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  • Labels

    In two conversations yesterday the topic of theological labels came up.  I do not like labels very much - they become the source/cause of much angst, mud-slinging, fear and division.  One of the best observations I ever heard on the whole topic was from a Scottish minister who, coming from a fairly traditional, ostensibly evangelical background said words to the effect of "I eventually realised that God might not like my theology and that other perspectives had valuable insights."

    In one conversation I was asked if I thought it possible for a person to be a 'fundamentalist liberal.'  Well, if labels must be assigned, then yes, I do, because I have met some!  In the other conversation I was asked where I sat on a spectrum from 'fundamentalist' (person extends their left arm to the left - odd since this is usually expressed as 'right wing') to 'liberal' (extends right arm similarly).  My answer - which may or may not have satisfied - was 'somewhere in the middle.' 

    If a fundamentalist is someone who has some fundamental beliefs they won't compromise on, then I am one.  If a liberal is someone who is open to new ideas and insights and doesn't think it can all be sewn up in a nice neat formula, then I am one.  If an evangelical is someone who think the gospel is worth sharing, I am one.  If a charismatic is someone who is open to the guidance and direction of God's Holy Spirit then I am one.  But maybe the people who use any or all of these labels would tell me I'm not one.  And the great thing is, I'm not bothered!  The murky middle ground that says 'I'm a follower of Jesus trying to work out what that means and it'll take a lifetime' is a place I am content to be, and a place that, I believe, equips me to learn with and from those at various 'poles' and to support others in their own quest for authentic discipleship.  And if that makes me a hopeless, helpless heretic, well I reckon I'm in pretty good company!

    So, what label would I use?  I reckon that to be known as a Christian of the Baptist variety will do me fine! 

  • Giving what's 'right' not what's 'left'

    Spotted on Angela Almond's blog (and rewritten slightly)...

    One night a person had a terrible nightmare - they dreamed that God saw what they put into the offering at church, multiplied it by ten, returned it to them and said 'live on this for a week...'

    As Angela observed they would, strictly, have to live on nine times the offering, not ten, but the story works because, out of the ten times, they would give a true tithe.

    Of course the story is over simplistic, I don't give 10% of my income to my church (or I'd be paying 10% of my own wages!) and many people split their giving over several causes, as I do in fact.  But if in our churches we all gave half a tithe of our net income, my suspiscion is that most churches would have far less financial worries.

    I do know one or two ministers who give nothing to church, and a few who even argue that they have 'given up to God' the earning potential they had in past lives (e.g. if they could now be earning £40k and are now paid £18 they have 'given' God the £22k difference).  Whilst that is their decision, it troubles me because it assumes we have a 'right' to some level of income, not that it is all something for which we ought to be very grateful.  Whilst I can get very angry that there are ministers with children who have to have state benefits to make ends meet, I also know that most of those give very generously to their churches, and that compared with most people in most countries we are all very wealthy.

    Could I live for a week on 9-10 times what I literally 'give to God'?  Yes, I could and I do - at least by my definitions of what constitutes giving to God.  That does not make me more righteous than other people - I could be deluded about my giving! - it just serves to remind me of the choices I make and their implications.

  • BUGB Website Awards

    So, it's finals time in BUGB-land, and unlike Eurovision, it is safe to say the being ".co.uk" does not guarantee nurl points.

    It has been interesting to compare and contrast the sites - a few of which seem more like blogs to me - and then to vote for the one that I liked best.

    What makes a good website?  I tried to imagine that I was looking for a church to go to, and the questions I'd want to find answers to.  So, for me, the number of clicks needed to get to service times, location, contact details and activities were more important than how many whizzy widgets were employed.  Colour schemes, font size/style, language, photos probably came next.  I was clear I wasn't looking for 'a church I'd like' rather than 'does the website help me to decide if this might be a church I'd like.'

    My vote went to Minehead because their front page ticked all the boxes for me - a map, service times, quick links to the main activities, good colour scheme, uncluttered layout and suitable use of pictures.  The site is not perfect - a few links are circular - but for me it does what a church website needs to do, and it does it well.

    On Sunday I'll find out what everyone else thought...

  • Hired, Fired, Tired or Inspired?

    So, Vision Day Part Deux is done - I have a sore throat, sore feet and am ready to rest, but still have to type up the outcomes for circulation and approval...

    We began the day with one of those daft exercises where you compare your church to other things and say why.

    If Dibley BC was a colour it would be...

    red because it's warm

    blue because it's calm

    grey with yellow spots because there are glimpses of it being on fire for Jesus (whatever that means!)


    If Dibley BC was a TV programme it would be...

    The Apprentice - because Catriona keeps setting us challenges

    Ready. Steady , Cook because we do an awful lot of catering


    If Dibley BC was an animal it would be...

    A donkey, or a camel: designed by committee, beast of burden

    A cat - soft and friendly


    So there you have it - and for the remainder of the day I tried to make Alan Sugar jokes...


    At the end of the day we set objectives under four headings

    • Spiritual
    • Administration
    • Premises
    • Community


    It's not fair to the church to tell the world what we decided; suffice it to say no one wanted to be in the group handling admin.  In the end four people were allocated to the group and struggled to come up with anything concrete but we did eventually develop some sort of objective to take forward.

    Only 16 people came along to the day, but they worked hard, laughed, cried, got cross, got over it, shared food and worshipped together.  I think we 'did church' today.  No one got fired, everyone got tired and I hope we were at least in some small measure inspired.  (And, for the record, the place where we met was hired!)

  • Middle Aged Muddledness

    Someone once told me that middle age was when your narrow waist line and broad mind swapped places.  I have a feeling my middle aged spread operates on both levels, as I reckon I am far more broad minded now than I was twenty years ago, or maybe less certain anyway.

    Today I received an email from someone loosely associated with church asking for help in thinking something through.  As I reflected on how far their own thinking has moved in 4-5 years, I also thought about how my own approach to thinking through complex things has changed.  At 45 my perspectives are far more tentative than they were at 25, and I am ever more reluctant to make any kind of pronouncements.  It's not that I don't still have deeply held convictions, I do, but perhaps the way they are held is different (I am reminded of John Hull's work in his book 'What Stops Christian Adults from Learning' which I found very enlightening when I read it a few years back).

    Life was certainly easier when I could condemn as ungodly or unchristian those perspectives I disagreed with, and I know lots of people in lots of churches operate in such a way (wherever they sit on theological spectra) but in a bizarre kind of a way, I think I actually prefer the muddledness I now have, which makes me more, not less, dependent on the grace and mercy of a God beyond my comprehension.

    I hope my person found my thoughts helpful.  I hope that I continue to wrestle with the issues that cross my path, and never return to a simplistic 'sorted' perspective.  I also hope that 'pastoral pragmatism' never becomes careless condonement.  To be muddled and mystified but authentic and honest seems to be an 'ok' place to be... at least for now!


    PS It's not that being 45 is 'better' than being 25, or that the certainty of youth is wrong, it's something about being authentically who you are and not stagnating along the way.