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."


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."


"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?