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  • Happy Christmas

    A Happy Christmas to all who have been generous to read my stuff in the last year.

    Hope you have a peaceful and enjoyable time (and this year I won't be part of the NAM's January competition to see who had the worst Christmas - never did manage to beat the 'my house burned down' claim of one of my colleagues)

    Today I'm trying to decide if it is odd that I am surprised that my Anglican colleague thought it odd that I would visit my hospitalised folk on Christmas Day.

    All will be quiet in this corner of blogland for a couple of weeks as I take a break.

    Whatever form your 'twenty first century Christmas' might take, I hope you feel a fresh touch of God's grace and love breaking in to your here and now.

  • End of Year Introspection

    All the services are now either delivered or prepared (three to go), the cards sent or received, the gifts wrapped, the food bought and I have a little space to reflect before Christmas happens.

    This is my second attempt at this - my first version was virtually there when I hit the wrong button on my PC and lost it.  What a PICNIC (Problem In Chair Not In Computer) I am.

    Having a bit of space - a whole 1.5 days with no work - allowed my brain to go off on a wander, turning things over and making odd connections here and there.

    I began thinking about Dawkins, memetics, genetic determinism and hyper-Calvinism (as one does) and wondering whether there is actually a kind of atheistic-hyper-Calvinism about memetics & genetic determinism, since both seem to deny free will, both have some sort of predestination etc etc.  Although I can recite the TULIP definition of Calvinism, I have never really studied it (beyond the idea that Calvin wasn't Calvinist) and my knowledge of memetics and genetic determinism was gleaned from the pages of New Scientist about 7 years ago.

    From here I wandered off into thinking about my own beliefs - how they have changed over time, how they have been influenced and how much my personality traits impact on what I accept and reject.  I don't like theological labels very much, and whatever ones I have ever adopted someone has always told me I'm wrong.

    I began life as a nominal Methodist being paedo-Baptised somewhere in or around Edmonton or Wood Green in 1963 and had no further church connection until I was six, when with my siblings I attended a Methodist Sunday School (now in Northamptonshire) for three years.  Although I had an embryonic faith (and sometimes as I recall even play-preached to a congregation of dolls, action men, golliwogs and teddy bears!!) it was not until I was 12 that I made a conscious decision to attend church regularly, and then primarily to get 'points' for attendance for Girls' Brigade.

    The URC to which I went was pretty liberal in its theology and certainly did not teach anything about 'accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour' but even so I did eventually reach a point where I felt I needed to decide either to accept or reject God and so made a pretty evangelical style commitment without any bells or lights.

    Going off to university, people in the CU told me I wasn't a 'proper' Christian and needed not only rebirth but also spirit Baptism.  Painful.  Church wise I linked up with John Clifford's Westbourne Park Baptist church, when it was small, elderly and struggling and had a GB company, and enjoyed John Stott at All Souls.  I guess I probably moved further 'right' but never far enough for some of my CU contacts.

    After that it was a mix of Methodist and Baptist experience of various hues in Derby and Warrington, mostly in small churches, until God finally convinced me to get very wet (credo-Baptised) and then told me to be a Baptist minister.

    I loved my time at college, rediscovering ideas I had forgotten and meeting new ones.  It was also a challenging time with opposition from some quarters to the ordination of women and the college where I felt I should be.

    Looking back over 30 years in churches, I realise that I am a very conformist non-conformist, accepting and being shaped by the pressures of various prevailing theologies.  To this day I feel uncomfortable when music by the Eagles is played on the radio and feel guilty listening to Wagner (this is the cause of a recent thoughtless comment on another blog).  Why?  Because people of differing theological views told me I shouldn't!  I guess sometimes it's not about WWJD or WWJT (think) but What Will People Think.  It isn't very often that I have the time, or the freedom, to pause and think What Do I Think?

    People often talk of the theological spectrum which is one or two dimensional.  It runs conservative (or fundamentalist) to liberal and/or high to low.  I don't find this approach helpful.  I can't help feeling that a circle, or maybe even a sphere, is a better image, with some sort of theological 'international dateline' at the 'back' where the extemes meet - Aquinas meets Zwingli, Liturgical meets Spontaneous, conservative and liberal fundamentalisms join and so on. 

    In some ways I no longer know 'what' I am beyond being a disciple of Jesus, committed to a Baptist model of church life and governance, passionate about mission, longing to be a competent theologian whilst retaining authentic spirituality, tolerant of other faiths and none, valuing dialogue and enriched by engagement with things that challenge my comfort.  In other ways, I am happy to be a mish-mash of my past experiences.

    My favourite published model of faith development is that of James Westerhoff III, who likens it to the production of rings on a tree.  Each new ring is the result of a season of growth, it may be wide or narrow, but it is a sign that the tree is alive and developing.  It is a model that does not give greater value to the 'what' or 'how' is believed, that growth occurs is the key.  Too many people in churches 'diss' those who think differently or 'move' in the 'wrong' direction.  The reality is that I am the product of both liberal and conservative theology and several different traditions, and I am glad.  Sure, I still hide my Harry Potter books in a dark corner of the manse, make sure my knees are covered on Sundays and deal with good Protestant guilt if I do something I have once been told is taboo, but despite all the faults and failings along the way, mine and the churches', I am glad that on a dark evening in the late 1970's (sorry, hard right people, I cannot give you a date of rebirth!) I made a decision to follow Jesus.

    This is all very 'heart on sleeve' stuff, not really my style, but maybe just now and then, it is not bad to take a bit of a risk and be a little more vulnerable.  After all, that's what God did in a backstreet in Bethlehem all those years ago.

  • A Christmas Story

    Thanks to Sean who had a link from his blog to this excellent little story, courtesy of William C Willimon from whose blog I quote ...


    A story: A man died. He had not lived the most worthy of lives, to tell the truth. In fact, he was somewhat of a scoundrel. He therefore found himself in Hell, after his departure from this life.

    His friends, concerned about his sad, though well-deserved fate, went down to Hell, and moved by the man’s misery, rattled those iron gates, calling out to whomever might be listening, “Let him out! Let him out!"

    Alas, their entreaties accomplished nothing. The great iron doors remained locked shut.

    Distinguished dignitaries were summoned, powerful people, academics, intellectuals, prominent personalities. All of them stood at the gates and put forth various reasons why the man should be let out of his place of lonely torment. Some said that due process had not been followed in the man’s eternal sentence. Others appealed to Satan’s sense of fairplay and compassion.

    The great iron gates refused to move.

    In desperation, the man’s pastor was summoned. The pastor came down to the gates of hell, fully vested as if he were to lead a Sunday service.“Let him out! He was not such a bad chap after all. Once he contributed to the church building fund and twice he served meals at a soup kitchen for the homeless. Let him out!”

    Still, the gates of Hell stood fast.

    Then, after all the friends and well wishers finally departed in dejection, the man’s aged mother appeared at the gates of Hell. She stood there, stooped and weak, only able to whisper softly, in maternal love, “Let me in.

    And immediately the great gates of Hell swung open and the condemned man was free.

    Something akin to that great miracle happened for us on a starry night at Bethlehem


    If passing this on please credit William Willimon.