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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. 

  • Amnesty Guantanamo Online Petition

    I received an email from a friend regarding the above.  Having checked the usual hoaxbuster sites, it appears that this one is GENUINE and certainly it seems to function in an authentic way.  It is NOT an email chain letter.

    If you are interested then go here and follow the links.

  • Agrarian Imagery on the Fifth Date!

    Last Sunday we had our fifth shared service with 'Dibley plus 1 mile' Baptist Church, for whom I really ought to be thinking of a better name by now.  It was quite well attended though the beginnings of the holiday season are starting to show.  The style was far nearer to our own, reflecting what they usually do in their morning services.  Three out of four hymns were produced on sheets, not being in the 'green hymn book', and the one thing we sang from Songs and Hymns of Fellowship was.  That made me smile to myself, but I was impressed by the efforts to a more contemporary approach.

    I found the service intriguing, with its use of agrarian imagery and three Bible passages I would never think of linking, so well done for engaging me in deeper thinking. 

    We had the Mark 4:32 version of the parable of the mustard seed, complete with birds nesting in the shade.  We were then asked whether the church was a place of shelter for those who come in.  Good question, but for me it confused 'church' with 'kingdom': while the former should be part of the latter, I fear a danger of insularity lurking if we make them equivalent.  It's probably not what the preacher meant (I know you read this stuff - please feel free to correct me!) and it certainly made me think about how people coming into the 'church' experience it.

    Then we went (I think) to Ezekiel 17:3ff with the image of transplanting.  If it wasn't this, then it was very similar.  Alas, because the Ezekiel passage is on my own 'significant passages' list I half drifted onto another plane at this point.  I think we thought about transplanting; I know the questions posed in the passage are ones I have asked myself regularly as someone who anticipated being in urban ministry and ended up in Dibley.  Happily, I think that I am surviving in the place where I've been transplanted, and hope that my city ideas are bearing some fruit.  Perhaps we were meant to think about transplanting our congregations - if so I'm not entirely sure it quite works, since as a minimum we're more looking at a graft than simply a transplant, I think.  But maybe I missed the point being lost in my own little world.  Tricky analogy perhaps?

    Lastly we briefly pondered John 12:23 - unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground...  Was this to be read/heard at the level of local congregations?  That's how I heard it, certainly.  If so, brave stuff to say.  Certainly it echoes my own thinking about this process, and ideas I approach, if in a different way, with my own folk.  The courtship phase is scheduled to continue at least another 6 months, so I guess it is time we started to move beyond small talk to real conversations.

    Towards the end of the service we were each given a tiny poppy seed to hold in our hand as we prayed: giving them out was interesting and needed a little ingenuity!  With this tiny black speck on my hand, I was struck afresh by the mystery of the potential that is contained in something so small and seemingly lifeless.  All that is needed is to cast it into the earth and allow nature to take its course...  To do that with our churches... If only it felt so easy!

    As I see the poppies in the fields around this area, defiantly red or orange amidst the green stalks of wheat, yet frail and fleeting in the grand scheme of things, I wonder just what the parable of the poppy seed might be for us at this time.