Oct 012010
 

I’ve been thinking about ‘endings’ today. In part this has been prompted by taking two funerals, but that’s not really the sort of ending I have in mind. I’ve also had a few hospital visits and it is with these, or rather, one in particular, that I have been pondering the issue of ‘endings’.

In this case, the issue is of bringing a visit to an end. The person I visited obviously had short-term memory problems. We circled round the very same conversation several times. Every time I got to point where I thought it was appropriate to take my leave, a ‘new’ conversation started up. I finally grabbed my chance when I was asked a new question about what else I had to do that day. The other visits had more ‘natural’ conversations and were easier to guide to a conclusion. Maybe I just need to develop a slightly more robust disengagement strategy.

The funerals were, of course, endings as well, but there were particular thought-provoking issues there too. Again, in bringing them to a close. At the recent probationers’ conference there was some debate over the appropriateness of the we/you language choice in benedictions. There were some suggestions that probationers still shouldn’t be using ‘you’-oriented blessings. I’m not convinced there is a theological, ecclesiological or ontological argument to justify this. Nevertheless, it came to mind at both funerals, because I did not know the deceased or any of the families and so including myself seemed inappropriate.

My final reflection on endings was associated with this morning’s funeral. It was in the church and then on to the cemetery. In my head the ‘conclusion’ of the service is at the cemetery and so that is where the benediction should be said. But it occurred to me that many in the church did not go on to the cemetery and so were excluded from that blessing. Would it have been inappropriate to do it twice? I felt the church part was somehow left ‘incomplete’ because of it, but then the ‘completion’ really comes afterwards. I’d be interested in the opinion of any liturgists out there.

And so, having burbled on about endings, here endeth this blog entry.

Sep 032010
 

Sometimes I think I must be excruciatingly dim and I have to wonder why I ever felt I ought to respond to a call to ministry. I was reading a post on one of my favourite blogs earlier and came across these words:

The entire trajectory of Scripture points to a kaleidoscopic people of God, ever more diverse, with always surprising revelations of unlikely people using their gifts in unexpected and even subversive ways to encourage the family and bless the world.

A simple enough statement but about something that has just whooshed past me without me noticing. It’s such an obvious statement about the witness of scripture that I can’t help but feel somewhat dim for only just noticing it.

Of course, as for the implications…

Aug 202010
 

Five years of university approach their end today as I head to New College to hand in my Masters dissertation. Odd to think that five years of education might be condensed into 44 pages of text. Of course, that’s just a very small part of it, but I guess every word is influenced in some way by that learning process.

Not through any sense of vanity or high regard for my work, but simply because some gracious people have expressed an interest, I’ve uploaded my masters research work. There are three research essays and the small dissertation. All-in-all around 26000 words of my ramblings as I tried to get my head around Emerging Church and how the Church of Scotland was and is interacting with it.

I was commenting to a friend that the days of struggling to find 1500 words for an essay in first year seem a very long way removed from churning out 15000 words for a dissertation, but the time has disappeared in a flash and I’m sure it will not be slowing down any as I head into probation in just over a week’s time.

Maybe I should have entitled the post, “And so it continues.”

ps – my thanks to Alan, Fiona, Lindsay and Maggie for being kind enough to proof my dissertation. I can only apologise for putting you through that.

Aug 012010
 

This little stint of pulpit supply has offered me a more interesting reflective opportunity than I first thought it would. As previously mentioned, I’m ‘optimising my time’ by using the same service in three different places (albeit with some revision of hymns and sermon duration).

The first one was delivered today and I wasn’t entirely happy with it. Too long, to overstuffed with information and didn’t flow very well. The main issue was that I now have a very different theology to my home church and I felt I needed to explain and ‘justify’ some of what I was saying and proposing, so there was more padding than absolutely necessary. But such is the main pitfall of one-off services. I feel the need to cram too much in rather than just delivering something that’s to the point but ‘lightweight’ (in my opinion). Today’s sermon should really have been delivered over no fewer than four or five sermons. Which says (to me) that it was the wrong sermon for the occasion.

When I got home I decided to ‘polish it’ from the thoughts I had as I was preaching. It now flows better but is still too long (certainly for next week). But then next week’s pulpit supply is the lectionary-following place, so some of the background will already be there. Mind you, I still need to sort out their dodgy theology (not really, just poking fun – a little). It means that I need to whittle down the sermon and can probably remove some of the explanatory padding. It’ll be interesting to see how that one ends up and how much, if anything, is ‘lost’ because of that.

The third one will be similar to today, albeit with the more polished version. Again though, I’ll be curious to see how it changes in the two week gap.

One thing I did notice today was that my voice is out of condition, not having been used very much for a couple of months. Too much time spent typing and not enough time chatting with real people. Unfortunately, until the dissertation is done, I can’t do much about that. I’ll maybe need to put some music on and start singing along.

Jun 012010
 

In the spirit of not making any public statements, but encouraging discussion and understanding of the subject which cannot be named (why do I feel like we’re in a Harry Potter story?) I would like to point to some good and thought-provoking articles which were themselves pointed to in JohnFH‘s blog which I sometimes dip into (except for his Hebrew stuff which goes whizzing over my head).

The first is an article by Richard B Hays which is an adaptation of a lengthier book section. It is a pretty comprehensive statement of the conservative position on homosexuality. I recall reading the full book section in 2nd year New Testament studies and found it to be useful then. That was not long before General Assembly discussed the issue of human sexuality. The Mission and Discipleship report (.doc file, via OneKirk) and the congregation discussion resource document (1.5M pdf file, via OneKirk) they produced drew heavily on this work for the conservative perspective. It was also at the heart of a ‘refutation‘ at the time by Paul Middleton, but that work never fully engaged with Hays and so I was left feeling that it was a somewhat selective and not entirely convincing counter-argument.

The second referenced article is by Kim Fabricius (on Ben Myers blog) is a useful ‘in a nutshell’ view from the other side of the debate. The comments are extensive and worth a skim through. It is not a point-by-point argument and assumes a degree of ‘honest’ scholarship which recognises the ambiguity in many of the scriptural references to homosexual activity. If that’s not your ‘place’ then I would recommend doing some wider reading before decrying what Kim says. An ‘honest’ approach will/should leave Romans 1 as one of the few ‘unambiguous’ texts which need to be dealt with. Thereafter you may engage with his propositions and reach your own conclusion.

Finally, the third article referenced is not a theology one, but rather a media comment on a recent sex scandal in Australia. It makes some very valid moral/ethical observations which, I think, are quite pertinent to the whole discussion.

*Updated 18/7/11 to fix dead links

May 202010
 

I’ve been catching up on some reading recently (I’ve not long finished The Mystery of Christ by Robert Farrar Capon and Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell) and currently working my way through The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. When I’m not banging on about Emerging Church, one of my soapboxes is the need for Christians (especially Christian leaders) to be the ‘prophetic voice’ within society – pointing out its failings and pointing to a better way. This is at the heart of Brueggemann’s book and I came across a passage worth quoting:

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. Thus I suggest that prophetic ministry has to do not primarily with addressing specific public crises but with addressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated.

The italics are Brueggemann’s and state the hypothesis for  the book. The extract, I believe, succinctly states the mission and problem for the church. The church needs to be counter-cultural. And that doesn’t mean that it decries culture, rather it should always be asking if this is the ‘best’ we can achieve. And by ‘best’, I would suggest that that means being more ‘Christ-like’; being fully human and fully spiritual creatures, living life in its fullest measure without fear of discrimination, oppression and injustice.

But the extract also highlights the biggest danger the church faces – becoming ‘co-opted and domesticated’. (The phrase, “Aslan is not a tame lion” has just sprung to mind). My biggest fear of Emerging Church is that the Christian distinctives get subsumed by a desire to be ‘relevant’ – faith and worship are co-opted to suit a context, rather than that happening the other way round. Domestication comes when the church is no longer proactive but reactive and is ‘used’ to provide social services or a place where religious-types can go on a Sunday morning. Or perhaps domestication has come through the church becoming a useful branch of Historic Scotland responsible for the upkeep of a bunch of old buildings. I’m sure there are many ways in which we have become ‘co-opted and domesticated’.

How easy is it though to rediscover our revolutionary voice?

May 192010
 

I recently heard a sermon that got me thinking, “So what?”

Well, it actually got me thinking a lot more than that, although it was primarily because I didn’t agree with a lot of it – or, at least, felt it was ‘lacking’ in certain areas. But it was the ‘So what?” question that got me going and I was wondering how often we don’t adequately deal with the ‘So what?’ of our faith and what we say about it.

Let me explain what my particular ‘So what?’ issue was in this instance.

The preacher took an opportunity to have a bit of a dig at the ‘God is love’ approach to Christian faith. This, they felt, was a limited understanding of God and threw away a significant part of the Bible which speaks of God’s justice, wrath and judgement. We got the ‘God loves us’ bit, but in the usual illustration of a loving parent who chastises (punishes) their child ‘for their own good’. I got the distinct impression that God didn’t do nearly enough of that these days and we would be well warned that he might just decide to smite us all for being miserable sinners one day.

Now, I don’t deny that the Bible speaks of a God of judgement, but surely that is the point of the cross. Jesus was judged in our place. All our iniquities were laid on him. He became sin for us. And whatever other verses you want to throw into the mix. Christ’s death on the cross brought about forgiveness for our sinfulness, did it not? God looks on Jesus and pardons us, does he not? Yes, God judges, but God has judged Jesus so that we won’t be.

Or am I missing something? Was Christ’s death on the cross not quite enough? Did Christ only die for some of our sins?

And if that’s not the case then, other than to illustrate (one of) the purposes of the cross, why keep banging on about God’s judgement and wrath? Is it because it simply goes against the grain to think that people are getting away with things we don’t like? But is this not the very point of God’s grace – we have ‘got away with it’, even the worst of ‘it’? It’s not grace otherwise! It’s our own efforts to self-improve to be ‘good enough’ to be accepted.

But what of texts which speak of a final judgement? We still have to go back to those questions about Christ’s atoning death. It either did it all or it didn’t. If it didn’t, we’re all stuffed. If it did then beating me down with how awful I am and God will judge me is a pointless exercise. What is more likely to get a response – a threat or a gift? If the ‘judgement’ of God only falls on those who reject his gift, then why offer only a threat and ignore the gift? And if it is the gift that matters, why dwell on the threat?

I get the need for a balanced picture of God. I’m just not sure that the correct balance is 50:50 and that whenever ‘God is love’ is preached it needs to be balanced with judgement. Otherwise, we risk, I think, diminishing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus with a whole series of ‘So what?’ questions.

Apr 232010
 

I recently read Between Noon and Three by Robert Farrar Capon. It was so gripping I read it in just a few days. It’s a book about the offensiveness of God’s grace and it is excellent. If you’re a Calvinist you’ll maybe want to add to to your list for the next time you’re planning a bonfire. But anyway, I recently came across this from another of Capon’s books and just loved it:

There is no sin you can commit that God in Jesus hasn’t forgiven already. The only way you can get yourself in permanent Dutch is to refuse forgiveness. That’s hell. The old baloney about heaven being for good guys and hell for bad guys is dead wrong. Heaven is populated entirely by forgiven sinners, not spiritual and moral aces. And hell is populated entirely by forgiven sinners. The only difference between the two groups is that those in heaven accept the forgiveness and those in hell reject it. Which is why heaven is a party–the endless wedding reception of the Lamb and his bride–and hell is nothing but the dreariest bar in town.?

Robert Farrar Capon
(The Mystery of Christ: And Why We Don’t Get it, 1993)

Apr 222010
 

Glancing through my blog feeds this morning, this entry at [hold this space] caught my eye. It’s a timely reminder for those in the Church of Scotland that we should not define people by labels. Only we do. The ‘issue which shall not be named’ so often descends into just that. OK, I’ll name it – the issue of gay ministers. Oops, there we go – a label. An easy shorthand which shifts the focus away from the fact that it is people we are discussing; people who are not defined by their labels, or at least the limited labels we want to apply to them.

Labels can be useful. They are convenient at times and without them our discussions would be laborious and time-consuming. But when the label becomes the person then what we have done is dehumanised them. We have decided that they are just a… As a friend reminded me recently in conversation, the gospel is not about dehumanising, but rehumanising. We find our full self-understanding and self-identity in our relationship with God and the gospel is that God is willing, even dying, to get us to understand that.

My devotional reading this morning was from the flood narrative in Genesis. Regardless of whether you view it as historical or a rewriting of another culture’s mythology, it contains a pretty brutal assessment of humanity and, more importantly, God’s response. “I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent towards evil from childhood.” (Genesis 8:21, NLT) We have been labelled, yet God looks past the label. We are all, every one, imperfect. No one is more ‘good’ than another in God’s eyes for everything we do is tainted. Yet God’s grace looks beyond the label and says, “I love and choose you anyway.”

Last year, at GA, there was an invitation to join in conversation over coffee; an opportunity to get to understand the person, not the label – gay, straight, fundie, liberal, whatever. I wonder how many coffee conversations have taken place? It’s kind of difficult to have a conversation with a label. It’s kind of difficult to even accept an invitation from a label; we can only accept an invitation from a person.

Apr 192010
 

I was chatting with Nikki today at lunchtime in Rainy Hall and we covered the usual broad range of topics. I’m doing a funeral in a couple of days and I mentioned that I still don’t get the ‘privileged’ thing that many in ministry speak about. We agreed that, for us certainly, it wasn’t the best word to describe how we felt about funerals. I don’t mean to suggest that we didn’t like doing them, but that there were problems with the word itself. It didn’t seem to capture the ‘motivation’ behind doing a funeral.

As I was wandering home from the station later, it struck me what my issue with the word is, at least in my eyes. For me, it’s the wrong focus. When we speak about being privileged, the focus is on us, and how we are feeling. It’s almost as though we are getting some sort of reflected blessing from the bereaved. After all, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Maybe we’d like a little piece of blessing too?

But, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter a hoot how I feel about a funeral. It doesn’t matter whether I feel any sort of blessing from it at all. It’s not about me in any way, shape or form. I could, in theory, walk away from it utterly untouched and unconcerned and still have been a blessing to those who mourn. Because that’s the important bit. My purpose is to be part of the flow of that blessing from God, bringing the sense of comfort the bereaved need. But in a very real sense I am not even needed for that, but I’m there. And I’m there because I am called to be and so I pray for God to use me in any way necessary to bring that blessing of comfort. My only desire is to speak the words of remembrance of the deceased, to show that memories may yet live and still be spoken with pain and gladness, but nevertheless still spoken, and to communicate that there is hope beyond even those memories. But that’s not about me, or at least it shouldn’t be. That’s about giving myself over to my calling; about dying to my own desires and seeking only God’s. That, to me, is only a privilege in the very superficial of senses.

I suspect that comes across at terribly self-righteous and even critical of those who take a very humble view of privilege. It’s not my intention to criticise others, but simply to reflect on why I have an issue with the word. so, if anyone’s got a better word, I’m happy to hear it.