Jan 272010

Last week I was in 121 at a seminar/conference thing organised by the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council. The topic was “Moral Maze on Virtualisation and Society” and was, ostensibly, a initial discussion into the morals and ethics of such phenomena as social networking and online role-play/immersion activities. The discussion topics were billed as follows:

  • How has virtualisation impacted on notions of identity?
  • How has virtualisation impacted on our values as human beings?
  • How has increased connectivity impacted on the nature of our organisations?
  • How has increased connectivity and virtualisation impacted on our ability to develop meaningful communities?
  • Is a regulatory framework desirable?
  • What are the theological implications of the changes being brought to individuals, to society and to organisations by increased connectivity and virtualisation?

This is all good stuff and very relevant in our technology-oriented world.

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Oct 292009

I have, for some time, been using Guidelines daily reading notes from BRF. It is a mixture of thematic and systematic readings from a variety of contributors and, although generally fine, can sometimes be a bit hit or miss. I was intrigued by one of the topics in this latest edition – Deaf theology. It didn’t seem to start off very promisingly but quickly became quite a challenging set of readings and I wanted to set out a couple of thoughts from it. Continue reading »

Jul 152009

During my recent visit to the Scots International Church in Rotterdam, I was able to spend a couple of hours at one of their main projects – Mamre. Named after the place in Genesis 18 where Abraham offered hospitality to three strangers, the Mamre project in Rotterdam seeks to offer hospitality and help to asylum seekers and refugees. There are many immigrants in the city who are seeking citizenship, but with no official papers life can be very tough for them. The Mamre project offers a weekly drop-in time and serves free lunches to anyone who wishes to stay. Continue reading »

May 242009

I’ve not had a chance to blog about Saturday night’s session at the General Assembly, but it can’t have escaped your notice that the Church of Scotland are inducting gay ministers. Unforunately, that story, and many others, are reporting a somewhat distorted view of what the session was all about. Stewart gives a fair summary of the bigger picture on his blog (btw – big thumbs-up to Stewart for getting a mention in the Times Online – that’ll be why your web traffic has gone through the roof).

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May 082009

Warning: (some) sarcasm/irony ahead – read with discernment.

I’m wondering if Lochcarron and Skye didn’t miss a trick with their overture. Or indeed, if those in Aberdeen presbytery didn’t miss the same trick. Rather than re-ignite the homosexuality debate, perhaps it would have been much safer ground to oppose Rev Scott Rennie’s appointment on the much plainer Biblical (and indeed, plainly dominical) stance on divorce. After all, Jesus had nothing specific to say on homosexuality, but he did condemn, most strongly, divorce.

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery. Matthew 19:9 (NRSV)

Actually, on second thoughts, maybe that wouldn’t have worked in their favour. After all, Scott Rennie hasn’t remarried (arguably), so his lawyers would have a field day with that one. But then again, he did divorce for reasons other than ‘unchastity’ or ‘marital unfaithfulness’ so there may still be good grounds here.

OK. Time to switch off the sarcam/irony.

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May 052009

It can’t have escaped your attention that there’s a serious row brewing for this year’s General Assembly. It concerns the Rev. Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister living with his partner. He has been called by a congregation in  Aberdeen. Pesbytery have upheld the call, but a significant minority raised an official objection and the case is being heard by GA.

This has all the makings of a row big enough to seriously split the church, for all sorts of reasons. There’s the homosexuality issue; there’s the right of call of a congregation to be considered; there are issues of marriage, and what it is. And the big problem seems to be that there are entrenched views which cannot see past their own agenda – and, as usual, it is the vocal minority, on either side, which makes the headlines.

I’ve just listened to the Radio Scotland phone-in, Morning Extra, and it was fascinating how it seemed (in general) to be the laity who saw in black and white and the ministers who were on being honest about how much of a struggle this was. That said, one lady, a minister’s wife, was most eloquent and patiently explained how we read a translation and we simply don’t fully understand the cultural baggage that underpins the very few verses that speak about homosexuality and so we cannot know, in that balack and white sense, what was being said. To echo some of the ministers who were on, we seek to follow Christ in our imperfect understanding of God’s Word.

I originally intended posting about Biblical interpretation, or about an overarching moral and ethical framework we discover in Christ, but I’m not sure that rehearsing the same old arguments here will further the discussion at all. Suffice it to say that I don’t think the issue is black and white. The ‘plain meaning of scripture’ is a cop-out that precludes study. Why should this one issue be so clear when virtually everything else taught in scripture results in a tension between different things.

Even if this debate stays at the level of the ‘legalities’ – the right of call or an unmarried couple in the manse – it’s going to be messy. The fallout from it is going to ripple through the entire church and, from what I can see, the wider relationships the CofS has with other denominations. Is this going to be another ‘Anglican Communion’ split issue? I really hope that it can be resolved in a far more amicable and gracious way than it seems to be heading.

Creating online petitions is the entirely wrong way to go about this debate. It simply polarises the issues and creates artificial division. It undermines the authority and purpose of the General Assembly. It says, openly, that the petitioners do not believe that the Assembly can deal with the issue in a balanced, prayerful and gracious manner. It sends the message that they who shout loudest get their way. The tactics of the vocal minority have been morally dubious and legally questionable. Forward Together had to issue an apology for seriously misrepresenting Scott Rennie’s personal history.

This debate has been put off for too long, I believe. The ‘period of reflection’ has been stretched out too far. I think it is time for the discussion, following refelection, to happen. But it needs to be just that – a discussion, not a bullying tirade that seeks to undermine the structures of the church or the work of the majority who struggle daily with how to represent Christ to those to whom they seek to minister.

Nov 052008

I don’t generally comment on politics, for various reasons, not least of which is that I have little time to spend following issues and arguments and so I feel particularly unqualified to comment. This is especially true of US politics and the election of the new president. I confess ignorance about the specific policies of either candidate other than that gleaned from ‘propaganda’ on various irreverent websites I lurk around. I get the sense that there are positives and negatives on both sides and that neither is the perfect person for the job. But then, who is?

What I do feel encouraged by is the strong desire for change and for the ‘maturity’ to embrace it. Particularly so in the selection of an African-American. Whilst ‘isms should not be an element in such a decision, there’s no escaping the fact that they are – overtly in the more ignorant accusations against Obama or the sexism aimed at Palin or the more subtle undercurrents that we are unaware of but influence our decisions.

Perhaps more importantly than the desire for change is the overcoming of voter apathy and the sense of ‘enfranchisement’ that the potential for change has brought. That, more than anything, has been the hallmark of this particular political battle. People have seen a personal ‘hope’ and have become energised by it. Obama is far from being your typical Afro-American and yet still seems to encapsulate the ‘possibility’ of ‘everyman’ achieving a goal.

It would perhaps be pertinent on a blog more generally concerned with theology to do a cheesy “and in a funny way that reminds me of…” link to something but I’ll resist the temptation other than to suggest that those who would minister to God’s people would do well to remember that it can be all too easy, through our ‘isms, to ‘disenfranchise’, even unintentionally, those who would seek God. And when ‘hope’ doesn’t mean happier tomorrows, more money or a bigger house but rather is an acknowledgement of a person’s struggles, a validation of their deepest concerns or a simple recognition of their existence then we are bringing the gospel into the very heart of a person’s needs.

Sep 102008

David and Stewart have both been blogging about the Paralympics and both making similar points about the lack of coverage. I confess I haven’t watched any but then I didn’t watch the Olympics either – only what I’ve spotted on the BBC News website. But what’s that got to do with Candidates’ Conference? Well, one of the more challenging presentations was from a retired minister by the name of Graham Monteith.

Graham is a wheelchair user and has uncontolled body movements. His mind, however, is as sharp as a tack and he has a great interest in theology as it pertains to disabilities. But the main points of his presentation weren’t theological but practical and they highlighted the many ways in which we inadvertantly discriminate against people. Simple things like moving around too much when speaking makes it difficult for anyone who lipreads to follow what you are saying. Or the bigger things like not taking into consideration who is likely to attend the funeral of a disabled person – other disabled people and not being able to accommodate the number of wheelchairs.

His main piece of advice was to look at the person, not the disability (something he readily admits isn’t always easy). From a Christian perspective this is not an unreasonable requirement. After all, we should be well beyond the idea that disability is some sort of punishment or judgement. Each person, regardless of physical or mental capacity is accepted and loved by God. We cannot presume to limit God’s grace based on a level of physical or mental ability.

But back to the points Stewart and David make. Why is the Paralympics given less coverage? I can’t say whether it’s an issue of embarrassment or awkwardness or some other factor. But it seems to me that each is about individuals and teams achieving their maximum potential and each should be celebrated. And that’s not about celebrating some sort of ‘second best’ either. All of the Paralympians display a far greater level of dedication and commitment than I ever do. They certainly achieve, in sporting terms, far more than I ever could.

Whether it is acknowledging sporting achievement or simply giving thought to how we ensure maximum involvement in church life it’s an issue each of us should be aware of. Most especially, those who are in a position to effect changes, in however small a way. Encouraging greater exposure of events such as the Paralympics can only be a good thing to break down the barriers of prejudice and ignorance.

Sep 042008

Sometimes the biggest thing that gets us into trouble, I would suggest, is presupposing a person’s position on something. Despite having been gently reminded of the dangers early in my field assessment, it’s still something which catches me out now and again (and again, and again). These pre-judgements are based on all sorts of factors – a passing comment, another person’s opinion, an assumption based on insubstantial rumour or gossip, an overheard discussion. These things often become the sum of what we think we know about someone before we’ve even had a chance to speak to them directly. And, of course, it then colours how we hear whatever they have to say to us. (I suspect there’s a legitimate lesson for Biblical interpretation in there as well.)

One of the pleasures of a Christian community and, especially, a reflective community, is that you can throw ideas around and test them against different understandings. There is a danger though that when we participate in that, our opinions are not seen as being put out to be tested, but being up for challenge, vehemently. And thus our presuppositions come into play. We hear with bias and we respond gracelessly. We attach labels, all too often with superglue.

I had a conversation with a person one evening during the conference which was heading towards a bit of a fankle until we stopped and cleared away the presuppositions. That’s not to say we suddenly saw eye-to-eye on everything, but what we did discover was that we had very much more in common that perhaps we had previously realised. Perhaps the significant thing was that we were both prepared to step to the side of ourselves for a while and listen to the other. Not just the ‘I hear what you’re saying’ listening, but the genuine ‘I want to understand you’ listening.

But there was more to be had from the conversation than just the satisfaction of knowing a bit more about someone. What I (we?) got was a bit more of the excitement that can be found when we hear of how God works in others. Whether it’s sharing experiences or sharing ‘academic’ insights, there’s always the sense that God is so much bigger than anything we can think of.

Our presuppositions not only put inaccurate labels on people, they also put God in a box. Perhaps one of the most important things we can do during Candidates’ conferences is take time to really know others and through them, learn a lot more about God.

But it’s also fun to play ‘the game’ – the one, that seems all too prevalent, of pigeonholing people. The ‘fun’ part is to play the game by confounding expectations and refusing to accept the label or fitting neatly into the pigeonhole. I’m looking forward to the next 4 conferences and continuing to play the game with spoilers. Maybe we’ll stop playing the game and just start talking.