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  • Advent is Coming

    Advent is almost upon me - which means I have to crank up my slow cooker to make the soup for lunch time prayers, select some material to use (I've opted for the Hilary Faith Jones book of reflections 'Awakenings'), sort out if we want advent candles and who will buy them, chase up who is storing the Jean Geenhough nativity set so it can be displayed complete with baby Jesus for weeks before he's born, finalise all the Christmas events.... and, this year, in the absence of a Church Secretary, complete the BU congregational head count and annual returns.

    The BUGB forms are dead easy to complete, except of course I can't work out how we had the number of members reported last year given how many we have now... creative accounting may be needed!  The congregational count will be fun as D+1 will be with us, so our count ought to be high... we'll see. This year BUGB decided also to ask us some (good) questions about worship style.  One point though - why do they assume that everyone has a morning service (quite a lot of churches round here never have done)?  I found a few boxes that did not offer an answer consistent with our situation - how tricky it is to devise questionnaires that actually work.  It will be interesting to see the results though.

    Anyway, Advent Sunday and BUGB headcount Sunday coincide, we are part way through the series on Jesus' female forebears and it's a joint bash with D+1 - what should I offer?  In the light of recent events, and given that it is a joint service, I am departing from the theme (which would have seen us looking at Bathsheba) to do something that I hope speaks into our situation, to the explorations for the future and hints at something of what Christmas is about.  The working title is 'perfect in weakness' and we will be using the stories of Gideon thinning down his army and the apostle Paul's thorn in the flesh as a starting point for what feels like fairly brave stuff.  Under God's guidance, Gideon allowed anyone who was afraid to turn back and excluded most of those who remained on the grounds they did what might be expected.  Paul did not get rid of his 'thorn in the flesh' but was told that God's strength was perfected in weakness.  Maybe we need to recognise/remind ourselves that we are seeking God's will for our futures, not our own desires or what humanly seems normal/sensible.  Maybe we have to accept the 'thorns in the flesh' too.   Above all, at the start of Advent perhaps it is good to remember the divine kenosis of Jesus, a vulnerable, helpless baby in whom God's will was perfected.

    We shall see how it goes, now I really must soak some barley for this soup!!!

  • Do We Need to Disagree?

    This is thought dump from brain to blog without passing through any filters.  This means it may be twaddle.

    As I was thinking about the Trident debate, and the differing views I'd heard expressed by two Christians, I also visited a friend's blog and left a mischeivous (in my view) comment to his post on the same topic.  He was rightly observing that this issue gets discussed at denominational level but he wondered how many local churches even considered it.  I commented that I wondered if those at denominational level were aware how many of their members were employed in this industry.

    All this had made me think - a bit - about the importance of hearing diffenret views.  When you write undergrad essays you are expected to have read a variety of views on whatever you are studying, when we get out into the (relatively) real world, do we continue to do so, or do we just pick those with whom we intuitively agree?

    When denominations endeavour to express views on issues, do they really explore both/all/as many as possible sides of the debate, or do they just develop an argument for the one that those in the relevent departments hold?  I don't know the answer, but I suspect it is is far easier to start from the assertion 'x is right' or 'y is wrong' and set out to support it theologically than it is to start with a more honest and open question of 'what might be a Christian response to z?

    As I read lovely dusty 17th century books full of name-calling and mud-slinging by Baptists of opposing views, I begin to realise that what we have to learn from them is far, far more than processes, methods and types of resources (though all of these are good) but actually that it is important to disagree, and to disagree enough to REALLY do the work to make our case. 

    Way back when I was a teenager doing Duke of Edinburgh's Award, one of the courses involved a group debate on whether or not alcohol should be served at sixth form discos (some things just don't change!).  Each half of the group was assigned a case to put - our group the case FOR, even though all of us intuitively opposed it - what creeps we were!  What we discovered was that it was actually quite easy to develop a case we did not support, and more importantly, that in doing so, we understood our own stand point better.  Now there's an interesting idea for our ethicists and denominational greats to consider, if they don't already.

    I meet lots of minsters with whom I have interesting debates on all sorts of issues.  Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't,  sometimes one or other of us acts the advocate of the 'dark side' just to make the debate more fun.  These discussions never do any harm, indeed, so long as each person is willing to enter the debate with a degree of honesty, openness and, hmm, what is the word? - humility? provisionality? each can grow in understanding whilst retinaing their disctinctive perspectives.

    So, I think I'm saying that disagreement is important, but it needs to be employed creatively.  Too easily we descend into 'dissing' that with which we do not agree, and those who feel persecuted or undervalued in turn become the persecutors or devaluers.  The old rabbinic question 'what does it say, how do you read it?' used by Jesus himself, seems to be a lovely openning for honest exploration: it does not say 'I am right, you are wrong' instead it opens the way for deabte, discussion - even disagreement.

    My little sister hates the phrase 'creative tension' with a passion, whilst I love it, because for me it expresses a healthy openness to listen to the 'other' and somewhere between them to find new insights.  Yet she and I can agree to disagree over the words, whilst sharing the growth such debate/tension brings.  The key is in creativity - when it degenerates into plain old tension, it's time for coffee/chocolate/large double whatever.  She may be a misguided URC while I'm a whacky Bappy, but the banter we exchange actually affirms each of us in our denominational allegiences (though I obviously pray that one day she'll see the light and join the one true church!  Not).  Maybe humour, even as batty as mine, is part of the key to healthy disagreement?

    Of course, time and resources inevitably impact our ability to enter thorough-going exploration of complex issues, and in the end we have to trust those who, we have appointed to get on with the job but I do wonder if we perhaps lose out if we make life too smooth?

  • Please Miss, can I be a Wise Princess?

    On Tuesday we cast the Girls' Brigade Christmas effort - an adaptation of a short musical play called 'Fishing for Stars' aimed at reception classes.  As our girls are pretty young and many can't read well, plus we have only 4 weeks to learn it, it seemed right.

    On the basis that you never get all three (sic) Kings on the day of the show, I had removed all references to 'three' from the script.  I also changed 'men' to 'folk' on the basis that we don't actually know the Magi were male and these are just little girls anyway...  So, in the course of the evening we appointed various characters: a child, a star, some shepherds and the 'wise ones.'  Just before home time one little girl, reluctantly cast as a 'wise one' sidled up to me and said 'can I be a wise princess.'  Of course she can!  Traditionalists may scoff, but at least one little girl gets a positive message this Christmas.

  • Catholic Bishops on Trident - Initial Ramblings

    I was listening to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 (I'm dead cultured, me) whilst driving to Sainsbury's for the light bulbs (see earlier post) when he had two guest speakers on the RC bishops views on the Trident debate.  It was an interesting and unusually repsectful debtate between a spokesman for the Catholic bishops and a Revd Dr ethicist from Lancaster - alas I do not recall either of their names.  Essentially the RC bishops seem to be advocating a unilateralist position whilst the other expert felt that, while he was not in favour of Trident, this was unwise and actually destabilising.

    Despite my experiences in the defence industry, and my views on nuclear power, I tend to lean towards the views apparently expressed by the RC bishops, albeit recognising that the issue is never as simple as any radio broadcast makes it out to be (and when I hear brodcasts on topics I know about, it makes me realise how much hogwash I swallow on other subjects).

    It is good, I think, that people of faith are able to engage in this debate from differing perspectives, since this makes us less likely to end up with an ill-informed or, worse, blatantly wrong, view of a complex issue.  While the unilateralists assert that theirs is the way of peace, they have to concede that some of their freedom to do so arises from the actions of others who think otherwise.  While the ethicist is right in pointing out the complexity of the issue and that all-or-nothing attitiudes are overly simplistic, he, too needs to concede the possibility of a radical, prophetic stance.

    For me, a replacement for trident seems a sad move - one would hope that we could as a race finally grow up and not feel the need to say 'mine is bigger than yours.'  At the same time, I know that the jobs of friends of mine - some Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other faiths - will be jeopardised if the decision is not to replace it.  The real crunch is, as always, when we move from theorising to practice - would we really put £75B (or whatever it is) to good use, whilst undertaking to re-train and re-employ all those whose work is lost? Or would it just disappear?

    I guess we can only pray, listen to people of good conscience with whom we can disagree with dignity and seek to live with integrity- whatever our views.

  • Defeating the Scanner!

    Today I went along to Sainsbury's to buy our 200 8p light bulbs (still the chepaest indiviually boxed ones I've found) for the Cracking Christmas event.  I was relieved that there more than 200 on the shelves so that I could take what I needed without either having to ask for them or denyng some other poor HMF funded minister a light bulb if she/he needed one.

    When I got to the checkouts a rather bemused woman said 'gosh, you must have a big house' - giving me an opportunity to explain why I was buying them.  Afterall, only very mad vicars buy 200 lightbulbs at once.  It all became even more fun when the scanner would not allow her to have '200' or '100' of an item.  It would allow 50, so we go there with four lots of fifty bulbs.

    Now I'm trying to sort out how to get as many words as we need onto a label that will fit the boxes!  For this I spent four years studying theology!!