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  • To what purpose all this blogging?

    Would Judas ask that question?  Who knows!  As I have visited my usual round of blogs this week I have been struck by the number of apologies for not posting anything for a while, as if we are somehow accountable to our loyal readers for the quantity of stuff we share.  Maybe this is because most of the Blogs I visit are written by ministers who are used to having to churn out a sermon or two every week?  But surely this is not the purpose of blogging; is it not instead some kind of strange mix of a journal and a desire to talk to other people coupled with the need to be a little cautious about what is out there in the public domain?

    Frankie Ward in a comment on Sean's blog (here) asks about blogging as a form of theological reflection, and poses some interesting questions.

    Do I have an 'ideal' or 'imagined' reader?  Well, to an extent yes, though the nature tends to evolve as I become aware of who some of my 'real' readers are.  I tend to assume some level of basic Christian knowledge, a slightly odd sense of humour and then it's a sort of mish-mash of around half a dozen colleagues/friends.

    Beyond that, there is the potential for the good people of Dibley, or those who know them, to drop by.  This inevitably colours what I say as getting sued is not a good idea, nor is upsetting or wounding the people among whom I live and work.  Inevitably some of what is posted is filtered for this reason and pseudonymns used (surely you did not believe I REALLY live in Dibley?! ;-))

    When I read other people's stuff if often seems much more refined, as in having been through a more careful cycle of drafting and reivsion, than mine, which is usually just the product of manic typing - so more authentically my kind of journalling.  I don't think either is more or less valid but they are different.  I enjoy reading the carefully thought through stuff and learn from it, I also enjoy reading the trivia which helps me to remember that these clever folk are also quite normal too.

    So, in answer to the title question, I guess the answer is 'it depends on the blogger.'  Whether we share stories, learn from each other's studies, have a laugh, reflect deeply or just engage in some kind of virtual catharthis what seems to matter is that we enjoy it, not how often we do it or how much we write in the process.  So I'll stick to 'twaddle weekly' and you can write 'quality monthly' and between us we'll fill blogland with a good mix of 'stuff'

  • 18th century views on Proof Texts

    Today I am writing up an essay on the 17th/18th Century General Baptists' debate on 'mixt marriages.'  This is probably of no interest to 99.999% of the world but I've found aspects of it fascinating and highly entertaining (OK so that's a bit odd, but hey...).  Anyway, as I've been typing away all day, I came across a lovely quote on proof texts from 1706: -

    …as… the wringing of the Nose bringeth forth Blood, Prov 30.33, so the forcing of a Text bringeth forth a sense never intended by the author…’


    Now you have to admit that's pretty good!  Well done 'Philalethes' whoever you really were.  He/she also has some interesting comments to make on the authority of the Assembly Book and that of Scripture - dare any of us look at our church rules and the like in the 'mirror' of the Bible?

    Now, only another umpteen thousand words to write...

  • What I said, What you heard...

    A very helpful comment on my reflection on the recent service at D+1 BC reminded me of one of the things that has always fascinated me about communication in general and preaching in particular, namely the 'what I said, what you heard' effect.  I have been taught more times than enough, thank you, theories on communication and the small proportion that is actually accurately transmitted.  I know the theories of 'ideal,' 'implied' and 'real' reader and authors, which are not altogether dissimilar.  For all that, I still find it intriguing how diverse can be the 'hearings' or 'readings' of the same sermon by different people: I vaguely recall many years back being asked by someone what a sermon I'd heard had been about, and being told my recollection was utterly different from that of someone else they'd asked. 

    So why is this, does it matter, and if so, how?

    There are some obvious practical reasons, like audibility, accessibility and maybe intellectual ability.  There's the nice spiritualised answer of 'the Holy Spirit' - I believe that's true, but not the whole picture.  There're also factors such as the way something that's said sparks off a train of thought, if this passage has past associations (and what they are) or what is going on in our lives.

    I have long since learned not to worry if people seem to drift off, so long as they are not counting the occurences of the letter 'e' in the notice sheet or playing the Powerpoint equivalent of 'hymn number bingo' (have you read 101 Things to do in a Dull Sermon?) but it is very difficult to get any useful feedback.  Sometimes I feel a sermon has been quite intense, a bit 'telling off' and someone will say 'that was really encouraging.'  Sometimes I feel a sermon was muddled or never quite got where it was going and someone says 'that made me think.'  Just occasionally I think a sermon was quite good - and someone says 'didn't like your hymns'!

    I have also learned not to worry too much if people think the sermon was about something other than what I intended - at least it shows they have engaged with something I said.  I do worry when they expand on my (rare!) anecdotes as if they were the main point of what I said.  And I really don't like 'nice service' as a comment... as the song says 'I'm not ready to do nice.'

    When I was a relatively inexperienced engineer, writing my first technical report, my supervisor gave me some good advice which has remained with me and to some extent applies to sermons too.  He said, 'our job is to put up game birds for others to shoot down.'  I'm not advocating bloodsports (though let's face it preaching sometimes feels like one!) but there is a sense in which he was right.  My task is to prepare carefully and prayerfully what I want to share with my people.  Once the words are released I relinquish control (though not ownership or responsibility) and allow the combination of human reception and Holy Spirit indwelling to determine what happens next.  This allows me to be less defensive of what I deliver and to worry less about what others hear - so long as they do listen and do hear!

    The theories on communication and the like are useful, and help me think about how I deliver what I deliver, but as a preacher rather than a teacher I am less concerned with accurate tranmission of my views than insightful reception of what God is saying through/inspite of/despite that.