By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

- Page 2

  • A House of Prayer for the Nations?

    One of the odd things about being a Baptist minister in this area is the privilege of leading ecumenical services at Center Parcs, Sherwood Forest.  It is an unusual place, having  a proper church and the servcices of a chaplain.  The staff at Sherwood really value this provision, seeing it as something special to offer their guests.

    Now Center Parcs has been taken over by a company who wish to replace the chapel with a retail outlet - whether this is a conversion (!) or demolition job I don't know.  The current intention is that services will now be transferred to the cinema.

    I have mixed views about this.  I have long since relinquished any special attachment to church buildings - they are, for me, largely functional, the 'sacred space' being something created in the gathering of people encountering the divine.  Worshipping in a cinema or pub or the middle of field is all the same to me.  At the same time, it has been good to know that there was a quiet space at Center Parcs, a place people could just sit and be.  From my own perspective, to have made it a multifaith prayer centre would have been accpetable, if the argument had been over exlcusively Christain provision.  But it wasn't.  It was about mamon.  Why tie up several square metres of prime space in a chapel when you could be selling stuff...

    I hope to join many others giving thanks for all that the chapel has meant at a special service on 2nd September.

    My own special memories cannot be taken away - the RC couple with whom I shared communion at New Year, the lonely woman who found solace in Eeyore on Palm Sunday, the unashamed ecumencism that transcended left-right high-low labels and the foretaste of the eschatoclogical banquet.  Somethings money can by, but those that matter are often price-less.

  • Habakkuk - Authenticity in Chapel?

    Thanks to Jim Gordon's loan of an excellent little Habakkuk commentary, I have now got a couple of ideas for preaching on this short but powerful text.

    Although I'd notionally planned on four sermons - and I'm sure there are four sermons in there - I've ended up deciding to have two and then pick another "minor" prophet for the other two weeks. 

    In a departure from my usual quasi-expository approach, I think I'll be talking about themes that emerge: week 1 the theme will be "authenticity" - something that is haunting me a bit at the moment - and week 2 will be "theodicy" (or in plainer language, the defence of God, specifically, where is a good God when bad things happen?).

    Firstly, authenticity, which, along with something about 'the word became flesh' that I have to preach on first, is rattling around my brain.  The commentary suggested that Habakkuk has echoes of psalms and wisdom literature hinting that it may include or have been a piece of liturgy.  This is quite challenging for us in our nice western Baptist churches, not only do we not do liturgy, we don't do much of this brand of authenticity either.

    What do I mean be this?  It seems to me that when we hand in our brains at the door of the church, the token we get in exchange is the 'smiley Christian face.'  Yes, I know both are a parody, but how often do we in our worship do what the psalmists or Habakkuk did?  Just suppose the 'vicar' stood up at the start of the service and said 'dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to rant at God about the unfairness of life.'  We'd assume he/she had flipped because we don't come to church to do that.

    On the one hand coming to church is meant to be about worship, so we focus on God's greatness and fidelity, we sing songs/hymns of praise and remind ourselves of eternal promises - we want to be positive and upbeat about faith.  On the other hand, I think it's utterly wrong that we don't express our struggles and questions, because we suppress/repress the realities of lived experience in favour of jolly smiley lies.  Surely there ought to be a place for both?

    Playing hunt the hymns (I have to hand them over this Sunday because I'm away for the fortnight immediately preceding the first Habakkuk service) has been a salutory experience - it is mainly in the Victorian hymns that I have found the tension that I want to see expressed. 

    In 'O Love that will not let me go' is this poignant verse

    O joy that seeks for me through pain

    I cannot close me heart to thee

    I trace the rainbow through the rain

    And feel the promise is not vain

    That morn shall tearless be


    Of the contemporary songs, the two I think best express some of this authenticity are Matt Redman's "Blessed be Your Name" and from the Nick & Anita Haigh of Northumbria Community "Kyrie Eleison" (Empty, broken, here I stand) which emerged from this couple's horrendous experience.

    When my faith has all but gone, Kyrie eleison

    Give me strength to carry on, Kyrie eleison

    When my dreams have turned to dust, Kyrie eleison

    In you, O Lord, I put my trust.


    The whole thing about the authenticity theme in Habakkuk is the people of God are called to faithfulness - the 'even though life stinks, yet I will believe' attitude, perhaps expressed best by Job - and a God who is faithful even when seemingly absent.

    To go with this means two things - firstly, we can't settle for the smiley Christian parody, which, if this is the token we swap for our brains, means we can't check them at the door either.  This is as well because if we are going to take theodicy seriously we need our brains as well as our experiences... and when I get that far I may post on it.

    In the meantime, I am contemplating handing out paper tear drops in the service and asking people to write/draw/symbolise the pain they bring with them to church and which they need to be open about with God.  If we could then start to be open with each other...

  • When is Funny Funny, and when is it Not Funny?

    Odd title, but I'm pondering...

    There is a blog out there running a (spoof) 'driveby Baptisms' competition where people are invited to drive through puddles, soak people and claim it as a baptism.  Well, no, it's not proper immersion, but that's another story.

    Normally I would find it funny.  But not this week.  This week I watch TV footage of places I've been, or where people I know live or work, under feet of murky flood water.  Suddenly soaking people with puddle splashes seems quite, well, sick really.

    Andy Amoss picks up the some of the tensions that emerge as we observe the suffering of others at close quarters whilst getting on with comfortable lives - afterall, I am in my nice flood-free manse, high(-ish) on a hill able to blog about it all.

    I don't want to become a Victoria Meldrew but sometimes funny just isn't.  I recall reading somewhere that what makes humour permissible (or not) is the context - if the joke is told from within a community/context it is OK, if it is about/against it it isn't.  So far, so good, but the driveby Baptism thing is totally outside of flood-soaked Britain, and is a joke within/"against" certain Baptismal traditions.  So maybe the context of the hearer/reader matters too.  If there were no floods here, I'd be laughing along with the best (or worst) of them (even if I think splashing pedestrians is a bad thing; making waves when there's no one to drench is fine).

    Maybe it's just a fact of life that one person's funny is another's bad taste?  But maybe it's not a bad thing to ponder it now and then.

  • Participating in God - Holy Ceilidgh



    This picture is on the cover of UK editions of Paul Fiddes wonderful (if, for new readers of his work, fairly hard work to get into) book on the Trinity.  In the USA they have a nice plain red cover it seems.  I mean, all those naked women well, it's a bit distracting for male pastors, isn't it?!!!!

    I have pinched the picture from the web because it captures something of the mystery and energy of the concept of perichoresis as divine dance (seemingly lots of people who read this blog thought "peri-chor-what" the other day when I mentioned it).

    So here is my interpetation of it all...

    Picture the Trinity as being engaed in a Divine "Reel of Three" (a la Dashing White Sergeant, or similar).  Each member of the Trinity whirls, and is whirled by, the other two as they move around creating wonderful patterns along the way.  Now imagine that the dance turns outward and others are drawn in (a divine lure for process theologians, irresistable grace for Calvinists, free will response for me) and are energised, whirled and twirled by the dancers.  Then they in turn reach outwards to draw in others (evangelism, mission, outreach) in what might be envisaged as a missional grand chain.

    The dance whirls on through the great Ceilidgh of history and we find ourselves grasped by those who went before us (who are your heroes of faith?) and spun on again to reach out and touch more and more people...

    Are there wallflowers in this Celidgh?  Are we reaching out to welcome them in? 

    What's so great about this dance is that you can have two left feet (what a right-handed world this is, pah) or no sense of rhythm and it doesn't matter - it is the energy of the divine reel of three that drives it, the melody of divine love to which we dance and, if a caller is needed, it is the prevenient grace of the God beyond naming.

  • Quick, hide!

    Today's BUGB News E-sweep says that next week they are starting a 'Baptist Blog of the Day' feature - where's that invisibility cloak gone!!!

    I am trying to work out what I feel about this.  Obviously I am happy to post stuff for anyone to read, but there is a sense that blogland is a fairly safe space to play with ideas that might not always sit in the 'main stream' (not Mainstream) of things.  Those who visit are usually very gracious and there is a sense of mutual tolerance and respect for diversity (utterly Helwysian, to coin a phrase: let them be Jews, let them be Turks... let them be heretic bloggers...) but when 'officialdom' starts sending things our way I can't help feeling the dynamic changes.  I am sure that the e-sweep people think this will be an interesting and fun addition to what they offer, and if they send us to the good quality blogs of people like Jim Gordon or Stuart Blythe or Sean Winter, that's fine.  I'm just feeling a bit protective of my twaddle...