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- Page 4

  • Aspects of Love

    This afternoon I will be marrying a 75 year-old widower to a 70 year-old widow.  This is a wonderful privilege for any minister-type person, but no less a challenge for all that.  Afterall, they have each built and sustained a marriage that lasted a lifetime, so what can a minister, especially a single one, say?

    They have chosen 1 Corinthians 13 as their Bible reading (yawn) and in the KJV (aaaargh!) so that presents an interesting challenge its own right.  Perhaps the way the word 'charity' (from Latin caritas) has changed in meaning is no more of a hurdle than the merry slide to 'love' as 'eros' rather than 'agape' when using contemporary translations?

    In the end, I have gone for something loosely based on C S Lewis's concept of 'The Four Loves,' affection, friendship, romantic/sexual and religious/Christian which I am interpretting as 'aspects of love' in a more holistic sense.

    Many of those at the service will not be churchgoers; those who are will include several widows/widowers and not a few with difficult or failed marriages.  The need for care seems more self evident than ever.

    As part of my attempt to make it accessible and 'not too heavy but still meaningful' I will be using four symbolic gifts to the couple as part of my talk: -

    • Affection: a pair of mugs and a packet of Batchelor's (nice irony there) Cuppa Soup (remember the tag 'You only get a hug from a Batchelor's Mug'?).  Affection is warm, everyday, practical and understated. It is also wide-ranging and inclusive.
    • Friendship: a small brass statuette of two people walking side by side from SPCK (which my sister and I wickedly still refer to as the Society for the Prevention of Christian Knowledge, based on a childhood misapprehension about organisations called the SPC-anything) which happens to match C S Lewis's image of friendship as open and inclusive of others with shared interests.
    • Eros: (not that I will use that word!) a fairly traded candle with a heart design.  Eros as exclusive, private, intimate, tender and vulnerable
    • Agape: (another word I won't be using!) a Salvadorean cross.  Agape includes the love of God and the love of neighbour (the "great commandments" as stated by Jesus) which the Salvadorean cross expresses powerfully.  Ironically this most special kind of love is not the narrowest but actually a connecting point back to the affection with which we began - a nice mystery for the theolgoians among us (though I won't say that either)


    I hope and pray that this wedding will be the start of a successful marriage.  It is good to see the way in which this relationship has blossomed and how there has been a mutual give-and-take in expectations during the courtship phase.

    I hope also that those for whom the occasion is bitter-sweet will find some source of inclusion, embrace and encouragement for their own lives.

  • One Hundred Years from Now...

    Apparently, according to BBC radio, today in the House of Commons one MP, I think Gordon Brown, stood up and as part of what he said told members (and presumably the public) who they should vote to be evicted from the Big Brother House.

    In 100 years time, someone will be reading Hansard and, rightly, wonder if we had really and trully lost the plot.

    I have not watched the programme this time (never did watch the celebrity versions anyway) but it is a sad endictment on our culture when it seems blatant racism makes prime time TV and the government feels the way to handle it is to tell us who to vote out, thereby boosting someone's profits.  Meanwhile issues of justice, peace and truth don't even make the leader columns in the press.  Ah me. 

  • On Time

    Not about arriving before the start of something rather than after it has begun, though anyone who knows me also knows that being late is something I dread, often arriving way too early 'just in case.'  No, really this is 'about' time, or more specifically our concept thereof.

    One of the books I've been reading on historical method asserts that the way that time is understood underwent a radical shift with Newton (et al) and that this is something that we in the west are so accustomed to, we cannot imagine it otherwise.  I think there are essentially two strands to this, one being a shift from seeing time as being the period between 'Genesis and Revelation' (or creation and the eschaton), a sort of God-centred-time and the other being the emergence of the concept of time as a 'commodity' - something that became important with increasing industrialisation.

    If this is a correct understanding of what was being said, or even if it isn't, it has been whirling around my subconscious for a week or so now, along with other weird and wonderful thoughts on time and history etc.

    Time is generally seen as one-dimensional and uni-directional, hence our fascination by the idea of time travel.  I appreciate that clever physicists like Einstein can adjust this view, but it seems a reasonable expression of 'everyday time.'  Historians divide this linear time into chunks based on various assumptions - e.g. periods such as pre-history, dark ages, middle ages, etc; e.g. dynasties and monarch's 'houses'; e.g. uniform chunks called centuries; even BC/AD (or BCE/CE if you prefer). The concept of epochs and eras seem to predate Newton and professionalised history; recording ages and durations goes back to Biblical times so I'm not altogether sure it's really an 'Enlightenment' or 'modern' development to do this.  The shift is more about a 'secularised' view of time, such that the 'kronos' element is all important and 'kairos' idea becomes marginalised, nowadays largley relegated to personal spiritual 'God moments.'

    Time as a commodity - that can be bought and sold - is a concept that I find more intriguing to ponder, maybe because it has more relevance to my life and work.  December 25th 2006 one of my brothers was paid £100+ an hour to work on railway signals, whilst my other brother as a police officer was paid his flat rate and I, as a minister of religion would not dare to estimate an hourly rate, because that isn't how it's meant to be viewed.  Somehow or other, an hour of a experienced signalling technican on a bank holiday is very expensive because it is a rare commodity; an hour of a police officer or a minister is cheap, not because there are endless supplies of them, but because it is assumed that they are available.

    It is hard to imagine a time before time was a commodity - and this is what the book was trying to say - an era when people took as long as it took to do things, when there were no university deadlines of 4 p.m. on 18th July (or whatever it is) and the concept of an hourly rate (or annual rate if you're a minister) did not exist.  As society became more industrialised we obviously needed order and predictability - train timetables were not always a work of fiction and start/finish times for factories and schools are necessary if they are to achieve their aims.

    Time as a commodity is something that is relevant in our postmodern age, and especially for churches, since people have to chose 'how much time to spend' (note the financial language) in different areas of their lives.  Present day 'stewardship campaigns' in churches usually focus on 'time', 'talent' and 'treasure', and I well remember offering a tithing approach to use of time the last time we had such a series.  To consciously assign 16.8 hours a week (of which a third could be sleeping!) to Godward intent would be consistent with giving 10% of income to Godly causes.  Whilst I don't find sacred/secular divides helpful, especially in relation to time, it seemed a way of encouraging people to think how they apportion the commodity they have called 'time.'  I'm not entirely sure I still hold that view, as I can see its flaws all too clearly, but when I struggle to get people to get involved in projects we have committed to because they 'don't have time,' a commodity approach seems to be the only language I have.

    I'd love to waffle on for ages - to think about how it sometimes feels that time goes faster or slower, and whether we could actually ever know if it did; to play with the existential (?) question of whether or not yesterday really happened or if it is just something embedded by a creator in the mind of a person who is made NOW - but my commodity of time is limited and I need to do other things this day.

    If you have read this far, thank you for bearing with me.  If you have understood a word I've said, I'm impressed.  If you can move my thinking along, I'd love to know.

  • Reading Sermons cf Hearing Them

    Having completed reading Spirituality and Theology, which was a generally good experience, I am now reading The Undoing of Death by the delightfully named Fleming Rutledge, which is a book of sermons.

    I have read the first two and I'm not sure.  Not sure, that is, about reading rather than hearing sermons.  They are well crafted and I'm sure have been editted to some extent for publication.  They are competent (meeting most of my criteria for good preaching) but reading them is not the same as hearing them would be.  The whole 'shape' and 'feel' of an act of worship is lost, the ebb and flow of (loosely used in my case) liturgy is missing and even though I have experienced the style of worship in which she preaches, something is missing.

    Maybe I'm not the typical reader of the book - I am not dipping in to it, nor am I seeking ideas to pinch for sermons of my own, rather I am systematically using it as devotional resource.  I will stick at it, not simply becuase I'm stubborn like that, but because I'm sure that there are pearls to be discovered along the way.

    After this (or even as an interruption to it) it will time to read this year's Archbishop's Lent book, which I've just ordered from dear old Amazon.  Samuel Wells Power and Passion is reviewed thus on the St Andrew's Press website: -

    Samuel Wells vividly paints the stories surrounding Jesus’ cross and resurrection. We see the weakness of Pontius Pilate and Barabbas, and the compromised character of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. We discover the subtle power of Pilate’s wife. And in Peter and Mary Magdalene we find the true power of resurrection, bringing forgiveness and ending the stranglehold of death, thus transforming all human passion. Through close readings of the gospel texts, Wells demonstrates the significance of these characters for faith and life today. In this book, structured with one chapter for each week of Lent, Wells guides us from the deathly power that put Jesus on the cross to the new power brought by Jesus’ resurrection. The book offers opportunities at the end of each chapter for prayer and discussion. The Archbishop of Canterbury has selected Power and Passion as his Lent book for 2007.


    Sounds good and definitely meets the 'improving book' requirements!!


  • Digging up Dibley

    Is this a conspiracy to stop me working?  Just about a foot from my PC (the other side of a single brick wall) a man in a hi viz jacket is using a pneumatic drill to dig down to the gas suplies to (finally) disconnect the church building from the mains.

    Meanwhile opposite the manse there is no footpath but instead a deep hole left by the electricity supply company (overseen by a woman in a hi viz jacket; very inclusive!) when they dug it up last week to replace a defective supply cable.

    Just so long as the water company or telecom or cable don't decide to join in...

    At this rate soon I will be living on an island.

    And not getting any work done.