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  • Thinking about Thinking about Things

    Last week, one of the books I read used the analogy of a children's dot-to-dot puzzle to describe the process of writing history.   The historian or researcher the 'dots' - in various quantities and of various intensities - and then deduces how they might be joined up to furm a picture.  Unlike most dot-to-dot puzzles, these 'dots' aren't numbered so the historian/researcher has to use some imagination or make some guesses to find a picture from them.  Inevitably, different people may make different connections and end up with different pictures.

    In theology and missiology (and no doubt everywhere else) there seems to bne a lot of talk about 'joined-up thinking' but what does that really mean?  Do we assme that there is one right way of joining up thinking, one obvious (if only we could find it!) answer, or is it actually like doing the puzzle when the printer forgot to put on the numbers?  Sometimes I feel as if we think it means there is one answer to be found, when perhaps it offers something a little less concrete and more 'playful' (my word of the moment!) - that there are many fine images to be found if only we are willing to seek them.  This doesn't mean that all are equally valid, just that there isn't always one 'right' answer.

    A few years back the in phrase in management speak was 'thinking outside the dots' - that in order to join them up subject to some weird and wonderful set of rules you needed to take your lines past the limits of what you had.  Again, something about using imagination as well as intellect (and I'm not about to get into the which of those comes first debate!).

    So what has all this to do with the price of fish?

    I have recently been shocked - there is no other word for it - by the inability of people I perceive as reasonably intelligent to make connections between ideas, and specifically to extrapolate general principles from specific examples.  It is almost as if people have become so adept at mechanisatically joining a defined set of numbered dots to make a certain picture that they are totally flummoxed if presented with anything different.

    This troubles me greatly, partly in relation to my research work which is predicated on the assumption that people can extrapolate from 'a' to 'b' if only by analogy, that there are general principles that can be read across from century to century.  It worries me more for the health of the church, perhaps especially for those churches that are smaller, older and more set in their ways, but also in general terms.  Maybe I'm am particularly blessed that I find it quite easy to spot connections between ideas from seemingly disparate fields.  Maybe part of my task is to take several steps back and help people to begin to learn to make conections (how?).

    In the mean time, just in case you really do have nothing better to do, here's a little dot-to-dot puzzle to amuse you!  What credible designs can you make from it?!  (A little imagination definitely permitted)



    O                                    O



    O                    O

  • Stereotypes Rule...

    Not only am I mad enough to subscribe to the Baptist Times for years on end, I am also sufficiently silly as to continue to part with large sms of money to engineering professional bodies, which means more magazines to glance through and a ridiculously high rental charge for some letters (though the latter does make my 'professional' name so excessively long that I get letters where it takes two lines on the envelope: almost worth the expense!).  Anyway, in the latest Professional Engineer magazine was a plug for, and a review of, this little book:

    My Dad's an Engineer

    The book raises money for children's charities, so that's definitely a good thing.

    It aims to raise awareness of the importance of engineering - which is also a good thing.  As the old IMechE bumper sticker used to say 'nothing moves without engineers'  - how true!

    Notwithstanding that the book review suggests that the ideas are a tad complex for the target age range, I think it is a good idea 


    It promotes and reinforces gender sterotypes. Grrrrrrr! 

    I think I'll have to write "My maiden aunt used to be an engineer but now she's a minister' (nice snappy title, eh?!) to counter some of this sterotyping.  What d'you reckon?!!!

  • Self Definition...

    Last week someone asked me what I thought was the one sentence statement of Baptist self-definition, the golden thread that runs through our story.  I struggled - and in the end said we are better at saying what we're not...

    We're not related to or descended from Anabaptists (much)

    We're not Arminian (much)

    We're not... etc etc  (much)

    Today at the end of the service someone took me to task over using the word 'evangelical' in last week's sermon - assuring me that we're not evangelical, we're Baptists.  Trying to explain what I think evangelical means, and that it not did preclude or supersede her Baptistness, or more importantly that of her husband, who, she was glad to note, had not heard me say the word, was not easy, she just didn't get it.  Baptists defined as not evangelical - well that's a first!

    So, if we were to try to say what we are, in one short, snappy phrase of the ilk of 'one true church' (which of course we are, just no one else realises it yet ;-) ) what might it be?


    Somehow, typing this brought to mind the wonderful article in this week's Baptist Times (yes, those words can go in the same sentence!) about one person's experience of moving from an RC to a Baptist church.  With immense grace and gentle humour, some of our less attractive attributes were laid alongside our good ones.  What also struck me was the profound change in our attitude in recent years - or at least in that of the BT.  When I first started reading said publication around ten years ago I cannot imagine that it would have carried an article like this; that it does is definitely a sign of growing maturity in our attitudes and outlook.  For ten years I have steadfastly resisted writing a 'letter to the editor' over one or other articles or attitude that has annoyed me, this week I was very tempted to write one in praise, perhaps I should have done.  (But as we all look to see has written what anyway...).

    Perhaps we should describe ourselves as 'growing in grace ... albeit rather slowly'

  • Good Shepherd 3 - A sermon of sorts!

    2e53dcb7e5de9c500bb77c2ec6acf464.jpgI found this picture with a Google search (for something like Chinese Jesus Good Shepherd).  Although it does stand accusation of Victorian tweeness, there is something very tender and appealing about the shepherd cradling the lamb so closely that only its head peeps out into the wide world.  This feels like a good shepherd who protects his tiny little lamb from harm and is determined to deliver it safely.  I also quite like the two accompanying sheep who are so hot on his heels as if to ensure he does his job properly!

    In the end, my sermon has evolved or appeared, not sure which, as a kind of pre-birth to post-death journey through the 23rd Psalm.  The complicated and confusing John passage just did not offer itself into my thinking, and the Gospel - good news -spoke out of the psalm.

    So, for what it's worrth, here it is - minus its introductory stuff - even before my folk get it!  (And yes, before you comment, I know some bits are simplistic but it's my attmept to be pastoral after last week's 'Follow Me')


    So far as the lamb is concerned, the shepherd has always been there.  Even before its birth, the shepherd was there on the hillside patiently watching and waiting.  A hired worker might have been at home in the warm or distracted by other things going on, but the shepherd is utterly dependable.  And as the lamb is born, as the harshness of the air fills its lungs and it utters its first hesitant bleat, the shepherd is on hand to ensure that all is well, and that if it is not, what is needful is arranged.

    One of the great wonders we are reminded to ponder is that long before we were, as the saying goes, a twinkle in our father’s eye, the Good Shepherd was already there, waiting, preparing and anticipating.  Long before we are able to recognise or name Jesus as Lord, he is there, ensuring that all that is necessary is available for us.  Of course, we must beware an over simplistic, rose-tinted view of this: there are many people in the world who do not have their material needs met, but our generous and loving God has ensured that there is sufficient for all – if only we might learn to share.



    The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need

    He makes me lie down in green pastures 

    He leads me beside quiet waters

    He restores my soul.


    Having survived the traumas of birth, the young lamb begins to grow in strength and to explore the world around it.  Here is cool water to drink, there is lush grass to eat, and in the distance… well just what might be over that next hill?   Even as the lamb grows up, the shepherd is still on hand.  The good shepherd does not keep intervening as the lamb makes discoveries for itself, yet it still needs some guidance if it is to survive into maturity.  Learning that this shepherd is trustworthy – perhaps having bottle fed the lamb, perhaps having rescued it from a perilous ledge, perhaps having brought extra food when pasture was poor – the lamb accepts the shepherd’s voice, and responds accordingly. 


    As we begin to follow Jesus, he remains with us, calling us onwards.  But he also gives us space to explore, to grow and develop.  Most of the time, life simply carries on.  We enjoy new experiences, develop our human gifts, perhaps marry and have children of our own.  At the same time, we learn about life.  Mostly we get it about right, but sometimes we make unwise choices, and sometimes we go to dangerous places, literally or metaphorically.  If Jesus stepped instantly to make things ‘right’ we’d never grow to maturity, never reach our God-given potential.  Yet, he is never far away from us, and we learn that his voice – revealed in scripture, echoed the lives of others - is to be trusted, and that to follow him is to be led nearer and nearer to ultimate fulfilment.



    He guides me in the paths of righteousness



    The risks to the growing lamb are not only the results of its own actions, there can be outside influences that put its life in peril.  The Bible speaks of wolves and other wild animals attacking and stealing lambs and sheep.  In Scotland it is not unknown for eagles to snatch lambs and even in Leicestershire is the potential of sheep stealing.  And even if the predators don’t attack, there is always potential for natural disaster – flood or fire can destroy pastureland or drought empty rivers.  Injury or disease can wreak havoc in a previously healthy flock.  Having a good shepherd does not mean immunity from the perils of real life, the vulnerability to unexpected and disastrous occurrences. 

    So it is for us, the analogy is straightforward.  Bad things happen to good people.  Christians get sick, missionaries are murdered, outreach projects destroyed by natural disaster.  Having Jesus as out Good Shepherd does not inoculate us from pain or suffering, but it does transform our experience of it because, having learned that our shepherd is trustworthy, and followed him in the past, we have confidence that he continues to be with us, not lifting us out of reality but accompanying us through it.


    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

    I will fear no evil for you are with me

    Your rod and staff they comfort me


    The fully-grown lamb – now a sheep – has a destiny, something that was determined if not before, then soon after its birth.  It could be, as my friend loves to remind me, that its destiny is the table.  In Jesus’ day, and certainly if it was near Jerusalem, it was more likely to be as a sacrificial offering to God.  Some sheep would find their purpose in providing wool to make clothes, others would provide milk for cheese, yet more would act as mothers to produce more lambs.

    For us, too, there is a purpose in life – in this world and the next.  As different sheep have different roles in the flock, so too do we as members of both church and society.  Part of our calling, as individuals and as a church, is to fulfil those roles, not envying others their tasks or shying away from our own. 

    Perhaps the ultimate purpose for the sheep – though not the one it might choose for itself – was to be offered to God.  For the lamb, or sheep, this meant death, the end of its natural life, for the glory of God.  This is why as well as being called the Good Shepherd, Jesus is also known as the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice.  Fortunately, for us, the call, the command, that we follow Jesus, is about attitude rather than literal action.  To offer our lives to God is to fulfil the ultimate purpose for which we were born.  The Good Shepherd who has birthed us, nurtured us, rescued us, and accompanied us has also shown us, by his death and resurrection our ultimate destiny.  For here is the mystery – death and sin do not get the last word, Christ has defeated them both and gone ahead to lead his sheep to the father’s house…


    You prepare a table before me

    You anoint my head with oil

    My cup overflows

    And I will dwell in the house of the Lord – forever!  Amen!



    ce5c83c909a241538df9a3a6737cf7fe.jpgAnd here, just to end is another 'good shepherd' picture from Google...

  • Quote of the Week

    In one of the numerous books I read this week I spotted this...

    ‘babies may not seem to be of any use initially, but they embody infinite possibilities.’

    Southgate, B. Why Bother with History? Harlow: Pearson Educational, 2000.

    It made me smile and it made me think... and that's what makes it a great quote!