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  • Making Sense of Trials?

    This morning I have tried to track down a post I wrote a few years back on James 1, where I wrote about being cross with an old friend (James is my favourite book of the Bible) for what he had to say about suffering at a time when the little church in Dibley was suffering big time.  Because I can't quite recall when it was and because I don't have the patience to search through every post I've ever written (well over a thousand of them), and because I couldn't find it via Google I can't link it.  Which is annoying as I'm sure it'd be useful to see what I thought back then. [Update - after I'd posted this I did another trawl and the older post can be found here.]

    James 1:2 - 7 NRSV

    My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.  But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

    What I do recall was being quite angry that James suggested that trials be perceived as joy and trying to work out if the development of endurance or maturity was reason enough for suffering to be purposeful.

    Yesterday's IBRA notes suggested that suffering 'can' help develop such characteristics as patience, wisdom, maturity.  I can go with that, but it isn't what James says - he talks about trials, which may well not be synonymous with suffering, and he is more emphatic: it will produce endurance leading to maturity. 

    I'm not so struck by the requirement never to doubt either... whatever happened to "I believe, Lord help my unbelief'?  I find myself recalling the old hymn "Just as I am" with its verse

    Just as I am, though tossed about

    With many a conflict, many a doubt

    Fightings and fears, within, without:

    Oh Lamb of God, I come.

    I believe that faith is stronger than doubt (as part of hopeful imbalance between that which brings life and that which deals death) but it doesn't dismiss the reality that sometimes I do doubt, do question.  So is James right, then, that I should not expect to receive anything from God because I am double-minded?  I think maybe the answer is 'yes and no' and harps back to ideas about the priesthood of all believers.  Based on my own trembling faith, my own real fears, my own honest doubts, then the answer would be that he is, regrettably, right  But that's only part of the story because this is balanced - or hopefully outweighed - by the faith and hope of others who can expect to receive from God what is prayed for.  Maybe somewhere along the line we have got too focused on the individual and personal and lost sight of the corporate?  It is not for nothing that creed-saying churches often use a form of words along the lines of "this is our faith, we believe..."; the responsibility for believing, hoping, praying is not held by the individuals, thus heaping guilt when they fail, but by the body, where someone is always (we trust) able to do the believing, hoping and praying.

    So, will current experiences teach me anything?  I hope so!  I hope that I might discover more of myself and more of God.  I hope that telling my story - as it happens and maybe, reflectively, afterwards - will help others in their own walk of faith and doubt, hope and fear, laughter and tears.  I hope, not in a wishy-washy wishful thinking kind of a way, but in a hope-in-Christ kind of a way.  And of course it is the hope that this experience can transform me for good, can somehow speak for and to others, can somehow be put to good purpose by God, that mysteriously allows me to be authentic trusting that ultimately all will be well.

    Consider it joy?  Well, no, not in a trivial way.  Be joy-filled within it?  Well, that's what we are equipped to be by God's Spirit if we understand joy as some sort of irrepressible force for things positive.

    A long post, mostly "off the top of my head" but I think we need to avoid either trivialising tricky passages or just avoiding them.  James is an old friend - and I enjoy wrestling with what he has to say.

  • Worthy of the Spaghetti Harvest Tradition?

    Today I bought some, according to the label:

    Free Range

    Egg Noodles

    So I have a mental image of egg noodles that are allowed to 'roam free during the hours of daylight,' and of farmers chasing them round the fields of a spaghetti farm in order to catch them for the supermarket.

    I guess

    Free Range Egg


    Wouldn't look do good on the packaging... and it wouldn't be as much fun.

    You can see the Spghettit harvest here; before my time of course!

  • Justice and Fairness

    Last night I watched a fascinating programme on BBC 4 on the topic of Justice: Fairness and the Big Society which began by asking whether Wayne Rooney should be paid more than a care worker, moved on to look at social mobility, hedged around university fees and ended up conceding asking just what is meant by the term 'big society'.  Some interesting viewpoints (and a few stereotypes) and a very skilled facilitator.

    Should market forces determine pay?  Should everyone have the same opportunities?  What is an acceptable gap between the highest and lowest pay?  How should further education be funded?  Who benefits (most) from university education?  Where does charitable and voluntary work fit in the grand scheme of things?

    If you didn't see it, and before it disappears from iPlayer, it's worth a look... as is, I suspect the rest of the programmes on this theme.

  • All Quiet

    Nothing much happening in my world this weekend... I need to tidy and clean my flat before I go to be redesigned but otherwise there is a strange emptiness and aimlessness caused by the need to avoid nasty bugs.  I am perseversing with IBRA's two weeks on suffering even if it annoys more than it edifies!  I have finally got round to setting up RSS feeds on the blogs I follow, so if your daily stats go down it's partly because I'm no longer visiting 'on spec.'  Should have done it yonks ago, but never mind.  Otherwise it is mostly a time of waiting and trying not to worry.  So, very quiet... highlights likely to include a trip to the recycling centre one day in the week!

    On a more upbeat note I have successfully eaten cheese, proof I'm now 'off' the mounttain and I am sleeping better, if not brilliantly.  Hurray!

  • Redemptive Suffering?

    Yesterday's Bible reading focussed on Paul's "thorn in the flesh" postulated as some kind of physiological problem.  This was linked by the commentator to participation in the suffeirng of Christ.  This makes it sound like redemptive suffering and therefore somehow 'good'.  Which gives me a bit of a problem because seeing suffering or sickness as good is contrary to common sense and even anything found on the Bible.  I am also not quite sure what is redeemed by the physical suffering of a child in Africa or an elderly person in a care home.

    Paul said his thorn in the flesh was 'to keep him humble' (an attribute that isn't always self-evident it has to be said) but the same surely cannot be said of the person with Alzheimers or the child with severe learning difficulties nor yet her parents.  Yes, in some of these cases they can 'grow' as people, can learn new values, can discover new definitions of worth or beauty... but it is only ever 'can' not 'will': their suffering is not de facto redeeming anything.  And sometimes the opposite is true - such suffering can be utterly destructive.

    I'm not quite sure how we are to understand 'participation on the suffering of Christ' but I'm convinved that it should not in any way be equated with disability or disease.

    Of course, I read these Bible notes through the eyes of a person living with disease, and that skews my vision; whilst I do hope I am growing in some ways through this experience, I don't see any 'redemption' going on!