Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tarting it up

Spent today at Ely Cathedral - about once a month I get the chance to go and be a ‘Day Chaplain’, which means saying prayers on the hour over the Cathedral PA and being available to anyone who might want to chat, about pretty much anything. It was raining and grey, so I didn’t manage to get any outside pictures, but I did get some of the inside of the Cathedral - they were only taken on my pda, so no great works of Art, I’m afraid…The Space at the Cathedral is awesome, and for a thousand year old building is light and airy. The stonework is incredible and the attention to detail in the stone carving is amazing. It is a Cathedral that needs lots of superlatives!

This is the Nave, and at the far end is the great West Door, you get something of the height of the main part of the building in my fuzzy photo…

This is the view the other way from where the last photo was taken, with light coming down from the Octagon/lantern tower above. Behind the screen in the middle of the picture are the Choir Stalls and then further up the ‘high Altar’ where most services used to be focussed (or not, because no one could see them). The Altar Table is usually in the empty space in the Octagon area but has been cleared to make way for some concerts taking place in the Cathedral over the next few days. It is an impressive building, but the reason for the post title is because as I listened in to one of the tours I was reminded (I knew it before, but had forgotten) that in Medieaval Times the Cathedral was painted in bright colours over the stonework. I took a photo of some of the leftovers of those paintings…

On the right hand side (where the yellow light is) you can see the remains of a ‘domesday’ style painting within the chapel. The colours were bright, even garish, and it wasn’t uncommon to cover the interior of a church in these kind of paintings. Looking at the Cathedral now most people would be overwhelmed by the beauty of the simplicity of the stonework - and there are still plenty of places where there’s fancy carving to keep the eye occupied if that’s your style…

And it struck me that we’re very good in the Church at adorning things unneccessarily! We may not do it with our buildings in the same way as we once did, but we often do it with our services, our words, our dogma and theology. None of these are bad things, unless we cover up what is already beautiful and splendid and has meaning and depth and wonder.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Biting the bullet

I'm trying out the opposition! yes, my WordPress experiment is up and running! Try it here and tell me what you think!

Good advice?

Both Quilly and Eric have offered me the same advice regarding my blogger layout issues - move to WordPress....

Now I have a bit of a quandry. I like both of their blogs, obviously because of the content but also because of the layout and the feel of their blogs, likewise Sank has started a wordpress blog and left Blogger behind, and again along with his great content has an improved feel to it.

But I find change hard! Well, I do in things like this. I've had the same email address for ten years and have stuck with it despite changing providers, i still have my address for a webpage I took down three years ago (I never managed to get around to updating the page) and pay the fees to keep the domain name 'just in case'. The idea of changing my blog address is the bit that puts me off - partly because I have a bunch of free address cards and even a couple of freebie t-shirts (thanks to Vistaprint for that) with the old address of Hmmm, what should I do?

I wonder whether I should use the domain for a general webpage with a blog on it? That might involve a steep learning curve which at present I'm not sure I have the mental capacity to embrace! I think I can set up some kind of forward from there to here without changing the blog address, I think!

Should I go to wordpress and just put a forwarding link here? I have to say that if I go to an out of date blog page, unless I am determined to read the blogger's content I tend not to bother moving on.

Should I stick here, send an email off to Blogger support and see if there is a work around? I've never actually had a response to my emails to blogger when I've contacted them before, and perhaps it will make no difference and will involve even more work!

Its ironic, in some ways, that change and movement are so much a part of my everyday life and my approach to church - that change is often a good thing in our fellowships! Yet at the same time in the most dynamic and fast moving sphere, ie the internet, I am more stuck in my ways.

This will be reverberating around my head for some time to come, if anyone wants to try and influence this decision by explaining why moving or staying are the best options or offer creative alternatives then I promise I will be receptive to ideas, though I may end up overwhelmed by intertia :-)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Trying to understand and to learn

One of the blogs that I am pleased to have discovered and like to visit and which I enjoy is written by a thoughtful and devoted Muslim. It is, I believe, crucial to the world we live in that we seek to understand those of different faiths to our own and Saifuddin offers wisdom and clarity about Islam that can help me both respect and take seriously the concerns of our Muslim brothers and sisters - and to grow in understanding my own Christian Faith. I sincerely believe that seeking to know more of those beliefs which may not be ours does not affect our own integrity, but can open the way to honest and truthful dialogue.

I mention this because of today's post which explains clearly the meaning of Islam and talks of the prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) in an enlightening and helpful way. It can be found here.

Blogger quirks

There's a whole load of stuff that Blogger won't let me do, which I have just worked around since I started using it in beta form, but which is starting to become pretty annoying. For instance I cannot move any of my formatting around - so all the stuff on the right hand of the page is stuck where it is, which means the amazon carousel which should be further down the page and the facebook link which should likewise have moved down is firmly fixed in place and nothing I do in the customize page can shift it!

Also, if there is any html in any of my posts then once posted i cannot edit them, not even in the 'edit html' pane. I discovered this some time ago, so have left various bloopers in over the last few months, but was reminded of this frustration when I tried to edit the post about movies below and to move the boxes (for Gareth Higgins book and Die Hard 4) to separate lines so they don't mess up the spacing. Just a blank pane, nothing doing...

Anyone got any advice? Any experience of this?

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Three positive comments on the sermon below when I preached it again this evening....

Did someone cause some kind of tilt on the world's axis whilst I was asleep last night?

Another sermon, perhaps I'm making up for lost blogging!?!

Last Sunday of the Easter Season...

Time for another sermon, this one is a rewrite of a previously preached sermon (something I rarely do, but i wanted to ground the opening in my own experience!). In its preached form is contained a fair amount of ad lib around the script - particularly around the fact that Jesus was so difficult to pin down when people asked questions he tended to respond with another question, or a parable, or a challenge.

Anyway, here's the introduction, with more at New Kid Deep Stuff (click on [more])

Oh, and one of the hearers said that they liked this, worth noting because that's something like a 100% improval rate in terms of how many usually comment on sermons after the service...

That might not be strictly true, but I sometimes wonder if people listen to sermons in the same way that I do - not very well :-)

Easter 6 (2008) Year A RCL Euch

Acts 17.22-31
John 14.15-21

Keep my commandments

One of my favourite cities is York, we have great friends there and Jo (my wife) even lived there for a while. So whenever I have the opportunity we go back there, and usually visit the place where Jo worked - a place called the Spurriergate centre – a church that has been converted into a coffee and bookshop, with various fair trade items on sale as well. It’s a Christian Centre which does meals and coffee as well as having the shop and offers befriending, prayer and counselling opportunities for those who drop in.

The last time I visited I noticed, for the first time, as I sat there drinking my fairly traded coffee that painted up on the wall by the entrance were the ten commandments – this piqued my interest so I looked at the details there on the wall next to the commandments, where a small card offered some explanation as to the meaning and purpose of those parts of the church that had been left in situ in this cafĂ©. I discovered on reading about the building that at some time (I’m not good on dates) it was a requirement for all Churches to have the ten commandments painted on the wall – usually behind the Altar – for all to see. These commandments had been kept as an original feature of the building and I wondered what the shoppers and visitors must have thought to have these ten commandments looming over them as they munched their way through their baked potatoes, carrot cake or whatever. [more]

Six down, none to go

Just finished my final Annual Meeting and am feeling relieved and happy - all of them have been mainly positive, and only one had me feeling a little as though some members of the church were looking more backward than forward.

I've said it before, I'll say it now, and I will doubtless say it again - we've got some very good people in our churches, people who give so much of themselves to make our communities (both the church fellowships and the wider communities) places of care, compassion, warmth, hospitality and grace.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Belated, but here at last

Thinking about this week's sermon, I looked back over last week's (so I don't repeat myself too much!) and as I've not posted a sermon for a few weeks here it is....

Matthew 7.7-12
John 14.8-14

Meeting God

Where do you find God?

Where in the last week, or month, have you found God? Or felt God to be with you in a special way? Or seen the hand of God at work?

Perhaps you want to share something? Lets encourage one another with our experiences?

I honestly don’t think we talk enough about where God, and indeed where we have felt God isn’t in our lives. We are encouraged in Scripture to build one another up, Ephesians 4 verse 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen [more]

Movie watching with a point

Or without a point, as in last night.

I stayed up late to watch Die Hard 4 last night. I really enjoyed it, but it made me ask some questions as to why many people 'buy into' the idea that violence can offer some form of redemption or hope. But maybe more of that later...

I have to say that my movie preferences are often the butt of my friend's humour - as I like lots of stuff that people consider rubbish mainly because I like the premise of it. I love big concepts, and good landscapes and cinematography - as well as outlandish stories, so sci-fi movies tend to be favourites of mine. I also love films which have things i like in them, so movies with motorbikes ( Torque [2004],)Biker Boyz [2003] tend to get my attention whilst leaving friends cold. Even if they are terrible, i think that some movies are so bad they're good!

I used to struggle with whether there was stuff that I should and shouldn't watch, and whether as someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus there was stuff that was out of bounds...

Well, there's plenty of stuff that is obviously not good to watch, anything in which people are degraded for a start, pornography, slasher flicks (mainly because I don't like them), but I think that movies can challenge and disturb, even as they entertain, and not be a bad thing in themselves. For instance, having watched stuff like 'The Omen' when I was younger, I realised that it was just not my thing - but its interesting and perhaps helpful to see how people's understandings are formed by such movies, the exorcist is similar. Likewise, though I don't really like American Pie, or movies within the 'coming of age, desperate for sex' genre, it both reflects and informs the opinions of many, so it's worth having some grasp of what it says.

Some movies I love because they involve very little thought and I can just be swept away by the action or the artifice of it all. Some are worth watching because they are so dreadful, some inspire, some amuse, some are good, some not so much. But I devour movies in the same way I devour books, and it keeps me informed, makes me think, and often makes me wonder at just how people view the world.

To a certain extent I've come to the point where, along with St Paul, I would say 'all is lawful, but not all is helpful'. There aren't hard and fast rules to tell us what we should and shouldn't watch, or read, or listen to, or look at as Christians - if only there were, things would be much easier - but there is a balance to be struck between that which might indeed challenge and disturb and that which is just not good for us.

At the Greenbelt Arts Festival a few years ago I interviewed a writer/academic/good bloke called Gareth Higgins (he's back in the talks lineup this year) and we talked about this issue, he said that there are styles of movies that he doesn't enjoy or appreciate, there are ideas and concepts which movie makers put across that need challenging, but that it is often simply a product of narrow-mindedness for a Christian to say 'don't watch this' or 'avoid that'. His book 'How Movies Helped Save My Soul' is excellent and considers lots of these issues in a very helpful, informative and often entertaining way. He knows his stuff! There's some information about Gareth on the Between the Lines website. Gareth also has his own blog, here. Very well worth a cyber-visit. Or an ether trip, or whatever.

There are many movies that really do get the thought processes going, and as I've been thinking about how to get people thinking and talking about faith and life I'm going to embark on a new venture - Faith and Film. Using a nearby coffee shop I'm going to invite people to come and watch a movie, drink coffee, and talk about it. I like this idea, and I'm off now to talk about it with the coffee shop manager. I will let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Church - business or pleasure?

There's some interesting (and sometimes frustrating) discussions going on at the moment in our Team. We are a group of thirteen parishes which some months back lost our 'Team Rector' due to his having to resign through illness. So we are in the process of seeking to make an appointment to what is, officially, the senior position in the Team. As the longest serving member of this Team (I've been here eight years) a number of folk have asked me if I wanted to apply for the position, but I have no inclination to do so, nor do I feel called to. Our Team functions very much as a team of equals, but the Rector has responsibilities and concerns on a wider scale - and I feel very much as though I must focus on my service to these six parishes which I have pastoral responsibility for rather than the wider picture. Besides, I know that I am not the person this team needs at the moment, that we are in a situation which requires different gifts to mine. That's not to put myself down, I know that should the need arise I could do the job, but I am sure that its not for me at this time. At this time my involvement in lay training in the diocese, in developing the worship and outreach throughout the area, my pastoral calling to the particular parishes I am in at present and my theological reflection and writing are the parts of my vocation which I am called to work on.

It is interesting that since writing about re-vision-ing (pretty sure that's a made up word, or at least the way I've used it is unusual) that the process of considering our calling and mission has come up again and again in meetings with colleagues, parishioners, church members and friends. It seems that our parishes are at the point of considering again the why's, what's, who's, when's and whyfore's of 'being church'. It does seem like God is bringing a number of issues, ideas, hopes and concerns together for many of the fellowships in this Team, and in the wider church, as we consider again our calling to live and proclaim the Gospel where we are, in a way appropriate both to ourselves and the world around us.

But, on to the reason for the title of this post. As part of the process of appointing a Team Rector we have to go through a certain process, job descriptions, parish profiles, advertising, shortlisting, interviewing etc etc. This is no great shock to anyone who has ever applied for a job or needed to fill a vacancy - though many people are surprised that this is what happens in the Church, as if the giant shining hand of God should appear out of the sky and point saying 'It's you' to a preferred candidate (oh, sorry, that's the advertising campaign for the national Lottery, or 'the Lotto' as it is now known).

But it does raise the question of how 'business-like' the Church should be. It is easy to ape the commercial/industrial way of doing things and settle for 'managementspeak' rather than considering the spirituality of vocation and calling. It is also easy to fall into a kind of woolly 'God will sort it out' frame of mind, and never actually sharpen up our sense of focus, our goals and aims and the practical considerations of running a church. It does seem that we have to learn a balance between pragmatism and faith, between professionalism and pastoralia.

It's an issue for those of us in ministry. I have to admit to being turned off by the idea of 'professionalising ministry' - but I believe strongly in the need to have structures which mediate accountability and affirmation within ministry. We who serve the church as bishops, priests and deacons need to recognise that we have been trained, called and appointed to fulfil roles of responsiblity within the church, we must continue to be trained, supported, encouraged, and called to account for our roles within the Church.

Likewise, issues of best practice, of understanding and implementing policy, of using the structures of the church to encourage the participation and support of all church members and safeguarding congregations, and especially vulnerable members of the church fellowship, from abuses of the authority and power which exists within the church are important.

Yet alongside this we need to keep in mind our shared calling to mission, to care, to prayer, to being open to the touch of the Holy Spirit and seeking the will of God. We should recognise that despite its failings 'the church' is a gift from God, that at its best it is the body of Christ, and exists for the building up of its members, and to show the love of Christ to the world. We need to remember that alongside any understanding of the church as an institution we are God's people, loved, called, blessed and cherished by God, and that we must love and cherish one another - admonishing, edifying and sharing the life which is offered 'in the power of the spirit and in union with Christ' from a loving father God who cares for each one of us as his children. We are a family, not a club.

So we must balance 'business and pleasure' in the church, using the structures and strictures of the institution in order to facilitate the building up of the kingdom of God.

I hope that in the coming weeks as our own appointment process continues we will bear this in mind and seek God's wisdom and God's will even as we consider the practical and pragmatic arrangements of the process.

Monday, April 21, 2008

So much to say...yet

Over this past week my mind has been buzzing with issues, ideas, thoughts, concerns, hopes and dreams, yet I don't seem to have been able to get them into coherent enough form to actually write them down in any comprehensible way. I am taking some time over the next couple of hours to tidy up my study and finish some of the filing and sorting I have been doing over the past week or two, so I may well find that some ideas come to mind which I blog on in this time!

Last week was a busy week, and its the time of year when my personal energy levels ebb somewhat, in other words its 'APCM' time. An APCM is an Annual Parochial Church Meeting, the opportunity to share reports about all the different aspects of Church life and activity in the previous year, the presentation of Church accounts and the election of Church representatives for bodies such as the Team Council and Deanery Synod, as well as those who will serve the Church as Churchwardens and PCC (Parochial Church Council) members for the coming year. Now, in itself an APCM may not be the most dynamic of meetings, and there is a fair amount of 'statutory' business we have to deal with, but on the whole most APCMs are relatively encouraging and informative.

But I have six of them

It takes a lot of energy to chair six Annual meetings, with very different concerns, and a whole host of hidden and not-so-hidden agendas amongst those who attend. (These meetings are open to any member of the Church, and anyone who is on the Church roll can vote in them). Though predominantly a 'reports' meeting, some folk use them as a chance to have a moan about the fact that we don't do things one way, or that we do do things another way. This is fair enough, perhaps we don't give enough chance to people to air their grievances (and encouragements) in public meetings - but we do have a broadly democratic system in operation where PCCs are made up of elected representatives to discuss issues important to the Church. People should, on the whole, make more use of these representatives if they have issues they want decisions made on. Anyway, these APCMs can go on a bit if they turn into a 'talking shop' meeting.

So I am four meetings into the schedule for this year, with two more to go in the coming seven days. It means that among all the other business my mind is quite often elsewhere as I prepare my reports and look forward (ahem) to chairing them all.

So, I'm tired. Not disheartened (far from it), nor depressed, just a bit weary. I will be glad when they are all over.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back to blog talkers

I've not done a blog talkers for far too long, though I always look over the questions I've not really engaged with them, but its time to get back into the swing of things, as I seem to be getting sorted generally at the moment!

So here is blog talkers number 68.

Time for another writing prompt. Please interpret this any way you wish. Here are some questions to help you get started:

Joke. What is a joke to you? What do you find funny? Do you appreciate a good practical joke, or do you think practical jokes are cruel? What is the best joke you’ve ever played on someone. What is the best joke you’ve ever heard?

Years ago I was the editor of the AOCM magazine, an annual magazine for Ordinands which someone takes on for one year and basically takes responsibility for compiling and producing the magazine and writing an editorial. I don't think I did a great job, the editor from the year before had arranged a number of excellent articles for me and I simply put them into a magazine and got it sent out to the Theological colleges. I really don't remember what I managed to arrange for the following year when I handed it on, but I am sure I didn't do half the job that my predecessor did. Anyway, enough confessional, on to the the blog talkers subject!

I did enjoy writing the editorial for the AOCM magazine that year, which took as its basis 'Does humour belong in religion?' - a play on Frank Zappa's immortal question 'does humor belong in music?'. The answer is obviously (to my mind) 'yes' - there should also be lots of room for truth, love, hope, faith, compassion, grace, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control and much more. Jesus himself was funny, he said things to make people laugh and think at the same time again, he exaggerated for effect in order to crack open our facades and self importance and 'propriety' and make people engage with the depth and breadth and height of the love of God, a love that is bigger than our minds and hearts could ever comprehend.

But I'm getting carried away. Yes I love jokes, I love humour, but I don't go for obscene humour (rude I can cope with, and it's not about prudishness, more that i just don't find extreme stuff very funny) nor do I go for humour which is spiteful or vicious - jokes about public figures are fine, celebs and politicians, but those which laugh at people for being different, or those who find themselves in the news through no fault of their own don't really do it for me. Likewise I loathe practical jokes, anything which makes someone look or feel bad just to make onesself feel superior or clever just seem like a weak attempt at self-satisfaction and smack of smuggery really.

Hmmm, the above paragraph does make me look like a humourless prig, but I promise I'm not like that. I love jokes which make us laugh at the craziness of the world, jokes which celebrate the absurdity of life, jokes which open our eyes, minds and hearts, jokes which celebrate life and diversity, jokes which make us laugh at ourselves, jokes which remind us of joy in our tragedies, jokes which break down pretentiousness, jokes which remind us we aren't as clever, or cool, as we think we are, jokes which are just funny.

I really love slightly odd humour, stuff which takes you in a direction you don't expect to go, my two favourite jokes are by a UK comedian called Milton Jones firstly a religious one which is very true:
'Why are churches and helicopters the same? - people avoid them as they don't want to get sucked in by the rotors!' You might need to say that out loud to get it! If you don't, then you haven't experience the joy of small rural churches....

Secondly, another Milton, 'My grandfather got ill so my grandmother greased his back with goose fat - after that he went downhill very quickly'


now i've just confirmed how sad i really am. Have a great day everyone, and remember to laugh!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Here we are again

Another week over, and the start of the new week tomorrow sees a day of worship and sharing with three different congregations. I don't like Saturdays, as it usually involves a last minute scrabble to get everything done - with between two and four services to prepare for, often with very different liturgies, different ages, different congregations, i can find myself putting together lots of alternatives in terms of talks/sermons, music and prayers. Some weeks I dread the Saturday push, when i have my act together, of course, I don't need to worry about that as I have got most bits planned and things are ready to go by this point.

Actually, things are ready to go now - I had to spend lots of time putting various things together today, but as I am going out with lovely wife to have supper with friends I had to get my act together and have my sermon and other bits and bobs including the full text of an All Age service and 50 booklets for it printed! So no need for a last minute panic now!

I must say, though, that no matter how Saturday has been, i never dread Sunday. Even if when I look at the rota everything looks as 'bog standard' as it could ever be, or I know that its one of those strange weeks when I will be rushing from place to place - I know that the worship, the people I spend the day with, the fellowship and the sharing of time, bread and wine, faith, hope and love will all be worth any effort I have put into it.

So I am off out for the evening, will try to post tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Throwing it all away

Actually, all I threw away on Sunday were my sermon notes, but i thought the title might get attention!

Sunday was a good day, a great return to work and a really enjoyable way to spend time in Church! I stayed up until stupid o'clock in the morning writing a sermon which I preached at the traditional Communion (1662) service at 8.30am. I like this service, a good way to start a Sunday, reflective and quiet using words filled with resonance and depth which say so much despite being originally written in 1549! The sermon worked there, it wasn't a bad talk at all (though I say so myself) but having got to the next Church for our 10.30am Contemporary language Communion I decided that it wasn't the right sermon for that congregation! I am always telling those on the Worship Leading course I run that context reigns supreme in our worship (well, actually God reigns supreme, but context is important) so I took notice of what I said (yes, Clergy do try and practice what we preach) and decided I needed to do something different.

So I did something I very rarely do, I tore up (metaphorically) my sermon notes and preached straight from the Biblical text, ie I did a sermon-come-Bible study which was probably longer than a usual Sunday service sermon, but i felt engaged both with the text and with the need of that particular congregation. It was helped by the fact that the text set for the third Sunday of the Easter season was the Emmaus road story (text here) where two disciples walk with a stranger who explains the meaning of the life and death of 'the Messiah' using the Hebrew Scriptures, and then is recognised as Jesus when he shares a meal with them and breaks bread. This is such a resonant and powerful passage that simply speaking about the encounter with the risen Jesus, the unseen Jesus, the stranger who is revealed to be Christ, to talk about learning to recognise Christ in others, and in the breaking of bread is enough to give plenty of material to consider and learn from. I was further assisted in this by the fact that I had heard two very good talks on the story when I went to Church last week and that many of the points made had stuck in my head (so they must have been good sermons) and the story itself had been happily bouncing around my brain for a week or so. I also realised, or re-realised, that it is good to step outside of my normal way of doing things and take a more dynamic approach sometimes! It was a very rewarding service overall - our worship leader had taken some time in putting together some very appropriate songs, and the whole service had a feeling of openness to God and to one another that at some of our service isn't quite so obvious!

And the day continued in such a way. I spent some time after lunch putting together the evening service. In the middle of the afternoon I officiated at a Baptism service in one of my other villages, unusual to have it outside of the usual service pattern (8.30am, 10.30am and 6pm are usual service times in most of our villages, with a couple of 4pms in a couple of different churches) but a pleasant way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon! It was the first time I have ever, at the request of the family, used the prayer book of 1662 for a baptism service, so it was - in a funny way, considering it is one of our oldest liturgies - quite new for me too. It turned out to be a profoundly joyful experience and many people were moved by the whole event, including me.

Then once I'd returned home I finished preparation for our 6pm 'informal' service, where I was to lead and play guitar. I'm not sure how to describe what happened in the planning of that, it was almost 'serendipitous' in that it all came together exactly as one would want it to, and there was a sense of depth to the whole thing that made the time, again, profoundly joyful. Usually by the time I get to a fourth service I can feel myself flagging a little and am concerned about whether I am really at my best. This is because that, despite the fact Clergy (and all those in worship leading ministry) are used to doing these things, we put quite a lot of ourselves into these services (as discussed here) and we do get tired. Sunday was different, there was such a sense of life and growth and joy and faith and hope and much more that though I was tired when it was all over I felt full of energy for each of these very different services. And they all felt very much 'worth the effort' put into them. I also got to hear a very good talk at the 6pm, so well worth it...

That was my Sunday, I am so glad to be here!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Been ages since...

...I did a book review

Here's one that came on my jaunt to Paris last weekend. It's a very well written, well researched book, which gives a massive (and well informed) overview of how the Jewish and Christian Scriptures came to us.

Talking about origins, construction, with historical and sociological insight, alongside a consideration of how Scripture has been viewed and used over the past twenty or more centuries, Karen Armstrong presents a beautifully crafted and accessible insight into exactly what the Bible is, where it comes from and the many different understandings of how it should be used, studied, considered and critiqued which have accompanied its development. Some of a more conservative bent might be concerned by the way she states as matter of fact that, for instance, Genesis has no concern to be a literal work, or that other compilers of scripture freely contradict, re-interpret and re-cycle each others ideas. It does present, though, a pretty dispassionate, though thought provoking argument to make us consider again exactly what the Bible is and how we use it today.

It talks in detail about what Christians call the 'Old Testament' and 'New Testament' - considering exactly how the books that make up the Jewish and Christian 'Canons' got to be where they are. There is a lot of background, but it is never dry and never boring.

A bit too much talking about kaballah for my liking, just because I found the in-depth analysis rather dense in that particular section (its only a few pages in a 225 page book), but overall an enlightening and well worth reading book. I think lots of people who think they know the Bible would benefit from finding out a bit more about where it comes from, and how different strands and traditions within the Christian Church (and the Jewish faith) have viewed the authority and usefulness of the Bible over the centuries.

A five star book (out of five) in my opinion!

Revising, refocussing, re-vision-ing (!!??)

Those of you who come here regularly, or semi-regularly (you know who you are!) will have noticed a distinctly sporadic approach to blogging has crept in over the past months. This past couple of weeks, since Easter Sunday, have been completely quiet due to my absence from the Parish on a visit to France as I considered the next stage in my ministry.

I mentioned that I had considered whether it might be the right thing for me to think of moving, and I did, and didn't get very far in the process, and feel very happy to have done it, but it has allowed me to take stock of what I am doing, have done, and hope to do and come to a point where I am quite sure I am in the right place, doing the right thing and am called to stay here for some time longer as I see through the next phase in the life of these parishes.

It's an unusually bold statement for me to say that I believe I am doing what God wants me to be doing, but that's exactly how it feels at present. I came back from some time away in Paris having visited a Church, met an exceptional minister, made some new friends and feeling very enthused about what is happening there. On my return I received an email saying that I wasn't being shortlisted for the position and after the initial disappointment of not being called to interview, felt a huge sense of relief and a renewed sense of being in the right place here and now. I am very happy for their exciting and growing ministry to be their exciting and growing ministry, I have my own exciting and growing ministry to be a part of here...

My lack of focus in the past months, on the blogging front certainly but also in part in my Parish ministry, has been because I felt the need to explore other possibilities in ministry, a post as a Theological Adviser/Parish Priest combination, a Cathedral Position and a Chaplaincy abroad were the three that stood out. This was not through feeling a desire to move on, but wondering whether my calling was leading me elsewhere for the time being. I turned one of the positions down, didn't really get a look in at another, and the third wasn't for me. All of them had very different focuses (focii?) to my present position, and all appealed for different reasons, but it seems I needed to explore them in order to feel rooted here again! I don't feel a great sense of disappointment, it was something I needed to do and enjoyed doing, but I do feel that it has honed my sense of calling to do and be what I am now.

I think in many ways our Christian journey is often like that, we need to explore, question, consider, before we realise that where and what we are is where and what God is calling us to be. It's reassuring in some ways, as soon as I let people know I wasn't going anywhere a number of current endeavours kicked up a gear and I felt very affirmed in my ministry here - particularly with the few who knew about these explorations telling me how they were very worried I might be leaving.

So now I feel I am at a place where I am rediscovering my vision for my part in this ministry, and I am excited to be here. I have a new role in the cathedral, I have new things to consider in the course I will be leading in the Autumn in training worship leaders, I have ideas to put into practice in the local Churches and a round of Annual meetings to complete, I have six villages to serve and a place that feels like home. I am happy to have got to this point, and very happy to be here. You may well be seeing more of me here in the near future...