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  • Metaphors, Methods and Mischievousness

    Today I have, creep like, read all the set reading for my course 'weekend' in Manchester.  It was pretty basic stuff, though as the one on how to do literature reviews said, I have to read with an open mind and not prejudge things.  And if I don't like or rate something I am to ask myself why. 

    One of the papers was on journalling and was, in part, well, just bizarre to my linear, scientific mind - recording and evaluating my dreams...?!  There was also a suggestion about using images/metphors to help the reflective process, so in a spirit of blatant mischief I offer the following image/metpahor for theological reflection and journalling (actually, I can work with it, but that's just a demonstration I've been doing this stuff too long!).  Here goes....

    The London Tube Map - a circle line for those who want to use a cyclic approach, various linear routes through from one place to another and any number of combinations and permutations, and many places to join or leave the process.  Oh yes, it also bears a passing resemblance to a spider's web, if that's your prefered model.

    I guess I am half ridiculing, half embracing the ideas of metaphors and images, and my apologies to the writer of the paper, but the real question is, do they actually help my researching and learning?  Maybe I need to get out more!

  • Rover 111 for Disaster Relief!

    Today my little Rover finally left for pastures new (sigh!), going back to Longbridge, whence she originated to be repaired and re-sold by a small scale dealer (either that or he'll break her to fix up the other four metros he recently bought on Ebay!).  In so doing she has raised £111 from her second forray into Ebay which will go to the BMS relief fund - an appropriate sum for a Rover 111.  The sane among you will be glad that the story of my Rovers now ends (Philistines!) but I am glad that my little car has been able to put something back after all the miles she carried me.

    Farewell Annie, good and faithful servant.  Rust in peace.

  • Chickens and Eggs - Theology and Practice

    I read something this week that said 'theology follows practice' and to an extent that is true, but it seems to be oversimplified since it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to discern which actually came first.

    At a macrosopic level, it is quite easy to find examples that show how a theology was developed to support a practice - such as the practice of "confirmation" employed by many infant baptising traditons.  The practice began as a pastoral response to a perceived need for more baptisms than a bishop could possibly do; allowing his vicars to do all but the last bit, which he'd then do next time he passed that way.  Centuries later, clever theologies have been developed to justify the practice on other grounds.  But it isn't quite that simple, is it?  There was a whole underlying theology of baptism, and of the fate of unbaptised infants, that prompted the pastoral response.  So which came first?

    Many practical theologians talk about 'starting with experience' as if somehow we have no pre-existing theological framework - conscious or otherwise - to shape our practice or thinking.  While any active reflection has to start somewhere, there is no such thing as absolute objectivity, and my practice and my worldview are inextricably linked.

    Back when I was studying contextual theology as an undergrad. one of my breakthrough moments was when I grasped that the essential difference between different approaches to theology was where they chose to start the reflection process.  Some choose to start from 'theory' - dogmatic or systematic theology - and then apply this to real life, reflecting and refining as they go.  Others choose to start from 'experience' - contextual, various '-ation ' and '-ist' methods, practical theology - and then reflect on this in the light of scripture and tradition.  Whilst the two process are not identical, they do achieve pretty much the same ends.  Of course since my 'eureka' moment about 4 years ago, I have seen this written more eloquently by some writers, but am still struck by the prevelence of 'either/or' views.

    The theology I unconsciously acquired as a child and the unreflected-upon experiences of my past both shape my thinking now.  I cannot say that one inevitably precedes the other.  In my version of the 'pastoral cycle' I envisage both a spiral and multiple entry points for considering any specific thing, and the whole somehow entwined with both conscious and unconscious influences...  Chickens?  Eggs?  Omelettes? - Or just some sort of scramble?

    The more I know, the more I know I don't know and, without a totally literalist reading of Genesis 1, we'll never answer the question about chickens and eggs.

  • Quote of the Day

    Snails obey the holy will of God - slowly

    Kenneth Leech, citing a devotional card produced by the Sisters of God, in his new book 'Doing Theology in Altab Ali Park'

  • Grace in Parentheses

    A reflection on John 7:53 - 8:11.  With thanks to Juliet Kilpin and Diane Holmes who each got me thinking…

    The Woman

    You don’t know my name; no one thought to write it down, yet you probably think you know my story.  It is there, the story that is, carefully bracketed, lest you might consider it to be essential, with footnotes in the ‘Nearly Infallible Version’ to remind you that “the earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have” it.  Forgive me my preference for those which note that in the ancient manuscripts my story is found in various locations – within its usual publication and even in another book altogether.  So what do you know about me, woman with no name; story bracketed lest it offend your quest for the infallible?

    I wonder how you imagine me?  A seductress, tempting and teasing some gullible man, luring him into the shadows for pleasure?  A young woman, too sex-obsessed to settle down and marry?  A prostitute, selling my body?  Or a lonely, bruised and bewildered woman who wondered just how it had come to this?  Tell me, gentle reader, do you know?  Do you ask?  Do you care?

    I wonder how you see the affair?  Were we long-time lovers, our consciences dulled by endless lies and deceit?  Or was this the first time we had shared each other’s bodies?  Were we married?  Divorced?  Widowed?  Single?  Do you wonder?  Does it matter?

    What do you know of my life?  Do you know how I felt?  How much I hard searched my soul?  How I had prayed for guidance?  Does my story touch you where you’d rather not be touched?  Does my nakedness expose your own dark secrets?

    A Man

    Me?  I’m a Pharisee.  I work hard, study hard, pray hard and above all, try to live a decent life.  You, of course, have views about people like me – think we’re all hypocrites. Praying on street corners, inventing petty rules to trip up normal people, picking fault with everything and everyone.  But what do you really know about me?

    How do you imagine my life?  A dull, law-bound man with a long beard and no sense of fun?  Someone so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good?  A heartless brute incapable of forgiveness?  Or do you see someone searching for truth, trying to understand, trying to get it right?  Do you ask?  Do you care?

    I wonder how you see the Law?  Some ancient set of rules for a bygone age; something to be dispensed with in a new age?  Or something that offers freedom and hope, order and security in a world of confusion and despair? Is it just for religious people?  For the wealthy?  For the learned?  Do you wonder, does it matter?

    What do you know of my life?  Do you know how I felt?  How much I had searched my soul?  How I had prayed for guidance?  Does my story touch you where you’d rather not be touched?  Does my quest for truth expose your own judgemental legalism?

    An Itinerant Storyteller

    My story you think you know well, you retell the stories I told and layer them thickly with tradition.  You fear corruption, the taint of something which just might not have been exactly what I said, what I did, and you consign to parentheses a story of grace, a story in which no-one was condemned and everyone healed.

    What do you know about her, the woman caught ‘in the act?’  Sure, you wonder about her lover, why he wasn’t there to be executed too, but what do you really know?  Do you not see that she is you?  Too quickly you deny any hint of sexual sin – who said it had to be sex?  Look at her: terrified; all her secrets exposed for the world to see.  Tell me you don’t dread your own secrets being laid bare… you cannot, for deep within you know that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

    And him, that religious official you so readily despise.  Can’t you see how he too is you?  Oh, you long to deny it, offer all the right words, but deep within you know that you, also, fear the taint of those whose sins are visible whilst your own are safely hidden behind your eyes.  Tell me that it’s easy, this path of faith, that you never struggle in your quest for truth… you cannot, for deep within you know your fear tears you apart.

    On the one hand, they are right, those men, the choices this woman has made demand a response, and the law makes it clear: she must die.  On the other hand, they are wrong, they assume that they are in a position to pass judgement and carry out the execution.  

    Do you ever wonder why they came to me?  Not just what the dear old gospel writers say about trickery, but deep down, in their heart of hearts?  Do you ever wonder if, just maybe, one of them was unsure, wanted a second opinion?  If, just maybe, some of them felt uneasy about this?  Do you ever wonder what it was that stopped them throwing the stones?  My words?  Or something else?

    Hear then the words of grace: your sins are forgiven…

    Woman, no one condemns you, put this behind you and move on.

    Man, no one condemns your either, put down your stone and walk away

    Here, in the parentheses, in the uncertainly placed text of an ancient writer is glimpse of grace and a hope of glory.

    You don't know what happened next, of course, no one thought to write it down: you have to imagine how these people's lives were affected.

    Yet you can know what happens next... for you...