We sent some photos of our 'Sing Christmas' event to the local radio and they published them on their website. They obviously assumed the woman in the photo below was the minister of Dibley, one Revd Catriona Gordon (sic), whoever she might be. Possibly a forgiveable assumption, but wrong. Still, the photo invites some sort of caption - any thoughts?
This is one of my brain-splat efforts, so may not make any sense!
It started the day after Boxing Day when my Mum said she needed to discuss with me something about prayer. My kid sister said it wasn't about prayer at all, it was about Christology - she was right, but it didn't actually resolve the issue, which was about the current practice at the Sally Army citadel my mother attends (dead ecumenical, my family) of addressing prayers directly to Jesus. My mother said this was wrong, proscribed by Jesus himself, who was the son of God, not God. Plenty of scope for a PhD there, methinks, and certainly got us into a fascinating disucssion that led not very far. Whilst I have a deal of sympathy with my mum's objections to the prayers she experiences, my grounds for objection are miles from hers. I guess she is probably a sort of 'preconscious literalist' (was that Tillich? I cannot remember and am too lazy to go and look it up) and expects the Bible to act as rule book for public worship. The idea of timeless and timebound which we tried to explain (along with a bit of cultural conditioning) and how one ought to approach Biblical silences were not something she could grasp, although when I offered a set of views on the Trinity, she rapidly pounced on a hierarchical model as 'that's how it is.' I disagree, but hey ho.
My sister is loving the hermenuetics aspect of her MA, boldly declaring that it 'lets scripture be scripture unlike Biblical studies which is all the sitz im leben and such like rubbish.' I think that's unfair to both disciplines, not least cos my Biblical studies tutor remains firmly in my top 5 preachers, and it is clearly very much at odds with the forgoing discussion, but it did have a resonance with some of the stuff I have recently been thinking about in relation to theological reflection and my own spiritual life.
I vaguely remember something in a book I read donkeys' years ago which was trying to explain with a little story the dangers of analysing scripture. It took the extreme of imagining that some aliens took a Bible away and analysed it chemically, thereby missing the point. Similar stories speak of it being reduced to ink blobs on paper. Even allowing for preaching exageration, these stories are a bit daft - the Bible is read by people who know what the function of a 'book' is, where people differ is on how one should approach reading a book and making use of what it contains. For me, learning Biblical studies skills has enhanced rather than threatened my appreciation of scripture; as the old hymn of which I am rather fond says 'the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.'
And yet, my sister's objections raise good questions in my mind: if there is a need to relate Biblical studies, hermeneutics and homiletics (which there is) how does this read across to other areas of theology? The three-Gortons-twenty-five-opinions discussions (remember we have Jewish and small-c congregationalist influences; these factors multiply!) got me thinking about the mismatch I observe when people undertake 'formal' theological reflection. All the methods I've seen at some point involve finding a Bible story that 'speaks to the situation' or 'illustrates the idea.' In my experience, without exception, what then occurs is that the story is taken at face value and a fairly simplistic 'reader response' (i.e. "this is what I think it means") is used to apply it. The insights from Bibilcal studies are discarded, at least at a conscious level.
This is not wrong, but it is limited. And I think it is relevant as I begin to use historical resources in my own research. From the very limited reading I have so far completed, historians are lagging behind Biblical scholars in their approach to texts, tending still to accept at face value what is written, rather than speculating (for that is all one can do) on the motivation of the writer, the purpose for which she/he was writing etc etc. Whilst history does include some facts - dates, places, names - a lot of it is actually a 'story.'
So one question that arises in my mind is something like, 'how can the critical skills of Biblical studies be employed in a healthy relationship with hermeneutics, homiletics and theological reflection, and how can these skills and insights be transferred to the use of Christian history ('tradition') within theological reflection?' Answers on a postcard...
Oh, and as a throw away, I recently bought a new edition of a standard English Baptist history. Flicking through it, I spotted the entry on a topic I had researched in some depth - it was presented as an issue for General Baptists only, when actually the people who wrote the books and had a big debate about it were Particular Baptists. All historians are biased, and without trying I found an example! I can guess at why the bais was as it is, but it is a bias nonetheless. maybe the next question is how nerdy one has to get in checking out everything one reads - especially if I write it!!!
PS Sean, when you read this at some point, I am hoping your Whitley lecture will offer me some helpful insights here.
PPS Can anyone tell me the correct name of the study of prayer? Prayeology?!
I've just about managed to get nearly a week off work in between hospital visits and funerals! I got away for a few days to see friends in Warrington and on Sunday worshipped at my 'sending' church - and as some of those good folk read this twaddle, I have to say nice things!
It's funny what you remember and what you forget as time passes by. I forget how awful the time keeping is in that fellowship, who I dearly love - a scheduled 10:30 service might just about get going by 10:40. Hurrah for my little lot down here who start promptly whatever the given time is, even if people are late and wander in during the start of the service. My view is pretty simple - when we go to the cinema or theatre we expect the show to start on time, when we book a restaurant table we expect to sit down at the time we book: if we expect our pleasure activities to start to time, then surely it is not too much to show the same respect to God. Rant over. It was good to be back with these good folk, and to see two members being welcomed as part of the service.
The service was led by the moderator (the church is in interregnum) who was the Regional Minister who ordained me (or at least said the words, I think, theologically, it was the gathered church who did the ordaining) and it was good to see him again. The sermon was based around the visit of the shepherds to Jesus and made some fairly brave use of video clips - 'Creature Comforts' and the Muppets 'Christmas Carol.' I'm not sure it quite worked (for me anyway) but it was a bold experiment and to be encouraged. There were three points to the sermon but I can only remember two, and they were good ones. The Good News given to the shepherds was infectious and it was inclusive. I like the feel of these descriptors.
Infectious reminds me of bubbling humour (rather than nasty germs), of beaming smiles, of fun, laughter and gaiety in its proper meaning. It is a positive, energetic word, implying a level of risk taking and openness - and something of the lightness of the 'Creature Comforts' humour.
Inclusive is a well worn word, but it is one that if heard properly is challenging and demanding. It embraces outcasts and misfits - the smelly, unwashed, homeless person who kips in the church porch, the couple living together without a wedding ceremony, the person who struggles with drink, drugs or depression and so on and so on. It is challenging because we all know what it means but struggle to be it, do it.
An infectious, inclusive faith - an impossible dream? Or a great vision for 2007? I like good order in worship (you noticed!) but it would be worth sacrificing a bit of comfort if it meant the Good News was more effectively shared because the experience of God's grace was sufficiently infectious and inclusive to be influential in the hearts and minds of those who not yet encountered it. It'd be great if my congregation reached a point where (judicious) use of video clips was an acceptable part of worship and/or if my old church learned to start services at the advertised time; more than either of these, it'd be great if we could better share the Good News for all nations with those around us.
2007 will bring some new challenges for the good people of Dibley, and for me me as their minister, but I think I am looking forward to it - so long as I don't have to conduct any weddings with daleks as bridesmaids!!