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  • Busy!

    I know some of you still use my blog as a quick check that I am OK, and as it is more than 48 hours since I posted, may be anxious.  I am fine, just busy.  Yesterday was out walking all day and today I've been busy with churchy stuff.  Plenty to occupy me so not much time for writing.  Life is good.  God is great.

    Oh yes, we weighed an elephant shaped sweet and measured a smile in church this morning.... 8g and 7cm respectively... just so's you know.  All part of our way in to thinking about God's love being immeasurable.

    Oh yes, number two... my gluten-free, vegan, triple chocolate cake (long story; failed the soy free bit as I misread a label :-( )  weighed in at 1lb 9 and one-eighth ounces, and evidently tasted OK... phew!

  • Refund or Resource?

    I seem to be going thought a phase of using questions as post titles... ah well.

    The decision to cease publication of the Baptist Times, essentially at the end of December 2011, left me, like presumably many others, having paid an annual subscription of which a substantial part was 'unused'.  This week, a letter arrived from BT inviting me to consider donating my refund to Home Mission - something I have cheerfully elected to do.  Because of the date at which my subscription began, I was entitled to a refund of £20.04.  I expect this is about the average, since no new subscriptions would have been taken out once the closure was announced, and most people would be part way through the year.

    £20.04 on its own is not much, but multiply that by hte number of former BT subscribers, and it becomes substantial.  I have no idea what the circulation of the BT was - 1000? 2000? 5000?  Suppose it was 1000, and suppose everyone donated their refund of, for sake of argument £20... that would be £20,000 which could help fund two full time or four part time ministerial posts for a year (or more at a lower proportionate rate).  £20k is perhaps not a massive sum of money, but could, for example, provide substantial grants to 20 churches for mission projects, or pay for important training for community workers or evangelists.

    There is a line in the old Graham Kendrick song 'rejoice, rejoice, God is in you' that says God 'turns our weaknesses into his opportunities'... I think this is one such, and I hope both that BT readers are generous in their response and BUGB HM creative in their employment of this money.

  • Why are you a Baptist?

    I really good post on Baptistness and how the Delcaration of Principle holds us togther in our glorious miscellany can be found here... take a look if you are interested.

  • Dogged or a Dog?

    Today's PAYG was the story of the Syro-Phoenican woman who came to Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter (Mark 7).  Back in my student days, it was one of the stories, along with the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 2) and woman at the well (John 4), that were overworked as exemplars of feisty women who defied convention.  Particularly the two gospel stories were read as examples of Jesus' own cultural conditioning and seeming mind changes.  Of course, to a woman reader of scripture, there is something appealing about the fact that two of the most lively and profound exchanges Jesus is recorded as having, involve not just women but foreign women (and in one case one who is possibly on the margins even of her own community).

    Jesus calls the Syro-Phoenician woman a dog.  Perhaps not directly, but that's what it boils down to.  And not a nice, family pet spaniel, to be fussed over and played with, no, a mangy cur that wanders the streets and picks up scraps of food dropped by the children of the household.   This ought to really shock us and yet because we've heard it so often we don't react. 

    This woman summoned all her courage to go into the house where Jesus was staying, a house that metaphorically at least had a gigantic 'do not disturb' sign on the door, because she had heard about this man who just might be able to heal her daughter.   And he rebuffed her, called her a dog, and expected her to leave.  But wait a minute... we believe that Jesus is Christ, simultaneously human and divine.  So how can it be that the same God who created all things, and declared them good, now insults both the woman and, indirectly, dogs?  How can a loving God turn her away?  We ought to be shocked and disturbed... Far from gentle Jesus meek and mild, this is surly Jesus rude and offensive... what kind of God, we ought to wonder?

    Amazingly, far from turning tail and fleeing in floods of tears, this woman is a match for Jesus.  I may be a dog, but don't forget what dog's do... you cannot keep us out of the household (think courtyard style dwelling with open rooms off it)  and we will scavenge for whatever scraps or crumbs are to be found.  And the children are careless... out of their plenty they will drop tasty morsels which we will eagerly devour...  Mind-blowing, not just at the obvious human interaction level... but if this woman is addressing God-in-Jesus... Would we dare to speak to God thus?  Would those who we have the audacity to consider as 'dogs' find the space to say this to God?  And if we be the Body of Christ, might the 'Syro-Phoenicans' of our day equally challenge our indifference, racism, exclusivity, rudeness, etc?

    It seems to me that far from being a dog, this woman was dogged - utterly determined to do whatever she could for her little daughter who lay sick at home.  What, I wonder would prompt us to approach God-in-Christ as she did, to refuse to be dismissed, to engage in complex (theological) word games, to stand up for ourselves?  And who might be the 'little daughters' unable to speak for themselves on whose behalf we ought to be distrubing the divine peace and quiet with our persistent demands for healing, wholeness and hope?

    PAYG ended by inviting us to pray 'cheekily', a word I find a little impotent in this context.  The woman was not merely cheeky in her approach to Jesus.  She risked, and initially experienced, rejection, she stood her ground, she made her case... and she achieved her goal.  I'm not sure exactly how that translates to prayer (the parable of the persistent widow also comes to mind) but it has certainly made me think afresh about a very familiar story.

  • Pure and Undefiled?

    More thoughts arising, direct from brain to laptop, from PAYG.  Today's reading was from Mark 7:

    Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."
    When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable.
    He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile,  since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
    And he said, "It is what comes out of a person that defiles.  For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Mark 7: 14 - 23 NRSV

    Usually this is read pretty much literally, that there are no foods that can defile us, nothing that is forbidden for us to eat.  Eating certain foods might leave us with stomach ache or worse, but it will not make us 'unclean'.  Food, after all passes through the body, the nutrients are extracted and the waste expelled.  So far, so good.  But the scripture actually says 'no thing' not 'no food'.  Maybe I am playing games here, but it suggests that there is nothing I can see, hear, touch, etc. that in and of itself will defile me.  It seems to render 'things' somehow neutral.  The potential for defilement comes from within, is a function of human propensity to sinfulness, not the objects, foods, books, films, music themselves.  Is this so?  It runs counter to everything I was told in Sunday School/GB/church over decades, where the message to eschew that with the potential to corrupt or defile was loud, clear and rooted in other passages of scripture.

    Things are neutral - but human hearts and minds have the potential to employ or exploit those things for good or ill.  This means that there is the potential for things, as an expression of human sinfulness, to be defiled.  So do we have to discern what is defiled and avoid it?  And if so, who decides what and how?  Intuitively, I feel that some 'things' are better avoided.  Some films or books will not edify; some activities are inherently destructive... I think maybe the principle here is to distinguish between 'things' and 'intent', between the neutrality of, say books as a category of things, and books that promote avarice, wickedness, licentiousness... or anything else in the list of examples quoted by Mark.

    After all that, PAYG gave me what felt like a left-field shove... if we say that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, how does that relate to what we bring in?  What we read?  Listen to?  Eat?  How we care for our bodies, physically, mentally, spiritually?  Way back when, as a young student in London I recall a Bible study in which we interpreted this image as meaning we needed good diet, regular exercise... and going to the dentist!  The Temple needs to be looked after, but not to be worshipped.

    Somewhere in all of this lies the workable middle ground that allows us to live in and enjoy the physical world of which we are part without becoming 'worldly'.  Somehow we avoid legalism and the Christian ghetto, at one extreme, and lazy indifference to human sinfulness, at the other.  The idea that my body remains a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a place in which God is pleased to dwell, in some measure, irrespective of the surgery scars, bits missing, and potential for undetected cancer cells, is a very precious one that cuts across any theological or social niceties about purity or defilement.  Purity is not the same as perfection... there's a thought for my to ponder awhile.