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  • A Lightbulb Moment or Two

    I have a new regime in Dibley Manse.  How long it will last, who knows, but the intention is there!

    Basically the back end of last year degenerated into muddle - literally after a manse ceiling collapsed and metaphorically as order disappeared from life.  For someone who likes their herbs arranged alphabetically and matching clothes pegs on their washing line this was not good!

    So, the new regime sees the first hour of working days (not days off!) loosely titled 'devotional' to include prayer and the reading of 'improving books' (for those who are checking, (almost) daily personal devotional Bible reading remains in its 30 year old bed-time slot!) followed by an hour titled 'study' when I do my PhD reading/thinking/writing (so far just reading).

    My 'improving book' of the moment is Spirituality and Theology by Philip Sheldrake, which has sat on my 'to read' heap for three and half years since I was given it as a gift by fellow students at the end of my year as senior student at NBC.  In chosing to read this book, I wondered if it was justified under a 'devotional' banner but, hurrah, it rapidly told me it was!  Theology and Spirituality, it asserts, are intimately related, with theology being lived not done (apologies to Laurie Green et al) Amazingly, in one sitting, it linked in with the reading I'm doing on the development of historical method in my 'study' slots and it gave me a new insight into my understanding of, and hence relationship with, God.

    Ok, so I am pretty dense sometimes, but I always read Genesis 1:26 'God said, 'let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness' (NIVi) and the more poetic Genesis 1:27 in a very individualistic way, and as a way of affirming all people as of equal worth. I other words, I am made in God's likeness and so is everyone else, but that is something we experience individually, separately.

    Today as I read my improving book, I suddenly grasped that this is about Trinity and relationship (OK, you all worked that out years ago).  It is God first person plural (i.e. Trinity, relational) who makes human beings in their image (i.e. distinct but relational).  Gosh, I thought, how thick I have been all these years, trying to understand the plural pronoun in an individualistic way.  It is 'human beings' plural who bear the likeness, not merely each 'human being' singular.  I don't think this is an either/or but a both/and.

    So there you have it!  Two lightbulb moments in a day.  Nothing earth shattering, just a confirmation that I can read theology 'devotionally' and a better understanding of two verses of the OT.

    The new regime might mean less posting and more private, paper-based stuff and more time spent on my formal studying (which, as it costs me 10% of my gross income, needs some serious attention!).  Hopefully though I'll still find time to post news of adventures in Dibley, occasional insights and some fun stuff.

  • Dreadful Hymns and Brave Words

    Tonight's service at D+1 combined some very brave words with some absolutely awful hymns!  Of six, I knew two - most of my folk didn't know the others either - and given those I did know were 'For the might of Thine Arm we Bless You' and 'Now Thank We, All, our God' it was hardly a hymn-fest.

    It wasn't exactly a preach, more of a history lesson, some testimony and a tough closing dilemma.  We had a very quick trawl through psalmists in the open air, the Tabernacle, Solomon's Temple, synagogues and the early church (informative for many, I'm sure) then three stories of churches, one which had declined from enormous to closure in 30 years, one which missed an opportunity to leave a decaying building and 30 years later sold it to a brewery company (it's now a pub and they have a small building elsewhere) and one which was a three-way merger that 30 years on has adpated one of the buildings effectively.  We were then told we were two congregations with two seemingly incompatible visions for the future, in regard of buildings (actually I don't think our position was correctly represented since we have not decided to abandon the concept of a building for a merged church, simply it is not an option for us as we are) and in mission.  Our task is, therefore, to think and pray about the future.

    Brave words, and needed to be said - just need to see what happens next.  Watch this space!

  • Stuff and Nonsense!

    Thanks Julie for this, anyone want to add any more (polite) ideas?!

    Stuff happens.  What do the world’s religions have to say about this vexing existential problem?

    Taoism: Stuff happens. Who gives a stuff?

    Hinduism: This stuff has happened before and will happen again.

    Buddhism: The stuff that happens doesn’t really.

    Zen: What is the sound of stuff happening?

    Islam: The stuff that will happen will happen.

    Judaism: Lord, why is this stuff happening to me?

    Evangelicalism: Jesus, we praise you and just wanna ask why this stuff isn’t happening to someone else?

    Roman Catholicism: Stuff happens because you deserve it.

    Open Theism: Stuff happens to God too.

    Pentecostalism: Tuffs appensh.

    Anglo-Catholicism: Verily, verily, stuff happeneth.

    Atheism: Stuff happens. Then you die. No more stuff.

    Rastafarianism: Let’s smoke the stuff.


    Hmm, a sixth core value for Baptists - A Stuffy Community?!  Nuff said.

  • Five Core Values - Inclusivity

    This quarter I am going to re-visit the Baptist Union Five Core Values as my main preaching theme, so I am on the look out for new ideas to include.

    Imagine my joy when browsing in SPCK (a dangerous pastime if ever there was one) I spotted a little book called The Inclusive God - a must, I thought for when we get to the Inclusive Community theme (quick test for Bappies reading - can you name the other four?  Answers at end of post!)

    medium_inclusivegodbook.jpgTo start with I found the style of the book rather abrasive and it came across as rather uninclusive of what it termed neo-orthodoxy.  But then I guess that's the rub with many ideas these days - postmodernism says there is no metanarrative, but that in itself is a metanarrative; advocates of tolerance refuse to tolerate intolerance, and so it goes on.

    The book is a quick read and as it progresses the abrasiveness on the whole seemed to give way to some interesting explorations of traditional Christian doctrines, showing that actually there was a broad inclusion of much that neo-orthodoxy embraces.  Rather get into knots over literalism or metaphorical theology, this book seemed to me to search for echoes of inclusion in some key Christian doctrines by referring to the Bible - creation, the fall, the cross, the resurrection.  Whilst it would be easy to pick holes in aspects of the arguments, and more notably the writing style (a few references to God as 'she' amidst a lot of 'he' does not, for me, constitute inclusivity, not least given that I would assert that God is beyond gender.  I also felt that a cynical reading could see the book as suggesting the appointment of a one-legged black lesbian bishop as an epitome of inclusion, though I do not actually believe that is what the writers intend).

    The key idea of the book is that just as God is Love, so God is Inclusive.  It does not confuse 'inclusive' with 'anything goes' but at the same time it objects to the existence of 'barriers' or 'fences.'  It doesn't attempt to untangle this dilemma and whilst I suspect the writers and I would differ on where we emerged on various issues, I think they are right in suggesting that we are 'work in progress' and need to wrestle with what it actually means to be an inclusive community.  It is perhaps a shame they are unable to extend a generous inclusivity to those with a more 'neo-orthodox' viewpoint who are also on the same journey of authentic faith, but perhaps they have bad had experiences of being excluded.  My main disappointment was that the book is really too brief to do justice to any of the topics it raises and refers to very few supporting works.

    Not a cosy read, but a quick one; not many answers, but some interesting ideas to consider.  Worth £12.99?  Not sure!

    Now for forgetful Bappies everywhere, the other four values are... Worshipping, Missionary, Sacrificial and Prophetic, so if you can point me at any good books on these, I'd be grateful.

  • Good Preachers and Great Sermons

    Having revealed who some of my (current) top 5 preachers are, it seemed appropriate to explain my criteria for choosing them - afterall it is more than a little subjective.

    1. Having something to say and saying it - sounds obvious but some preachers can burble on for 10/20/45 minutes and say nothing at all.  I don't have to agree with or like what is said, but I like to hear something! 
    2. Consistency/dependability - I suspect anyone can deliver one good sermon, but a good preacher will usually be good.  Anyone can sometimes deliver a lousy sermon, doing this does not automatically stop them being good.  If you're going to get into my good preacher list, I need to hear you a few times to decide.
    3. Plays to their strengths in terms of style/delivery etc. - this doesn't mean they never take risks or try new things but on the whole stick to what they are good at.  Indeed, the best preachers do sometimes take risks that don't quite work and then have the guts to admit it.
    4. Do their homework (at least most of the time) - you can tell if someone has put the work in or not.
    5. Use notes or a script!  Not just because this makes me feel better because I do, but because most of the time these are the people who keep on track, have something to say and say it.  I have heard some great 'notes free' sermons but it is not in my book a sign of the preacher's greatness.

    When selecting my greatest sermons, the criteria are fewer and even more subjective.  Not surprising then that the list changes frequently and consists of relatively recent sermons.

    1. It speaks to me in some way, challenging and/or comforting as I need, the best do both at once.
    2. It is competently delivered (if not, I am likely to get too hung up on other factors to hear what is said)

    My current favourites are (in no particular order) ...

    • Stuart Jenkins - 'Mary and Martha' c. 2002
    • Anne Phillips - 'Shift Expectations' and 'Jesus asleep in the fishing boat' both 2003
    • Best experimental sermon - Sean Winter 'heave offerings and other odd OT texts' (not what it was called but hey) c. 2001
    • Best special service sermons - Ernie Whalley , Partnership Valedictory Service 2003 and Peter Grange, building closure and thanksgiving service 2005. (btw Baptism/Ordination/Induction sermons are de facto special so permanently in my remembered list)
    • Best big stage sermons - Ex-President Jimmy Carter at BWA in Birmingham who had the courage to name what other speakers had skirted around over Baptist fall outs and issues.  (He said it wasn't a sermon, I'd say it was.) Anna Mafie (Italian BU) at Baptist Assembly 2004