Monday, June 30, 2008

Look and Learn

You don't see me dancing when I'm working. My size 12 boots don't cut the rug. I don't squeeze past deliberately close to ladies breasts or arses. You don't find me texting, looking down at my phone, when I'm working. You don't see me flirting with punters, letting myself get distracted from the faces, movements and radio calls passing by me every minute. You don't find me sitting down with a table of friends and dropping off the radar for 5 or 10 minutes. You should find if you ask them that the others on the team know where I am and what I'm likely to be doing. You won't find me in the staffroom or back office eating pizza or just plain skiving.
This is not the case with every one I've worked with. Some folk who've been doing this a lot longer than me and folk who really should know better are guilty of all of the above.
This is not the greatest of sins in this game though. That is not getting to trouble as fast as possible. Even if your role is chocolate fire guard, you've got to get there and do it as fast and as well as you can when it goes off.
As to all of the first stuff, don't do it when I'm with you because it will all piss me off. I'll still be right there next to you at the next kick off but won't be telling the club manager you got it right when you didn't. I won't be telling your girlfriend you're busy with a first aid case when you're trying to hook up a first date case. The fastest way to get my respect is to be there when you need to be, the fastest way to lose it is to not be there when you don't need to be.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Odds and Ends



Last weekend was our final residential of the academic year. I am officially halfway through the course! Wow! Rightly so the emphasis of this weekend was the Leavers "passing out" parade following their receiving of their Northern Ordination Course Certificates. We were staying at the Wakefield Police College again and the service took place at the beautiful St. John's church nearby. It was a wonderful occasion for the ordinands, their parishes, families and friends. The service was very moving and at one point it really hit me. "This time next year this will be you!" I was singing in a small Taize based chorus, so was able to put all my energies into that in order to stop myself falling to pieces with the enormity of it all.

Following the service we paraded back to the college escorted by the Metropolitan Police brass band, with police closing streets to traffic on the route. We won't get that next year, I suspect, and it only happened this year because one of the leavers is a serving officer. One of the other leavers has recently retired from the Royal Air Force: it was only poor cloud cover that stopped an R.A.F. flypast!

Next year will be quite dull in comparison.

Last night I attended my school's leaver's prom. (There's a bit of a theme going on here.) This was also a poignant moment for me as my little crowd passed out. I am a Year 11 form tutor: I start the year with no students at all and slowly my form is created as various youngsters are designated as beyond the pale for one reason or another by their former tutors and they come to me. At the peak I had fourteen students. Some never made it to registration (nor to lessons very often for that matter) so I hardly saw them; some were given restricted timetables so were not always in school anyway; some were regularly excluded for poor or antisocial behaviour and one was banned from the premesis and most of his final exams for an outburst which interrupted a whole examination, involved verbal and physical abuse of several members of staff and physical restraint. At the end of the year I had eight left. Three were banned from the prom for inappropriate behaviour. Last night the surviving five and I partied. I was so proud of them: they had had a difficult year, they got their act together, behaved beautifully, took their exams and were a delight to look after. Last night we celebrated!

Further thanks to those who pressed the donate button on the side-bar. This year you have enabled me to buy:

Christian Mission by Stephen Spencer
Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger
Transforming Mission by David J Bosch
The Study of Liturgy by Jones, Wainwright, Yarnold and Bradshaw
A Readers Guide to Transforming Mission by Stan Naussbaum
The Apocrypha
Religion in Britain Since 1945 by Grace Davie
Lo and Behold by Trevor Dennis
Myth and Reality in the O.T. by Brevard S Childs
O.T. Theology in a Canonical Context by Brevard S Childs
A Rabbi Reads the Psalms by Jonathan Magonet
The Living World of the O.T. by Bernhard W Anderson
An Introduction to the O.T. by Walter Bruggemann

Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity. The Lutheran Church in Great Britain is seriously strapped for cash so this is much appreciated.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Face to Faith


Judaism has had to evolve to survive, and Anglicanism must too, says Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah

The Guardian, Saturday June 28, 2008

Is Anglicanism a form of progressive Christianity - and if so, what are its progressive credentials? I ask this question from the perspective of Progressive Judaism - a denomination within Jewish life that first emerged in the early 1800s in Germany, and took root in this country 100 years later.

Progressive Judaism is marked by its advocacy of universal ethical values and social justice for all, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, ethnicity and disability. Inspired both by the prophetic teachings proclaimed in the Hebrew Bible and the democratic impulse of modernity, Progressive Judaism challenges oppression and injustice, upholds the rights of the individual to autonomy and human dignity, and nurtures a commitment on the part of individuals and communities to equality, inclusion, pluralism, diversity, and openness.

It seems to me, as a Progressive Jew, that Anglicanism now stands at a crossroads. It is ironic that the Church of England, founded by an English monarch determined to wrest power and authority from Rome, should find it so hard to challenge its established power structures and recreate itself anew today. But Henry XIII created a schism in the church - and since that time, Anglicans of every shade have been prepared to do anything, including abandoning their most cherished ideals, to preserve the "unity" of the Anglican communion.

Of course, it is not for me, a Jew, to suggest that the C0E should be prepared to split over the issue of women bishops. Nevertheless, as a female rabbi it seems reasonable to point out that, however well-disguised by arguments about the historical and theological foundations of Christianity, the continuing attempt to deny the legitimacy of female bishops is all about the preservation of male power.

It's 40 years since women began, once again, to challenge male domination and struggle for equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities in all spheres of life, the right to make our own choices and to participate equally in society with men.

But full equality remains elusive - for two closely related reasons: because equality in a social order predicated on hierarchy is, ultimately, unattainable; and because the problem is less the unequal treatment of females, and more the persistence of male power. And so despite, for example, equal numbers of women now entering key professions like law and medicine, the numbers of female senior judges and consultants remain negligible.

Nowhere is the "glass ceiling" more resilient than in the institutional frameworks of the major religions. Thankfully, the curious practice of the appointment of a chief rabbi apart - the position was created by the British government to ensure that the authorities had a single Jewish representative figure to deal with - Judaism does not go in for religious hierarchies: a rabbi, ordained by another rabbi, within an approved institutional framework, is a rabbi. Full stop.

So, when women began to be ordained as rabbis within the Progressive Jewish world in the 1970s, only one frontier remained: Orthodox Judaism. And during the past decade, even that boundary has begun to be breached - although it will take a long time before women ordained as Orthodox rabbis, privately, by their male rabbinic mentors, are recognised by the various male Orthodox authorities.

Progressive Jews look back on Jewish history and see that Judaism has evolved over four millennia, and that being able to adapt to changing circumstances has been the secret of Jewish survival. At the end of May, after the bishops voted to proceed towards the consecration of female bishops, MPs on parliament's ecclesiastical committee, whose approval would be needed before any legislation is passed, declared that most MPs are now in favour of women priests becoming bishops.

Debate has raged within the church concerning how to handle dissenters once the reform goes ahead. On July 4 the General Synod of the CoE will meet - and decide. The day that the US celebrates its independence from British rule could be a good day for the church to make history.

Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah is rabbi of Brighton and Hove Progressive synagogue

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hands off

Over a number of nights recently we've had very little hands on work to do.
I've been not doing it and all the other doorstaff have been not doing it too. We've been asking if people would like to make they're way out and they're making they're way out directly. I've not had to get hands on other than to steer the drunken legged past obstacles and keep them on track for the door. I don't think that I or the rest of the team have been slacking and the ejection numbers are typically high. The punters just seem to be walking without being bothered to argue, physically or verbally. I can think of number or reasons why this is happening ranging from the worrying idea that they're afraid of us or the worrying idea that we're missing those we should be getting and only catching innocent bystanders.
Whatever the reason it's leading to a very jumpy team. I'm getting paranoid, seeing things happening that aren't. Trying to read some motives into the ant-like stumblings of the punters around the club. I try and not get lulled into the apparent sense of security and ease this easy work leads to. Others do slide into lethargy with little to do and less to worry about. The other reaction is from the red-headed chemically enhanced doorman. They've been running to every incident, looking for any and every opportunity to apply themselves physically, even to the point of trying to wind up punters. They're still happily walking out though. Sooner or later this is going to end and we'll be back to business as usual, throwing the body weight around and getting some real work done. 'Til then I'll just keep twitchy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dear Friends....


Dear Friends,
I wish to thank you all for your help in my growing understanding of the word of God. So many of you learned folk have repeatedly told me that scripture is not only inspired, but that it is the inerrant word of God, and now I have to take this on board. After all, who am I to know the mind of God? When my friends argue with me from their liberal agenda I can tell them that the Word of God is inerrant. “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3.16-17.) End of discussion.

There are just one or two areas of confusion I need your help on:

• When we talk about scripture, what exactly do we mean? My lecturer at Vicar School talks about the Canon of Scripture. Are you familiar with the idea that there is an accepted collection of writings which was accepted as worthy of inclusion in The Bible? You are? I thought so. Good.

• Which canon do we accept? The Hebrew canon, the Protestant canon, the Catholic canon, the Orthodox canon or the Coptic canon? Only they are different.

• My lecturer said that each tradition has a different canon. I didn’t want to believe him: after all, you know how academics mess with faith. He was right, though, and him a Revd, too.

• Some traditions have books in their canon that aren’t in some of the others. If I knew which canon was inerrant it would help me because I might have to take instruction about joining another denomination. Do you see my problem?

• If a book is in the inerrant canon, does it stop being inerrant when it is in the non-inerrant canons?

• If a canon, like the Coptic one – very strange indeed – includes “books” not found elsewhere is it still inerrant?

• If that “book” is inerrant, why isn’t it in the other canons?

• If we don’t accept the Apocrypha as inerrant (do we?) then the Catholics and Orthodox have got it badly wrong. Do they know that? If not, can I not be the one to tell them?

• If the Apocrypha is inerrant then according to “Bel and the Dragon”, there must have been dragons in Israel. I thought dragons were mythical. Do I now have to believe in dragons, only I don’t want to make a fool of myself with my non-Christian friends?

• Why are the Christian orderings of scripture different from the Hebrew one? Only it was theirs first and we do accept their books, so are we saying that they didn’t understand their own scriptures and needed us to put things in the right order?

• I only ask this because at Vicar School (and I am only half way through, so bear with me and my stupidity) we have been looking at the book of Daniel. I know Daniel was a real person and a prophet, right? (Look I am doing this thing about taking it literally, so I am a real Conservative Evangelical – it is so important to me that you take me seriously on this.) The Hebrew canon doesn’t place him with the prophets at all, but between Esther and Ezra in a section called the writings. You’d think those ancient Jews would have known how to classify their own people wouldn’t you? Sloppy record keeping if you ask me.

• If the Jews don’t think Daniel was a prophet then everything I have been taught about the meaning of what he is saying must be wrong. (Sorry, for a moment there it sounded as if I had been guilty of interpreting scripture. Please be assured that I was not. I was merely, in good Evangelical style, taking the text as literal truth. No, I didn't say accepting without question what I have been told.)

• So, is he a prophet then or not?

• If he is, how do we know that the Jews got him wrong? Only he was theirs before he was ours.

• Is Daniel still inerrant if Christians have put him in the wrong place and got the wrong end of the stick over what he is saying?

• In Daniel 7.13 there is a reference to “a son of man”. My Bible’s footnotes on that verse send me to Mat 24.30 but now it says “The Son of Man”. That’s not the same, right?

• If it’s not, then Matthew has based a Christology on a misunderstanding. So that can’t be right: it must be Daniel that is wrong. No wait, Daniel is inerrant, so Matthew must be wrong. No, Matthew is inerrant too. Oh God my head hurts!

• My lecturer tells me that Daniel wasn’t even a real person. No, apparently he is a representative figure for all Jewry. Sounds like interpretation to me. We conservative Evangelicals accept the word of God as literal truth so that obviously means my lecturer is talking rubbish. (You should hear him on Genesis: he actually argues that there are different genres of writing. Genres. Genesis has myths in it, religious myths! I ask you.)

• Then he says that in Daniel Nebuchadnezzer represents some guy called Antiochus (!) and the whole book is a code written to encourage Jewish faith at a time of great persecution in the hope that the Hellenic persecutors wouldn’t understand the hidden meaning of the text otherwise the Jews might have been executed for practicing a banned religion. Worst of all THERE WAS NO LION’S DEN. Preposterous. Academics eh? Who needs ‘em?

• Sorry, I am going on a bit, but I have so many other books this destroyer of faith has been going through with us – the whole Old Testament actually – so we could be here for some time.

• O.K. I’ll stop with Daniel.

• BTW. Someone on another blog told me I needn’t worry too much about the Old Testament because large parts of it weren’t written for Christians. Isn’t that a relief? No, I said a relief, not a convenient get-out clause. Only I have been rather guiltily enjoying the forbidden fruit of both pork and seafood and I have been worried about ordination what with me wearing glasses and being tattooed. Now I can hold my head up in front of my gay friends and talk about God’s love without feeling like a hypocrite.

You good folk have done so much to keep me informed and on the straight and narrow about the inerrancy of scripture I would really appreciate your help on these problems before I write another essay.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Clerical Errors


Everyone else seems to be posting on this so I thought I'd be a sheep. I'm not even an Anglican. It's the last sentence that hit me.

Editorial The Guardian, Tuesday June 24, 2008
Log on to the official website of the Lambeth conference and you will find a digital clock. The clock displays the seconds that are ticking away until the opening of the 2008 conference in Canterbury next month. Yet the clock is not just ticking for the 800 bishops who are invited. It is also ticking for the future of the entire Anglican communion itself.

Events in Jerusalem this week, where some 280 Anglican bishops have effectively pre-empted the Lambeth conference by holding one of their own, underline that the coming weeks will determine whether the communion is any longer the viable and meaningful body of churches and believers that it once was. The outcome of that process will affect all the 44 churches that make up the communion. But it is also bound, therefore, to shape the future of the Church of England itself, which is historically the most influential of the 44 and which is itself divided over many of the issues that divide the communion. Anything that even approached a schism or break-up of the English established church would not just have profound religious consequences for this country, but profound constitutional consequences too.

This is to get ahead of ourselves. But it is a reminder of what is at stake in the process. Traditionally, the Anglican communion has been a big tent of mutual tolerance and respect. Its bishops have always enjoyed independent authority within their own dioceses. Its conferences, which take place only once every 10 years, are places for discussion and prayer not sessions of a parliament. They are embodiments of a culture of clerical agreement not one in which a quasi-papal authority is enforced.

Yet the pressures for decision rather than reflection are now gathering on all sides. In Jerusalem on Sunday, addressing a conference in which Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester is also participating, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria called on the church to "banish the errors plaguing our communion", not to "acquiesce to destructive modern cultural and political dictates" and to rescue the communion from "apostates". If significant sections of the communion cannot now even bring themselves to sit in the same room with the rest because of disagreements - a Lambeth boycott movement is gathering pace - then one has to ask if the ties that once bound are now meaningful. In that case, what is the point of keeping the communion together any longer?

The issue on which all of this currently hinges is the status of openly gay people. Over the past half century, civil society in many parts of the world, including ours, has broken free from the long tradition of hostility and discrimination against gay people - and both society and individual lives are immeasurably the better for it. Now, inevitably and rightly, the same process is taking place in the churches, with pressure for the election of openly gay clergy and bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions. In the past, the church has managed such issues by covering them up. But on this issue in these times, that is no longer possible.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has battled to hold both his church and the wider communion together in the face of these pressures. That is one of his jobs - and it has not been a dishonourable effort. Yet it seems clear that it has only delayed an inevitable - and ultimately necessary - confrontation over this issue. Dr Williams has not, contrary to the views of Archishop Akinola, led the church into this. But, now that it is coming, he has a profound responsibility to lead the church out of it, happily and without fear. The question facing Anglicans - and facing other religious groups too - is whether theirs is a faith that is loving enough to treat gay people as equals. If the communion cannot hold together in the face of this question, then so be it. Unity matters as long as the cause is a good one. If the cause is not good, then maybe nor is the unity.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Face to Faith



It's healthy for Christians to disagree, but we really must learn to 'quarrel peacefully

Chris Hardwick, The Guardian, Saturday June 21, 2008

Objectors to the Archbishop of Canterbury's perceived liberalism have been known to send him excrement through the post. The Catholic world's most famous living theologian once upbraided a colleague for merely sharing a platform with the current Pope, thundering that it was like conversing with the head of the KGB. It goes to show that the big problem for Christians is not Richard Dawkins but each other. Why is there so much bad feeling between Christians?

One reason is that Christians are by definition not Christians. Each Christian is only at the stage of becoming one. Another is that on every contested issue there is by now a buttressed "liberal" position, separated by a gulf from a buttressed "conservative" position.

And the nearer the neighbour, the deeper the divide. A Catholic will make common cause with a Baptist sooner than with another Catholic who interprets certain key Second Vatican Council texts differently. An Anglican will make common cause with a Quaker sooner than with another Anglican who takes the opposite view on the question of women bishops.

It is enjoined upon Christians to love each other, especially when they are enemies. With some contemporary intra-Christian estrangements that looks like too wide a stride, so what might be some of the first steps?

For a start the editors of "liberal" Christian journals should carry pieces written by conservatives, and vice versa with the editors of "conservative" Christian journals. Seasoned subscribers flicking through their soothing journals of choice should be startled just occasionally by a wasp spiralling up from the page.
Secondly, let's abolish the clique-cementing habit of parish-hopping. If we feel we are part of a dwindling minority in a parish fast becoming too trendy or reactionary, let's stay put and present our views with vigorous courtesy, rather than baling out to a neighbouring parish full of people who think as we do.
Thirdly, we fractious Christians should spend more time studying negotiation strategies and conflict resolution. We tend to feel our Christianity obviates the need, but there are techniques and skills to such processes as much as to gardening and cookery. And one enlightened central principle is that adversaries can nurture the quality of their relationship even when at an impasse.

You will notice that all three of these suggestions involve not eschewing but encouraging the art of disagreement. This will surprise nobody who has reflected on their experience of life amid any sort of happy family, however constellated. Disagreement is both the daily diet and essential emotional nutrition.

Christians wouldn't disagree so nastily if they could only rid themselves of the mistaken conviction that they shouldn't disagree at all. The (faulty) thinking goes something like this: "You and I are as one in the family of Christ. So I love you unconditionally and must not fall out with you. But your position is so wrong that it betrays both Christ and our family. Therefore - for your sake and the sake of our church - I am obliged to disagree with you and undermine your position, acting aggressively towards you. This makes me feel guilty and unhappy. And it's your fault!"

We Christians should distinguish between unity and uniformity and view disagreements as doors to discovery. We should be able to quarrel but - in a ringing phrase of Cardinal Martini's - "quarrel peacefully". It is possible to disagree while listening to and learning from my adversary's arguments. It is possible to cherish my adversary in and through the very process of vigorous disagreement.
It is possible to disagree emphatically with my Christian sister or brother and - at the height of this disagreement - post them a little parcel. Imagine them fearing the worst and unwrapping it with one hand while the other holds their nose. Imagine their dawning smile as they discover not excrement but a cordial card and some mouth-watering chocolates.

Chris Hardwick is a writer on religion and a playwright.

Comment: So, chastened by this fine article, I will resist telling you how I laughed when Big Pete couldn't get into Jordan for the Gay and Free Convention.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Anyone for Exegesis?


I have never done anything like this before. The world of Biblical criticism will forever be the same.

I had to do this as a college assignment, so if you fancy a look at Psalm 118....

(Also, if you believe King David wrote all the Psalms, look away now.)

The Context: The Book of Psalms reached its present form quite late and the process of completion took several stages from the fifth to the second centuries B.C.E. Religious tradition depicts the Psalms as being the work of King David but the Psalms were not written down in Hebrew before the sixth century B.C.E. several hundred years after the generally accepted dating for the reign of David.
Critical analysis lends strength to the belief that the Psalms are more likely to be the combined work of several writers or schools of writers. Brueggemann gives a helpful analogy when he describes the psalms as being rather like Negro spirituals

"…that have no author or identifiable place of origin, but simply arise in the life and practice of the community and are found to be recurringly adequate to many different usages over time." W. Bruggemann, p279

Various collections of psalms were compiled over time to be used in liturgical settings by those responsible for worship, rather like guilds of liturgical performers, and that what we are left with is what Bruggemann calls a “long editorial-traditioning process” (p278) as these various collections were moulded and shaped for use in a variety of liturgical contexts until they settled into the form which we know today.

In addition there are clear patterns or formats to the Psalms. Hermann Gunkel pioneered Form Criticism and sought to provide a new way of interpreting the Psalms. He concluded that GENRE, rather than the individual psalm’s context within the Psalter was the key. According to Gunkel three conditions needed to be met for a psalm to fit into a genre.
• There needed to be a similar basis of worship or cultic setting.
• They were characterised by common thoughts, feelings and moods.
• They required a shared style or structure. H. Gunkle and J. Begrich, p16

Gunkel identifies six genre: hymns, enthronement psalms, communal laments, royal psalms, individual laments and individual thanksgiving, together with a number of smaller genre.

Psalm 118: Turning to Psalm 118: what we have, in Gunkel’s classification, is a psalm of individual thanksgiving. However Gunkel recognises that some psalms fit more than one category and Psalm 118 is also found under his list of Psalm Liturgies.

Here the form within the Thanksgiving Genre is:
• An expanded introduction expressing the intention to give thanks to Yahweh. (v1-4)
• An outline of the problem to a congregation which will encompass the lament, the call to God and the deliverence. (v5-19)
• A public declaration of Yahweh’s acceptance. (v20 – 25)
• A thanks offering. (v26 – 29)

From the very outset, in verse 1, we have an echo of the ancient covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel in the idea of loving-kindness or hesed as the priest invites the congregation to repeat the liturgical statement that is common elsewhere in the Psalter: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, His love endures forever.” What is interesting about this psalm is the possibility that some of the original liturgical instructions may have become incorporated into the text of the Psalm. We can imagine the people standing outside the gates of the Jerusalem Temple and being required to repeat a creedal statement in some form of antiphonal response. It might be possible to identify the three groups represented by the designations, Israel, The House of Aaron and Those Who Fear Israel as the regular faithful, the Priests and the proselytes. G.A.F. Knight argues that from the outset we have the key as to the liturgical purpose of this Psalm.

"It covers an act of worship in which a pagan is received into the fellowship of the people of God. He is welcomed by the priest of the day." G.A.F. Knight, p206

While Knight’s is not the general view, it is worth considering and it is easy to see how he has reached his position: such converts were not uncommon in the community of Israel as those from other tribes who were attracted to the Law of Moses, were accepted into the covenant. In terms of dating this Psalm, however, the clue is little help: in the pre-exilic period many Canaanites were absorbed into the People of Israel, their very survival conditional upon their following Yahweh while in the post-exilic period Israel saw its role as welcoming in the nations as reflected in the themes of second Isaiah. Attempts at dating are further confused by the use of the term The House of Aaron to identify the priesthood. This would suggest a post-exilic dating as “Aaron” becomes the designation for the priesthood from the period of Ezra. Alternatively one could speculate that the line “Let the House of Aaron say….” is merely a later editing of the text to acknowledge a change in liturgical terminology and shows a traditioning process at work.

"There is now a disposition to say that, although the Psalter received its final shape at the hands of the staff of the Second Temple, most of the psalms reflect the official pre-exilic worship of Israel." B.W. Anderson p546

So if Knight is wrong, and this is not a psalm of conversion, whose is the primary voice of Psalm 118? In Israel there was a real corporate identity where the first person pronoun could authoritatively be said representing the community. If this is a psalm of Cultic proceeding, as Gunkle would argue, then the primary voice becomes a representative of the people. The military language in v 10-12 and 15-16 suggests the King who, in speaking about his experience of “God’s steadfast love” is, in fact, delivering a word of testimony on behalf of the nation. Could this even be an annual event? Could the reference to boughs in v27 be a reference to the Feast of the Tabernacle? Certainly, as the Feast of the Tabernacle is a royal festival, the argument for the primary voice being that of the King is strengthened. Certainly this liturgy would have…

"..emphasized and demonstrated aspects of the ideal kingship represented throughout the Psalms." A.C. Brunson, p45

Now that the King has Yahweh on his side his faith is strengthened, as is that of the people. “What can man (now) do to me?” he demands as he goes on to outline those generic things which used to overwhelm him (the nation) or perhaps a generic failing that equates to confession.

Whether the thanksgiving which follows is a new convert’s or the King’s the source of thanksgiving is the same: Yahweh is on his side. At this point the text lends itself to a form of response with the lead voice, either the new convert or the King leading the congregation.
Voice : All the nations surround me
Response: But in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
Voice : They surrounded me on every side
Response: But in the name of The Lord I cut them off.
Voice : They swarmed around me like bees
Response: but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of The Lord I cut them off.

Given that the Psalms, we now realize, are less private reflection and more public liturgy, this would not be unusual. In the Psalter there are 150 Psalms. Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that each had its particular niche as a liturgy? Some would be part of regular public worship while others would be occasional liturgies depending on the circumstances. (“Depression, sir? You’ll be wanting the liturgy of Psalm 22 then.”)

At verse 19 there is a change of mood. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the voice we now hear is the voice of the Priest. “Open to me the gate of righteosness” becomes a literal instruction rather than merely a spiritual aspiration. In this understanding, the liturgy of Psalm 118 is very much a drama. We see the Priest leading the congregation in procession from one temple court to another in an act of great symbolism. This is theatre in promenade and a liturgical drama managed by the Priests. It is a spiritual transition acted out.

It is the Priest who, in verse 20, makes a statement of authority on the status of the petitioner, new convert or chastened King: he is now Righteous in the sight of God and can therefore move deeper into the temple, closer to the Holy place. This is God’s saving love acted out as a public witness of faith. Does verse 21 now reveal the petitioner’s response? His statement “I will give you thanks, for you answered me: you have become my salvation” is a strikingly humble recognition of the working of God’s grace. It is God and God alone who has brought him to this point. Here we have jutification by faith not by good works Old Testament style.

What for many Christians is a statement about Christ in verses 22-24 is revealed as having an altogether different emphasis. The petitioner is recognized as having been brought close to God. He is a new creation and we can “hear” the voices of his supporters in a formal response as they acknowledge his acceptance (or reacceptance) into the community of the faithful, perhaps in unison or perhaps in three groups:
• The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
• The Lord has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes.
• This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
The one who was nearly rejected has been reinstated. The use of the idea of cornerstone would seem to strengthen the argument for the petitioner to be the King. The King is restored: all is well with the community.

In Christian understanding this is taken as a clear reference to Christ and verse 24 “This is the Day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it.” is a wonderful statement for Easter Day. Thus Christianity has taken this Psalm and used it to support the doctrine that God has acted to bring life to mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

That Christianity sees itself as the heir to the theology, history and traditions of Israel has always been a part of its self-understanding. In seeking to re-evaluate a past in the context of a man who has been accepted as the promised Messiah, Christian apologists have re-read the writings of the Tanakh in search of passages which can retrospectively legitimize their claim that Christ is indeed God’s Chosen One “Before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8.58). To see references to Christ in the Psalms is effectively a secondary interpretation of the writings.

The Easter understanding of this psalm, then, is surely a tertiary understanding as the secondary understanding becomes further interpreted from an understanding that the passage is about Jesus to an understanding that that it is specifically about the Easter events.
The historian who studies the history of Israel will find it to be the ordinary history of a tiny people in the Near East, no different from the others. The believers who produced the Bible read in these events the word and the intervention of their God.

"The unbeliever will not discover any trace of God in it…but…the believer will discover that God continues to speak to us as he spoke to the Prophets." E. Charpontier, p10.

So, regardless of Christianity’s view that Christ is the word of God both forward and backwards, the same yesterday, today and forever, there was a pre-existing understanding of this Psalm in the Jewish tradition which has value in its own right.
The Christian understanding of this section, while it may be valid, is, therefore, not to be taken as the primary understanding. While it is, in its broadest sense, a Psalm of David and therefore might be interpreted as having a Messianic element, it is primarily a Psalm of thanksgiving.

The final section of the Psalm is one of thanksgiving and the symbolism and sense of theatre continue. Is the voice we now hear in verse 26 – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” - that of another priest, one who has a different liturgical responsibility in the new temple court? We can picture this priest standing at the door of the shrine building and inviting the now forgiven and justified petitioner to approach the altar of Yahweh to make an offering of thanksgiving, a symbol of his consciousness of having been alienated from God and in gratitude for Yahweh’s acceptance of him. The petitioner follows what must have been this deeply moving and spiritual moment with an exultant cry of gratitude: “You are my God and I will give thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you.” To which the gathered congregation responds “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

What we have in Psalm 118, then, is not the private reflections or meditations of “the psalmist” but a vibrant piece of active liturgy, taking the petitioner from the status of outcast, through confession and penitence to grace and acceptance by God into thanksgiving and full membership of the worshipping community: all witnessed by, and with the active participation of, that same worshipping community. We have a tantelising glimpse of the religious practices of a past world. How exciting is that?

Bibliography:

Walter Bruggemann: An Introduction to The Old Testament, Westminster John-Knox Press, 2003.

H. Gunkel and J. Begrich: Introduction to Psalms, Mercer University Press, 1998. (German edition 1933)

G.A.F. Knight: The Daily Bible Study, Psalms Vol 2, St. Andrew’s Press, 1986.

Bernhard W. Anderson: The Living World of the Old Testament, Longman, 1993.

Andrew C. Brunson: Psalm 118 in The Gospel of John, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003.

Etienne Charpontier: How to Read the Old Testament, SCM Press, 1982.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My eyes (pt II)

There are some things that no matter what your state of sobriety and outlook on life you just never need to see. A well dressed lady in light summery dress and linen jacket, apparently out all day wandered out past the front door after only about 5 minutes inside the place. This lady then takes a seat on the doorstep of the neighbouring business and takes off her shoes. Why women and shoes don't agree will never make sense to me. After 5 minutes or so I look back over to see her still sitting on the step, throwing up vigorously. Not a quick little vomit but pints and pints of alcohol laced chunky stuff. More and more of it. After about a minute of near continuous retching there was a good sized mound of the lumpy stuff and the rest was dripping off the kerb to the drain. While she was doing this, she'd gotten slightly more disarrayed than when she left. Her hair at the front was dripping, her jacket cuffs had caught some collateral damage as she tried to hold her hair back. On a light linen jacket it was very obvious. Her posture had slid from sitting to squatting, showing her thong and all that was not covered by it to all and sundry passing by. Potentially erotic were it not for the seemingly endless vomit now piled near her feet.

This in itself is highly unpleasant but not the kind of thing a doorman is unprepared for.
This 'lady' then regains her dignified pose upon the doorstep. The real problem however was the shoes, now filled with chunky warm stomach contents. Don't worry, she calmly grabs them from the pile and shakes the chunks out and holds them to drip for a while. This can only get worse as her partner emerges and asks if we've seen her. We direct him to the doorstep where she's recovering. She hops to her feet, which were dry, gives him a peck on the cheek, hops back into her shoes which were dripping wet and wanders on.
This left me with only the mound of vomit to catch out of the corner of my eye until the bucket of hot soapy water came and sent the chunks floating down the gutter slowly past my post on the front door.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Face to Faith


Face to faith

Finding a crucifix on a rubbish heap was a timely reminder of God's enduring love says Andrew Clitherow.

Andrew Clitherow The Guardian, Saturday June 14 2008

A trip to our local recycling centre can be something of a trial. So keen are the men who work there to meet the council's green quotas, visitors are frequently interrogated on arrival to ensure they haven't inadvertently put some soggy cardboard in the same bag as the fabric conditioner bottle.

On my last mission to rid the house of the inevitable detritus of family life, I was accosted by a huge gentleman who looked to be the tip's chief interrogator. Towering over me, he ripped apart my puny black plastic bag and pointed out my abject failure to sort the perishable from the non-perishable. I apologised profusely and slunk home to check the remaining rubbish.

The next day, when I arrived at the tip, I kept one eye out for my interrogator while emptying carefully sorted bags into the rubbish containers. While emptying one bag I noticed something extraordinary: a beautiful crucifix, jammed into the handle of a refuse container.

As I wondered how it came to be on the tip, a long shadow fell and my interrogator reappeared, and noticed what I was staring at. After a short discussion we came to the conclusion that someone hadn't been able to bring themselves to throw it away with the rest of their possessions. Let's face it, how on earth do you work out which container your are going to consign Jesus to?

With the permission of the tip worker, I rescued the crucifix and took it home with me. It sits on my desk now, a daily reminder of how Jesus may be cast out from people's lives but the story of crucified love held such a power over someone's life that they couldn't completely consign it to the rubbish.

Some months later I told this story to a local vicar, remarking on how the love of God is most powerful when it engages directly with the world, in the midst of the joys and sorrows of daily life. Here, where he is not obscured by church traditions, controversies and prejudice, the Christ of the universe is set free to lead people to God.

When I had finished the story, the vicar asked me to describe the big man at the rubbish tip to him. As I did so a look of recognition came over his face. He had recently taken the funeral of the big man, a parishioner who had only been in his 20s. It seemed that, soon after passing his driving test, the young man had misjudged his speed as he approached a roundabout - with tragic consequences.

I thought about how and why that crucifix had ended up on the rubbish heap, and the big man and I had stood together looking down upon it. It occurs to me that there are times in our lives when we are unwittingly used to give others the opportunity to draw closer to God. It's as if there are special times when God wants to assure us of his love, especially when we experience shadows that frighten and even threaten our very existence. It's as if there are messages left for us and our loved ones that there is more to life than meets the eye. At the foot of the cross, fear is met by faith.

When I think about the men and women working at the refuse tip I'm reminded also of the words of George McLeod, who worked tirelessly to help the underprivileged and poor in the early 20th century.

He said: "I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

"It was the kind of place where cynics talk smut, thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. That's where he died. And that's where Christians ought to be and what Christians ought to be about."

Canon Andrew Clitherow is vicar of St Cuthbert's, Lytham and chaplain to the Queen. He is the author of Creative Love in Tough Times

Monday, June 9, 2008

Penny Drops


I was wondering the other night how long it takes folk to realise. I think everyone gets it eventually, it just takes others more time.
The loud bars and dark nightclubs which provide my living service the market of the pre-penny dropped.
The dreams that bars and nightclubs peddle are for the great majority of people, not real. You won't find Mr or Mrs right on the hot sweaty over crowded dance floor. You'll spend a lot of money on new clothes, cover charges, drinks, taxis and takeaways. You'll spend night after night listening to the same or very similar loud music. You'll keep me and all the others involved in the business of bars and clubs in jobs. Will you find happiness?
Not likely. The penny drops when you realise that this image and lifestyle the public is sold through all sorts of media isn't for you. When you see that finding the partner of your dreams is very unlikely unless you are massively vain and can be satisfied by looks alone. You can't really talk to folk and you certainly can't get to know someone in a busy nightclub. It's looks and dancing only. As I said, only the vain thrive.
For most this penny drops and folks start to see clubs as a way to celebrate with friends, a way to indulge in a naughty night out or just to enjoy a rare dancing in public opportunity. For others the penny takes alot longer. They file in every night they can an stumble out every morning. Poorer both financially and I would think spiritually.
I just get to oversee their journey through each night, night after night. Watching these deluded folks drop their pennies in the tills and keep me paid. Seeing the business of clubbing sell them a fantasy and queuing the believers up to lighten their wallets.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

So what do we want/expect from our priests?

Readers of recent posts will have picked up on a discussion about ethics and morality, particularly in relation to the those in Holy Orders. This arose out of a post where I attempted some lame humour and included a joke which included the word "tits" in its punch line and then changed it for a video clip of the same joke. This wasn't particularly where I was expecting the thread to go and I had to agree with Anne when she said: "What a very interesting debate. I bet you weren't expecting that, D.P. when you posted a few jokes!!!"

Neil has said on a number of occasions both here and on his own site that he is frustrated and made uncomfortable by those priests who "talk dirty":

'But among you there should not even be a hint of sexual imorality ... nor should there be obsenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place' Ephesians 5: 3-4

The Bible makes it clear that it is wrong for Christians, especially leaders in the church to swear and get involved in obscene talk and sexual innuendo. Unfortunately it is my (recent and past) experience that this too often happens. I would even go as far as saying that in the Church of England this is endemic and I would call for Priests to repent of this! I have known people to walk away from church because there was no fruit in the lives of the leaders. I have also known people who have been very hurt by sexual comments of leaders in the church."
He said that he found my post "offensive".

Leo commented: "I certainly don't want a hard drinking, cussing, smoking, womaniser (for a priest), but equally I do want one who I can relate to and who is human." Mimi agreed and added: "I like a touch of humanity in a priest, too."

Kate then said (in terms of sexually explicit language and how that might hurt someone): "My issues are and always have been MY issues. It's MY responsibility to work them out and find healing in God and in myself, and it's not YOUR responsibility to protect me from allusions to it, especially where you don't know me or my history. Having been a victim 40 years ago doesn't give me the right to stay one and project my victimhood onto others for the rest of my life. It's easier to see that now that I've mostly stopped.

The whole issue of personal sin ... When people went to Jesus and said, "She's doing that and I want you to make her stop ..." (or words of that sort), the response was, "You need to go home and get yourself right with God." One of Jesus' more endearing and aggravating tendencies."

Anne added: "I think God is so big he needs different people to express different things about his image. I can see both your points of view, (D.P. and Neil) and, based only on my cyber-space impression of you, (Neil), I think you express the need to strive earnestly for holiness. But God also needs other people to express what it's like to live in the freedom that redemption brings."

I then wondered whether there is a difference between taking offence and giving it and Anne came back with a comment about living in the world but not of it which Neil took up with the comment: "I guess the question is what is different about our life styles to that of non Christians?

In what sense are we 'in the world but not of it'?"

You see I've been here before with other bloggers over the content of another of my blogs, a one off post about my experiences as a Christian Doorman HERE where I felt strongly that there was a distinction between some words and the intention of the whole post. My detractors, selectively editing their quotes away from any context, viewed the very post as evidence itself that I was a "false Christian" and therefore not saved.
Doorman comment-Update2 (This link keeps coming and going.)

So, back to the question, what do we want/expect from our clergy? What is acceptable and what isn't? Where are the lines?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Just for the fun of it!

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?


A stern yet benevolent organizer who often knows best, your wits are keenly fixed on aiding efforts you deem worthy.

Now at this last we must take a hard road, a road unforseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be. To walk into peril to Mordor.

I'm happy with that.

For what its worth.

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou - a Free Dating Site

I am also happy about this, partly because a former reader of this blog, Pastor Brian Culver, believed it to be a source of filth!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Team Work

If you walk into a group of over-excited beered up lads to tell them their night of revelry at the venue is over you either need to be mentally defective or very good at teamwork.
It helps to know where your team mates are, where their attention is, what attitude they've brought with them tonight, what their personal views on different types of punters and even whether they've been on a rest day or a legs day in the gym. All of these things will allow you to be more effective, know what you can stretch to without getting your arse kicked or worse.

When you work with a team that you know well most of the time you can tell how they're going to react to situations. You can see them tense, you can hear their voice change, you can hear what's said to them and guess pretty exactly how they'll take it. I much prefer working with a consistent doorman than a temperamental one. Even a supplement filled short fused potential death machine can be a good teammate in the right venue if you can reliably predict their actions. If you play to the strengths of each member the team can do everything at a level far higher than any given doorman.

Back to the wandering into a crowd of inebriated gents. Don't ever make threats you can't carry out and know how to get yourself out even if you have to fell some of the group to get your arse safely out of there. A tight team gives you the knowledge they'll be watching when you need them. They'll know what you can and can't handle, they'll know when you're about to blow and it might be time to step in. This stag night ended for them and went surprisingly well for us. I wandered in to read the riot act.
"Calm it down right now lads" This got all eyes on me and some agreement, some jeering.
"If there is even a reason to come over and speak to you again you'll all be out". This got nods and a lot less jeering. With people beyond a certain level of drunk only a little bit of what you say ever sticks and little of this sinks in.
While I wandered back to where I prefer to stand and keep an eye on things one of them flattened a glass collector in an act of drunken stumbling dancing. Now there's broken glass everywhere and it's time to shift the group. Dancing oaf gets a gentle guided stagger to the street. Half of the remaining group sup up and start out to join him. The last half stay fast and pose the annoying choice of struggling them one by one to the street or bundling the lot up and scrummaging them as fast as you can to the pavement. We chose option 2. They clumped together to stop a forced ejection and found they just kept on moving. In a tangle of punters with a generous coating of doormen they wound round a corner or two, down a short flight of stairs and out into the night where, when we scurried away back to work, they were left looking like a flock of sheep without a collie ready to wander off to pastures new or get maneaten by the wolves. Likely a hen night from Paisley.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Don't Blame Me, Blame The Ordinands


What a humourous lot these trainee priests are:

Why does the bride always wear white?
Because its always a good idea to have the Dishwasher matching the fridge.

And to add balance:

Men are like bike helmets, handy in an emergency, but otherwise they just look silly. Men are like mascara, they run at the first sight of emotion.

Also:

An Englishman in Dublin asks a local the quickest way to Cork.

"Are you on foot or in a car?"

"I'm in a car"

"That's the quickest way."

And from My Own Personal Agnostic one which is also on You Tube:

The link is Here (This link keeps coming and going and seems to be invisible sometimes. Just hover the cursor over the gap.) It is the first clip, but keep watching as the others are a treat too.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Well: how mainstream am I?


I know I said no more on science and religion, but this one doesn't count as it's not mine! I found this in yeasterday's Guardian, famed in the 1980s for its many typos and fondly, therefore, known as the Grauniad.

Face to faith

Darwin's epiphany was like the kind of enlightenment that leads to faith, says Joanna Collicutt

Are we "hard-wired" to believe in God? Interesting evidence from cognitive neuroscience suggests that certain beliefs come naturally to us, as a by-product of the way our thinking processes evolved. It seems that we have a tendency to detect agents at work in the world around us, and to attribute intentions to them. In the struggle for survival that underpins natural selection, a cognitive system that is tuned to purposeful agents should be highly adaptive. It might tend mistakenly to attribute agency to logs, but it will come into its own when one of those logs turns out to be an alligator.

Some theorists (for instance Pascal Boyer in his book Religion Explained) take these observations as foundational for their accounts of the genesis and persistence of human beliefs about a world populated by invisible agents, both benevolent and malevolent: tree spirits, demons, leprechauns, gods, angels, ghosts and so on. These sorts of natural beliefs are universal. Even in the 21st-century urban west we talk of "gremlins" in our computers, and readily respond to advertisements that portray bacteria as evil little monsters.

In contrast, modern science requires us to think in unnatural ways, to put aside notions of agency and intention, as we construct explanations for the natural world. This is extraordinarily challenging for us. Our psychology seems to demand agency and purpose, intention and design. This is why Darwin's relatively simple theory of natural selection remains difficult and fundamentally implausible to many people.

Richard Dawkins' great achievement has been to breach this plausibility barrier. Ironically his success rests in part on a skilful exploitation of our preference for agents and our natural tendency to teleological thinking. Dawkins has introduced us to the "selfish gene" - a nasty little demon if ever there was one, and a teleological one at that, driven by a single purpose - replication.

So, it seems that our cognitive constraints can be pressed into service by popular religion, with its talk of saints and angels, and also by popular science, with its talk of genes (and memes). But has this actually got much to do with faith? We need to be clear that the superficially similar notions of "religious faith" and "belief in the existence of god(s)" are in fact profoundly different.

For the great religious traditions of the world understand faith as something fundamentally unnatural, something that only emerges through a process of enlightenment that enables the disciple to see things in a new way. The religious model of faith is thus not so much cognitive as perceptual. This is perhaps not very different from the experience of a great scientist (Charles Darwin again comes to mind) who has all the facts at his or her disposal and comes to see in them something that has been missed by others. These insights often feel inexplicably "given" - epiphanies - rather than consciously attained intellectual objectives.

In John's gospel - shortly after Jesus has claimed to be the light of the world - there is a story of the healing of a man born blind. It is essentially about a person who comes to see the truth in a context where other people remain blind to it yet claim that they can see. The process is gradual, and not entirely smooth, for the man needs guidance (by Jesus) at certain points. And, when asked to explain his faith, his response is not systematic and logical but pragmatic and empirical: "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

There are no gremlins, angels, spirits or gods here. We are in a different epistemological domain. Faith has not come naturally or with ease, but once it has been attained it is compelling because it works, and the evidence is the man's own story.

The Rev Dr Joanna Collicutt is a senior lecturer in the psychology of religion at Heythrop College, and co-wrote The Dawkins Delusion? with Professor Alister McGrath

Clever woman, eh?