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  • Reading about Reading... Practical Implications?

    This morning it has been quiet enough to do some reading that is way, way overdue, so I've been reading about the history of reading, which is important for my dead-slow-and-stop research.  If I have no clue about the context into which 17th century writers wrote, how can I reclaim their work for the 21st century readers?  It has been useful to revisit stuff I sort of learned in school about Gutenberg and Caxton and the impact of the printing press on the availability of material and the seeming voracious appetite people had for the printed word.  The information explosion that resulted - with the loss of control over content, interpretation and verification - sounds not dissimilar in impact to the web.  Pirate publications (those published without authorisation) seem to have abounded, quite whether these were dodgy copies of legitimate works or dodgy works in the first place, is less clear from what I've read, but some sort of early Del Boy could probably have offered you a cut price copy of the Bible - such as the 'wicked Bible' or 'Baskett' translation I recall from my teenage GB project on Bible translation!  No doubt publications in plain covers were sold in shady alleys, whilst other people tutted and wondered what the world was coming to.

    One of the big concerns for the 'powers that were' was that the masses might form their own interpretations of scripture that differed from the official, received wisdom... including those pesky Baptists, it has to be said.  For all that, the apparent practice of communal reading, without following along in your own copy, finds resonance with the way I am led to believe base ecclesial communities in part so Latin America approach the Bible, and which liberation theologians especially try to encourage western churches to do.  Even though I love preaching, and the challenge of finding something new to say week by week, the absence of a communal engagement with the text can reduce the sermon to little more than received wisdom in a society where views on authority no longer reflect that practice.

    There is obviously a tension between reducing readers or congregations to passive recipients and leaving people to read ancient manuscripts with no guidance whatsoever.  So how do we take things forward?  Quite a few churches I know 'down south' are moving away from the book-led guided Bible study (such as Lifebuilder series) to a more open-ended approach where people are free to ask questions or discuss things that arise for them.  This carries a lot of risk, at worst it becomes the peddling of ignorance and the 'paper-doily-ing' of the Bible whereby hard or scary bits are cut out and cosy, fluffy bits embraced.  But at best, it allows 'more light and truth' to emerge.  A couple of years ago, I was at a ministers' conference where such approaches were discussed and it was suggested that prior to each meeting one member of the group should do some research using commentaries on the passage(s) chosen in order that she/he could act as a knowledge-pot (my word) to help handle questions.  Certainly this seems helpful, though of course she/he is limited by their own choice and interpretation of materials - there is no absolute position.

    So where does all this go?  Even I the last couple of years I have attended Bible studies (so-called) which consisted of a leader working verse by verse, or even word by word, through a passage and telling her (the leaders were always women!) hearers what it meant.  For these folk, the move to the guide-book approach seems a massive and helpful step forward; and certainly over the years I've made use of many such books.  Many folk who've used the books for a while realise they probably know all the 'right' answers to the questions and want to dig deeper: 'I know the answer is 'love your neighbour but...' kind of thing. Courage to depart from the list of questions and willingness to leave some questions unasked allow people to explore more deeply the questions that are real (and don't go back next week to 'finish it off'!).  From this in time emerges the confidence to engage directly with a text, in all its complexity, to live with questions that find no satisfactory answers, to allow 'more light and truth' to emerge from the familiar and to grow up in our discipleship.

    This autumn I am due to start a new Bible study group with a disparate set of disciples.  One of the questions I need to explore between this and then is where they might be on this 'spectrum' from passive to active, and how confident or comfortable they are to move along it.

    The 'reading revolution' begun by Caxton et al didn't really happen overnight anymore than the 'IT revolution' of our day; as I ponder the practical implications both my church and my research I do well to remember that.

  • Managing Trustees at Work?

    The last Leadership Team meeting of the session took place here:

    spuntini.jpgAn Italian eatery called La Vita Spuntini (The Life [of] Snacks) in Glasgow's West End.

    Over delicious food,  we dealt with a few urgent matters, sorted out the planet and simply relaxed.

    I think every Diaconate, Eldership or whatever name it gives itself should do this now and then.  In fact, I think every church group or team should relax together now and then, as it allows relationships to deepen as well as reminding us of our humanity.  Whether it is the 'Monday West House Group' May bank holiday BBQ (when it almost always rained) or the 'Deacons' Away Day' carvery I have always found these moments of fellowship among the most valuable time spent together.

    So, well fed now, and well relaxed later, we will be ready to begin the new session at the end of August.

  • Abundant Life in Johanine Dualism?

    Kind of a hint for any Gatherers reading as to what's coming soon, and a plea for help from any clever Bible scholars out there.

    I've been flicking through the commentaries I have on John's gospel and searching the www with little success, but someone must have an idea where there's an article or a book that picks this up helpfully.  I have some ideas on where I want to go with 'abundant life' or 'life in all its fullness' (or fulness, depending where you went to school and which spell checker you're using) but found myself wondering how this fits with some of the up/down, light/dark, in/out, life/death dualism that pervades the gospel.  Anyone got an ideas (i.e. can point me to any) please?

  • Spam, Spam, Eggs and Spam

    It's a sad fact that blogs attract spam comments, and that bloggers spend time deleting them and/or banning spammers.  Some people choose comment moderation to prevent spam appearing, but that doesn't stop it arriving.  Some people choose not to allow comments at all, which loses the fun of interaction.  Of course, the spammers are clever - you ban one IP address and they move to another, allowing them to pop up again.

    So, anyone who spams on here will find their comment removed, and persistent spammers will be banned... that includes those who leave comments for the obvious purpuse of increasing traffic to their commerical website... if you want advertising, then pay for it!  By contrast, I sometimes post links to websites of individuals or organisations I happen across who deserve a free plug.

    So, spammers beware, I will 'eggs'-ise your words from my blog and you will become an 'eggs'-commenter.

  • Open Windows, Opening Hearts, Opening Minds...

    This morning it was so warm - even almost hot - in my office that I opened the window to allow some fresh air to flow in, and stale air to flow out.  In the depths of winter when I needed two electric fires, thick socks and boots to stay warm I'd never have predicted that!  Someone calling into church rightly reminded me not to forget to close the windows before I leave tonight.  Yet, this closing of windows reminded me of some theological reading I did way back in the first year of my training as I looked at Vatican II which was described at the time as 'opening the windows to allow God's Spirit to flow in (and presumably around, through and out) of the Church (for which read RC).  Just how radical Vatican II really was we have long forgotten; just how easy it is to close the windows again we do well to remind ourselves.

    My second year of training was spent with an RC priest in a working class area of western Greater Manchester.  It was a year that was far from easy, yet it was one of the most important and formative aspects of my training.  One of my Baptist friends observed that it was a good Baptist 'full immersion' into another tradition, a proper drenching rather than a discrete/discreet (both forms, not a word confusion) sprinkling.  I went into the experience with an open mind, and I think an open heart, that allowed God's Spirit to do her stuff.

    Vatican II vastly altered the Mass - the priest had to turn around and face the people; he had to speak in the vernacular rather than in Latin; now and then (and in the church I was with, not quite 'legally,' as a matter of routine) people could receive communion 'under both kinds' (i.e. wine as well as wafer).  For some older folk this was hard, they missed their much loved, if incomprehensible, Latin Mass (now 'legal' again and enjoying a resurgence in some places), but most found it a real joy.

    Sadly, the RC has yet to embrace inter-communion with the other western churches (and some Baptist churches are no better here), and I spent three masses a week for year being denied Communion.  Some RC priests turn a 'blind eye' or operate a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, but when you are there officially as a non-Catholic this option does not exist.  What it did do was to challenge my views on Communion in ways that would never have happened if I had not opened that specific window... who am I to deny anyone access to the Lord's Table?  Don't get me wrong, I'm not into a cavalier approach, anything but, however, barriers of age or completed rites of passage seem to be human constructs chosen to exclude.  If someone 'suddenly' chooses to receive communion might it not be that God's Spirit is at work deep within them?  I think it might.

    And so this Sunday we have our Midsummer Choral Communion at which I will preside at table.  There is a standard announcement in our services not to feel embarrassment at allowing the elements to pass by if one does not wish to receive.  It is well intended, and aims to allow integrity and inclusion... but what if we turned it round to something that invited people to dare to partake?  'All those who love the Lord a little and would like to love Him more' or '... those who seek to be Christ's disicples' was standard in my old place.  Or even my preference that the president's invitation seeks to open the way for people to enter the mystery?

    All a long way from opening windows?  Maybe.  I just think it is all too easy to open them a crack and then close them up tight, as if we have let in all the air there is to let in, as if we have finally arrived and our view is somehow final.

    Fling wide the windows and leave them open - take the risks that brings and discover the freshness of new life!  If we truly open our minds and our hearts, rather than expecting other people to 'catch up' to where we are (assuming ourselves more advanced), if we truly allow God's Ruach to blow through, might we yet be surprised?

    (By the way, I'll make sure I close the study window this evening ... even I can distinguish between metaphor and life!)