Sunday, 19 September 2010

Problems with the Papacy

The Pope's visit ends today and I'm pleased.

I have been really uncomfortable with the whole thing because I don't like the Papacy much, I find the institution problematic, yet the reaction we seem to have had in Britain over his state visit has caused me to want to defend him quite robustly.

I am by nature quite argumentative, so I have had to check myself that this urge has not just been part of my natural leaning to argue that black is white. I don't really care too much if he's here or not so to feel so wound up has seemed a little... well.... pointless. Still, there's no denying it. Wound up I have been.

There are bits like the Humanist Society spending their resources on denouncing the Pope's visit for making us spend resources on him, that have made me smile at the irony. I have been slightly bewildered by the objection of his entitlement to a state visit on moral grounds by a secular body when other heads of state are readily welcomed and their morality left unquestioned.

Why is it that we object to the Pope so much anyway? I don't believe it's because he doesn't measure up morally. If we really were becoming morally aware and wanted to fight for the little guy then we could; we can. There are companies to take down, taxes to raise and invest in the poor, we can engage in any number of ways, but we don't seem to be doing a great deal of that.

Why is it then that we have objected to him so much?

I think, and this is just a guess after much pondering, that what we have seen in the reaction against Benedict 16th is really an expression of our own self delusion.

Stay with me on this. The reason I need my Christian community is because they keep me on the straight and narrow. I can't go too far off course without someone pulling me up on things. It's a painful process most of the time, but rubbing along with folks from many walks of life, striving for Jesus and letting them have a voice in the way I run my life life, holds me to Christ in a way that I cannot do on my own.

Left to my own devises I would simply lie to myself. "I am not too bad", "Many people are worse than me", "Given my circumstances anyone would have done the same". I would go on and on in delusion. "My spirituality", I would say, "is my own business, no one has the right to judge me, I do OK". To live in community with others, in the light of Christ, makes it too hard to do this. Others get to speak into you, it hurts, it heals, it's part of looking for the truth.

I think when we react against Benedict 16th turning up, we are pointing out all the ills of this religious leader so that we can relax and again make our own judgments King. If the Pope is the bad guy, we can go back to telling ourselves we are really not that bad at all. We don't need to be held to any account or to come out of our own private deliberations. The soft sell we allow ourselves can rule. "These religious types are no good, such hypocrites. I can follow my own conscience and believe my own truth". It is enticing because it's easier and lets us off the hook. It's just not very truthful.

All I can say for my own part is, I don't trust myself enough to do that. I need others to call me to account and to reveal the way, the truth and the light to me. I am very aware that I could convince myself of how right I am and how good I am if I don't allow others to have authority and community with me.

As a result, I can't, on this occasion, stand and object to Pope Benedict's visit to Britain. It would align me with too much that I find tempting.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Self Serving Drama

Rowan William's writes, in his 'Anglican Identities', about the difficulty in theology today
How a language of faith rooted in experiences and expressions of extremity can be rendered in a bourgeois environment without self serving drama.
In as much as theology for me is often about how we work out our present story in the light of our Christian story and in the hope of our future story in Christ, this rang very true.

Although people may well find it very difficult to believe, this struggle is often something that renders me speechless. There are so many things about my Christian story coupled with my present context where often I find the language of the Christian faith simply doesn't seem to make sense. I then seem to be talking but knowing at the same time that what I'm saying is unintelligible.

What is it to speak of Jesus in a context that operates through coercion? What is it to tell a story of drama, or resurrection in a largely apathetic society? I'm not a bad speaker, but I often find myself feeling that I am overreaching the limits of what I'm able to communicate about the Jesus I love.

Actions are easier in some senses (much harder in others). We can attempt the language of grace or redemption but how much can we really communicate without trying to live it in communion and covenant with each other? We need each other to hold us to account as we strive to live with the least and look for Jesus in our context.

To live in the world but refuse to coerce, oppress or use, is excruciatingly hard and Williams is right, the temptation is to enter into self serving drama. We, instead of seeking truth, create a worship drama that satisfies our tastes and needs, both polularist and lofty alike.

If worship is to point to Jesus, if it is there to announce and celebrate him then what should it look like, and then how will we live our worship? Commitment to community, deep covenanted relationships is what I keep coming back to. It's not a popular notion. We move our setting and our community when we don't like the one we're in. Accountability sucks if it demands too much or we have to surrender our will.

To live with each other and really surrender is to make ourselves most vulnerable. Our inadequacies are highlighted our masks removed. It's in this though that we start to follow the way of Jesus and in doing that we are invited to join the divine community. In short we start to understand what the hell salvation is all about.

I would like to explain more but I feel myself reaching my limit again.

Friday, 3 September 2010

the new shibboleth

I came to this post through Chris Tilling's blog. It's a good one.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Listening to Stanley

Back from Greenbelt and unpacking, slowly, some of the input. A highlight was listening to Stanley Hauerwas. I thought it unlikely that I should ever get to see or hear him speak so it was more than a little treat for me.

There were loads of things and I may post more. Some personal things that struck me though....

I have enjoyed for some time his statement that theology should be seen as craft and, just as you would spend hours in training for any craft, so you should in theology. His desire for apprenticeships and learning from masters is good. He made the point that most of those in seminary these days are those that have failed first in previous walks of life. This made me smile as I recalled a conversation with the principle of my Baptist college as he described my cohort of students as 'dis-functional'. I think he was right too, we were.

I am still bewildered as to what on earth training or formation for Baptist ministry meant. My placement church hired me 'cause I was cheap and there was no other guidance for what my role meant whilst I was there outside a once a year meeting between my tutor and the church and chance to ask questions in 'Baptist Time'. We had personal tutors that changed every year. We met with them from time to time depending on their work load and efficacy. That was our lot at the time.

My friend who was in Catholic seminary seemed to experience a much deeper exploration of himself and what it was for him personally to be formed. I was very interested in that. I needed to do four years training. At first this had seemed a considered length of time. It was put to me that I needed four years. What was interesting is that there was no real sense of what should fill those four years.

My apprenticeship has since taken place through my working in a team in my first church. It doesn't really seem like formation though. More good luck and a huge blessing from God.

Connected with this, Hauerwas commented that theology matters. As an illustration that most of us don't believe this, he points out that if a medical student says she doesn't want to study anatomy anymore because she is more interested in psychology then she will be told tough luck. She needs to buckle down.

This doesn't happen in theological education though, or in seminary. He suggested that this is the case because whilst people think that an improperly trained physician might do serious damage to their health, we do not really think that badly trained/formed ministers can do any real harm. In short it doesn't really matter.

When I was 20 I came across the theology of John Howard Yoder. His work on letting go of outcome and embracing discipleship has formed my entire life. It's the reason I don't care if a drug addict never comes to Christ even if I put in a thousand hours with her and have half my worldly goods stolen. That's not the point. It is the walking the way of Christ that is the important thing. Sod the outcome. The theology in that one book has molded completely the way I try to live. Hauerwas is right. Theology matters. It has the power to inform and completely transform the way we live and our very salvation.

It's important that we engage and that we can trust those who engage deeply in its pursuit and bring back news from their discovery and their reading. I think that our salvation depends on such an approach.

It just wont do to take it all lightly.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Family Communion

The second family service happened by accident. It was meant to be a regular service but Sunday school take a well earned rest through August and there was no one to cover. The rota said the service was around the theme of education and it was communion.

I made the reluctant decision to make it a family service (I really struggle with family services) and I ditched education and centred in on the last supper.

For me a family service needs to be short, simple in message and in short snippets. That way you have a hope of engaging people and people are not there long enough to want to kill the children. As a parent I struggle with family services which are really traditional services with an extra bit for the kids. I just end up yelling at my children in hushed tones (a must ability for any parent) and praying it will end soon.

My trepidation around this service was that I was to let the children administer the communion. I didn't know how that would go down. I never know how things like that will turn out.

I set some tables at the front of the church and got the children to act out the last supper at the front. We then got two of the children to stay at the table and invited the community to come up and sit and receive the bead and wine from them at the table. When there was a space then we asked that someone else should come and take their place and receive.

The effect of the children serving in this way was incredible frankly. I am sure that the kids did not fully understand what they were doing (not least because one of them was my son and I asked him about it later). However the gravitas of the event seemed to get hold of them so they served with a seriousness which went beyond their ages of 7 and 8 years. This meant that those coming to the table were served this most incredible meal by those that are our smallest and most vulnerable. In this meal the children became those serving, administering, those blessing those that arrived at the table. There was an innocence about the children acting in this way and with such childlike maturity that it seemed the table did actually become the Lord's.

While it was happening I couldn't work out if what I felt was because my Son was presiding or because this was of God. I later heard from others that they felt God with them. With the children in this role, a family service was occurring that had brought Jesus into the centre.

I am still pondering this service. I am still going over it because there have been too few times that I have celebrated this feast so fully and so thankfully.