a few weeks back that i was including a world cinema amazon link in my sidebar with lots of reasons as to why, even if the content might suprise some people, i thought that the benefit gained from opening ourselves up to wider cultural experiences was a good thing etc etc. Well, the more observant will see that the link is gone - mainly because every time i looked at the page there were usually links to rubbishy films and a few TV series which wouldn't really qualify as world cinema except in the sense it wasn't made in England. So that exercise in risk taking proved to be somewhat pointless. Will consider whether to put another link in my sidebar, or (as Moog helpfully pointed out in a comment in the last post) whether i can play in Blogger Beta and put some other links up as and when it becomes available - I have been told upon trying to sign up that Beta is only available on certain accounts...

We need to talk about Kevin

Wasn't sure whether i started reading this because it was one of those 'everybody's reading it' books or because i was interested in it for its own sake.

I'm glad i read it but i didn't enjoy it... Or rather, its not a book to be comfortable with, it isn't fun to read, it is a difficult read in terms of content, it is hard work.

On the other hand it is compelling, well written, a good read in the sense of being able to appreciate the craft of the writer, the details which make up a life, a style which is engaging and involving.

I would recommend this book, because if nothing else it causes the reader to ask questions, to consider where evil acts come from, to wonder about the depths of human nature, to think about our society and to wonder at the messed up world we live in. Not a piece of escapist fiction or a celebration of violence or a stark account of the world this is unquestionably a book of depth and resonance.

As a parent i found it disturbing, as a husband it made me think again about how well i listen to my partner and take note of my children, as a person it made me at times despair at the state of Western society and the violence that runs through our culture. In telling the story through letters from a mother to her (apparently estranged) husband it comes across in a very personal way.

Worth reading, don't expect to be happy about it by the end.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

End of a long sunday

Just a quick note to keep up the blogging, the sermon from yesterday was received well, despite the fact i thought it was slightly controversial (maybe not, perhaps i was just stating the obvious). I was interested to see Conrad Gempf's take on it - a wonderfully thoughtful way of expressing that the statement Jesus made was a test - good to read a solid bit of exegesis that disagrees with mine!

On another note, I'm quite pleased with increase in blog traffic here, but not many comments! I was also interested to see that i was surfed by the pentagon a few days ago - maybe because in one newspaper article which referred to the Iranian President's entry into the blogsphere he was described as 'New Kid On The Blog'.

there are a few of us with that name, but i've not found one older than mine yet, so i can at least feel a bit original...

Again on another note, i have enjoyed using blogger but am increasingly seeing blogs which say that typepad(?) is more flexible, easier to use, greater capacity - I have no idea and have no desire to move, the only frustration i have had is not being able to figure out how to put two sidebar columns on my blog so the right hand bar has got longer and longer... Anyone got any thoughts on that, or anything else, that they want to share?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Be opened

Wasn't planning to add this week's sermon to my blog, but here is a version of it. I think it is because I finally said something of what i wanted to say about Mark 7. 24-37

Year B Proper 18 (2006) RCL Principal

Ephphatha

Today's Gospel reading is a familiar passage, the story of a Syro-Phonecian Woman who approached Jesus with a request to heal her daughter, and was dismissed by him until she came back with the esquisite reposte ‘even the dogs get to eat the crumbs under the table’ – a phrase that has sunk deep into the spirituality of the English as our Prayer Book has included it as the foundation for what is known as the ‘Prayer of Humble access’. “We are not worthy even to gather up the crumbs under thy table” we will pray later on in this service as we recognise our own sinfulness and the response of God’s grace despite that sinfulness.

But it is an uncomfortable story, at least it should be if we look at it closely. We believe in a Jesus who said (other words that come up later in our service) ‘Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ and a Jesus who welcomed and touched the outcast, the leper, the sinner – yet in this short passage we are shown a Jesus who rejects a woman because of her lack of status and her national heritage. He goes so far as to allude that she is a dog – ‘it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs’ he says in verse 27 of Mark chapter 7. Not terribly flattering, in fact downright insulting. But the woman does not leave it there and her quick response about being allowed to take the crumbs under the table causes Jesus to change his mind and offer healing to this woman’s daughter.

But this time it is not the woman and her persistence that I want to commend. I want to consider exactly what it is that Jesus did in that encounter.

Some preachers, and indeed many normal people I have met, contend that Jesus was testing the woman who came to him – that it was an attempt to elicit faith from her that would make the healing of her daughter possible – for again and again in the Gospels we have the refrain ‘your faith has made you well’ or ‘your faith has saved you.’

I have to say, that if this was Jesus’ aim it was done rather cruelly, by dismissing the woman and insulting her. Remember this was a woman who meant nothing in first century Palestinian society – she wasn’t a Jew, she was a woman and she had no husband or sons to give her value in society’s eyes. It was a case of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for jewish society! She was consigned to widow-hood with an equally valueless daughter and wasn’t worth bothering with. If Jesus was testing her he did it by adding to her sense of worthlessness and lack of importance.

On the other hand, perhaps (and many find this hard to accept) Jesus made a mistake! Perhaps his understanding was that he had been called to bring the Jewish people back to God and that the Gentiles had no place in that plan. Perhaps at this juncture in his ministry he had to think again about the mission God had given him and reconsider his role over and above the calling to bring Israel back to God.

I find this far more plausible. And far more encouraging. And in keeping with the Gospel records with who and what Jesus was.

The main argument against Jesus making a mistake and having to correct himself is that he was God and therefore infallible. Yet the witness of our Scriptures is that though the people who knew him described him as God and worshipped him, they could also only talk about him as a man. And the teaching of the early Church was that in Jesus Christ we see someone who is fully God and fully human – someone who was, as the writer to the Hebrews says, exactly as we are, yet without sin.

And it is not for us as human beings to know everything! In fact, if we knew everything we would no longer be human but something else, some kind of super-human, or ultra-human, or something alien and beyond human.

This is not what the Bible says. Jesus was as we are. Those who shared his life saw him hunger and thirst, they saw him get tired, angry, confused about his mission and ministry, they saw him weep at the death of a friend. There is no picture of a serene Jesus wandering about Galilee with a sort of divine filofax the spelled out in advance what he would be doing each day (the seven visions before breakfast approach) and exactly how his mission was to develop. Our Biblical witness is of a Jesus who struggled, who felt pain, who was saddened. Who did everything we did, except sin.

And that perhaps is the crux of the issue, for many people confuse Jesus making a mistake with Jesus sinning. And my conviction is that Jesus didn’t sin, I believe wholeheartedly the Biblical witness, yet this story is given to us to show that he did make a mistake. Perhaps the sin would have been if he had continued to turn the woman away, if he didn’t listen to her response and refused to heal her daughter because of her status and her race. Yet Jesus heard, and his response is a telling on – ‘you have answered well’ – or to put it more colloquially, perhaps ‘good answer..’ The translation of the Bible known as the message, putting Scripture into contemporary language says this for Mark 7 29 & 30
Jesus was impressed. "You're right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone.
Jesus sees a new aspect to his mission, to reach out to all people for God’s sake, and from this point in our Gospel he states his commitment to the world and not just the Jewish people.

I believe this is why the author of Mark’s Gospel follows this story with another encounter with Jesus where someone’s who has been deaf and unable to speak since birth has their ears and mouth opened ‘Ephphatha’ says Jesus – meaning ‘be opened’ – perhaps a reflection of his own experience in that previous encounter, as he found himself opened to the power of God’s work in the world.

So what can we learn from this today? Why go into so much detail with what is, in actual fact, quite a short story in our Gospels?

This story gives us a glimpse of what it is possible for us to be! If Jesus is always beyond us, never making mistakes, never having to change his mind – then we lose the fact that we are called to be like him and we constantly say to ourselves that is beyond our reach to be like Jesus. Again, this is not the message of the Bible, we are called to be transformed into those who are Christlike by the power of God’s holy Spirit. That is our calling as followers of Christ, and this story reminds us that it is possible and that we can make mistakes and seek to be those who are sinless.

This wonderful passage also reminds us to be open to the unexpected, and willing to change our minds, just as Jesus was and did. That sin comes from stubbornness and the unwillingness to see where God may be at work.

Lastly we are shown that in God’s scheme of things there are no outcasts, even those who society rejects, who have no apparent value are those who can receive God’s amazing, unmerited, overwhelming gift of love and life.

May we be those willing to learn, willing to accept our mistakes, and longing to be like Christ. Ephphatha – be opened.

Making peace with your thighs

Hmm, wonder if the title of this will confuse some search engine fanatics...

Went into a Christian bookshop this morning and was greeted with a book that stood out as soon as i entered the shop with the title (you may have guessed due to the subtle hint in the title of the post) 'making peace with your thighs'. It certainly got my attention!

I've not read it, so this is not a comment or reflection on the substance of the book, but i was impressed by the blurb of a book from the mainstream evangelical world which said that we (in the west) needed to get a grip with our self-image obsessions and get on with being who we are! Considering that i have also seen a book called 'fat is a spiritual issue' which seemed to claim that those of us who are large are so because we are not faithful enough it seemed like a good thing! In a culture that is nuts about looking 'good' there are a huge majority of people (including me) who don't fit in, and the idea of a christian 'sub-culture' that re-inforces such negativity does make me angry.

Having said that, I have a whole wealth of self-image issues which i have no intention of expressing on this blog :-) !

Got to get ready for Church tomorrow...

And one more


Benedict says...














PS This is the last one, i promise

And another one


Church sign generator

An amusing diversion


Found this site that generates various useful (actually useless) signs, posters and seals (amongst other things) so i have put together a seal for my site and here it is...

Friday, September 08, 2006

wish i'd thought of it first

Have been going over and over the idea of a book for ages now - writing, not reading one, i do plenty of that! On trawling the net i see the title i was thinking of has been taken 'radical orthodoxy' and it exists as a sort of movement which claims not to be a movement already. In some ways i am really pleased, because it combines my own love of patristics and Christian basics with a desire to re-state such Christian foundations for the contemporary world (which is, arguably the role of the Church through history) but in other ways i feel that i rather missed the boat not writing this in 2003 when i first thought of it!

Having said this, apparently a collection of essays which kick-started this non-movement called (inventively enough 'radical orthodoxy') came out in 1999, which means my talks at Greenbelt in 2000 & 2001 were on the cutting edge back then! It also means the actual process of putting this onto paper (or rather, commiting it to disc) started well after the movement (or not) was on the go.

Still want to try and write an accessible book of theological reflection that says something about what many people in the Church actually believe - weaving in the historical creedal statements of the Church and some engagement with contemporary cultural reflection - something which offers, if you like, something for the post post-Evangelicals can move on with. A lofty aim, and probably beyond me, which is why i have been putting it off so long, but one which I still feel some compulsion about.

Do feel free to tell me to get on with it. I've friends who have been trying to do that for, oh, about three years now....

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What does it mean to be a leader?

After a very helpful evening with a deeply committed (to the Church, or more accurately to the Gospel) couple this evening I am left with a questions that has dogged me for about 8 of the 10 years i have been in the ordained ministry - what is a leader? My 'style' (if you can call it that) has always been one of 'going with the flow', of supporting those who are doing things, in many ways (though i hate to say it) of 'propping things up'.

I now feel a new phase of my ministry coming up, we are at the stage in many of our fellowships of needing a clear and unequivocal statement of vision and direction. The joy of being in a Team of Clergy is that I can work together with my 'senior partner' (The Team Rector) and my other colleagues in putting this together, but the bottom line is that I am receiving, with some frequency, the calling to 'be a leader'. People actually want me to say what we should be doing in our churches!

Now beyond the belief that we are a priesthood of all believers and that we affirm and embrace 'every member ministry' I am beginning to realise that part of my calling, part of what I believe I am meant to be and to do, is leading the people of God. By that I mean listening to what is being said to me (and to what isn't!) and creating forward movement amongst those to whom I minister. I have what I understand to be a Scriptural basis for the idea of being both 'someone under authority' (to the Church, to Scripture, to the Spirit of God - but not necessarily in that order!) and someone called to exercise authority in the name of Christ and of the Church to those who make up my congregations.

Now the rubber hits the road - I have to do it, i have to pray, to consider, to talk to my colleagues about the issues and the consequences, to grasp the vision and to encourage others to follow.

And it scares the bejiggers out of me!

It's got something to do with the perennial feeling that I am not up to the task, that I am not worthy, and something to do with the fact that I feel strongly that this is the right way to go. The difficulty being that the details need to be worked out, the direction needs some clarity, and that there is a responsibilty to this that sits uncomfortably on my shoulders. I am so glad that none of this is done by me alone, and that God gets a hand in this, hopefully, somewhere.

So if anyone disagrees about the nature of ministry, or wants to offer me some advice, or wants to pray for me - go right ahead.

So much for short posts...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Little and often

Apparently the secret to a readable blog is to post short posts (that phrase looks odd, but its staying because its my blog and i can post whatever post i want to post...) and update it with some frequency.

This is a short post, and not long after my last one (have been back to school for assembly since last post and am back in a mo to do the reverse of this morning in retrieving my offspring)

Is anyone really interested in this? Probably not, but it is a short post.

First experience of being a stay at home dad!

I wanted to call this post 'lifechanges' or something pretentious, but really couldn't bring myself to do that, so a slightly inaccurate, but getting vaguely something of the point i want to across heading it is then! I wouldn't want anyone to think I've never had the children to look after for the day, but our new pattern of life is slightly different 'and it got me to thinking' as a witty and catchy friend of mine used to say.

My daughter started school this week (soooo sweet in her school uniform) and Jo and I are learning to juggle our work/home/school commitments in a whole new way. On three days of the week I have to go to the school (about 10 mins walk) with the two kids, drop Katherine at school and take Jack on to the childminders (another 10 minute walk), then about 10 minutes back (a triangular rather than a circular route).

This may not seem like much but it changes the whole shape of the day and means that i can't be at morning meetings until 9.30 - and as most of them start at 9.15 it means that my reputation for tardiness is not going to improve. Also I'm walking at the start of each day - lovely in the present late summer sunshine, but when the weather gets autumnal and worse....

Anyway, all of this is to say that I don't know how stay at home mums (it is a majority of women who undertake these duties around here) cope with this every day, i did it for the first day today and i am shattered! Kudos to the stay at home parents.

House of Tea and Biscuits: Breaking News

House of Tea and Biscuits: Breaking News

There's something almost sublime about this response to the situation in the world at the moment...

'Ahh you'll have tea' - 'no thank you Mrs Doyle...'

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How about a podcast?

Following on from thoughts a couple of posts ago I was talking over the issues of applying management models to Church - or rather to 'churches' (as I'm pretty sure that it would be impossible to apply any one model to the Church as a whole) - with a friend of mine who is 'teaching deacon' at a local baptist church - we warbled on so much that we actually came out with an idea, or rather he did. We thought we might go for a podcast based on thoughts about running the church.

Watch this space...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sunday reflections

Yes I know its Monday, but having not posted a sermon in a few weeks I thought I would put up my sermons for the last two Sundays - quite a chunk to get through if you are inclined to read them, not necessarily my best but reflecting something of where i am coming from at the moment. So here they are...

Sunday 27th August
Year B Proper 16 (2006) RCL Principal

1 Kings 8. [1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6.10-20
John 6.56-69

Tough Christianity
I’m not usually a reader of the Times, but some time ago there was an article sent to ministers in the Diocese of Ely which was written by Matthew Parrish in which he rejects all things Christian, and then goes on to lament the fact that the Church doesn’t stand for anything any more.

Parrish particularly drew attention to the matter of the consecration of homosexual bishops – and as a gay man himself he said that he rejected religious faith because it could only be founded upon revelation and that in the Bible the revelation was quite clear, God hates homosexuals.

In some ways we could say he is quite right – that is how it is possible to read the Bible – by taking two verses out of the levitical law of Judaism and two verses from St Paul’s writings which state clearly and unequivocally that God is very much against homosexuality. Others would argue that to do that without considering the context or implications, the whys and the wherefores of what was being written is to do an injustice to the nature of both the Bible and the way that the Holy Spirit works now and in the world through the ages.

Many of us who are Christian leaders are accused of selling the Church short by not taking a stand on various issues. The Church is often accused of being weak or wishy-washy because we are not telling people exactly what they should do and how they should live. We are told that in order to pack the Churches we should be proclaiming this that and the other and people would flock to our strong lead.

I disagree. Or at least I don’t fully agree with this!

I am convinced that there is a confusion at large about what Christianity is. The Christian faith is not just a list of moral do’s and don’ts. It does not consist of rules and regulations which once adhered to somehow add up to an eternal truth…

There is much more to it than that. Christian Faith is much, much more demanding.

We are not given rules, we are given standards. We are not given straightforward answers, we are given more questions. We are not given a solid mass of truth to unravel, or a system, or a theology in which everything fits together – we are given a relationship with our God in Christ which is dynamic and challenging and growing and moving – as all relationships should be… Christianity is about faith.

Let’s look at today’s readings and what they might have to add to this idea.

In our Epistle for this morning from the letter to Ephesians we are given principals from the writer as to how we should behave. Within the letter there is a mixture of direct advice (don’t get drunk) and more general ideas – be careful how you live, be filled with the Spirit. Today’s passage is a perfect example of something that is filled with content, but says nothing specific – we are told to be strong in the Spirit, to stand against evil, to wear the armour of God (which is a sermon in itself, but not for today). However, the author majors on the principals rather than the specifics. We are called, as we metaphorically strap on the armour of God, to be righteous, to fasten the belt of truth, to shield ourselves with faith, to be ready to proclaim a Gospel of peace, to wear salvation like a helmet and to trust in the Word of God as like a sword, slicing through deceit, but there are no specifics as to what this means – it is through accepting the work of God in us and finding out through faith exactly what that means. And throughout the letters we ascribe to St Paul there are lots and lots of principals and lots of advice, and some seemingly quite strict rules.

(I say ascribe to St Paul because most Biblical scholars are certain that Ephesians is probably not the work of Paul the Pharisee, but of a disciple or admirer of Paul. There are lots of reasons for this opinion, but not enough time to go into them now – I did a talk on St Paul recently as part of our Lenten series and I’m very happy to run off copies of my notes if you want. I am not trying to short-change you, but I just want to mention this in order to give a fuller picture of the way that Scripture is and has been put together. )

Anyway. There are lots of letters in the New Testament which offer some quite specific advice – but we must remember that these are speaking to certain people in certain times. We cannot separate the content from the context, and to do so is to do an injustice to the author and to the work of the Spirit in our scriptures. On the whole, though, much of what we take for today comes from the principles of faith given through Scripture, as we apply the truth of Scripture and the life of the Spirit within us to the world around us today.

This is what I mean about faith being more demanding than simply setting up moral regulations from a simple interpretation of Scripture. Unless we study the Greek then we don’t necessarily know exactly what the author’s have said, unless we know about first century Hebrew, Roman and Greek culture then we don’t have a complete picture of where the writer is coming from and what their influences are. I am not claiming to have any of these skills in abundance, but I am aware of how anything I take from Scripture is influenced by my experience and understanding of the world, and (God willing) by the Holy Spirit bringing the truth our from within the pages of the Bible.

Please don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that there are no moral and ethical standards in the Bible and that we are free to do as we please. St Paul himself had to correct that impression in a number of his letters – especially in his writings to the Corinthians when he needs to say ‘shall we sin more that grace may abound – certainly not!’.

In fact the standards of Christian faith are high – we are called to be unimpeachable in our love for one another, in our commitment to our faith and to one another, in being faithful in our intimate relationships, in being loving, in service, in feeding the hungry and fighting for justice, we are called to forgive, to pray without ceasing, to be worthy of the calling we have in Christ. The difficulty for us is working out how we live to such high standards in a world which seems to be constantly changing, and to discern what God’s standards are rather than being a simplistic human morality.

It’s not easy, and it will take the whole of my life to do, and beyond I’m sure – but I trust in a God who reveals himself to me through intellect, through worship, through Scripture, through the Spirit, through other Christians and through His Grace in unexpected places. It is demanding, and it should be demanding, just as Scripture makes demands of us, and doesn’t always say what we would like it to say, and should challenge us in our Christian lives day by day because of this.

Which brings me to our Gospel reading for the day. This verse which continues from the living bread theme which we have been covering in the past couple of weeks I find disturbing and challenging. In using such graphic language Jesus is seeking to put across the importance of our intimate relationship with him – as summed up in the service of Holy Communion.

In talking about sharing his broken body and drinking his blood Jesus is using quite horrific language to stress the difference in our relationship to him over and above our relationship with any other. We are to be a part of him and he is to be a part of us. He will sustain us as our everyday food sustains us, he must become everything to us.

This is the highest demand of our Christian faith, and it is an uncompromising demand. Christ must become everything to us – and all of our standards, all our lifestyle must spring from this.

This is why being a Christian is not just about rules and regulations, but about a relationship – a relationship with a God who meets us in Christ and who calls us to be one body with Christ as the head. To be those who learn to depend on him completely and who, because of this, will be made more like Christ.

May God give us all the grace to be worthy of this calling and fill us with his Spirit that we may know this truth and live in this love. Amen.

Sunday 3rd September
Year B Proper 17 (2006)
Demanding Faith
I may have told you this one before, it was a favourite story of the Bishop of Kensington who ordained me priest, but it is worth saying again.

David was a little boy who was bright, easygoing and did well at school – except for maths, and no matter how hard his parents tried or how much his school sought to help him he couldn’t get the hang of maths. So his parents, after much soul searching, took David out of his primary school and put him into a Catholic school with a reputation for maths teaching. This did entail a lot of soul searching because the family were Jewish.

David continued to do well in every subject, and settled in quickly to his new school and suddenly even his mathematics improves. He goes from failing to being one of the top in the class at maths. It is a mystery to his parents until they take David to parent’s evening and ask the teacher what the secret is. ‘I have no idea’ says the teacher ‘why don’t we ask David’. David looks up and says ‘well, when I came to this school and I looked at the wall and I saw a man nailed to a plus sign I knew they took maths very seriously here.’

Well, even if I have told you before I think it’s worth telling again – if only to make us think of two things, firstly that there is a huge dearth of understanding generally when it comes to Christian faith and secondly that perhaps we don’t think about how serious our Christian faith really is. Not with regards to maths, obviously, but with regards to our own Christian living.

Of course, misunderstanding the meaning of faith isn’t a new phenomenon. Even in the time of our Gospel reading for this Sunday the Pharisees and scribes who gathered around Jesus are shown to be more concerned with ritual observance than true faith. Jesus speaks strongly, and angrily, against those whose faith is an ‘external event’ – worried about rites and proper observances, about how faith looks, rather than the state of their own hearts and their own relationship with God. Quoting Isaiah the prophet Jesus rails against the religious authorities saying ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ Jesus tells them they ‘abandon the commandments of God and hold to human tradition’. Harsh words indeed.

In our Epistle for today we hear the same kind of concern expressed by James, the brother of Jesus, who we believe was the author of this document. James says in Chapter 1 verse 22 ‘be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves’.

We are called to take our faith very seriously indeed. James goes on to say ‘If any think they are religious and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless’. For the brother of Jesus ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the father is this; to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’

Christian faith must make a difference. Following Jesus is not about our choice of Church or denominational allegiance, it is not concerned with our outward appearance, but with the deepest part of us. What Jesus and James are concerned with is a faith that is real, that starts from the heart, from a relationship with God the Father and with Jesus the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit, and radiates outward. Without that relationship then we are not pure from the inside out, and we too can be those capable of those sins which Jesus tells the crowd come from the darkness of the heart – fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

It’s not a terribly encouraging list, and for those who like to think of Christian faith as a woolly and undemanding endeavour it is a stark reminder of the demands that a living relationship with Jesus Christ makes upon us. Just last week we were reminded of the struggle it can be to fight evil as St Paul talked of the ‘Armour of God’, Jesus and James go even further saying that the struggle begins within – something that St Paul acknowledges elsewhere in his writings as well.
Now please don’t think that Jesus was just talking to the Pharisees. It’s easy to vilify them as a bunch of hypocrites, but on the whole our record of pharisaic writings is that they were very much like Jesus himself when it came to talking of the need to live lives worthy of God’s reign. Jesus probably reserves his harshest criticism for them because they are so close to his own way of seeing the world and need to take their understanding a step further and get to grips with the reality of faith, not just acting out a religious belief but knowing the God behind what they do.

And that perhaps is what we can take away from this, Jesus doesn’t condemn all tradition or ritual or religious observance. He is angry, though, when human ways of doing thing take the place of God. Jesus is scathing, though, when religiousity (for want of a better word) is a substitute for true faith in God. When we become more concerned with the outward appearances of our faith than the truth of our relationship with God. I find myself attached with some affection to the traditions and rites of our own Anglican Church but realise that all the observance in the world, all the prayers and readings and services I can fit into my life, are not a substitute for that relationship I am called to have with Jesus Christ.

In many ways this carries on the theme from last week’s readings, when Jesus reminded us that our lives needed to be bound up with his, that we must be sustained by Jesus in the same way that we are sustained by the food that we eat, for he is the living bread.

And again we gather here to share in communion, again we offer ourselves into God’s hands, and ask for his help, for his grace, for his strength. And we offer ourselves, our souls and bodies to be ‘a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee’. That sacrifice means letting go of bitterness and anger and envy and all of those things which defile and replacing them with a heart that seeks purity and to do, as I will say in our post communion prayer for this service. ‘all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in’.

These works in themselves do not bring us salvation, they do not assure us of a place in heaven, they are meant to be the result of a change of heart, the result of the Holy Spirit working in us, the result of lives turned around by God in his grace.

Our faith is not one where works are the means of earning God’s love and grace, but one where God’s love and grace are meant to overflow from us, and such good works are signs that we cannot contain the life of God within us- as Jesus says when he talks of himself as living water ‘whoever believes in me, as Scripture says, will have streams of living water flowing from him.’

And so we are called to take our faith seriously, to understand that it makes demands on us – and to respond to the offering of Grace that makes it possible for us to live lives that our changed, lives that go on to make a difference in other lives, lives that overflow with grace and goodness.

May we be those who are doers of the word and not just hearers. Amen.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Church and Management

After a variety of conversations in the past week, culminating with a very good chat with a friend earlier today, I find myself thinking about how we as a Church should take on 'good management practice' - and from that thinking about what is 'good management practice' and just how much can be applied to Church.

There is various talk about 360 degree review, performance reviews, accountability, strategy, communication of ideass & activities. Lots of talk about how we can do what we do better, and what new things we should be embarking upon. Its quite exciting and dynamic talk, and likely to translate into some quite exciting and dynamic action - but I still maintain a certain wariness about what it means to apply business models to the life of a Church/Parish/Team/Clergyperson.

I, as previously stated on these pages, have no problem at all about accountability - in fact i think it is something that the Church needs to address on the whole - but i do have problems with systems that cannot take account of what it means to be in ministry and to have the particular tasks that ministers have. I can give a summary of my week that says I roughly spend 10-15 hours in preparation and execution of worship duties, 5 hours weekly on phone calls, 10-15 hours on visiting, 4 hours on admin, 10-15 hours on meetings, 2 hours on schools ministry and amongst that fit in a few diocesan commitments and some reading and some prayers but being asked to justify all of that might be a more difficult proposition - of what value is it (at least in 'Churchy' terms) when i spend an hour with someone who will probably never darken the doors of a Church but who was probably glad of the company? In fact the set meetings which every seems to think are important seem to me much less crucial for my sharing of ministry and my calling to the mission of the Church!

Hmmm

Bit of a rant there, or rather a 'typing without planning' moment - again, am challenged by the need to communicate something of what i do, but wary of the 'justification by ministry' approach - concerned with numbers and timings and admin and business.

Am about to embark on more careful thought in this department, have had recommended to me 'The Purpose Driven Church' - as much to decide what I do agree on as not! Also interested in the ongoing 'Emergent Conversation' that offers plenty of ways to re-think this issue of institution, ministry, Church etc etc. Will also revisit some of the material I read when originally looking at 'Mission and Management' way back in my MA days. This may not be the last i write on this, and hopefully next time there will be some more solid Theological reflection.

Time to get on with Vicar stuff now, i think, preparing for worship tomorrow.