Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I love This



Aren't those old ladies game for anything?

I would have loved to have stumbled into that. Exuberance is GOOD!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sliding away

Working inside a hot sweaty student night. The air conditioning gave up keeping the innards cool an age ago, its just dripping down the wall every now and again. The mirrors are steamed up, the walls are dripping with a combination of beer and condensed sweat. This is the time when I find myself hurtling onto the dancefloor as two small and skinny t-shirted and scruffy haired student types tangle. They feel its time to be as manly as 19 year olds straight from mommys table to pot noodles and lectures can be. This involves pushing each others chests and keeping a nearly safe distance away. That is until we arrive.
My colleague and I arrive from opposite times and scoop both up, spinning them away from each other. All good, his one goes quietly, mine sees the crowded, no overcrowded room and figures he'll make a dash for it. Not exit-ward, he tries to bolt for the corner packed with folks. He's skinny, sweaty, full of adrenaline and his drunken mind is focused on a task. I've got one hand around his wrist and one around his elbow and he's wriggling and pulling and twisting this way and that. I'm struggling to stay standing on a dancefloor mainly awash with drink, sweat and a fine sprinkling of broken bottle glass. He's got a serious passion to be elsewhere and enough sweat on him to make it a serious possibility.
This is not the way to control a situation. Time to improvise. He's small, he's skinny, he's wearing jeans. keeping one hand on his wrist I throw a hand out and grab the top of his jeans. I then levitate the bugger back towards me. It's alot more fun to watch someone try and wriggle away when their feet don't reach the floor. A quick redirection towards the fire door and the gent rapidly gives up, preferring the dignity of walking to that of twisting like a worm on a hook.

Another interesting experience



I was walking to church yesterday in a glorious spring morning. The clocks had gone forward and the day was cold and crisp with an impossibly blue cloudless sky. The sun was warming my face and the evidence of the previous night's heavy frost was fast disappearing.

There weren't many folk about: as a nation we generally get the clock change badly wrong and I suppose most people were still in bed. I felt the sun on my face and all was well with the world. As I approached the shops I noticed a young man behaving eratically. Drunk? At 9.30 on a Sunday morning? Well this is a student area: we have two universities, a teacher training college, an art college, a music college and a building college and there are certainly precedents enough for young people wending their way home at this time in the morning after a full night of revelry.

However, I was intrigued. He was moving very rhythmically and with great deliberation. We passed each other at a bus stop and I realised he was dancing to his i-pod. He was quite ecstatic, totally unselfconscious and probably sober. He opened his eyes and gave me the most beautific smile which I could not help but return.

"Morning Father."

"Nice dancing."

And we both went on our ways.

A couple of hundred yards further on I came across a pair of shoes on the pavement, abandoned as if in mid step. Had the rapture happened and missed me out? What was the story behind that? I shall never know but I smiled all the way to church where I was delighted to meet Goran, my Swedish friend, who had decided to check us out before he went back to Stockholm.

Sometimes its the little things that seem important.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An interesting experience


In addittion to having a one to one with my Bishop over pizza, I have been out and about on the road this week visiting students on their work-experience placements. As parking in the city centre is hard I park up at home and buy a day-rider and do the whole thing on public transport.

On the way into town yesterday the bus stopped at one particular stop and thirty or so men of various non-Europen ethnicities got on. It took me a moment to work it out: there is a mosque around the corner and these guys were fresh out of Friday prayers. There was a great deal of hugging and hand shaking and giving up of seats for the elderly. Their faces shone from their encounter with God. I was absolutely charmed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Claire's Views

Hi, I'm Doorman-Priest's younger daughter. I've been taking a Youth Alpha course at my church, St Georges, and I've realised that admitting that your beliefs differ slightly from theirs can cause some controversy. When I get into a discussion or conversation with a leader or intern, I always forget what my main points are, so I decided to write them down :)

Here they are:

Firstly, I believe that God is all loving. To everyone. I don't believe that if you're a non Christian, or if you're gay you'll automatically go to Hell. I believe that the writers of the Bible were influenced by God, and wrote about him, but obviously society at the time had an influence on what they wrote. Being gay when the Bible was first written was deviant, so this would have come across when writing the Bible. I believe that we have to interpret the Bible into our modern day society. We don't shun people in society who argue with our parents, so why do we still choose to exclude gay people for being gay? Also, agnostic people and atheist people shouldn't be condemed to Hell for not believing. Our time on Earth might be a test of faith. If you fail that test, yeah God will be annoyed and upset at you, but some people have a harder time grasping the concept of blind faith than other people. You see God in front of you when you die, you don't doubt for a second that he exists then. Saying that non believers go to Hell scares us into introducing our non believing friends to God. It works. But I don't believe that the consequences are that harsh for finding talking to someone that you can't see difficult.

I also find the idea of the Devil as a fallen angel abit unbelieveable too. To me, it makes it sound like a Soap Opera then. God's best friend wanted that he had. God got rid of him, so the then decided to try and steal all of God's friends. It sounds like a badly thought out line in Hollyoaks. I do think that there is evil in the world trying to trip us up and stop us from focusing on God, but I don't see it in the form of a little red man with horns and a tail. I also don't believe that supernatural things are evil. They're just another way of viewing the world.

I've been rambling for a while, sorry! Feel free to ask my Dad about what I've written down, I just sort of used his account without his permission because I didn't fancy writing this on my myspace. I thought I'd get some better responses on here :)

This took far too long to add onto his blog btw!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This evening...



...I took my Bishop to dinner. I am only saying that because I realise it is a sentence very few people get to use and I will probably never use it again.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Sermon: John 3.16



So today it is Mothering Sunday and I also have probably the most famous Gospel text known to Christians to preach on.

No pressure then.

I have a teaching colleague. I won’t tell you where he’s from except to say that he’s not from round here. I give him a lift home most evenings and it has become something of a nightmare because he keeps talking to me about Jesus and it’s really getting on my nerves. This has caused great hilarity amongst some of our other colleagues:

“Doesn’t he know you’re going to be ordained?”

“Yes, but that seems to make him worse.”

“This must be your lenten discipline.” (That was a Muslim friend)

“Look, I gave up chocolate, cake, alcohol, biscuits and second helpings. They were my choice. I didn’t choose this.”

“Maybe it’s Allah’s will for you at this time.” (She’s very sharp, that one.)

I’ve been trying to analyse why this is becoming such an issue for me and I have drawn the uncomfortable conclusion it is because our Christianities are so different. His is a very black and white, literalist approach with no scope for nuance, areas of grey or holy doubt, whereas I am very much at the radical end of liberal.

“I’ve given up Alcohol for lent.”

“You drink alcohol?”

What followed was a diatribe against the laxness of the west.

“It is to do with low standards: with fornication and homosexuality.”

“Now let me just stop you there …”

Can I stop on the M621 and ask him to get out between junctions? Would that seem too inhospitable? I try to bite my tongue, I really do, but sometimes I just can’t rise above it.

“… I’ve just read a very detailed biblical study of why the so-called traditional teaching on homosexuality is a gross misinterpretation of the various texts.”

Sounds of apoplectic gasping from the passenger seat.

“But it says in Leviticus and Romans …..”

“I know what it says, but that depends on whether you accept everything in the Bible as literally true, rather than seeking to understand the various types of holiness codes and laws to say nothing of the different genre, and whether you believe that we are the implied audience of the various passages rather than the people they were written to. We mustn’t assume that we are. Much of the Bible was written in a very specific religious and cultural climate which is not ours.” (Who’s on his soapbox now?) Note to self: triumphalism is not a nice characteristic in a trainee pastor ….. but it feels so good.

There is ominous silence for a while and I realise that I have been driving progressively faster.

There is a change of tack:

“What do you understand about the crucifixion?”

I explain the theology of the atonement.

“Not all will be saved.” He says. “People who do not confess Jesus will go to Hell. It says in John 3.16…”

And here we have it: one of the most misunderstood and misused texts in scripture. This single verse has provided motivation for some of the most destructive and unchristian impulses in those who call themselves Christian.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that all who believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now some of you know that I am a blogger. There seems to be a recurring theme in this activity: every two or three months I seem to end up in strident cyber debate with some other Christian, usually from either the Anglican diocese of Sydney or U.S. Southern Baptists or Missouri Synod Lutherans. The “discussion” is usually about the nature of salvation and the fate of those who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

I am clearly a masochist: here I am in my own car having the same discussion.

Taken literally this passage from John suggests that those who do not believe in the son will perish.

It is difficult to overestimate the damage that has been done by a literal interpretation of this text. It is difficult to overestimate the hurt, harm and abuse that have been encouraged by this passage. It shapes the way Christians throughout history have treated people of other faiths and cultures and the outcome of that has been conflict and violence and the crushing of indigenous culture and languages in the name of Christ.

And yet I can (just) remember in those far off heady days of my late-teenage post-conversion years, when I was a lot more evangelical than I am now, that this text was one I learnt by heart and which informed my attitude to other people. It didn’t matter who they were: they were either saved or they weren’t. Simple as.

My movement away from that stance happened gradually as I matured in my faith and God took me in directions and into experiences where I began to question the old certainties. I will always remember one particular joke a wise vicar told me.

A new arrival at the pearly gates was met by St. Peter and shown round Heaven. At one point they came to a very high wall.

“What’s behind there?” she asked.

“Keep your voice down” said St. Peter. “That’s where the Lutherans are. They think they’re the only ones here and we don’t want to upset them.”

Actually, it wasn’t the Lutherans in the original. I’ll leave you to guess: suffice to say that it works with any Christian group.

I have a number of Muslim and Sikh friends. We often talk about religion and I’ve learnt a lot about them and from them. When other Christians berate me about mission and witness and how we must bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus, I always think of them … and I always think that bringing them to Jesus sounds so simple but in reality is very far from it.

Of course it is never me who convicts and converts, it is the Holy Spirit. I know that and, yes, I sometimes wonder what the Holy Spirit makes of my witness by word and deed to anyone, not just Muslims and Sikhs.

But let me ask you two things:

• What does it take for someone – anyone to come to faith?
• What is it that we ask others to believe and accept as part of that act of faith?

You see I don’t think it matters whether you are Muslim or Sikh or Atheist or whatever: in order to come to faith you have to not only hear but to understand the Gospel, although if you come from a culture which is broadly Christian I suspect that it may be easier for you.

“How” I ask these other Christians “does a Muslim born and brought up in rural Saudi Arabia hear, let alone understand the Gospel? And yet you are telling me that God – my God, the God I believe in and follow – condemns to Hell a whole swathe of people for not following an injunction they could not possibly have known about. In terms of God’s justice, how does that work, then?”

“The Bible is clear.” I am told.

Right.

Taken literally John 3.16 becomes the foundation for the rejection of the “other” in society: the ones who are not like us. By that I don’t just mean race and religion, but gender, sexuality and it even relates to cultural imperialism or the western sense of entitlement.

The irony here is that of the Gospel writers John was the one who was least likely to take a literalist approach to his writing and would most certainly have rejected that sort of literalist reading. The passage immediately before today’s Gospel reading is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. This is the same John who tells us that Jesus was amazed at Nicodemus when he understood Jesus’ comment about being born again in a literal way. If the life and teaching of Jesus gives us cause to be literal in our reading of Jesus’ words it is not John 3.16, but John 3.17 that we should look to: “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Neither Jesus nor John was interested in establishing a belief system based on rejection by God. What they were very interested in was the question concerning how one came to have faith and the supplementary question about how one grows in one’s experience of God.

There seem to be a number of positions in the New Testament and the one I favour is “Believe and be baptised.” (Mark 16.16) but that raises other issues such as “Believe what?” or “Believe in what?”

So, I think my challenge to you this morning is to think of those Biblical passages which most closely represent to you what the life of faith is about. There are some around the room to help you on the various coloured cards. These were suggested by blogging friends when I did an on-line exercise in what the fundamentals of our faith are.

Now there may be more, but for me what we have here sums it up. In short: repent, believe, be saved by grace, show the change in your life but recognise that you are still vulnerable to temptation. Be open to the spirit, continue to repent and seek the strength of the Spirit to grow more into the likeness of the Saviour.

Hang on, though. Weren’t you concerned about the Muslim in rural Saudi Arabia who has no chance of hearing, let alone understanding the Gospel?

Yes. But we must leave that to God. My responsibility is not to put limits on the grace of God. My responsibility is not to go with John 3.16 without John 3.17. We may turn out, like the Christians behind the wall in Heaven in the joke, to be surprised by the extent of the grace of God, but it is most certainly not for us to second guess the mind of God on this. Remember, righteousness was ascribed to Abraham through his faith in God and he predated Jesus.

However, I’ll leave you with a tantalising insight into the theology of C.S. Lewis on this topic: a theology which has become known as the theology of the unknowing disciple.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with his writings, Lewis writes a series of what appear to be children’s adventure stories, set in the land of Narnia, the most famous of which is “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. However, Lewis wasn’t simply a children’s writer but a perceptive theologian and the Narnia stories are a Christian allegory.

In “The Last Battle”, which is a story dealing with the end times and judgement, there is an exchange between Aslan the Lion, the Christian God figure, and Emeth, a follower of the God Tash, who is surprised to find himself on the right side of Aslan’s judgement. Emeth says to Aslan: “Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine, but a servant of Tash.” Aslan answered “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. If any man swears an oath to Tash and keeps the oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he knew it not and it is I who reward him.” Emeth replied “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.” “Beloved”, said the Glorious one, “unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

It is my personal challenge during Lent to concentrate on my own walk with God. I look beyond that to my immediate family. I must also continue to take responsibility for my witness through word and deed but it is also my challenge to let God be God and to work his grace where he will. It is not for me to misuse his word in a theology of exclusion.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Freedom, responsibility, respect…and Islam



By Dilwar Hussain 16 Mar 2009

The words of the title may often not go well together. Even if we can tear ourselves away from the threat of terrorism, the popular understanding of Islam is dominated by images of demonstrations attempting to ban one thing or another, or arguments for civil liberties that seem very selective and parochial.

It is easy to see how and why such impressions are formed, but I want to argue that it is possible to create an alternative discourse on Muslim approaches to free speech by re-reading aspects of Islamic teachings.

Free will is the very essence of the human spirit. According to the narrative of the Qur’an it is free will that differentiated humanity from the angels at the point of creation. And even when the angels suggested that (as a result) man would “make mischief (on the earth) and shed blood,” God replied, “I know that which you do not” – thus giving divine license to this unique aspect of his creation and acknowledging that while freedom may lead to corruption, it is only through the exercise of free choice that the human spirit can reach the heights for which it was intended.

This is why, contrary to popular belief, the Qur’an asserts that there should be “no compulsion” in faith. The opportunity to believe can only be truly realised and valued when there is also an opportunity to disbelieve.

Of course, no freedom is absolute and all those involved in debates on ‘freedom’ or ‘freedom of expression’ acknowledge the need for laws and rules to regulate behaviour – otherwise there would be anarchy. To paraphrase and misquote the line from Spiderman, “with great freedom comes great responsibility”.

But freedom and responsibility tend to clash. While Eastern traditions have tended to focus more on responsibility than on freedom, the European experience has been the struggle to win back precious freedoms from monarchs, aristocrats, the Church and others who wielded power – leaving Europeans with a particular penchant for the notions of individual freedoms and rights. Of course duties are important too and have a reciprocal relationship with rights, but the primary emphasis is on rights.

This appears to be a cultural construct and need not be against the spirit of Islam per se. It may be argued that Muslim notions of authority, hierarchy and respect tend to be too romanticised, while Western conceptions of these values have come to be read with more sceptical undertones.

The issue is therefore to negotiate one's way around these cultural nuances and differences. The notion of respect, for example, seems very different. Muslims have learned to respect religious symbols and icons more than the people that follow those symbols even though the Prophet Muhammad taught that the life of a single person is more precious than the most sacred site in Islam: “the Kaba, and all its surroundings”.

Yet today, an attack on the reputation of the Prophet or his family, or a holy site would cause outrage, but an attack on an ordinary Muslim may go unnoticed.

However, in the British climate of free speech, institutions and representatives of religion are often seen to be fair targets for ridicule, possibly because of the cynicism towards authority and power (especially of a religious nature), but ordinary people are not usually subject to the same treatment.

A play or novel could be offensive towards a religion, but Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand went too far in making an individual the target of crude humour. Granted that there are many other complexities around these issues, such as the medium, or Ross and Brand being employed by the BBC, but the point could still be made that our notions of freedom, and conversely of offence, are culturally contingent. They are not absolutes. There genuinely does seem to be a clash of cultures here – a difference that gets lost in translation.

Furthermore, the cultural environment in Britain is one in which humour is often self-deprecating. Being able to laugh at oneself is a very British way of expressing self-confidence, and those unable to do so are seen to be nervous and possibly having something to hide.

In this context, while it is important to have laws that ensure people are not attacked or harmed, it is unlikely that a law designed to protect religion itself is necessary or even helpful. This is an important aspect of the cultural negotiation that Muslims are undertaking and we can already see shifts taking place between generations.

But starting the conversation from hard positions on either side – “freedom at all cost”, or “the book must be banned” – has not helped at all. We need a genuine willingness to listen, to bear in mind each other's cultural starting points and ultimately, perhaps even ironically, only a climate of free debate and discussion can help the conversation along.

Taken from the Ekklesia Site

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pick me Pick me

We've had a small tv production company in doing the usual drunken interviews. They've a production assistant who's clearly just out of a tv production degree and getting less than minimum wage to get drunken punters to do 30 second interviews on camera and then remember enough details to complete the release form. All the time you can just see them praying that some drunken lass, goaded by her vicious mates, is going to flash her tits at the camera or snog her equally drunken girlfriend.
They're aiming to film the kind of low grade filler crap that even low budget high numbered channels don't broadcast 'til I'm coming home from work. It does make our punters put on their best horizontally striped, big labelled polo-shirts/sweaters or if female, the biggest set of hoops and the smallest set of tube and shorts they still nearly fit into.
Seldom seem to get much bother while they're filming. I don't imagine once they've given their name and then a short well lit interview they really fancy breaking the law and having their details immediately made available.

Dr. Bob's Science Week Sermon


Lent 2 2009
Genesis 17. 1-7&15-16
Romans 4. 13-end
Mark 8 31-end

This weekend marks the beginning of National Science and Engineering Week. Right across the United Kingdom there will be thousands of activities taking place in schools and with the public to celebrate the achievements of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Here in South Yorkshire we have the largest regional programme in the country. Over 450 events will take place in schools, museums, universities and colleges with many thousands of people taking part. There is enormous public interest in what we now call STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; and enormous public debate.

So, why do we bother? Surely science is something for the experts - best left to those who know. Traditionally, there are three reasons why we promote the better understanding, appreciation and awareness of science:

First of all it is for cultural reasons; science and technology are now so much part of our culture that we often speak about society being defined by its technology - what is called techno-culture. We have always done this; speaking about the Stone Age, or the Bronze Age or the Age of Steam. A thought on which you may want to ponder is what technology would define our age, is it the age of the antibiotic, or the microchip; the Genetic Age or the Space Age. Science is as much part of our culture as Shakespeare or Milton and we would view anyone who did not have some scientific knowledge as deficient in their education.

The second is a democratic reason; because we live in a technologically advanced society we have to make decisions that are informed by science. Decisions such as whether we should eat pizzas which have puree from genetically modified tomatoes or should I have given my children MMR vaccine, or whether the coolant in our fridge is likely to harm the Ozone layer. As members of a participatory democracy we no longer leave everything to the authority of the experts but are expected to make decisions for ourselves.

The third is an economic reason: increasingly our industry needs a technologically aware workforce. We live in a region where the old low skill industries have largely gone but have been replaced by high technology, high skill industries. We have manufacturing companies in this region with full order books for the next 20 years but an ageing workforce that will retire in the next ten. Even in the current economic climate we have a skills deficit in this region that means we import skilled workers. It is salutary to note that until recently, one of the first posters you came across on leaving the terminal at Robin Hood Airport was in Polish for numerically controlled machine operators.

The key mantras for people like me who work in this field of public science education are: Horizon scanning - what will be the next big idea that will appear that the public will need to know about; and Upstream Education -educating the public about it early so that they are better informed and do not panic. To the theologically trained ear these sound like gifts of scientific prophecy.

I am quite amazed that I have got so far through a sermon on science without mentioning Darwin. I had harboured the secret hope of not mentioning Evolution at all, but this is Darwin year - it is also the year of Galileo - so the alleged conflict between science and religion is very much on the agenda - often because conflict sells more column inches than real debate. It is an artificial conflict that has largely been imported from the United States and generally represents the collision between bad science and bad theology. There is a debate to be had but the debate is not about simplistic interpretations of science versus naive interpretations of scripture. The debate is much older than this and is about the respective roles that human reason and divine revelation should play in our understanding of ourselves and of the world. I have no problem with the theory of evolution - that is the best explanatory model for how the natural world came to be - but I am also aware that this model, like all scientific models, is contingent and open to falsification and change. If it were not so we would still be teaching about Phlogiston and Elective affinities in Chemistry; Miasma and spontaneous generation in Biology; the Sun would still orbit the Earth and the stars would rotate on their crystal spheres.

So I would appeal for two things: first of all to take the dialogue with science seriously because it should be a true dialogue and not simply opposing camps shouting at each other with megaphones. The second is an appeal for the Church to engage more seriously in the public understanding of theology - for us not to be afraid of the Christian heritage of ideas and scholarship that has formed the foundation of so much of Western Civilization and - indeed - of science and technology.

The Bible is not a scientific text book but it is a repository of poetic truth and wisdom. And poetic truths are so enduring and so important to us. The creation stories of Genesis speak an important truth about our relationship to this world and to God. They make it clear that our existence is on a par with the rest of the universe; that we are made from the dust of the earth - the same stuff as the stars. Our faith is incarnational which means that the human flesh of God in Christ is of the same stuff as ours.

I though I might conclude by setting out one or two of what Einstein called "thought experiments": just to see how a fruitful dialogue between science and religion might look. Rather frustratingly they will be questions without answers but I hope they are fruit for thought.

1. Advances in biology mean that virginal conception is now less of a miracle than it used to be. The church in the west has often referred to the Virgin Mary as the "Mother of God" whilst in the East the orthodox churches talk about the "Theotokos" - the God bearer. Does our modern understanding of biology mean that Mary gives her genetic material to Jesus - gives him her humanity or is she the surrogate womb into which the divine seed is laid?

2. Biochemists tell me that the molecules I eat are broken down and reformed into my flesh and my blood - if this did not happen I would not grow and live. How does this insight inform my understanding of what is happening in the Eucharist?

Science is very good at answering the question How? but it does not answer the question Why? Theology is about answering the question Why? That is why theology is sometimes called the Queen of the Sciences. For us to be complete human beings we need to understand not just how we came to be here but why. We as Christians have that wonderful insight that the incarnation brings us of a God who is so involved with the world that he became part of it. During Lent we reflect upon the Son of God who is the Son of Man, who in the wilderness pitted his flesh in naked humanity against the temptation to be more than human. In doing so he showed us our path -our destiny - to that truth, that mystery, that in death we shall be united with God:

that in Christ we and the whole universe are redeemed.

Amen

Isn't he good?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Part 3: The Long-suffering and deeply misunderstood Father



They say that parenthood is hard and they’ve got it right. I’ve two boys you see and they couldn’t be more different. My oldest is called Roger: Reliable Roger I call him. He’s a good lad and he had to grow up quickly when his mother died. He’s a plodder. Give him a job and you know it’s in safe hands: he’ll do it well and he’ll do it conscientiously. It seems to be important to him that he is seen to be capable and independent. He gives the impression of being emotionally self contained but he’s not: He’s built a wall around himself and he can’t break out. He’s desperate for affection but he doesn’t know how to express it or receive it. He likes to think he’s the adult, but you know in today’s parlance he’s what they call “critical parent”. His default position is judgemental and he’s taken that into his religious expression too. And he’s very jealous of Dillon, my younger son. He has no reason to be but there it is.

Now Dillon’s no angel: quite the opposite. Dillon the Disobedient I call him. Sometimes he’s quite a hard lad to like, let alone love. In his own way he’s just as screwed-up emotionally as Roger. He just expresses it differently. He’s a hedonist and he’s deeply self-centred. Chalk and cheese. Critical Parent and Free Child.

Roger thinks I indulge Dillon too much. Roger thinks Dillon's a parasite. Dillon thinks Roger’s a . . . now what was the term? A nob! He also thinks I’m a senile old git who can’t see through his little schemes. He thinks he’s so clever and he thinks I’m stupid.

Maybe I need to be firmer with them both, but they’re fully formed. I might be able to modify them a bit round the edges but I can’t change them substantially. They can only do that themselves … or God, maybe. The thing is they are my boys and I love them unconditionally: they’re all I have and when I’m gone they will have to be there for each other. Family is the most important thing there is and I need to get these argumentative boys to recognise that and value it. It’s a constant struggle and a balancing act between two competing egos.

Dillon’s just come back from his little adventure all crocodile tears and false promises and Roger’s in a big sulk. Kids eh? Who’d have them?

Dillon thinks he pulled a fast one. He thinks he made off with a small fortune. He has no idea. I was surprised how little he settled for and that he didn’t ask for more. I got away very lightly and I gave him just enough to last for a few months. I knew he’d fritter it away and then would come the learning: I could have told him how it would end but he needed to learn it for himself. The school of hard knocks they call it. Of course he came back just as I knew he would but I don’t think he fully realises yet just what he has learnt: he’s been taken down a peg or two and that’s not a bad thing. He’s a lot less full of himself right now.

And of course I was pleased to see him. Why not have a party? The problem is that Roger's gone all resentful. Resentful Roger. He didn’t want Dillon back basically and now he has to deal with that. He needs taking down a peg or two in his own way too, so he can sit outside and sulk. He’ll come in of course, when he feels he’s made a point. He has no idea how much I value him, how much I love him: he can’t hear it. It doesn’t fit with his persona of strong and capable.

Being an adult isn’t just about age is it? Sometimes it’s a struggle being the only grown up in the family.


(When I tried to google "Images - worried old man", I kept getting John McCain)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Part 2: Roger the Righteous



My name’s Roger. I live here with my Father and younger Brother. My Father’s a good man really but he’s far too trusting for his own good. He’s well respected around here but my brother – well, my Father can’t see it like I can. Sun shines out of his backside, walks on water. Oh, he’s charming enough when he wants to be but it’s all “me, me, me”. He’s always been the favourite. Now don’t misunderstand me: I’m not jealous or anything – it just gets on my nerves that he’s always been the favourite and he’s done nothing to deserve it. He’s a manipulative little shit, actually. Dillon the Devious.

I don’t approve of his life style or attitude at all: he’s heading for a big fall and I, for one, would like to be around to see it. Charmed life so far but his luck’ll run out.

If I was in charge – and I will be one day - I wouldn’t let him get away with anything. He needs discipline and values. He needs to understand the importance of hard work and he needs to learn respect for his elders! He needs to be more like me actually. I’m reliable and hardworking and I’m always there for my Father. I don’t cause him any hassle or worry and I certainly don’t cause embarrassment to the family. I mean, Dillon thinks he’s God’s gift to women – and it’s me that usually has to smooth over the problems. No moral standards you see. He thinks I’m a geek because I’m religious but that’s exactly what he needs to put some shape and purpose in his life to say nothing of morality. But no, with the great arrogance of youth, he knows best.

He’s back now you know, after all he did. Nearly broke my Father’s heart and he’ll do it again given the chance. I wasn’t there when he came back. Bold as brass I’m sure with some outrageous sob story. I can imagine how it went: “I’m really sorry, honestly. I’ve changed. I’ve grown up. I won’t make the same mistake again. Please forgive me.” Puleeze! Change? As if! He’s not capable of change. It makes me want to puke. I’d have sent him packing with his tail between his legs.

My father was devastated when he left. I was outraged: he just threw money at him. I don’t know how he had the nerve to ask for it in the first place. I work here all this time, rarely a word of thanks no obvious appreciation; in fact I’m pretty much taken for granted, but do you hear me complain? No. I don’t do resentment – it’s not a nice quality. But I’d be within my rights. You know, I don’t ask for much. I don’t need constant attention and affirmation: I’m not a spoilt child but that little waster comes along and sweet talks the old man and bang! He’s got a wad in his back pocket and you don’t see him for dust. But I’m not bitter. Good riddance I say. I’ll miss him but not a lot!

So, I’m starting to get used to it being just my Father and me, getting some attention and long overdue appreciation. You know I really wasn’t putting the knife in for Dillon but I did think it was only right and proper to set the old man straight on one or two things about Golden Boy . . . and he breezes back - broke of course.

They’re having a party now. A party for goodness sake! My Father will be all teary-eyed and Dillon’ll be chasing some little slut round the storerooms.

Me? Go in there? Hell’ll freeze over first.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Exegesis with a difference: Dillon the Devious



At college we have been looking at different ways of exegesis. On Wednesday we will be presenting scenarios Dr. Christine has set us. Hilda, Cathy and I got the Parable of the Prodigal Son - from a Freudian viewpoint. Now inevitably this means that the outcome will not be the same as the the original. (You think?)

As we were reading for this I was close to slitting my wrists in frustration and then Cathy came up with the idea of presenting the story as a role play with each of us taking a part. Suddenly, inspired I came up with:

Part 1:

You’ve probably already heard a version of my story: it’s wrong. The general shape is right enough but it’s been seriously misunderstood. In fact the only thing I really like about it is that it’s about me: I like that in a story!

I’m Dillon: some people say I’m a bit of a Chav. Whatever. I live here in this God forsaken dump with my Dad and older Brother. We are what you might describe as a dysfunctional family. My Dad is an idealist – he doesn’t have a realistic notion in this head. His mantra is “The family”. And he’s such a soft touch - talk about na├»ve. I’m thinking of a phrase that includes the words “wind” and “little finger”.

My brother’s called Roger. Roger the Righteous. He looks down on me but that’s easy what with him occupying the moral high-ground all the time. He’s got religion, you see; sanctimonious pillock. It’s not so much that he’s anal only he gives “arsehole” a whole new dimension.

Anyway, I’d had enough of living in this shit-hole: not enough excitement and then Banquo’s ghost wailing and groaning every time I put a foot wrong – which admittedly is fairly often but … get a life Roger. OK, there was that unfortunate incident with the stockman’s daughter, but hey – I never said I was a saint.

So I hatch this plan to get out: simple really – I ask the old boy for some dosh. I couldn’t believe how easy it was: I started high – you know, ready to bargain down and he agreed to the first figure. I wish I’d asked for more now. Anyway I was out of here before he could change his mind. Or, maybe more to the point, before Roger could change it for him.

So now I’m really set up: nice flat; a bit of this (sniffs) you know? Wine, women and song they say. Well who needs to waste time singing? And it was good for a while and then the credit crunch hit and what with me not being very good at budgeting . . . anyway, all gone. Zilch, nada: the friends too. Not that I blame them. I’d do the same – drop losers like a shot. You can’t party with no-hopers hanging on.

Now I need a job. Me! A job! So, now I’m not having so much fun. No contributions, no benefits. Now I’m an illegal, black economy and all that. I don’t recommend it. And the irony is that I end up working with pigs. What a laugh: I can just hear Roger now. “Pigs? PIGS! What were you thinking?” Yeah, yeah, yeah yadiyadiya! Whatever. I could’ve got better work but I’m not a great fan of effort.

OK. Plan B. Head for home. If I play this right, it’ll work out to my advantage. Look I can do penitent. “I’m so sorry. I realise I’ve made mistakes. I’m so sorry. Please take me back. I’ve learnt from my mistakes. I’m a different person – a better person. Look, I’ll just work for you, OK?” I can be very persuasive you know. He’ll just hear what he wants to hear: give it a few weeks and things’ll be back to normal.

Worked like a dream, silly old sod. Oh but I was good, tears and all. I tell ya – it was worthy of a BAFTA and he bought it hook, line and sinker. The next thing I know there’s welcome home party. A Party! I know! Me and Party go so well together. Oh yes humble is very good in its place but things are picking up now. Mind you, I’ve not seen Roger yet. No doubt he’s walking around whining with a face like a smacked arse. “It’s not fair”.

A result all round I’d say.

Guess which one of us got this part?

More to follow.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Thoughts from Vicar school 2



Dr. Bob is leaving after dinner on Saturday. He is a significant scientist in some discipline or other and University Reader in science education at Sheffield Hallam University and someone thought it would be appropriate for him to preach in Sheffield Cathedral at the beginning of National Science Week. I was privileged to hear the sermon on Saturday afternoon. I lay on Dr. Bob's bed while he preached an excellent sermon to me. I am going to arrange that I receive all sermons from henceforth in such a manner: it is surely only my birthright.

Over coffee Ian related this sad tale:

He was at a football match - a significant cup-tie no less, when he noticed a sad looking man to his left and beyond him an empty seat. Being a good sort, our Ian, and knowing how expensive such seats can be, he asked the sad looking man whether the seat was one of his. "My wife died very recently." confided the man "We are both season ticket holders and the seat was hers." "I'm sorry to have pried." Ian replied. "Don't give it another thought." Emboldened by this Ian asked "Don't you have any friends you could have given the ticket to?" "No, they're all at the funeral."

And on to some teaching about Revelation.

This is a book I have not spent much time on. This is because I have never felt that I have been taught to use it appropriately and I have always known that there are conspiracy theorists and others who give it tendentious interpretations so I have tended to stay well clear and treat all pronouncements on it with a healthy degree of scepticism.

Not feeling, then, that I can blag my way through this one, I pay more than usual attention to the pre-reading. My mood of apprehension is not much improved when I read in the opening sentence on Revelation of Luke T. Johnson's The Writings of The New Testament that:

"Few writings of all literature have been so obsessively read with such generally disastrous results as the Book of Revelation. Its history of interpretation is largely a story of tragic misinterpretation resulting from a fundamental misapprehension of the work's literary form and purpose...Its arcane symbols...have nurtured delusionary systems, both private and public to the destruction of their fashioners and to the discredit of the writing."

That's good then.

We begin to look at symbols and Dr. Christine talks about the importance of metaphor.
"Give me an example"
"He eats like a pig"
"He drinks like a fish"
"Actually" says Dr. Bob "those are similes because they say something is LIKE something else. A metaphor says something IS sonmething else"
"O.K." I reply "Here's one for you then. You're a smart-arse."
"That's the sort of thing." he says.

The writings of Revelation have a distinct dream-like quality to them, or possibly nightmare-like, leading Danny to say in our session: "Can I have some of what he's on please?" This has led some scholars to speculate that this text was not written as a mystic mystery but as the remebrance of a sequence of visions. As to whether the author fully understood what he recorded is open to conjecture.

It is clear that Revelation is a "problem book": it was the last to have been included in the canon of the New Testament and one can almost hear that learned committee letting out a collective groan: "Oh no. Not another apocryphal vision." It is clear that the early church was in two minds about it. What we do know is that there are elements within the text which connect with the human psyche - sometimes unhelpfully - at times when the world seems out of control. This may be one of the clues to the text which is likely to have been written at a time of severe persecution, around 81-96 CE in the reign of Domitian.

What may have tipped the early church into an acceptance of Revelation is its association with the writings of John the Apostle. Today, however, there is some dispute about authorship with some experts favouring authorship by a man known as John the Seer. Whoever it was he certainly knew his Old Testament: without any direct quotes there are 128 allusions to Isaiah, 99 to The Psalms, 92 to Ezekiel, 82 to Daniel and 53 to Exodus.

So how are we to understand this difficult text? I am of the opinion that Revelation is another book like Daniel: a book written in code at a time of persecution to put those who are unsympathetic or downright hostile off the scent. What better way to express yourself at a time when free expression is dangerous than in code? You then have a text which confounds the uninitiated and inspires those in the know.

This book seems to be a new Exodus story: there is a journey into liberation; salvation by the death of a lamb; exile and nourishment in the wilderness; pursuit by an enemy (Pharaoh/The Beast) and crossing a sea (reeds/glass). We seem to have a story of violent conflict between God and the powers that oppose him (Egyptian oppressors/spiritual oppressors).

This is a hard book to pin down by genre. It is most certainly apocaplyptic but in the first eleven verses alone we have elements of letter, prophecy, apocalypse, poetry, allegory, benediction and doxology. It is a heady mix indeed for some readers. However, the bulk of the text contains prophecy and apocalypse in a loose letter form. The issue to me seems to be the understanding - or more often misunderstanding - of the genre of prophecy. All too often today we see prophecy in the sense of foretelling whereas to be more accurate the Biblical genre of prophecy is more about forthtelling: the Prophets of the Bible did not predict the future so much as proclaim the word of God to their own generations. The distinction is very important. That being the case this text is less divine blueprint than the proclamation of God's word in coded form to a people under persecution.

We are back to the idea of the perceived audience and the modern audience: are we to make the same of Revelation today as the original readers did? If so what would that mean in practice? If not, how should our understanding and our subsequent response differ?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Thoughts From Vicar School 1




Thanks to Leo. I thought that was worth more responses myself.


Thoughts From Vicar School 1

I have an en-suite room. I am clearly righteous in the sight of God.

Evensong with the Brothers is as atmospheric as (but a good deal warmer than) last time. I have the plainsong chanting down to a fine art now and join in with confidence. I gain a great deal from doing so. I actually feel I have participated in worship rather than merely observing. I walk down from the Upper Church with Barry to dinner.

"Are you on good form?" I ask him.

"Oh yes."

Bugger.

This means a flow of jokes from start to finish. By the time we get to dinner we have had:

"A man's mother-in-law died while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. "You can have her buried here for £100 or flown home for £4000." "I'll fly her home." "But that's very expensive." "Look Pal, a long time ago you buried someone here and he came back after three days. I really don't need that."

And:

"A friend of Simon of Arimathaea said to him: "You were good to lend that Jesus chap your tomb." "Well, he said he only wanted it for the weekend."

I resolve not to walk unwittingly into any of Barry's jokes. We sit opposite each other at dinner. It is fish. Barry points to the sauce and says: "That sauce reminds me of the Long Goodbye." "Right." I reply non-commitally, effectively closing that one down.

"Why?" Asks Mike (No.1 Son substitute)

"Because it is Tartar sauce." Boom Boom!

Thanks Mike.

Vicky and Anne have a joint birthday party in the social room after two excellent presentations on spirituality prepared by our number. (Feminist and Liberation). I won't tell you their age but life now begins for both. I wrestle with my Lenten vow relating to both alcohol and cake and decide it would be churlish to refuse a friend's celebration for a point of principle. As I do not observe the tradition of relaxing Lent for Sunday I feel some moral high-ground. I also get to see Annie's photos of her placement in Africa. Annie, you may remember, works in mental health chaplaincy and spent a couple of weeks in a psychiatric hospital in Malawi. She is deeply traumatised as a result. I have asked her to write an account for this blog.

Saturday Morning dawns bright and clear and I take to my very extensive en-suite. (Did I mention I have an en-suite?) I have failed to set my alarm properly: it will go off at 7.00pm. I make it to (optional) silent prayer only three minutes late. There are exactly five of us there. Ah well, that's the Church of England for you these days. 100% of Lutherans made it.

Matins is student led by Yr.1 in the Lower Church and very well done too.

At breakfast I wait until Barry is seated and sit elsewhere.

This morning's session, led by Dr. Christine, our Principal, is on the quest for the historical Jesus. It is very well prepared and delivered and seems entirely relevant to some aspects of my recent dialogue with Amillennialist. I remember saying something to her (her? actually I realise now that I don't actually know) like: "There is no point appealing to me with "where does it say?" questions or "It says" statements because I am not a Biblical literalist.

Christine started by reminding us that the oral tradition of the Jesus story was in circulation long before it was written down and in the early years following. There was no original oral version because as soon as the events happened the witnesses started to interpret them in the dynamic creative process which happens in an oral society. No one simply holds facts in isolation from an attempt to understand them. The Synoptics show us some of how the common material is reshaped to fit the theological reflections and agendas of those who retold the stories as they attempted to process and make sense of them in their own contexts: each retelling may have responded to unique needs for a new understanding of things past, present or to come or for a significantly different audience. Given that these stories weren't written down for at least some sixty years after the events they portray, we should not be surprised that the Gospel writers differ in some details: if they did not have their own theological agendas, they probably received different oral accounts.

Note to self: where I am different to others shows where I am standing. "Who do men say that I am?" Where are you standing?

Jim Martin

Bishop John Shelby Spong

Marcus Borg

The author Ian Boxall ("Roots of the New Testament") suggests that the paraphrases of Jesus' teaching may well be more important than the verbatim record of the words spoken because they already show evidence of theological development in the understanding of the early Christian communities. The Jesus who is spiritually risen becomes more important than the Jesus who is historically known.

At the same time - and an idea I had never considered - do we ever consider the sayings of Jesus which never made it into the oral tradition because the Disciples couldn't penetrate their meanings and discarded them to be lost forever? What gems of inestimable value have we lost which today could have unlocked some facet of Jesus' personality or teaching for us?

Note to self: As remembered by those who witnessed it.

We were asked to consider two passages:

Mark 6.30 - the feeding of the 5000
Mark 6.45 - Jesus walks on water
We were asked to consider whether we thought these passages were miracle, myth (spiritual/theological story) or material (rational explanation)

The discussion was interesting, particularly as Christine kept asking us: "What would it take for you to change your position?"

I went for myth for the first and miracle for the second but the variations between the twenty in the group encompassed every combination.

So: over a century ago a scholar called Martin Kahler made a distinction between "the Jesus of history" and "the Christ of faith". The former is the subject of historical study and the latter is the subject of theological reflection and devotion.

As ever it came back to our Hermeneutical glasses. On this I think my prescription is:

* I have no problem with the idea of miracles: God has the power to do as he pleases. However I wonder whether (and sometimes why) he would.
* I do not wish to write God out of the equation.
* However I remain a rationalist. I came to faith from secularism: why would I want miracles?
* Theology isn't organic chemistry - learn this process or that formula as it is and all will be well.
* The Disciples were vibrant individuals with their own personal experiences and worldviews and not a homogeneous group. Their response to the Spirit would be different. (Unless you believe they were taken over to be spiritual stenographers. I don't.}
* The culture I was born into. I am an English-European Lutheran Christian. I am not from North America, Africa or Australasia.
* My theological education.
* My view that history is never bold facts: it is shaped by retrospective interpretation.
* My Interfaith dialogues.
* My willingness to let the Holy Spirit out of the box: it is not safe with God but it is secure. God is better out of the box than in.
* I am happy to let God do the imagining.

Does this make me, in the various and notable words of others, liar, blasphemer or false Christian?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Whoops

When you're following your colleagues escorting someone out of the premises there are some things not to do.
You don't want to wander off and get distracted by another punter in case the 1st one decides to go ballistic. You don't crowd in and jostle the group going out, leave the lead in the situation to apply or ease the pressure. You don't try and get past to have your fag break no matter what's going on.
You just move long behind them, keeping good eye contact with the doorman leading and a feel for the body language of the ejectee.
What you really shouldn't do unless you're very naughty is to see the ejectee lunge for the doorman and in one smooth sweep, bend, gather the muppets ankles together and lift them backwards. It looks a little silly and you do have to drop them to sit on their back. The surprised looks on the punters face and the front doormen's is sublime as their angry punter flies backwards and spins in the air until an abrupt face plant stalls his aggression quite swiftly.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Greetings from Leo



"When the cat's away, the mice will play" It is privilege to be the latest guest blogger while D.P. is at a college residential. It is also a rebuke to me as I have done nothing on my own blog for a very long time.

I sense that the previous post is running it's course, but to allow a wider audience to join in who may have been intimidated by the length and complexity of the last string (55 and still counting) I thought I would develop one of the strands.

How do we deal with the difficult texts of our traditions?

In the last post Amillennialist pointed to some of the texts in the Quran which seem to show Islam in a bad light:

"As for his raping little Aisha, that fact is amply attested to by numerous ahadith. Here's one:

My mother came to me while I was being swung on a swing between two branches and got me down. My nurse took over and wiped my face with some water and started leading me. When I was at the door she stopped so I could catch my breath. I was brought in while Muhammad was sitting on a bed in our house. My mother made me sit on his lap. The other men and women got up and left. The Prophet consummated his marriage with me in my house when I was nine years old” (Tabari 9:131).

O.K: and courtesy of Russ, here are some from the Old Testament. While he writes from the perspective of a gay man the points are equally valid to our current conversation.

"Since the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled last week that same-sex couples should be allowed to wed, many commentators have reiterated their belief that gay and lesbian couples should be excluded from marriage for religious reasons. But why stop there? If marriages recognized by the Commonwealth must be based on biblical principles, then it’s clear more changes to the law are needed. Below are seven suggested amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution that would bring Bay State family law in line with the Bible.

• Because Jacob and David each had more than one wife, marriage in Massachusetts shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women of his choosing (II Sam. 3:2-5; Gen.29:17-28).

• A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is found not to be a virgin, "they shall take her to the door of her father’s house and her fellow citizens shall stone her to death" (Deut. 22:13-21). (Here, Governor Romney’s resurrection of the death penalty will come in handy.)

• As Rehoboam, David, and Solomon all possessed concubines, a married man in Massachusetts shall also have the right to keep concubines in addition to his wife or wives (I Kings 11:3; II Sam. 5:13; II Chron. 11:21).

• When Moses said, "Every one of you must put to death those of his people who have committed themselves to the Baal of Peor," he was forbidding the marriage of a believer to a nonbeliever (Gen. 24:3; Neh. 10:30).

• Christ said, "What God has united, man must not divide." Therefore, neither the Constitution nor any state law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts shall permit divorce (Deut. 22:19; Mark 10:9-12).

• If a married man dies childless, the widow must not marry a stranger outside of the family. Instead, the dead man’s brother must marry the widow. If the brother refuses to marry the widow or refuses to give her children, the law shall fine him one sandal, and he will be forced to go about wearing one sandal for the rest of his days, and he shall be called the Unshod One of Massachusetts (Deut. 25:5-10; Gen. 38:6-10).

• If there are no acceptable men to be found in the town, a woman shall ply her father with wine and have sex with him in order to produce progeny to carry on the family name (Gen. 19:31-36)."

There isn't the time here to go into the various violence texts in the Quran and the Old Testament suffice to say that they exist in both. So, what do we do about the difficult texts which we would much rather were not held up as examples of how we live our lives today?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A response to Amillennialist



The discussion (Christians use the word Allah in place of the word God) started along the lines of whether as Christians we can accept the name of Allah as a legitimate name for God. You might want to consider that before you rerad on and also speculate where that comment string began to lead.

Following a couple of my comments on the string I had a lovely response from Amellennialist.

Dear Amillennialist, thank you for your perceptive, considered and gracious response to my earlier comments: it is always a joy to feel welcomed onto a blog and to be able to converse with those who have a different perspective in a spirit of respectful and civilized discourse, knowing that we can each learn one from the other. In that context it must merely have been an oversight that you called me coward, liar and blasphemer as if, somehow, that would show the righteousness of your cause and win me over to your point of view. How, like me, you must be laughing now at that little misunderstanding.

It must also have been a misunderstanding on Steve’s part which allowed the protocol against one guest being rude to another to be broken. Still, where there is spirited debate and all that…. I fully understand. As I also do the general convention that when one’s argument is weak one can attempt to deflect attention from it by instituting a slanging match and resorting to name calling.

I am grateful too that that you have taken the trouble to analyse my comments in such detail and are able to put me right where I have fallen into error.

In all humility, then, might I just raise one or two areas about which I remain unclear – what with me being intellectually challenged and all – so that I may continue to benefit from your extensive knowledge? I should really appreciate the clarification.

In no particular order then:

You accuse me of multiculturalism. Thank you. According to my (albeit ENGLISH) English language dictionary this means living in a society where many cultures seek to relate to each other. If I may dare to make so bold I think the word you were so fruitlessly groping for in that context was PLURALISM as I suspect you felt I was arguing that in some way all religious roads lead equally to God. Please accept my apologies if I am contradicting you, but I do not.

I am perfectly clear on the issue of repentance/confession and atonement following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus who is Christ and Messiah and God’s guarantee of salvation. I am very sorry if you have misunderstood my position.

I think where your confusion has arisen is over the universality of that salvation – not as a key doctrine itself but as a current reality or as an unrealised potential.

I have been able to accept Christ’s saving substitutionary sacrifice. I assume you have too. Have you? In order for us to have been able to do that we needed to both HEAR and UNDERSTAND the message of salvation before accepting it. Having both heard and understood we stood condemned until we did accept it in penitence and faith.

My Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Agnostic and I suspect some Atheist friends (I know no Hindus) have certainly not understood and probably not properly heard. The odds are also stacked against those of a non-Christian background for a variety of reasons: not the least language, culture, family attitudes and religious upbringing. As someone who is an out and proud Christian and who works closely with people from a number of faith backgrounds I know how unlikely it is that they will truly hear or understand the gospel, although I do not seek to set limits on the working of the Spirit.

I am wondering Amillennialist, if your concept of God’s justice requires him to judge people by the same standards. I know that in human judicial systems ignorance of the law is no excuse, but I also know that one accused can enter a number of pleas. My understanding of scripture suggests that God does apply his standard consistently, but that he accepts a variety of pleas.

Now, you are a well informed woman about these matters as your comments on Steve's blog shows: you don't need me to go over the Arminian/Calvinist dispute on this issue. However, as you know the passages below are relevant.

1 Cor 15.22, 2 Cor 5.19, Col 1.20, 1Tim 2.6, 1Tim 4.10, Heb 2.9,1 Jn 2.2, Rom 11.32, Rom 3.23/24, Rom 5.18, Jn 1.9, Jn 1.29, Jn 12.32 and Jn 12.47

You are familiar with those texts, of course, the weight of which suggests that there is a universal salvation. However this IS NOT what I am arguing. I do not believe in universal salvation because that makes a mockery of the atonement. Nevertheless these verses are a problem to those of us who claim to live in obedience to scripture. (And it is possible that you are one of those). Yes I know there are other verses which suggest something else. I am familiar with them, so please do not feel obliged to list them for me. Yes, even I am familiar with the alternative perspective and wrestle with those verses. My point is that scripture is not clear cut here and YOU CAN ARGUE THE OPPOSITE LOUDLY UNTIL YOU ARE BLUE IN THE FACE. It won’t change the fact that scripture seems to suggest something which some Conservative Evangelicals are not comfortable with.

Now, remember that I am not arguing that all spiritual roads lead to salvation. Some will clearly NOT be saved. However, as I have said before it is not for me to put limits on God’s grace.

This is central to the comment string on Steve’s blog.

There ARE those who earnestly search for God who will never hear or fully understand the gospel through no fault of their own. Regardless of the mad and evil things some others may do in the name of the same religion – and they are probably not saved – we must not forget the many good, honest, decent, pious folk who seek to live with compassion and integrity and at peace with their neighbours. There are, after all, universal moral laws.

I have to say at this point Dear Amillennialist, that if I were a Muslim, I would not find my way to the gospel via your particular witness. Your comments on Islam offended me and I am not a Muslim: they showed a crass prejudice and a simplistic desire to demonise others while failing to see the faults in front of our faces. My Muslim friends say “Not in my name” to the lunatic fringe just as I do to the historic Crusaders, quisling clergy in Nazi occupied Europe, the IRA and on to the Topeka Baptists, all who have done untold evil in the name of Christ. There is no monopoly on evil.

In my personal experience unless someone has made it clear to me by word or deed, that he is my enemy, he remains my friend.

So my question to you is: If someone earnestly seeks God in the only way they know how, and have no chance of hearing with understanding the saving works of Christ, Does God condemn them? If you believe he does, I must ask you: Is that the God of Christianity or the God of Right Wing Republican Evangelicalism, given that the two may not be the same?

Unless someone has shown in word or deed that he is God’s enemy is not God right to ascribe righteousness to him as a friend as he did to Abraham?

Of course Christ is the benchmark and standard of our salvation but the Biblical passages above reveal to me that while God indeed judges us on our discipleship of Christ it is possible to be an unknowing or anonymous disciple.

I leave the last word to the theologian and writer C.S. Lewis and his Narnia stories:

For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, Lewis writes a series of what appear to be children’s adventure stories, set in the land of Narnia, the most famous of which is “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. However, Lewis wasn’t simply a children’s writer but a perceptive theologian and the Narnia stories are a Christian allegory: in “The Last Battle”, which is an eschatological story dealing with the end times and judgement, there is an exchange between Aslan the Lion, the Christian God figure, and Emeth, a follower of the God Tash, who is surprised to find himself on the right side of Aslan’s judgement. In this story Lewis is suggesting that God’s grace is, indeed, extended beyond the limits we might expect. But that is down to God’s grace and not our judgement. God may well choose to act towards others in ways which surprise us and it is not for us to question God’s grace. We do not know the mind of God.

Emeth says to Aslan: “Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine, but a servant of Tash.” Aslan answered “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. If any man swears an oath to Tash and keeps the oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he knew it not and it is I who reward him.” Emeth replied “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.” “Beloved”, said the Glorious one, “unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

Lewis, like you and I, was familiar with the theology of the texts I quoted above.

I think many of us would do well to ponder on that idea as we consider who the “other” today, those who we reject because they don’t fit into our self imposed pigeonholes of who God accepts.

That is why, my Friend, I argue that we approach God by the name we have been taught and if that isn't the "correct" or given name, God doesn't care providing we approach in reverence and penitence.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

State of the World 2009: Confronting Climate Change



So, I was reading that the American taste for soft toilet rolls is worse than driving Hummers. Not that lack of environmental concern is a uniquely American thing by any means, and then I came across this, recommended in a credible national newspaper:

PD Smith The Guardian, Saturday 28 February 2009

State of the World 2009: Confronting Climate Change Edited by Linda Starke Earthscan, £14.99

Published annually in 28 languages, this is probably the most authoritative guide to the state of the planet. This year, the 26th edition of the Worldwatch Institute's handbook focuses on climate change. It is packed with chilling facts about global warming. Within as little as 12 years, the impact of climate change will mean water shortages for as many as 250 million Africans. Arctic sea ice is now at an all-time low, and for the first time in recorded history it has been possible to pilot a ship from the Atlantic to the Pacific without travelling by way of the Panama Canal or Cape Horn. In the 20 years since climate change was first identified, greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 37%, and the rate of increase is accelerating. Welcome to the Anthropocene, the first geological age of our own making. As a species we find it difficult to think long-term, and this could be a fatal flaw. But the contributors to this essential primer on the climate crisis think it is not too late to act: "How we handle the challenge ahead will make for history on an epic time scale."


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1. American taste for soft toilet roll 'worse than driving Hummers'

Comment: I have been thinking a lot about this topic over the last few days since contributing to another blog discussion. Now I know I shouldn't do this. I shouldn't comment on a blog where the original post and the content of the subsequent string is clearly entrenched beyond the point of hearing an alternative perspective. It isn't just that I enjoy being the voice of dissent: on this topic I really feel evangelical.

I am not a scientist and a quick look on Google shows an amazing 20,000,000+ articles recognising or supporting the science of climate change and an equally impressive number supporting the counter argument.

Great. Where does that leave a Christian who wants to be a good steward? What constitutes a credible document?

I am not a scientist and so I am not on strong ground when I try to defend climate change, but equally I suspect those who argue against it are generally no better informed - and I have to say it, often less well so. I at least teach environmental ethics to Advanced Level exam standard.

I suggest an approach consistent to Pascale's wager: You might as well believe in God because if you are right you have won all but if you are wrong you have lost nothing.

The response to that analogy to climate change was, I felt, telling: "You have lost nothing? Only industries which are being destroyed!"

Why do I feel I am not having the same argument? Are we talking ethics or are we talking political self interest?

Why are some people determined to argue against climate change when that is by far the most dangerous option assuming that there were to be no compelling evidence either way?

Or is it just me?

Dr. Bob and the do-it-yourself prostate scan