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- Page 5

  • Deeply Sad

    Those are the words that went through my mind when the BBC news at 6 a.m. this morning announced the death of Raoul Moat, the man who'd been a stand-off with police following shootings earlier in the week which left two people injured and one dead.

    Deeply sad that there is so much violence and easy access to weapons that kill

    Deeply sad that a woman has lost her lover and her former partner in the same week

    Deeply sad that children have lost their father

    Deeply sad that a police officer was shot in the line of duty

    Deeply sad that no 'way out' could have been found

    Deeply sad that terror filled the hearts of ordinary people

    Deeply sad that there was ghoulish fascination (the BBC website this morning has a 'step by step' account of events with eye-witness comments; and of course having clicked on the page, I'm no better...)

    Deeply sad that someone, no matter who or what they'd done, spent their final hours in the rain, surrounded by armed police

    Deeply sad that so many people are now left to grieve

    Deeply sad that, all too soon, the commentaters and critics will pass judgement

    Deeply sad that soon new horrors will replace this as news

    Deeply sad.



    Lord, have mercy,

    Christ have mercy,

    Lord have mercy.


  • Reading Aloud Allowed

    Much of today is being spent trying to finish my essay/paper that will form the basis of a WIP presentation at next week's university summer school.  I am looking (very briefly) at reading in community as part of thinking what that might mean for writing.  One of the striking things (if obvious) is that churches are one of the few places where adults read aloud, one of the few places where there is any real sense of a shared reading experience.  This isn't exaclty earth shattering news, it is one of those taken for granted things about church life, but it has made me pause and think.

    Academia seems to involve a lot of private reading that may then get discussed corporately, but rarely do people listen to something being read and then talk about it.  Some reading I did (on my own, silently) about reading groups suggests the same is true with them... people may all read the same book, and may air views on it but they don't routinely listen together as it is read aloud (audio books seem to be popular on car journeys, very few people listen to 'A Book at Bedtime' let alone do so in groups!).

    The only places that collective listening to someone reading seems to happen are churches, public lectures and after dinner speeches.  Of these only churches (via Bible study/disucssion groups) and lectures (via Q/A) ever invite any kind of discussion.  And pretty much only church groups anticipate any impact of that on daily life.  Lots of preachers are talking about moving from sermons to conversations, which is fine, but I wonder, do we also need to be re-learning how to listen to someone reading aloud?

    (As an aside, I occassionally try to read Barth.  The only way I do this successfully is to read it aloud, and fast, which seems to energise the otherwise rather dense prose.  Do you read things aloud and if so, what and why?!)

  • Old Chestnuts - Interpretive Decisions

    One of my periodic rants.

    I am glad that I spent a year trying to grasp the rudiments of koine Greek, and gladder (in the style of Alice) that I have interlinear NT and OT on my shelf.  Today was I reading over the Acts 10 passage for Sunday in the church's pew Bible (GNB 2nd Ed) and once more winced at a bad interpretative decision.

    Acts 10:2 GNB says 'He was a religious man... He also did much to help the Jewish poor people...'

    Says who?  There is no mention of Jewish people in the Greek, nor of poverty for that matter, though the latter is implied.  It says he gave alms.  Is 'alms' too tricky a word for people to cope with?  I wouldn't have thought so.  Cornelius may have given alms to Jewish people, but he may not, we simply don't know, but let's not make it up to suit our own ends. Grrr!

  • Wrestling with Peter's Vision at Joppa

    So, I've had two attempts at this week's sermon and I'm still far from happy with it.  That's OK I think, because I have a sense that wrestling is good, is of God, and am reminded that Israel can be translated 'wrestles with God' and that Jacob was someone who, after Peniel, walked with a limp.  It isn't meant to be easy to work it all out.  In part I'm trying to work out what God is saying to me (as distinct from us) as I work with the passage, and in part I'm struggling to find contemporary equivalence for parts of it.

    OK, that's as clear as mud.  I'll try to elaborate.

    Peter's vision involved a 'vessel that looked like a sheet' containing all manner of quadrupeds, birds and reptiles: animals that were defined as 'unclean' by Levitical law (i.e. by God) and he was told to kill and eat.  There are lots of ways this is significant.

    Firstly the dietary laws were something that marked 'the children of Israel' (the successors of the one who wrestled with God) apart from other nations; there was an ethnic aspect to it.  But it was possible for a 'God-fearer' to convert to Judaism part of which meant accepting the moral codes and norms of the Law, so accepting the dietary rules and all the rest of Leviticus.  Thus, there is also a religious-ethical element.  Whilst for Peter it was ethnicity that was the key, the vision can be read more widely (for example as is the case by the Baptist interfaith group Joppa which sees it as a significant step on the path to dialogue).

    Secondly there is a sense of God's mind being changed (I think) - for centuries these animals have been deemed 'unclean', 'common' or 'profane' (and the people who ate or revered them likewise).  Now it seems God has had a change of heart, that which was once unclean isn't any more.  So have the animals (and people) changed or has God?  And if this bit of Leviticus is up for review, then what about the rest?  This is where it gets thorny and the wrestling really begins... which bits a timeless and which bits aren't?  It is 'obvious' that some things (like murder) are eternally wrong, but how do we decide which are or aren't?

    Thirdly, and this is where it really get tricky, what are the equivalents today for Christians?  We have no dietary laws, no rules about what we wear (which is why the recent protests about wearing crosses are unfounded), how often we pray, which way we face our 'altars' (pace high C of E and RC).  If God lowered a sheet from heaven into my vision containing all the things that are 'beyond the pale' what might they be?  What practices or factors exclude people from the promises of God in Christ?  I struggle to identify any - yet the church so easily sits as judge and jury.  But, and here's the rub, there are practices we see as contrary to God's Law because Leviticus says so.  If Jesus came to fulfil the Law not overturn it and if Paul says we are free from the Law, who is right?  If God can, seemingly, change a view on the cleanliness of rabbits and pigs (to name two that Biritsh people eat) or of people who by accident of birth happen not to be Jewish, then how else?

    It does seem significant that I have been working with this passage at a time when the church of England has been tying itself in knots over whether or not to allow women or openly gay male clergy to be appointed as bishops.  It forces us to ask tough questions of ourselves, to avoid proof-texting this or that perspective, to wonder just what is timeless and what isn't.

    Peter's 'epiphany' may have triggered a 'kairos', certainly a paradigm shift (a line lifted from my sermon) that changed the church forever.  What I am left wondering, and will be trying to get people to ponder on Sunday, is what might do the same for us as individuals, as congregations and even as a world-wide church.

    For most of history the church seems to sit quite comfortably with its views; whole generations pass by never questioning anything, never really wrestling with what God might be saying on tough topics.  The danger for each and every one of us is that we get comfortable with our views, no longer able to hear other perspectives, no longer willing for God to make us different, to change the direction of our understanding.  Being 'agnostic' on thorny questions, committing to wrestle with them, to allow head and heart to argue, is not the place many people are willing to be; we like it clear, right/wrong, in/out and so on.  We like to walk confidently and with long strides rather than limping because we have wrestled with God.

    Lastly of course the note of caution: how do we test out the new insights, making sure they are Godly rather than our own wishful thinking?  How to we avoid 'anything goes licence' and embrace 'fulness of life'? If, as happened for Peter, it seems that God is overturning that which God has said, then how do we treat the Bible as benchmark for this purpose?  One encouragement I have is that often when I am wrestling wih something other, seemingly independent, people or groups express ideas that connect or reflect my thoughts.  I have a strong suspicion this is God's Spirit at work.  I am always wary when people say 'God told me/us this or that' preferring the more tentative 'I think God may be saying...' but maybe the 'epiphanies' the 'kairos' need/bring that level of certainty.

    Enough.  This is long enough to be a sermon.  I will stick pretty much with version 2 of my sermon I think (even if this is maybe a progression from it) and trust that through it God will say something meaningful to someone.

  • We're All Going on a Summer Holiday

    One of the features of our church is that during the school summer holidays (earlier up here than in England) the regular Sunday School staff have a well earned break and other leaders offer something a little different for a few weeks.  This year the children and young people are time travelling back to Roman times to spend time with the early church, to visit some of the famous sites and thinking what it was like for the early church.  Because I think that adults and children should follow broadly the same material, the adults will be touring with Peter and Paul as we work through part of Acts.  More Cook's Tours (and he was, after all, a Leicestershire Baptist) or even Saga than Club Med perhaps, but we will be visiting:

    Week 1: Joppa and Caesarea (where we visit the home of a Roman soldier)

    Week2: Jerusalem (where we eavesdrop on the first major council of the church)

    Week 3: Athens (where we climb Mars Hill to the areopagus)

    Week 4: Rome (where our journey ends... or does it?)

    Already I am being challenged and inspired as I work with the first story... it should be a fascinating journey.