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  • The Other Mephibosheth

    Hard to credit it, I know, but there are two Mephibosheth's referred to in 2 Samuel.  There is the better known one, the one I learned about as a child, the crippled son of Jonathan, to whom David shows great kindness.  And then there's the one born to Saul and Rizpah, who I'd never noticed until I read a wonderful poem for Rizpah in last week's Baptist Times.

    It must have been cold there on that hillside

    Sackcloth coarse on your skin

    Rain chafing, but barely noticed

    Mother's grief savaging your heart

    Shroud of loneliness as real

    As the one denied your sons.

    Your lonely vigil the last loving task:

    Protecting them now, a last dignity,

    Holding them to your breast to soothe and comfort,

    No comfort to be found now, for them or you.


    I have never heard a sermon on Rizpah.

    She joins so many forgotten women.

    Stories eclipsed by the 'more importnant'.

    Yet I see her face reflected

    In daily newscasts of places

    We would like, in our comfort, to forget.

    Where mothers again hold sons, or daughters,

    Where no comfort will be found

    But only a hope of dignity in death

    As they are wrenched away

    By war, famine or greed of others.


    And yet again

    God's Mother heart is broken.

    Jeannie Kendall


    Reading the accompanying Bible extract, I felt I had to check a real Bible to make sure there wasn't a transcription error - two Mephibosheth's in as many verses, one who is shown mercy and compassion the other who is slaughtered simply because he is who he is.

    2 Samuel 21: 7-10 CEV

    David had made a promise to Jonathan with the LORD as his witness, so he spared Jonathan's son Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul. But Saul and Rizpah the daughter of Aiah had two sons named Armoni and Mephibosheth. Saul's daughter Merab had five sons whose father was Adriel the son of Barzillai from Meholah. David took Rizpah's two sons and Merab's five sons and turned them over to the Gibeonites, who hanged all seven of them on the mountain near the place where the LORD was worshiped. This happened right at the beginning of the barley harvest. Rizpah spread out some sackcloth on a nearby rock. She wouldn't let the birds land on the bodies during the day, and she kept the wild animals away at night. She stayed there from the beginning of the harvest until it started to rain.

    The poem focusses on Rizpah and her 21st century contemporaries, obscure women who tend to the mortal remains of their loved ones whose deaths are the result of human inhumanity.  But I am also struck somehow by the two Mephibosheth's, related by blood, separated by circumstance.  The seeming random nature of 'fate' and the mystery of a silent God loom large in these few short verses.  To read on, it does seem that David made provision for a decent burial for Armoni and Mephibosheth, but that doesn't quite make up for what went before.

    There is, so I discovered via a web search on Rizpah, also a Tennyson poem called Rizpah here evidently inspired by a newspaper account of the execution of a young man.

    Makes you think:

    • How little of the Bible we actually know nowadays
    • How little we really learn even if we do know

    And it just makes you think..


  • A Long Month...

    ... is it just me, or has January been a very long month?

    A minister I spoke to on Sunday said he felt it was interminable...

    What do you think?!

    Still it ends well.  Sunday is World Leprosy Day, when we will be counting our blessings.  It is also Homeleness Sunday and an opportunity to support various charities in that field.  No one can do everything, so we are sticking to TLM, which includes homelessness issues, at least in so far as they affect people afflicted by leprosy.

    If it has been a long month for those of us with many blessings, how much more so for those with no homes, no family or no hope...?

  • Ecumenism

    I enjoyed myself on Sunday speaking at a nearby WPCU service.  I was mildly amused to be asked 'are you robing tonight?' since I wasn't even be-collared (no-one having died or needing to be spliced) and slightly bemused by the ritual processing in and out of the Bible (suitably adorned in heavily decorated book marks) to indicate the start and end of the service.  My sermon seemed to be well enough received, even being described as 'refreshing' and only one hymn was sung to a tune I'd never heard before.

    Then, belatedly, my Baptist Times arrived yesterday (it is still on Royal Mail re-direction which seems a bit hit and miss) with two articles on ecumenism that seemed to express fatigue, disappointment and even perhaps a degree of cynicism.  A lot of what was observed was valid, but I'm not sure that it needs to lead us into despair.

    One writer commented that ecumenism has always been seen as an 'add on' for most people, even many ministers.  I think that's a fair comment - united services tend to be less well attended than others and churches often plan events and outreach 'across' one another.  But that is not a fault of the dream but of local praxis.  In Dibley, we as a church made a conscious decision to close our own service in favour of any united worship, acknowledging but subverting people's reluctance to go out twice in one day; it was often noted that we always had the biggest turnout and was a source of mild irritation that our ecumenical colleagues didn't do likewise.  Here in Glasgow our evening services are always joint with another church and are in the style of neither; compromises have to be made and attendances are never going to be massive - though I have seen a sudden increase since Christmas.  In neither case is it lowest common denominator mush and in neither case is there a sense that we should abandon our distinctive and separate witness, just a recognition that ecumenism is a serious undertaking.  Of course it depends on the ministers, and being a bit of a mongrel myself, albeit a committed Baptist-mongrel, ecumenism is in my blood.  Do I believe in a single organic unity?  No, I don't, at least not in the way I understand it, since I don't think there ever was one.  Do I believe in one Church?  Abso-bloomin-lutely, just not sure how it looks.

    Another comment made in the Baptist Times is that LEPs tend to arise where, in my interpretation of the writer's words, two (or more) dying churches join to form one bigger, no less terminally ill, church.  Ecumenism as survival is doomed to fail because it is born of desperation not desire.  The best LEPs, the ones that thrive and blossom, seem to be those in places like Milton Keynes that began life as such.  There will be exceptions, of course, but to join two small congregations motivated by saving money, reducing workloads and 'showing we really are one afterall' simply won't be good enough.

    In my, albeit limited, experience, the best practice is that which acknowledges diversity and difference and seeks to affirm each congregation's unique contribution to the 'big' picture.

    • There is a Leicestershire village where all the churches have identical signage, apart from their denominational label, thus they all say 'The Church in Bimbleville, Denomination.'  It seems to work.
    • In Dibley we did a number of joint outreach events, such as a children's club or a pensioner's tea, and at the end we would refer interested parties to the fellowships that could offer what they were looking for - the parish church for children's work, the Methodists for a women's group, ourselves for a lunch club.  We avoided re-inventing wheels, accepted our niches and refused to compete with one another.
    • In many places ecumenical study groups for Lent and Advent prove a real source of joy.
    • Lots of initiatives and interests cross denominational boundaries from Christian Aid week to Fairtrade to B2C Sunday

    I could waffle on, but it'd soon get boring!

    My suspicion is that we get tired and cynical because our view of ecumenism is too narrow, possibly too much 'organic union', possibly too much 'add on extra.'  If we can re-imagine it as unity-in-diversity, as one body in many parts that do not compete but collaborate we may stand a better chance.  Truth is, there is nothing wrong with being a small church, a niche church or even a dying church but everything wrong with seeing ecumenism as the cure for our latest woes.

    So, no to robes and yes to joint services; no to ill-considered mergers and yes to shared mission; no to cynicism and yes to hopefulness.

    What do others think?  Examples of good practice and encouraging experience would be good to hear.

  • People such a yourself...

    Time for something lighter on this blog methinks.

    I arrived at the end of the road where church is this morning to discover 'road closed' signs and a police cordon running across the road at the end of the church building.  Various forensic type people were wandering about from an 'incident' van and ordinary police officers were guarding the cordon.

    'Can I get to the church?' I asked

    'Oh yes, people such as yourself are fine, just stay on the path'

    So, here I am, safely in the church, looking out at a cordoned off cross-roads, wondering how my car-based folk will get to the church, if the cordon will still be there when the foot folk arrive (unlike me some of them are not going to be able to duck under the cordon)

    It is amusing watching the conversations between police and passers-by - lots of of hand-waving and finger pointing about whatever it is that has closed the road (I am guessing a traffic incident).

    Any way, being a person like me seems to mean that so long as I'm going to church I can cross a police cordon with impunity!

  • Fay Martin RIP

    I get the BMS e-mail update regularly and, if I'm honest, tend to skim through it and move on to the next email fairly quickly.

    Not so this morning.  As I scrolled through I read of a 24 year-old BMS worked who had died in Afghanistan.  The name rang a bell and as I clicked the link to the BMS website the picture confirmed my worst fears.  After a bit more web searching to check I wasn't wrong, I am now 99.9% sure I met this young woman, as she came to my little church in Dibley in June 2004 as part of a BMS Action team on tour.  She was due to go to university to study Environmental Sciences that autumn.  In her I detected clear evidence of a prophetic ministry (not someone who sees the future, someone who sees as God sees and speaks God's truth into a disordered world) and encouraged her to test out her call. I well recall her saying how she had reflected on the disparity between the wealth she took for granted as British citizen and the extreme poverty of people in Uganda.  Why has God given us so much, she pondered, and them so little?  She knew why it wasn't.  Not, she concluded, for us to enjoy a life of decadence but that somehow - she wasn't clear how - so that we could employ that wealth in the service of others.  She was not excusing poverty, she knew that was wrong too.  And she knew that simple answers were wrong answer: she showed wisdom beyond her experience.

    And now she is dead.  And a million thoughts run through my head.

    What I do know is that Fay was a beautiful, honest and faithful girl who loved her Lord and was willing to take the risks of faithful discipleship, physically, emotionally and even spiritually.  Somewhere in one of my boxes I believe I still have the hand-made thank you card she sent me after her visit, and certainly when packing up to move north found a crumpled photo of the four young people in Ugandan dress who came and shared a week with us, a week that was so incredibly significant in the life of that little church, coinciding with the Insurance Inspection that led to the building being closed.

    I pray for Fay's family at this time, that they will find the comfort and consolation they need.  And I thank God for the privilege of meeting her, if only for a short time, praying that she is at peace and safe with her Lord.