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  • Mind the Gap

    No, I am not about to post on the London underground announcement used at Bank station for as long as I can remember but about the One World Week service which we held today.

    To be honest, the last place I wanted to be this afternoon was at church: it was cold and wet (very), I was tired and half my deacons and both my pianists were away (we borrowed an Anglican organist).  The Methodists due to do the drama had dropped out and been replaced by others and the preacher announced he was not intending to preach on the set text.  It could have been totally awful.

    I arrived to discover that the deacon on setting up duty had never done so before and had to be told what was involved and then shown how to do most of it; a few folk from one of the other churches announced that they had been assured there would be lots of signs to tell them where to go and they hadn't been there (I don't recall agreeing to that, but hey).


    Mind the gap - between rich and poor, male and female, black and white, faithful and faithless...

    Mind the gap - between words and actions, then and now...


    In the end it all somehow held together, people taking part managed to move to the right place at the right time without needing to be announced; the set prayers and hymns, the extempore prayers and the sermon did on the whole hang together; most people stayed for tea/coffee afterwards.


    Mind the gap- between what I 'want' and what I 'need'

    Mind the gap - between 'desire' and 'devotion'

    Mind the gap - between 'fun' and 'faithfulness'

    Mind the gap - between 'fellowship' and 'worship'


    It would be exagerating to say that it was a particularly wonderful service, the heavy dependence on the 'humane invention' of 'preprinted formes', as the C17 Baptists would have said, wasn't entirely to my liking, but did serve to enforce the message about the gap between 'faith and deeds' in which we so often find ourselves.  It was, however, a good atmosphere and the congregation at around 50 was a good size for a united service.  With an Anglican preach (at about 7 minutes) it was also a short service despite having a drama and lots of liturgy.

    I am still tired, it is still raining and all the people are still away, but somehow there was blessing to be had by being there today.

  • Bemused, bothered and bewildered!

    I have just got back from three days in Manchester where I've been at the first residential for my doctorate in practical theology.  It was a busy time, I met some great people, caught up with some friends and had quite a good time but I came away somewhat befuddled.

    I had not aniticipated the library tour being almost at the 'this is a book' level, nor a guide who did not how how to register to use the computers in order to reserve or renew books from offsite.  Thank goodness for the nice people on the help desk who in exactly 20 seconds completed the process for me!  Highlight of the library tour was probably the fire alarm going off.  I am sure our guide is a lovely person who adores books but please...

    A public lecture and 'master class' by the grandaddy of urban theology Ken Leech kind of set the scene for the whole weekend.  He has some great stories to tell of his time in East London, but I'm not too sure how much I gained to help me in my own research in terms of insights into method, research ethics, etc.  Shame really, I had hoped to find something to help me; maybe he has just been doing it for so long that it is intuitive?

    medium_mural.jpgMost surreal part of the 'weekend' was a visit to the Greenhouse vegetarian restaurant near Rusholme.  We arrived at a place that looked pretty well derelict, were greated by an ageing hippy who announced that half the menu was 'off' but that he had various other things not on it.  Organic, vegan, gluten-free roasted thingamajig - very tasty when it arrived, but an hour's wait between ordering and serving - roast table leg would have been good by then!  Nothing Fairtrade though - ummh.  Still, it was a good opportunity to chat to people and it became the talking point of the rest of the event (maybe should have been the subject of the theolgocial reflection exercise we were set?!)  Picture stolen from their website, btw.

    I came away knowing, finally, who my supervisors are to be and vaguely what the first year deliverable is, so at least I can now begin to ask the questions I really want to ask and get going on what I really want to do.

    A lot of work went into creating the weekend, and I admire the self-giving of the staff who organised and ran it.  It is easy to criticise, I know, but I am a little concerned that I am spending a lot of my hard earned cash being some kind of guinea pig (perhaps when Dibley manse collapses they can put me in a cage with a wheel to run on).  I am bemused, bothered and bewildered but hope that in due course the mist might clear.

  • Seeking God in the Mist

    I am meant to be studying this week - the last of my blocks of NAM study time agreed with my church.  I have been fairly good, reading stuff for my new course, and for my next sermon series, and I will be off to Manchester for three days to do some course stuff.  I have also wanted to use some of the time to reconnect with God in a more tangible (is that the right word?  I'm not sure but it's the best I can up with) way.  I decided take myself off to a nearby country park to 'walk and talk' with God.  There were no warm fuzzy feelings, no profound moments, yet at the same time, I came away feeling that perhaps I had benefited.

    medium_beacon_hill_path.jpgIt may not the be the most stunningly beautiful country park in the world but it has some pretty good views on a clear day.  In the mist it took on a slightly ethereal quality and familiar paths, shrouded in greyish whiteness, became slightly mysterious, distances difficult to discern and sounds muffled.

    There is a so-called labyrinth near the 'lower' car park, a decking walkway with twists and turns designed so that you never can quite see what's next.  There, hung from the branches dew-jewelled spider webs defied the dankness, and passing through a dark tunnel of overhanging branches was the mischievous humour of a carved wooden crocodile - complete with a leg in its mouth.  I found myself pondering Pslam 23 and the recent song based on it: 'I will trust in Him alone.'

    Returning to the main pathway uphill the visibility was reduced and I had no way of telling how far along I was, until I came to familiar landmarks.  An information panel speaking of finding the past in the future (alas I have forgotten the exact phrase) described how this was once a settlement, became ovegrown and neglected and now has a future that reflects its ancient past.  Not quite sure what that said to me, but I sort of get it, I think.

    Onwards, and upwards for about a mile all told, through the mist and murk, seeking the summit: a great parable of my own seeking for God this morning I thought, as odd lines from Pslams of Ascent floated into my mind 'I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from...'  I felt a sense of kinship with the ancients who slogged up mountains seeking an encounter with God when actually, unseen and undetected, God was already with them.


    I paused to gather some sweet chestnuts that were falling, quite noisily, from the trees.  Spikey outer cases protecting hard shiny wood, hidden inside which would be delicious flesh.  Lots of food for thought too.  Notably the decadence of the natural world, the sheer wastefulness of so many chestnuts, conkers, acorns, blackberrie, elderberries...  Later I saw other walkers were collecting chestnuts, looking a little guilty as I passed as if somehow they should simply allow this generosity to be wasted rather than enjoying the natural bounty.

    Finally the summit came into sight.  Atop was a group of walkers talking loudly, disappointed perhaps that having reached their goal there was nothng to see but mist.  But maybe that's part of the point - by coming with a predetermined idea of what to see we risk not discovering what there is to see.

    As I rounded the bend in the pathway and began the descent, I found myself calling to mind the theme of the sermon at my ordination service - about living between the mountain and the plain, the place of God-encounter and the place of God-service, and the need for each of these.  I know I have tended to spend myself on the plain rather than the mountain, know that it will always be a tension I live with.

    I met far more people as I came down the hill, perhaps somehow symbolising a re-engagement with the 'plain.'  A photographer lay in wet leaves adjusting the settings on a camera to perfect a picture of fungi on a tree stump; a couple walked in silence, just more than a companionable distance apart; a group of ramblers talked as they left the path to explore the undergrowth; dog walkers called to their dogs; a woman seeing a friend exclaimed quite loudly what a frightful day she'd been having since her car had been scraped in the supermarket car park.  Endless stories, silently meeting and parting.

    I got back to the car park and headed homewards.  I hadn't quite done what I set out to do but somewhere in the misty murky morning, between the mountinan and the plain, in the things I thought and the things I didn't feel, something of God was.

    In the Screwtape Letters one of the things the junior devil is told about Christians is our desire to feel God.  A Jewish ghetto prayer from World War II says 'I believe in the sun when it is not shining... I believe in God though he is silent'.  Somewhere in these words, and in the mist shrouded walk I took today, I am reminded that it is not what or how I feel that matters, not whether my spiritual life is wonderful or not, but simply that God Is. 

  • Women in Jesus' Genealogy

    I decided sometime earlier this year that I'd like to preach a series on the women listed in Jesus' genealogy.  Partly this came out of leading a "ladies' meeting" where we'd looked at 'good' and 'bad' women in the Bible and discovered that it isn't as simple to delineate as first appears; we then focussed our thoughts on Tamar.  Why Tamar?  Because there are (at least) three Tamars in the Bible and most people don't know their stories.

    Anyway, I was looking forward to making up as I went along my sermon series when I visted the online shop that can sometimes lead to adventures (Amazon) where, as if by magic, the following title appeared in 'your recommendations'...

    Mother Roots: The Female Ancestors of Jesus

    'Mother Roots' by Helen Bruch Pearson is a carefully researched approach to the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and finally Mary.  For each she uses both history and 'her-story', Biblical shcolarship and some sort of Midrash-ish work (I'm never entirely sure I understand what Midrash technically is) and relates the stories to contemporary human rights issues.  I guess it is kind of gently feminist in style, but not misanthropic.  A fairly easy and interesting read, suitable for personal or group devotional use too.

    Once more my original idea has been pre-empted by someone who can do it so much better than I can!  But at least I have some literary support for my assertions whern the sermons happen!

  • The Method of Methods...

     Theological Reflection: Methods

    I have just finished reading - some parts more rigorously than others - Theolgical Reflection: Methods by Elaine Graham et al.  What struck me about the book was not the methods it presented - largely these were familiar - but the apparent method, or at least structure, employed by the writers.  Indeed, it was their approach, rather than their content, that struck me as being relevant to my own work with its use of Biblical, historical and recent case studies to illustrate the strands or streams being explored.

    For me there were some useful confirmations for things I've instinctively noted...

    • there is nothing new under the sun (see, even I can start with a scriptural example!), the methods we think are new have already been and will be again
    • theology is never, and has never been, mono-dimensional, one size cannot fit all
    • all theology is, ultimately, practical theology in some way, shape or form
    • you can start at various places and follow different tracks and still end up somewhere similar.

    Methodologically - or other 21st century over extended words for 'how you do it' - it was encouraging to see that the embryonic method I have been hoping to use has already got some credence, albeit open to critique.

    Beyond the specific of my own work, is the fascinating idea of the method one might adopt to think about methods!!  I think the writers have quite cunningly selected an approach which should appeal across the theological spectrum and to practitioners with different past approachces to theology.  By using Biblical examples, historical examples (old and new) and then relating this to current practice they are using an approach I have seen evidence of in C17 Baptist writing on topics as diverse as hymn-singing and marriage.  So the method used is not actually new, but is of itself a realisation (the authors' word) of an older approach.

    Not quite sure how I eventually work this into my literature reiew, but hey, at least I have my own thoughts on it!