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  • Religious Delusion

    I know I have posted about this before, a long time ago, but it is one of those perennials that pops up now and then, that is, how readily we delude ourselves in interpreting experience.  On Sunday someone commented that God was 'blocking' something from happening that they did not wish to occur.  The person is very sincere, but it is indicative of a theological approach I find troubling.  If what we want to happen happens, it is God's will, if it doesn't, it is Satan.  If what we don't want to happen doesn't happen, God is blocking it, if it does, Satan (presumably) is attacking.  The trouble with these perspectives is that they fail to recognise or allow for the human element, that we can be wrong in our understanding and wilful or sinful in our choices and actions.  It also seems to reflect an instant everything culture where God-the-genie reacts to a correctly formulated request for boons to be granted.  Another less than helpful response if the "if it's Godly it will be a struggle because Satan will try to block it."  Sometimes I wonder if we ever stop to think about the image of God we work with.

    All of which leads me to ponder the scary, arrogant spoutings of evangelist Pat Robertson regarding events in Haiti and an amusing and thoughtful post here

    Not easy to get it right, but may we be granted the courage to try and humility to accept we so often fail.

  • Novel Feedback

    Sunday's service went well and my sermon on healing and wholeness attracted some encouraging responses (how lovely it is to get feedback on my sermons that goes beyond "nice service" or "didn't like your 'ymns") and prompted some interesting conversations.  Among these were no less than three people who mentioned novels built around stories of leprosy.  I was intrigued that two of the people referred to the same novel, The Island by Victoria Hislop, which one had enjoyed and the other had really disliked, finding it overly romanticised in its portrayal of Spinalonga, the leper colony off Crete which was only completely abandoned in the early 1960's.  Having bought and read the book, I think the criticism is justified, it is a 'nice' story' but it does have moments that force a brief pause to contemplate the quick reactions and ignorant prejudices of our own time.  We may not send people literally to live on islands to keep minimal risks of infection at bay, but we can all too readily discover our own fears and prejudices when we come face to face with illness or disfigurement.  Alas the second novel I cannot locate - perchance I mis-remembered the title or the teller did, I thought it was called The Cloven Night but web trawls have turned up nothing.  If it rings any bells maybe you can let me know...?

    This coming Sunday I am using Matthew 26:6 - 13 complemented by 2 Corinthians 4, treasure in clay pots, and the title 'beauty from brokenness.'  Hopefully it will prove helpful and thought provoking.

  • Slip Sliding Away!

    Yesterday I was out with the intrepid folk of the local churches' walking group for the (delayed) monthly walk.  The route had been chosen carefully to take account of the time of year and had been checked out twice during the preceding week or so to ensure it was safe enough.

    So, off we set, walking from Glasgow to Milngavie along canal, riverside and a teeny bit of road to link it in places.  It was the kind of walk that on a summer's day would be a leisurely stroll but on compacted and sheer ice became something of an adventure.  The one person with crampons (show off!) walked on unimpeded and the Canadian member of the group seemed unfazed by walking on ice; the rest of us gingerly stepped along the edges where the ice had given way to muddy slush, slid and slithered and enjoyed the challenge to varying degrees.  Walking poles found new purpose as a means of providing assistance to those caught the 'wrong side' of an ice slick, and at various points unusual or unorthodox techniques were adopted by various walkers.

    With various opt-out points along the way, the original group of 14 dwindled to 7 by the time we reached journey's end at the pub, by which time many of us had slipped, slithered, slid and er, landed on our behinds.  Thankfully there were no injuries (though one of my folk did comment he had wondered just who had the spare sermon on hand in case I returned with several broken limbs).

    As we enjoyed our diet cokes and chips with whatever (balanced diet), we postulated that maybe this was the parable of the workers in the vineyard in reverse - those who walked least gained the same reward as those who walked most.  Don't know about that, but as one person observed, all of us had walked on water (albeit frozen, albeit frozen water on a path) that day.  I found myself recalling a line from the hymn 'Thy hand , Oh God, has guided' and altering slightly from" the faithful few fought bravely" to "the faithful few walked bravely"

    And so we have, with apologies to E H PLumptre, complete with absolutely horrednous dogerrel scanning and rhymes...

    Along the canal towpaths

    Covered with hard packed ice

    The faithful few walked bravely

    And slipped just once or twice

    But they emerged triumphant

    At Tesco in Milngavie

    And sat down at the Cross Keys

    For chips and diet Coke!

  • Shame on me!

    I have been playing that lovely game of picking hymns/songs for a week on Sunday - not sure if anyone will like my choices, but I'm happy with them!  Long ago I learned it wasn't possible to please everyone with the music so I gave up trying but concluded if now and then I chose things I can't stand it probably evened out somewhere along the line...!

    Then I checked who was down to read so that I could email or print the order of service.  Discovering who it was, and having been told this person is the better part of twice my age I assumed they would not do email, but checked the directory just in case... shame on me, they do.  I guess having been in a church where hardly anyone used email, I simply assumed incorrectly this person would not want to be bothered with technology.  How wrong can I be - a 'wrong bong' is needed (showing I now listen to Chris Evans in a morning).  Mea culpa.

  • Interpretive Decisions

    Wrestling this week's sermon into submission has not been easy - not because I don't know what I want to say, I do.  Just that it seems to need either two paragraphs or a PhD thesis, neither of which quite fits the bill.  Ah well, maybe by close of play today I will have something I'm adequately happy with.

    One of the things that has struck me, as I've compared various translations of the main passage (the cleansing of ten lepers in Luke 17) is the interpretive choices made in each case.  Are the men 'cured' or 'healed' or 'cleansed'?  What is different about the one who returns?  Even though I'd used my trusty Greek interlinear (crib for those of us who are rubbish at Greek!) it was only after I'd completed my draft that it struck me I'd waltzed straight past the interpretive choices... hang on, I thought, nowhere are 'therapy' words used, and even my rubbish Greek recalls that one.  Walking through the park on my way home it struck me that whilst I'd spotted the 'katharos' (cleansing) words I'd blithely not spotted the 'sozo' (salvation/rescue) word had been rendered in language of 'made well' - curing.  I'm not about to rewrite the whole sermon to change it from its aim of thinking about healing and wholeness, but there is clearly another in there for someone else to do about 'cleansing' and 'salvation' based on a different set of interpretive choices.

    As a sort of an aside, among the leaflets I was lent about TLM was one from a medical perspective about the Biblical referents of 'leprosy' which deduced that translators had chosen to assign a familiar-to-them dreaded-skin-disease, 'true leprosy' to all the skin diseases referred to in the Old Testament - even when there was no evidence of 'true leprosy' being found in that area at that time.  Yet, it noted, this interpretive decision helped support the excellent work done to alleviate leprosy and its impact.  It is interesting to ponder (a) what might have been the impact of an interpretive decision that allied the conditions mentioned in Leviticus with, say, psoriasis or eczema and (b) what are the conditions might we select as the 21st century equivalents, say HIV/AIDS, maybe even MRSA or others that necessitate isolation.