Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Just Get On With It

Sometimes we seem to think that we need to discover all sorts of new challenges in order to be a relevant and effective church. I am sure it is good when that happens - but I do sometimes wonder if we unnecesarily push ourselves too hard. Sometimes, I think, God just wants us to do what we can. Yes, all things are possible with God - but he doesn't demand the impossible of us, if that is not a contradiction in terms. I like a comment of Walter Brueggemann's which, I think, fits in here: "I have found myself growing in resistance to sermons that purport to speak God's command. I have found myself discovering that mostly I do not need more advice, but strength. I do not need new information, but the courage, freedom, and authorization to act on what I already have been given in the gospel" ("Finally Comes The Poet, Augsburg Fortress, 1989, p. 84).

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A Magic Wand?

We all sometimes wish we had a magic wand and could use it to solve many of the range of problems that confront us. That must have been so for Job's friends. Though calling them his 'comforters' contains a degree of irony, I am sure they had no wish to see him where he was - and would have liked to be able to offer some way of relief. Sometimes, of course, we are wrongly positive and try to evade pain and hurt. It doesn't work, at least, not for the hurting one. Commenting on one of the early speeches by Bildad (8:11-22), Katharine Dell says: "We often feel in life that we want to put everything right for people. In a situation of despair, when there really is no cure, we want to be able to wave a magic wand and make it all better. We want to see the one in pain being able to laugh and be joyful again and we want a better life for them. This is a similar moment of affirmation by Bildad. He assures his friend that all is well with the doctrine that seems to have gone so badly wrong. He wants to be affirming and positive. ("Job", Bible Reading Fellowship, 2002, p. 69) It really doesn't help to assure people that all is well when it blatantly isn't - and what is true on the personal level is also true on the communal level here. But we can be there for people.

Monday, 20 July 2009


At the moment I am reading Dave Gorman's "America Unchained" which recounts the story of his attempt to cross the USA coast to coast without using any "chains". He would only stay at hotels/motels that were not part of a chain, only eat at places that were not part of a chain, only buy petrol at garages that were not part of a chain. The book offers an interesting reflection on the large part that "chains" have come to have in our lives most of the time. It is true that most high streets look much the same. But it set me wondering how chained we are, and how chained we should be, in the church. It would seem that we are concerned with liberation and freedom in a big way which suggests we might be strong supporters of Gorman's quest. Yet part of church is that we are linked to each other, wherever we are. There is a sense in which any individual congregation will, and should, do its own thing. However, that should not happen in an isolated way. We are part of the whole Body of Christ, the whole People of God. That's why I belong to a denomination, and why I think it's right that I should do so - but it is also why I hope that, one day, we'll bring all the denominations together. I guess it is a bit of a forlorn hope - and that's why, across the denominations, I am clear that what unites us is more important than that which divides.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Church as Shrine

The Church is the people. That is fundamental - though when we talk about 'church' people will often have the picture of a building in their mind. Our buildings can be a great resource, which massively enhances our mission, but equally a huge drain on our energy and resources. We do often talk about special places, sometimes describing them as 'thin' places, and I like the idea of the church as a shrine, even though the commitment some people sometimes have to the building can cause a range of problems. As with so many things, it's a question of balance. Sally Gaze explores this in "Mission-Shaped and Rural" (Church House Publishing, 2006), suggesting it may be a useful way to see how to recognise the value of some rural church buildings. She writes - p. 90 – “The idea of the church building as a shrine is extraordinarily helpful in understanding the place such buildings have in the hearts of some parishioners. Pilgrimage and sacred space have an important felt place in popular contemporary spirituality. Many church tourists report feeling that ancient church buildings are spiritual places – and that may be particularly true of remote churches. ...... A shrine is a place that a person might visit quite seldom, but has great emotional importance. People might also feel quite strongly that some changes should not be made to a shrine.” So, if nothing else, this notion may help us to understand how some see things. However, Sally Gaze doesn't want to use this as a means of weighing us down with buildings' responsibility. She remembers that God's 'house' was originally a tent - and suggests - p. 96 – “Perhaps the Church, as God’s pilgrim people of this day, also needs to learn to ‘pitch the tent’ of God’s presence and have a lighter attachment to buildings.” In the end, as already hinted, both can have their places. Ideas of shrine and pilgrimage can be very helpful, but so can those of molbility, flexibility and the church as a tent. What matters is mission and call - p. 97 – “Church communities need to be freed to discover the part of God’s mission to which each is called so that it becomes God’s mission which limits and shapes their choices about how and whether to use church buildings.”

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Sharing Marbles

There's a story of two little London lads who were protesting their undying loyalty to each other. The first little boy said to the other, "Hey, Bobby, if you had a million pounds, would you give me half?" "Course I would," came the reply. "What about if you had a thousand pounds?" "I'd give you half, just the same." "What about if you had a thousand marbles?" "I'd give you half of them," replied Bobby. "What about if you had two marbles?" A moment's pause, and then a rather different response. "That's jolly well not fair. You know I've got two marbles." Principles are great - when we can keep them at arm's length, when they are pure theory. It's when we start having to put it into practice that we run into trouble. But a call that is really just a theory is not actually a call. God wants action. I like that description in Mark 6:34 – When he came ashore and saw a large crowd, his heart went out to them. His heart went out to them. That’s how we should live!