Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gotta be done

Another thought for the week.... catching up gradually... never realised I thought so much! Go to the Midweek Herald for current thought and local news from East Devon....


Do you pray? There’s an old quip that ‘there are no Atheists in a foxhole’ and I know that faced with difficult times, with nowhere else to turn, people often to try to ‘open negotiations’ with ‘someone up there’ in the hope they might be heard. But prayer isn’t just about asking God for things, like a kind of religious shopping list, but includes praising God for who He is, thanking God for all He’s done and trying to find God’s will and guidance for our lives. That means we can pray with music, with silence, with others, alone, by reading the Bible, by going to church, by walking in the fields, by laughing, dancing, sitting, kneeling, standing. Prayer isn’t about trying to get God to do stuff for us, but about making time to be with God – find your own way to pray, and ask others how they pray!

Words of wisdom

Me: Should I join group X?
Gorgeous Wife (henceforth GW): No

Me: Should I stand for General Synod in the September elections?
GW: No

Me: Should I offer to take over as Rural Dean when current one stands down?
GW: No

Me: Should I start a new....?
GW: No

Me: How about....?
GW: No

GW: Don't do too much.

Some of the most sound words I have heard for a while, said by someone who cares...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Still thinking

Thanks for comments on last few posts, and conversations which have ensued on Twitter and Facebook! Whilst I am considering whether to write anything else on those particular themes here's another thought for the week... This one from the week before our General Election

I’m not going to tell you how to vote but I am going to ask you to vote.

Some people say “Faith and Politics shouldn’t mix”, but I would say “nonsense” to that. If faith doesn’t leak in to every part of our lives then it seems a pretty worthless faith.

Being a Christian isn’t about ‘my’ belief or what ‘I’ want, but about holding to values which reflect God’s love for every one of us – so if we follow Jesus’ call to “love God with all your heart, soul strength and mind” and “love your neighbour as yourself” then when faced with a ballot paper we should think not just about what is good for ourselves, but what is right, good and best for those most vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the isolated.

Let your faith come out in your vote, but whatever you do, vote!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

An answer to a comment

I tried to write this as a response to a really good comment on my previous 'don't make me angry' post - but it was a bit long. So here it is as a post... don't read on if you get wound up by wishy-washy liberalism of the Anglican variety, cos here it comes... And it's not terribly well worked out either, as it was an off the cuff reply to a comment... You'll soon see why it was a bit long to be a comment....

Thanks all for your comments! I really appreciate your thoughtful and thought provoking response so I'm going to address the third comment particularly. I may not do that very well and there are plenty who could respond better than me. And I do recognise that in our interpretation and understanding of Scripture I may well be far from you... and not necessarily right!

My experience of Reformed doctrine (it's the tradition I came to faith in and one I grew up in) was that it made the Gospel exclusive - only to those who grasped on a certain intellectual level and made a certain commitment to Jesus Christ and along with that came a certain way of seeing the Bible and a set of doctrines which had to be subscribed to; particularly that of original sin, inerrancy of Scripture and a literal interpretation of the Bible as it stands in the canon of 66 books. Along with this came certain understandings of a seven day creation, headship of men over women and a variety of other viewpoints that come with that particular way of viewing Scripture. There was (and is from those of my friends who remain in this tradition) a sense of 'we've got it right and everyone else has got it wrong' that pretty much discarded any of the history of the Church in the 1800 or so years between the early Church and the evangelical revival of the Victorian era. There was also a feeling that in some way this interpretation of faith was the only one to lead to salvation - and everyone else was consigned to eternal punishment. In my experience this isn't a straw man, it is a significantly narrower understanding of faith than I would subscribe to, and that the historic formularies of the Church bear witness to. I seek (and often fail to find) a balance between Scripture, reason, experience and the history and tradition of the Church - and though I see Scripture as having primacy and 'containing within it all things necessary to salvation' I don't worship the Bible nor do I think it infallible. When Paul talks in 1 Tim 3.16 of all scripture being 'God breathed' he is arguing that the early Church should not discard the Law, Prophets, Wisdom and History of the Jewish People which we now call the Old Testament. He is not claiming inerrancy for his own writings, nor even that his own words are Scripture, nor the Gospels which weren't written at that time. The reformed Churches I grew up in (and still have connections with) tied this all up together, and it went hand in hand with an attitude which I could only describe as judgemental, with Grace as a kind of 'afterthought' on God's part in response to sinfulness. So I don't write from an attitude of looking from the outside and I was part of such communities for most of my formative years, and it grieves me that neither they nor the wider (New Frontiers) community they were a part of have moved beyond such understandings.

2. Everything I have seen from Driscoll (and I have seen and heard a lot) I have found contains a sort of false humility, particularly when he addresses movements similar to his own and says 'these guys (eg McLaren, Rob Bell) are wonderful but wrong, I love them dearly and some of what they say is right (ie in accord with me) but they aren't preaching the Gospel'. I find that arrogant and offensive, and I think he's an inadequate theologian. Though he mentions his qualifications, much of the 'learning' he refers to seems only to serve in backing up what he has decided is the case before he reads it and his view of Scripture seems to be 'this bit of the Bible backs up what I believe and should challenge you to believe what I do' rather than coming out with or being challenged by anything that isn't in his narrow field of faith. There are very few ministers of any tradition I have found quite so objectionable. I come from this tradition, and I have been a part of it, and think that at one time I was being groomed for leadership in it but I was challenged when I actually read the Bible without it being interpreted in that way, when I read well beyond the boundaries of what was 'acceptable' to the tradition I was in, when I was confronted with material, both Biblical and otherwise, which I had to struggle with and consider and work out, prayerfully, for myself and distinct from what I had been told it said.

3 I don't see hell in Scripture linked to condemnation of non-believers. It refers particularly in parable form, and I think as hyperbole, to those who call themselves followers and fail to walk worthily (sheep and goats, wedding feast, wise and foolish virgins) but as a place of eternal torment for those outside of a certain way of believing I haven't found compelling Scriptural evidence. On a purely analogous level, any punishment that has no purpose but to punish people (ie that has no redemptive quality) is simply torture. I can't see that a God who loves the world and sent his son into the world not to condemn it but that it might have life would then consign the majority of the human race to perdition because they didn't sign on the dotted line in the right way. God's Judgement I would say is ultimately 'for' us, rather than 'against us' and the ultimate choice of rejecting God (which all have) isn't met, i believe, with punishment, but with non being. The Doctrine commission of the C of E in an excellent report called 'The Mystery of Salvation' says 'Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being.' That chimes with my understanding, and amongst the pictures of lakes of fire 'for the devil and all his angels' in Revelation there is the picture of the New Jerusalem in the centre of which is the tree of life, of which only the citizens of the New Jerusalem can eat. If that is the case, then bearing in mind it is 'picture language' then those who choose not to enter the New Jerusalem have no life. This makes me an annihilationist, I know, but I think it is Biblically consistent. Only a God who delights in torture (hence my throwaway but not measured comment of a Sadistic God) could ever torment eternally. I could go on more and more, but I would recommend looking for a second hand copy of the the book 'The Mystery of Salvation', it's very well written and challenging, and very scriptural!!!

4 - the Ultra prevenient Grace is a emphatic way of saying God's grace comes first, God's first thought is a 'yes' to humanity, and that the eternal state of God's being is love, as shown to humanity in his grace. As one of my theological lecturers said to me as an undergraduate 'why do we have to interpret it as being saved from something, surely being saved for life with God is more consistent with God's position of love as exhibited through Scripture?' He also said 'Why do we claim that the ultimate freedom is to say 'yes' or 'no' to God, surely the greatest freedom is that God allows us to say 'yes' to himself, as God says 'yes' to us'. That's where I come from.

I preach the Gospel of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection as an invitation to life in all its fullness, not to being saved from hell. It's becoming who God has made us to be, it's sharing in the freedom of the children of God, it's faith, hope and love. The concept of 'Advocate' (which we often translate 'Judge) in Biblical times was not of someone seeking to prove your guilt or innocence - that's more of a Roman invention, (like the Pater Familias as head of the household) - but of someone seeking to judge for you, ie in favour of you, who would speak on your behalf. I believe that God shows himself to us, and that this will be our final judgement, that when we stand and face him it won't be to explain our actions in life, or justify ourselves, but to respond to him. I believe that this will be what brings us to life or not, and that those who even in the face of God choose to reject him will then have chosen not to partake in the eternal divine reality which we often refer to as 'heaven'. I also believe that in the face of the Glory of God there is a chance that all will choose him, and I am not the one to judge who is in or who is out. If Jesus could pray 'father forgive them' for those who nailed him to the cross, who am I to decide if someone is worthy of God's forgiveness and grace.

Here endeth the sermon.

Garbled? Probably, but I live in the hope of Grace, and in the knowledge that in the death of Jesus Lord and Saviour of the world, death has been conquered, and sin has no power.

And another thought

Yep, as I seem to be on a roll, blog wise at least, I thought I would throw another 'Thought For The Week' out there, courtesy of the Midweek Herald. This one from 21st April...

Stop Talking

I have sat looking at my computer screen for some time and haven’t been able to think of anything to say. Which makes me think about saying nothing! What I mean is (and I’m sure you didn’t expect me to leave it there!) that often our world might be a better place if sometimes we said less… If politicians could stop pretending they have the answer to everything, if Christians (including Clergy) didn’t try to give trite responses to some of the most difficult parts of life, if all of us were willing to not talk our way through the world but occasionally leave a bit of space for silence. Sometimes, if we have nothing to say, its better to say nothing. Sometimes having the honesty to admit that we don’t know, that we have no answers, and to be quiet and listen would be by far the best response.

Another sermon....

Year C Proper 5 (2010) RCL Principal

Psalm 146
Galatians 1.11-24
Luke 7.11-17

The Big Picture

I don’t know if you have ever seen the magic roundabout, a rather surreal children’s TV show from the 1970s that was made into a computer generated movie a couple of years back. It was a very strange show, but great fun, and even my children aged 5 and 8 enjoyed reading a book we found in a Church jumble sale about the characters going on a picnic – which I am happy to go through in detail if anyone would like to later! [more]

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A sermon for you

It's been far too long since I have inflicted a sermon on you, and the New Kid Deep Stuff blog is looking sadly neglected. Here's a sermon from a few weeks back! I may well post a few more in the coming days.

Easter 5 (2001) Year C RCL Principal

Acts 11.1-18
Psalm 148

John 13.31-35

Letting the outside in and the inside out…

Early one morning a young man received a telephone call, rather unusually God was at the other end of the line. Hello there, said God, I’m coming to see you today.

Rather excited this young man set about clearing up his flat, tidying up, dusting, hoovering etc etc After a couple of hours of this the flat looked fantastic – and he sat down to wait. [more]

Thought for the week - the saga continues

I should be writing this week's thought for the week, but am preparing for a wedding, so here's one from a few weeks back - three weeks after Easter to be precise. These 'thoughts' are, as always, from the local paper - the Midweek Herald.
Still Easter

So the choccy supplies which received such a great boost a few weeks ago are probably pretty run down now. The bank holiday memory is dwindling, the school term has begun and life will probably get back to something like normal. Easter feels a long time ago. Except it’s not. In the Church we formally celebrate Easter for 50 days until the day of Pentecost (also known as Whitsun, the birthday of the Church). Even more than that, though, Easter for those who are Christians is not just the one day, but every day. The new life that Jesus brings isn’t a one off, to be kept in a box and enjoyed with chocolate once a year, but a relationship which is ongoing. Christian faith is concerned with how we live our lives and with being forgiven, loved, loving and prayerful every single day.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Don't make me angry

Of course pretty much everyone knows the rest of that quote... wouldn't like me when I'm angry!

That is, as I think I've said before, one of my great concerns - not being liked. It's foolish and stems from some deep insecurities, I'm sure, but I like being liked. I suspect most of us do.

But it does sometimes hold me back from saying what I actually think and feel, particularly in public forums (fora?) such as here, or Facebook, or Twitter, or even in conversation or around and about. There was an article a while ago in the Church Times about Clergy Stress and one of the notes said that many found it hard that they had to 'be nice to difficult people'. There's some debate as to what that might mean! Being 'nice' is, though, the perennial image - and perhaps failing - of the Clergy, and certainly a trap I find myself falling into.

One of the problems is that when something does actually challenge the niceness culture, when something happens, all the bottled up and repressed anger or whatever can suddenly pop out and all sorts of views, ideas, issues, stresses and opinions can come out in a rush - sometimes unrelated to the issue or event in question, often making such an event or issue more than it need be.

My two flashpoints, which threaten to breach the dam of all my niceness, are these; two things which make me angry, sometimes needlessly, often with good reason:



Exclusive Christianity

I suspect that most of us will go along with the technology thing. I love the things that my PC, iPhone and all the other associated gizmos and gadgets I have picked up over the past few years allow me to do, though I sometimes wonder just how much more distraction I could have in my life! When it goes wrong, though, my tolerance level drops through the floor... Mostly this is trying to produce and print things on a timescale, but sometimes its to do with things slowing down for no apparent reason. Getting angry with keyboards, PCs, Printers etc when they go wrong is completely pointless and unreasonable - but it's better than kicking a cat in frustration.

More important is the Christianity thing. My understanding of Christian Faith is that begins with Grace. I have an understanding of ultra-prevenient Grace - that God's love and grace come first, that God begins with an attitude of love towards humanity and that this love has been shown in its fullest way in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (of which I could say more, and probably will). This means I believe that God starts with an attitude of love towards his creation.

I saw a video today that suggested God starts with an attitude of hate. Hating sin, hating evil, and hating humanity that is so sinful. Mark Driscoll offers an exposition of Psalm 5v5 which says that God hates evildoers. In this understanding God's holiness means that he cannot stand sin or the people that sin, and that his love reacts to this by sending Jesus and Jesus saves those who come to him and accept him and believe in him. Along with that you also have to believe a whole load of reformed doctrine or you are in sin and God obviously hates you as you are an evildoer. I'm not going to link to the video because it made, and still makes, me so angry. This along with a whole load of other stuff (I went back and edited that word, stuff will have to do) which I have seen from that whole reformed movement that I have seen and read fills me with sadness, anger and a certain level of despair for the Church and reminds me why I have a fair amount of sympathy for Atheists. It begins with a God who is angry, vengeful, wrathful and negatively disposed towards the creation he has made. There is such an emphasis on the holiness of God that the stress is on how this holiness cannot countenance sin. Funnily enough, that's not what I see in Scripture, I see the parable of the son welcomed back - not only welcomed but sought, watched out for by the Father (Luke 15), the Samaritan - outcast, unclean, not part of God's people - who gives an example of loving service beyond the boundaries set up by people. I see a God who loved the world so much that he sent his son to take the effect of sin onto himself, the wages of Sin in Romans 8.28 voluntarily taken by Christ.

I don't see an angry God who needs satisfying, but a loving God who puts him (or her) self in our place.

I know this paints me as a bleeding heart liberal and that my desire to try and keep everyone on board with my niceness has failed, but if that's the case then my understanding of and encounter with Scripture leads me to that place. I don't believe in hell (and fortunately nor does my Church) as a place where people are punished for not believing the right things. I don't believe that the effect of Jesus' death, which is the removal of ultimate death, is only restricted to those who have signed up to a certain viewpoint.

As I journey through Scripture I see a lot which is objectionable; genocide, rape, mutilation, war, exclusivity which seem to be approved of by God. I also see those things being turned away from as the Jewish people and later the Christian Church realise that God wasn't sanctioning those things, but that he stuck with his people despite them and even through them. Within itself Scripture contains its own judgement of itself - from Jesus' 'you have heard it said...but I say to you' to Paul's radical re-visioning of the Old Testament and his interpretation of God's message of love.

I see a God who welcomes, not despises. Who forgives rather than judges. Who is love rather than wrath.

And when I am told that only certain people are 'saved' and that we have consigned most of the human race to eternal perdition because they haven't got their theology right, I see red. And I don't believe it, nor do I think it consistent with Scripture. Sure you can pull out proof texts to show that I am wrong and that we should bash the babies of our enemies against rocks, or exclude those who don't measure up to our standards, or make women cover their heads, or exclude women from leadership, or let men dominate, or tell gay people they are bad and wicked for how they are made. I look at the big picture, not the proof texts, and I see in the Bible that God loves us; fallen, broken, failing. And God loves us before we know him, and after - even if some feel the need to tell them he doesn't.

Rant over. There's nothing to see here folks, go back to your lives :-)

Tumbling Tumbleweeds

As the wind whistles around my blog and the tumbleweeds blow up the street you may be forgiven for thinking that I have given up on blogging altogether. I haven't, honest, and I do try and get around and visit as many of the blogs I link to as possible as frequently as possible! I still value the insight and food for thought I get from my blog buddies, I like the challenges I read from those who see things differently to me and I wish I had more time to offer my own reflections here for those who are kind enough to respond and react.

It comes down to time - blogging takes thought and time (though you may not think so looking at the quality of some of my previous posts!). I have discovered that the time I have for blogs and twitter and Facebook, all of which I enjoy and appreciate, has had to take a back seat to the other things which fill my life - particularly my Ministry, my family and my friends. I am sure you'll all be pleased at my attempts to have some kind of work/life balance, or rather to have some integrety and prioritise appropriately. I'm happy with things as they are, on the whole, though have found myself more tired in this particular form of Ministry and life than in any other context. I wish I had more time to pray and to write and must take some of the blame for the imbalances which prevent those things sometimes - or rather which prevent more of those things happening sometimes.

I'm writing this on my day off, which used to be my day I never blogged! I have been abandoned by wife and children - though fortunately only for a few days as they are off staying with my wife's sister and doing all the kinds of things that children can't do in the middle of nowhere - a day at Legoland, Windsor, visiting the shops around London, generally enjoying the noise and bustle of urban life! So I decided to take a moment to say hi to you all and say just a little of what is going on. I do hope to get back into the swing of blogging, but if I am absent for long periods of time it's just because I am focussed on where I am and doing what needs to be done, or simply enjoying life with my family! Having said that, there's a few thoughts percolating around my brain which may well find expression later today...

...after a ride on my motorbike :-)

Oh, and look out for me on twitter (@revdal) as a quick microblog moment is so much easier than sitting here thinking!

And whilst here, a thought for the week (has to be done, for the sake of my own sanity in getting gradually up to date!) It seems an apposite one in the light of what I just said and comes from a couple of weeks after Easter!

One of the things which was difficult but worthwhile for me in the lead up to Easter was the silence that is such an important part of Holy Week. I am not naturally inclined to silence – in fact I find it very difficult. I fill my days with activity and busy-ness and the iPod, radio or TV are often on at home, in the car and in the houses I visit during my week. On Good Friday there is a traditionally a three hour time of silence – though many Churches have shorter versions of that service. Silence can make us confront the things we are avoiding about ourselves, our lives, our faith. It can be a struggle to take time to be silent, and to use that time to pray, think, meditate or just to stop – but if we let Him, God can speak to us in the silence.