Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In Christ Alone

This evening at SAOMC we concluded our course on Interfaith and Secular Culture with a discussion about mission and evangelism in the context of people from other faiths.

The question we were asked was:

If a close friend of yours was a Hindu/Jew/Muslim would you want them to be a Christian?

Interestingly we didn't answer that question so much as what we would DO about it. Ultimately I think we mostly agreed that we would WANT that person to be a Christian because, as Christians we believe in the centrality of Jesus to our faith and salvation. However it was the outworking of that desire that led to conflict and debate.

Would you actively evangelise someone of another faith?

Would you share your faith with them?

Would you be prepared to have them share their faith with you (and, as some put it, risk being persuaded of THEIR conviction?)

Well I suppose simply asking those questions isn't much of a blog is it?

I find it a very tricky situation. We generally agreed that NEVER discussing your faith with people, whether they're of another faith or no faith, is not true to the Christian faith. However, by the very nature of being a Youth Minister, I witness to my faith whenever someone asks me what I do. Where I go after that point is another matter.

We pondered whether we could share faith with people at any poit in a relationship or whether it was necessary to earn the right to share faith with people. Certainly in my work with young people I share my faith but do I share it at a great depth one to one with young people I hardly know. Well, surprising as it is to me, yes I have shared faith with some young people I'd only just met at our large town-wide youth event simply because I was asked to. With my regular young people I share my faith with the whole group on a regular basis but in one to one relationships I do tend to wait until we have developed our relationship to the point of sharing opinions or openness. This is a bit of a cop out because, by the very nature of my job, it is KNOWN that I am a Christian so it is expected that I'll talk about it. However I do remember talking about it all when I was a university lecturer but it was on a basic level with a large group and again only after a relationship had developed with individual colleagues or students. I did actually have some fascinating discussions with an atheist colleague who was trully interested in understanding where I was coming from as a Christian though fairly convicted in his own position.

Ok I'm skirting round the issue of whether I'd evangelise those of other faiths. I know for certian that I am extremely uncomfortable with missions focussed specifically on those of other faiths. However I find missions and evangelism which target the whole community (which may include those of other faiths) such as visiting all the houses in the parish an acceptable practice.

For me I think evangelism must come from LOVE. Love of God and love of neighbour. What are we seeking to do through our mission? Persuade those of other faiths that they are wrong? Or show God's love to them and our love to them because of our faith?

Our church's simple mission statement is:
A place for our whole community to encounter God.

This is, of course, inclusive of all our community; those of our faith, those of other faiths and those of no faith. The aim of our mission therefore is clear: to enable people to come to know God. My wise fellow student pointed out that we are not called upon to convert anyone. God does that. It is simply for us to share our faith and then let the spirit work.

Someone in previous years on the course had argued that it was far more sensible to evangelise those who have no concept of a spiritual dimension to life, the unchurched, than to seek to convert those who have already opened themselves to an experience of God. I think, in sheer practical terms I agree with that view.

Perhaps, once we have shared our faith with ALL those within our pastoral area who have NO faith, then we will have earned the right to evangelise those of other faiths?

What do you think?

Amnesty Interbloganal

Having discovered the whereabouts of my Love Actually DVD by commenting regularly in various places that I remember lending it to someone but not remembering who, I thought I might use the blog as a way of doing this with more people for some of the other DVDs that have gone astray.

Currently I am missing

Bruce Almighty
Pirates of the Carribbean

and also About a boy on video!

Anybody remember if I leant you one of those?

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Who needs theology?

One of my young people this morning asked me what I do during the weekwhen I'm not working directly with them. When I told him that I go to a theology class on Tuesdays, he asked why and I explained it was so I could learn about God as theology is literally that the study of God. He responded, "oooh! I thought it was like therapy or something!"

It made me laugh, in that way that you sometimes just can't stop yourself even though you know it upsets someone when they've made a booboo. Of course then I thought that actually he wasn't that far off. I mean sometimes studying God is a kind of therapy for the soul. Certainly in our summer school our group work did sometimes have the air of group therapy about it! Yet it's not only that. Surely theology is in some ways therapy. What is it we are seeking by studying theology?A greater understanding of the nature of God, of course, but also a greater understanding of ourselves in relation to the universe and also a greater understanding of our purpose. This sounds a bit like therapy though I have no first hand experience of it. Any thoughts?

I don't like Mondays

OK so here is the weirdness of the coming week. I am WORKING on Monday which is normally my day off. The silver lining to the cloud is that I am therefore OFF on a Saturday. Yes a SATURDAY - you know that day when the normal people in your life ALSO have a day off so you can actually see people you know! I am looking forward to this enormously BUT the realisation dawns that I will be working rather more days in a row without a day off than I'm used to! Also my accustomed Monday lie-in is not on the cards (unless I get off to a really bad start!)

The next oddity of the week is that I will be going to my theology evening class for the last time. This will be an occasion filled with mixed feelings. As a person with lots of evening metings, losing a regular evening commitment will be a blessing. However I will also be losing time with some amazingly wonderful people. I'm not sure how many of them will be reading (I know some of them have checked out the blog at least once) so I can't really go into details about how great they are... oh of course I can.

Firstly to my mate Mark - sorry I won't be there to make inclusive pro-Methodist comments. Seriously though sweetie - I'm GONNA MISS U!

Next to my excellent tutors Mike, Alan, Marilyn and Gerald. Thank you so much for opening my mind and heart to the richness of the church, its heritage and philosophy.

To William - In a sense, it could be argued that... I have no idea what to say! Simply remember that in fact you ARE an essentially good person even if you do have, as you put it, hidden shallows.

To Paul - I hear that there was evidence at the weekend that you really can blow your own trumpet but from me, hear this: Stay as warm and real as you are. I've found your quiet pastoral support extremely enriching. Thank you.

To Roger - Thank you for all your wisdom, support and prayer. I know you've prayed for me to stay but as Mike as said in a past sermon: "Why do you ask for that... there is something so much better?"

To Ian - Slough isn't that bad really is it? OK who am I convincing? Keep laughing about it though.

To Chris - I'm so pleased the gender balance has improved now, it means I feel less guilty about leaving.

To the St Albans crowd - You guys have been just amazing and welcoming. THANK YOU.

To my prayer group. Words can't express how much I have valued the care, the meditation the sheer tangible LOVE that have filled our times together.

Ok I'm going to have to stop before I get all emotional at the ending off it all!

Not to be served but to serve

Today was my first time administering wine at the Eucharist. It's an extremely humbly activity. Aside from the worrying about dropping the chalice, spilling wine, bashing people's teeth or just plain MISSING their mouth, the very act of serving people, of literally offering Christ to them is incredible. The action is so much about God and Christ's sacrifice and so entirely NOT about ME. Add to all that the choir singing some Taize music during communion and I was away completely! It was just out of this world. Wow!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

I'm a STALLION baby!

Ok so we watched Shrek 2 at our youth film night this evening. When we first started these we would have about 10 people. This was pretty cool. Occassionally we'd have a night when only 3 young people showed up. Over the last year we've bee getting a few more. Well this evening we had THIRTY young people. THIRTY! We ran out of chairs! I had to sit on the table. I nearly did my back in carrying the takeout pizza up the stairs. On a practical note... it was lucky that I'd asked a third leader to join our usual quota of two.

Now I'm not playing the numbers game... the BIGGEST error in youthwork.

I remember some of the film nights when we had only three people and recollecting those evenings with those three have been an important part of building and consolidating relationships. Tonight didn't offer that. It DID however give me the chance to advertise our forthcoming events to a wider audience and to get some feedback from them about a new idea we had.

Tomorrow we'll be discussing the film in our small group after church. I'm not thinking we'll get thirty for that. I know we'll get some of those I see every week and maybe I might see some of the others too. I don't know.

We're going to be talking about real love and how Shrek and Fiona love each other for who they really are not what they look like. We're going to talk about materialism and STUFF and we'll also have a look at doubt. Well probably. No we will, we definitely will!

Open house

I took my two American friends to a National Trust property today: Waddesdon Manor. It was all decked out for Christmas with twinkling lights and wonderfully opulent trees ponderous with baubles and ribbons. The various dining rooms were laid out with amazing sets of silver and crockery (including some crockery turned into an incredible candelabrum). It was a wonderfully warming pre-Christmas activity. The mulled wine certainly helped with the warming! Advent Sunday tomorrow and I'm feeling Christmassy already. Oh dear!

Moving on

I realised that yesterday's blog may have worried some of those who think I may have been a bit down. To them I say: hey, it happens. I have since had a fabby evening so worry not!

More anon....

Thursday, November 25, 2004

In the Mood

Tonight I came home feeling the teensiest bit mopey and stared blankly at my video and DVD collection trying to figure out what to watch.

It made me think....

I have films that I particularly like to watch when I'm feeling perky, giggly or romantic. Yet I am always stuck about what to watch when I'm feeling down. Do I go for something weepy to weep AT as an alternative to just getting weepy? Anne of Green Gables always a good one for that I find! Do I pick a romantic comedy to make me feel worse (How To Lose A Guy in 10 days seems appropriate at the moment!). Bridget Jones ALWAYS a reliable choice (thoughcurrently my sofa is looking un-Jones-like). I tried Serendipity the other day - BAD idea! Or how about Pride and Prejudice to make me hope that my Mr Darcy is out there somewhere [and if not then at least Mr Darcy is ON there to ponder! ;oD ] Toy Story as a bit of a sugar-soaked "you got a friend in me" pill. Some random action film (the Rock, Die Hard, Bond) just to get my mind off it all? Working Girl to remind me that life can change and get better? Pleasantville to bring out the colour in life? Matrix to make me think about existence? Star Wars to make me think... about something I'm sure... something other than Harrison Ford that is... definitely (for THAT I'd be watching Indianna Jones and the Last Crusade!)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Saving time

It was that time of the month again to be stuffing envelopes with newsletters for young people. This takes at least an hour and can be fairly tiresome so I have got into the habit of watching something whilst I do it. Today I selected a random video tape that said BUFFY on it. I am a big fan of the show but haven't watched any for ages. It happened to be the last two episodes of Season Six (Two To Go and Grave for those of you who like precision.)

Any fans of Buffy won't be surprised that it's the end of the season and so it's ALMOST the end of the world. This time it's because Willow has lost Tara and in her grief she turns away from all that is good, seeks vengeance on those who killed Tara and decides that the world is such a dreadful place that she should end it all to end everyone's pain.

So what is it that stops her? Is it the incredible kick-ass action of Buffy? Is it some amazing plan from the delectable Giles? No. It's Xander. Simple, human, nothing special Xander. How does he save the world?

He goes to Willow as she's pouring all her anger and hate towards the world. She channels all the evil energy she has to destruction and Xander stands between her and the world and says "I love you." It's awesome. The simplicity of it. For me, of course, the parallel with Jesus' gospel of love and his all-loving sacrifice just screams out. Xander even uses humour to emphasise his message. Of course he doesn't succeed at first. Willow inflicts some nasty injuries on him but no matter what she does, he gets back up and his message remains the same. His message of love.

In an episode where we have had incredible demonstrations of power, magical, intellectual and physical we're shown that the greatest power out there is the power of LOVE and of course, as we know GOD is love. So the series really is giving that message (deep-down!)

The episode also ends with Sarah McLachlan singing a version of The Prayer of St Francis which is just mind-blowingly wonderful:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
O divine master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive-
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Of course the episode can tell us that we can ALL do this. If Xander - who really must be the world's greatest uber-muppet - can exhibit that kind of certainty of love then we all can. It doesn't require huge gestures or amazing powers. It only requires somethign we can all do.


Here's a transcript of the scene courtesy of somebody with more time than me!

WILLOW: You can't stop this.
XANDER: Yeah, I get that. It's just, where else am I gonna go? You've been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end ... where else would I want to be?WILLOW: (scornfully) Is this the master plan? You're going to stop me by telling me you love me?
XANDER: Well, I was going to walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil, but ... it seemed kinda cartoony.
WILLOW: Still making jokes.
XANDER: I'm not joking. I know you're in pain. I can't imagine the pain you're in. And I know you're about to do something apocalyptically (glancing back at the statue) evil and stupid, and hey. (spreading out his arms) I still want to hang. You're Willow.
WILLOW: (angry) Don't call me that.
XANDER: First day of kindergarten. You cried because you broke the yellow crayon, and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You've come pretty far, ending the world, not a terrific notion. But the thing is? Yeah. I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love ... scary veiny Willow. So if I'm going out, it's here. If you wanna kill the world? Well, then start with me. I've earned that.
WILLOW: (upset) You think I won't?
XANDER: It doesn't matter. I'll still love you.
WILLOW: (angry) Shut up.
Willow gestures with her hand. No magic bolts of light, but Xander's head jerks to the side as if he's been hit. Three parallel cuts appear on his cheek, bloody as if scratched. He puts his hand up to them, looks at his fingers.
Willow watches, panting and looking a bit nervous. Xander looks back up at her
XANDER: I love you.
Willow makes another slashing gesture. Xander doubles over and falls to his knees. Panting, he gets up again, and we see that his shirt is ripped open over the heart, more scratches visible on his chest. He pants and grimaces from the pain but faces Willow again.
XANDER: (panting) I ... love y-
WILLOW: Shut up!!
Now she does throw a blast of magic at him, and he staggers backward but doesn't fall down. Willow still holds her hand out, a little bit of magic crackling around it but not as much as she had expected. She looks surprised and anxious. Xander moves slowly toward her.
XANDER: I love you, Willow.
She sends another magic blast, but it's weak and barely hurts Xander at all. He continues walking toward her. Willow continues holding out her hand and making the magic gesture, but nothing happens. She starts to get teary.
XANDER: I love you.
Willow starts to cry and, as Xander gets right up to her, she starts hitting him with her fists. Xander just stands there and takes it. After a moment she stops hitting and starts to cry for real. She falls to her knees and Xander kneels with her, puts his arms around her and holds her while she sobs.
XANDER: I love you.
As Willow continues to cry in Xander's arms, the veins fade away from her face and her hair returns to its usual red.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

chocolate or coughee?

You wouldn't expect a serious response to a news story from me normally... and be not disappointed!!

In this morning's news I heard that apparently chocolate is good for getting rid of coughs.

There is an "active ingredient" in it which does something to the cough impulse in the brain apparently! I always find it pleasing when chocolate is attributed with a useful quality. Today was not the first. In August 1999 we were told that chocolate can help prevent cancer In October 2000, Novemebr 2001 and November 2004 we were told that the anti-oxidants in chocolate can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

However, I don't really need to be told of the benefits of chocolate. I've been aware of its many benefits for some time! Though perhaps the above are just some added bonuses.

However it does somewhat remind me of a rather excellent sermon I heard once at St Alban's Abbey. The preacher (one of the resident canons or someone - apologies that I don't remember who!) focussed on a reading about flowers from a somewhat obscure (and apocryphal) book like Baruch (scholars enlighten me please).

His point was that flowers are inherently pointless. That, in fact, pointlessness IS their function. In other words pointlessness is their point.

I have always rather thought the same about chocolate really. It has NO real function. No-one really NEEDS chocolate. It is the very fact that you don't NEED it that makes it a pleasure and a very welcome one at times. Do we need to know it has benefits to enjoy it? Can't we just love it for its pointless pleasure, just as we sniff the beautiful but rather pointless flowers that we are sometimes given and occasionally indulge in buying for ourselves? (Anyone inspired to indulge me with a gift of chocolate or flowers will be much appreciated!!!)

Of course a balanced argument must make at least SOME reference to the negative things about chocolate.

There must be some...

hang on....

I'm thinking....

Ok we all know that choclate may contribute to an over-indulgence in calories but really, in the grand scheme of things, is eating chocolate really measuring high on the richter scale of sin? I think its pointless pleasure is enough to outweigh the wight gain. Do we not all need a little pointlessness sometimes?

Monday, November 22, 2004

What can History teach us?

I spent the evening with some friends recently and one of them who is an historian demonsatrated the ability to make the case for pretty much anything. I can't recall what he first argued in favour of but it was FAIRLY untenable. This first argument led us to challenge him to make a reasonable defence for various appalling incidents in history. He managed to make cogent and sometimes shockingly reasonable defences for both the Holocaust and the treatment of the indigenous people of the Americas at the hands of the European settlers.

It was shocking how convincing he could be just through his training as an historian. Clearly I don't mean CONVINCING as such. I was not persuaded that either of those things was acceptable. It made me think quite a lot because I was also trained as an historian but I think my arguments were always tinged with some kind of personal response and pastoral concern. I remember reading about the Black Death in fourteenth century Britain and the appalling levels of deaths (though the exact extent of those figures is still the subject of intense debate). When writing my essay I really felt shocked by the individual situations of particular people. One man lost his wife, mother, sister, three children uncle and sister-in-law. That whole concept just blew my mind and made my essay a bit of an impassioned rant about the trauma involved. I never really managed to be dispassionate about those kinds of issues. I think that's why I ended up studying much EARLIER history because I lost a lot of academic objectivity when I looked at issues closer to our present.

Of course now I'm in a job where being empassioned about issues is part of my role. I was even accused of criticising the American government in one sermon about Trade Justice - though fortunately this was a slightly cheeky criticism by one of my American friends. Of course in issues of Trade Justice the US really aren't covering themselves in glory. As to other issues about US policy and politics well... I leave those discussions to others for the moment. I don't want the blog getting too empassioned!

Life in all its blogness

Well I don't know if you've ever had that experience where someone is preaching and you think, "Woah... that's ME s/he is talking about! I've been in that situation*... that's how I feel*... I've done that*"

*delete as applicable

That was my experience on Sunday but this time the preacher really WAS talking about me. I know it's a bit of an occupational hazard when you work in a church.

So what was it that caused me to feature in the pastoral message to our congregation?

Well David began by asking a question...

What would you do if you discovered the answer to all the mysteries of the universe?

He suggested that we might keep the secret to ourselves or we might tell peopel about it. We might talk about it, write letters or in this modern world we might BLOG about it (you're just going to have to imagine the glance in my direction!).

So have I discovered the answer to all the mysteries of the universe? Well I don't think so. I rather like mystery though. Not sure I WANT to know ALL the answers. However do I talk about things as deep as the MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE....






Of course David's point was that Jesus shared his message in a relatively SMALL geographical area, in a time when there was no web, no telephone. Jesus spread the Good News by one to one contact, by relationship.

Now I know a few of the people who check in and occasionally the odd friend comes out of the woodwork of admitting that they have a look now and then but my little area is rather small. Much smaller than Jesus managed to reach in his lifetime, even though I have the advantages of rather superior technology. Curious that!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Older and wiser

Ok I've remembered what it was now....

I was going to talk a bit about my sermon on Sunday. It does actually link in a bit with Ian's blog on learning from mistakes. I once heard the excellent piece of advice:

Learn from other people's mistakes... you haven't got time to make them all yourself!

And yet I failed entirely to learn from a common sermon mistake. That grand old CLASSIC, a positive CORKER of a trap...


On Sunday I had to preach ever so briefly as we had to be out of church in time for the Remembrance service afterwards to start and get the 11am silence at the correct time. The gospel was Jesus describing the signs of the end times from Luke. His message beign that horrible things will happen in the world. Horrible things will happen to you. That doesn't mean it's the end of the world. These things happen. Do not be afraid My message was that through all the things that fill us with fear God is with us. Had I been able to find one I would have started with some little story abotu being afraid but instead as we were short of time I asked the congregation:

"What are you afraid of?"

A little cub scout in the front row SHOT his hand in the air. Never being one to ignore such eagerness I trotted over and asked him. I said, "So what are oyu afraid of?"

"Nothing" he said

"Nothing?" says I thinking Bridget Jones like thoughts that are unbloggable

"Nothing" he repeated

"not even a big scary monster" says I doing an impression of a big (well kinda) scary monster.

I wasn't entirely convinced by my recovery but I'm told that it worked fine. (Anyone who was there... feel free to comment!)

Of course what the little cub showed was what I was TRYING to get everyone to discover. There is no need for fear. God is with us always.

Oh Lord I thank you that you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to the young!

My mind's a blog

I was chatting with Mr youthblog himself today at lunch time (and yes he WAS wearing the Tshirt!) and an absolutely MARVELLOUS idea for a blog came into my mind. Unfortunately being as I am now old and ancient... I can't rememembr what it was!

Perhaps I was daunted by his awesome blogness... perhaps it was the lack of sleep after watching the new Battlestar Galactica until late and STILL getting so hooked into the Da Vinci Code that I didn't get to sleep until an hour I don't really want to disclose!

I know I'm a bit behind with the whole Da Vinci code thing but I am finding it MOST engaging. As someone who... ok prepare yourself for the sad academic throwback moment... has actually taught a class translating the documents from the Trials of the Templars, I always find books about their EVER SO SECRET practices quite amusing. There are little bits you just WAIT for You just KNOW they're going to mention particular things at some point. I am still in waiting...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

God's eye view

I had a fantastic experience today. I climbed up a rickety ladder to the top of our church's interior porch and from there up another short ladder to the parvys over the outside porch. It was a marvelllous place (where the church's Christmas decorations live!) and - although I did get a bit of a scare when I suddenly realised one of the kings was looking at me!! - I also had the opportunity of seeing the church from an elevated position. I could see out through the clear windows onto the shops outside. I could see the stained glass windows in greater detail. It was a refreshingly new outlook on life and on the church. It was also a wonderful place to sing from but I imagine the choir won't be taking advantage of that!

Taxing the brain

Fascinating discussion last night with my friends. One of them has the theory that tax should be a completely flat rate. The same for everyone. No grades. then if you earn more you pay more. If you earn less you pay less. An intriguing concept. Anyone got any thoughts on that one? It just deosn't seem right to me. I think there would have to be a higher tax allowance at the bottom for that to work. There is a basic level of income you need and in order to get enough taxes surely the government would have to put it higher than the basic rate now. Mike's point was that if the rich don't have so much of their money taken away in tax then they put it into the economy which helps the economy. It sounded mostly sensible but I still couldn't agree with it. I just don't think it makes for a fairer or better society. I think that probably stems from my philosophical standpoint on politics. Let me explain that...

When I was studying politics in the sixth form I came to the conclusion that an anarcho-syndcalist or communist society was ultimately the most FAIR and Christian. Unfortunately both systems were also fatally flawed in that they do not allow for the basic human falibility to desire some kind of ownership of something. We all have our favourite mug or spoon, even if they all LOOK the same. Also if you were an artist in such a society and you painted a picture it is YOURS by its very existence. There was no satisfactory resolution of that problem for me. So I resign myself to living in whatever political set up we happen to have and hope that we can imporve bits of it here and there. The Single Transferable Vote system would be a start but that's another story!!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Maya Gold

We had a visit from a fascinating chap this evening talking about Hinduism. I got the feeling that we could have heard him talk for five hours and still not get a good handle on the whole matter. He explained it as being a problem of Western concepts of philosophy. In the west we have such a fixed mindset that separates theology and philosophy that we find it very difficult to encompass some of the Eastern concepts of theological philosophy.

So if the western world separates theology and philosophy... what moved? Did the church abandon philosophy or did philosophy abandon the church?

I know there are certainly some very NON-Christian philosophers yet I also know that there are now a lot of Christians who would reject the whole idea of philosophy, the idea of a love of wisdom over spirituality, the bible and experience. Is that it? Does the church reject an overly academic gnostic approach to religion and theology? Is it a part of the dumming down? The political correctness which seeks to reduce even theology to the lowest common denominator so that it may be understood by ALL even if that ultimately means that WHAT is understood is lacking in meaning?

Philosophical theology is something which draws me in two directions. Part of me loves the academic exploration of it, relishes the intellectual exercise of trying to grasp complex constructs and intricate models of trinitarian theology or christology. However another part of me also sees the intellectual exercise as merely that. An exercise. Not something which actually determines or even supports faith. I find the ideas of Barth, Moltmann, Rahner, Pannenburg and others fascinating and yet their attempts to define exactly who God is seem ultimately a little pointless to me. I know who God is. I endeavour to communicate with God regularly. I have known God in my life for as long as I can remember (not quite the full one score years and ten I've lived but pretty close) and definitions of what the exact nature of that person are intriguing but not necessary to my knowledge of God's love for me.

So are these academic discourses merely escape paths and distractions for intellectual Christians or useful philosophical exercises?

Far too late for me to answer that cogently!

What do we think?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The boundaries of the blogosphere don't push themselves back, you know!

I discovered another reader of the blog this evening. Always pleasing. It reminded me that my subject matter is ever so variable. If I had a marketing manager I'm sure she'd tell me to focus in on a single audience rather than diversify into theology as well as the other more humourous and off the wall entries. Yet the diversity of blogging is what makes it such a unique medium. I love it. I can write random thoughts on so many different topics and it is still acceptable. When I'm writing a sermon, a parish magazine letter or part of the novel (still going well by the way!) I am restricted as to what I can write. However in the blogosphere I can write about any topic. It doesn't have to go with the readings for the day or fit the thought world of my characters.

I know the curious mix of topics might be a little off-putting to some but one of the greatest compliments ever paid to me was a reference to my curious mix of inconsistencies. Apparently that is what makes me such a fascinating person. I liked that. Fascinating. Good word. I suppose there might be some people who would hate to be described as fascinating; those who do not like to be fascinated themselves, perhaps but to me it was deeply flattering. I like fascinating people myself. Yes I like the people that you can get to know very easily but give me a hidden depths person any time - someone with an intriguing sideline or an off-the-wall past time. Marvellous!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

New Blogs on the Bloc

Well I'm afraid a lot of my creativity is being directed towards the book (which is coming together quite nicely so far!) but it has occured to me that I haven't EVER mentioned the places that I get my caffeinated inspiration. At least twice a week I indulge in the excellent provisions of our church's own Coffee Shop. The best kept secret in High Wycombe. It sells fair trade goods and serves delicious homemade cakes. However there is also a place for going out into our comunity - especially as we're a town centre parish. So Hazel the Verger and I (and indeed the vicar and various others!) regularly enjoy the fantastic provision of our local coffee and cookie house Bloc 3 (Blocs 1 & 2 are in Henley and Berkhamstead). The cookies are baked freshly every day and the sandwiches are made by hand on the premises by David and his fabulous team. So if you're in High Wycombe, or indeed Henley or Berkhamstead and feeling a little in need of a cookie fix, do check it out. Of course if you need some fairly traded goods you'll need to go to the church coffee shop in Castle Stree instead andmight I recommend the fridge cake!

One theology or many theologies

I had a fabulous evening yesterday (with Mike and Wayne - thanks guys if you're reading) discussing all kinds of stuff from literature to science fiction, politics and theology. As two Americans the guys wanted to know what I thought of the Anglican theology or as we came to agree the THEOLOGIES of the Anglican church. We discussed the merits of having a single theology or having a multiplicity of theologies. We ended up mostly with a consensus that a breadth of theological understandings is acceptable but that the starting point of these theologies should be united as they are (supposed to be) in the commonality of the Gospel reading at the Sunday Eucharist. We felt that a church certainly needed a common baseline of belief (indeed we agreed quite wisely with the fathers of the early church that we should all share common credal statements!)

The question is...

Where DO we draw the line? What are the absolute FUNDAMENTALS of our faith? Of your faith? What can we be flexible about? What can we NOT compromise on?

I'm not entirely certain that we ALL have to agree on the answers to the above BUT I do think we all need to have ANSWERED them for ourselves.

Gosh there's a bit of a challenge for us! I think I need togo away and THINK and PRAY a lot!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Let the God see the Rabbi

I realise that in my jet-lag haze last week I didn't even mention the fact that our theology evening course spent the evening looking at Judaism. For the first half the evening we were visited by a rabbi from London. It was fascinating to hear about the normality of modern Judaism not the archaic Judaism of the Old Testament and indeed the New Testament. Some of his first words were... "Judaism has moved on in three thousand years since the Hebrew bible". I realised that, in fairness, I often have thought of Judaism solely in terms of the faith known to Jesus and his disciples or to Esther, Jacob, Isaiah and the rest. The rabbi showed us that Judaism has had to deal with the self same issues that face the Anglican church; the decline of the traditional family, the question of women in leadership and issues in human sexuality.

Of course, as open as we were to hear about his faith, it was not a faith we could share. He could not encompass the idea that God could be divided into a trinity or that God could come to earth as a human being in the form of Jesus. I could see that he spoke from his faith and that he was a man serving God and yet he also spoke of a faith that wasnot consistent with my own. It was a real challenge. How could someone of the Jewish faith speak to me as a Christian. I was reminded of the words of (of this is quite embarrassing) one of the members of the Spinners at their Christmas concert when he introduced their performance of a Jewish song Avenu Shalom alechem (apologies ofr spelling anyone who knows better). He said that people always asked why they sang that song. His explanation was simple; "The Man Himself was a Hebrew."

In the next few weeks we will be hearing from other leaders of different faiths. I wonder what challenges they may present to us?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Deeper thoughts

I had a fabulous discussion with a young person on MSN on Saturday evening. I should have been on my way home but as ever I logged in just to have a quick look and got caught in a discussion about youthwork and the role of Christianity in our relationships with young people. It was just incredible to be getting into this kind of debate with someone whose parents (oh I feel old) I remember getting married a few years before was born. This young chap is now coming up to 15 and is going to be a young leader as of the next time our big youth club meets. We even got as far as discussing the possibility of him becoming a full time youthworker one day. It is an amazing feeling to think that you might have encouraged someone by your example to follow you into ministry (I KNOW it's not just my example as he is also involved with our town centre wide work but there must be some element of my influence and my only response is a stunned wooooah!). As with all young people who discuss career prospects with me I went straight online and found him some relevant links to follow up (with somewhat more ease than other professions I might add!) The strangest thing is that I argued against the prospect far more than I would with any other option for him as I thought he might be trying to please me by asking. Perhaps I am actually quite wary of the whole issue of creating young people in my own image (he really isn't like me at all in fact!) or "cloning" as some trendy youthwork texts have described it. Yet surely we spend a lot of time ensuring that we give a good example of a Christian life. How can we also want young people NOT to be like us! hmmmm. Tough one!

Blog to blog

I had the great news yesterday that my blog is featured on yet another blog roll. Now I'm afraid this is something I can't achieve on mine. (Yes I'm sure it CAN be done... I just haven't managed to make it work that or the picture hosting!) So thanks to Richard and Beth for the feature on your blog :oD I shall be recommending the single Canadian site to my host in Toronto! What a fabulous idea: to save Americans from Bush by getting them to marry Canadians. Kerry might well be up for that! My friend that is not JOHN Kerry!

I'm having supper with two Americans tomorrow night, Mike and his friend Wayne. I know that Mike is not a Bush fan (don't know about Wayne) so I'll have to recommend the site to them as well. I'll keep you informed!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Jet Lag

Well I'd love to be able to blame the jet lag for my utter failure to blog in nearly a week BUT that would not be entirely true.

In fact it is partly to blame. It took me so much effort to do stuff I absolutely had to do for work that I didn't have the brain power for blogging. Yet it wasn't only this.

Marvellously for me I spent some of the time I could have been blogging typing up half a chapter of my new Great British novel. I am really rather excited about this one. I think it has an exciting and engaging structure, a fascinating premise and a feww little chuckles along the way. So I'm afraid the blogosphere's loss is literature's gain - tee hee!

I will endeavour to blog a bit more tomorrow unless inspiration strikes again.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Up, up in the air

Ok so now we're on the plane and it's time for that, oh so calming and yet Hispanically vibrant music again. This time accompanied by pictures, not of picturesque Canada but of luxurious London oh and Rome... and Amsterdam, ... and some mediterranean resort and... of course... the Colosseum! The first make me long for hme and then up come the pictures that make me want to put on my wings again! The Eiffel tower - half the height of the CN tower. These Europeans don't know how to build!

The good news is that, this time, we took off only four minutes late - not sixty four minutes. YAY! It's a bit dark and turbulent out there though. There's a guy just nearby ALSO writing - wonder if his is a blog or the next great Canadian (I think?) novel? Oh yes, my new novel... hmmm. I'll just have a quick read back of it so far shall I? - won't take long. Well, with a little tweaking those ninety words should be fine! (Only another 59,100 and we're getting somewhere! Oh and a plot and at least one other character surely. As large as a character Theois and he's already taken on a life of his own I think he will need some interaction. Perhaps not a romantic attachment - not sure that would do, that kind of thing.) Oh well as Theo seems to be taking over the blog, I'd better leave this andallow him toescape onto the more appropriate page!. Just to let you know that writer IS Canadian - he took an immigration card... and left-handed... interesting or perhaps I should say sinister?

One day I'll fly away

In the UK we seem to be blessed with exciting airports that have things to do, places to sit and shops to look around. Unfortunately, this means that returning home from practically ANYWHERE involves a substantial amount of disappointment. I remember as a child the amazement that the airport at Mahon in Menorca was practically a runway with a loosely converted hanger a long corridor and a greenhouse for a restaurant. (I'm sure it was a little more complex than that but... I was young!)

Toronto, a heaving metropolis which lays claim to the world's tallest free standing structure - I know, I was up it! - and yet Pearson International airport is, I am sorry to say, a little rubbish in terms of facilities. You get pretty much stright to the gate with a brief waft past a Starbucks and some shops selling lots of Canadian red maple leaf badges, maple syrup in odd shaped bottles and, of course, moose.

I sent Kerry and Joanne away because it seems I am terrible at goodbyes, as Joanne observed!. I wasn't really aware of that but on reflcetion I think Joanne's right. I swung between clingy and embarrassed, British and aloof. Oh dear, I'm living out the steroetype!

Skywalker am I

Skywalking this is Posted by Hello

Today I took a walk along the Skywalk to the CN tower and as I got closer the sky got bluer. By one o'clock we actually had hot sun beaming down on Toronto - all of it - trust me I could see the whole lot. I went all the way to the sky pod which is the furthest up you can go. So after all the cloudy days and waiting I saw a splendidly sunny Toronto on my last day here. It really was like walking on sky, especially on the glass floor. I felt I should get some cheesy gifts from the shop but my only mementoes of the CN tower were a stack of digital photos and a slight nausea!

CN Tower Posted by Hello

I'm really going to miss this place. I think it really has been something so totally OTHER. There are things I won't miss:

Not being understood easily
Working out how much the tax will be on top of the price quoted
Being tempted with far too much wonderful food ALL the time

So my final reflections on the trip as a whole...?


Canada is a VAST, beautiful country.


I can't believe that I didn't say more about Frederick Varley's Liberation which I saw at the AGO. I know I described it but the picture has followed me all this week and I've despreately been trying to find a poster of it or a book with it in. Finally I tracked it down in a book in Abelard second hand bookstore on Queen Street but it was $45 which was a little too much. I resorted to looking on the internet and what do I find? Jonny Baker has blogged about it already! He first saw it at an Ascension Day service which rather surprised me at first as I totally had it in my mind as Easter Sunday and Jesus, risen from the dead, entering the upper room and dazzling the disciples and bringing colour into their dark world of despair. I ca see how maybe you could argue it as representing the Transfiguration and I suppose by that argument of it being Christ transformed you could use it for the Ascension. Johnny thoguht of it for Trinity Sunday - I just can't see that but will take a closer look when I get a copy of the picture. What was amazing for me was the sheer SIZE of it. The figure really is six foot tall and Varley himself described as strange, mystical experience in the creation of the picture in pastels, charcoal and acrylics - an unusual mix of media in some ways. I may of course find myself tempted to buy the expensive book in the end as the colour reproduction online will be pretty inferior but perhaps I simply need to keep searching.

CN is believing

Well today I am going to go up the CN tower no matter what! Each time I've planned to go so far the day has ended up foggy, rainy or cloudy. Ironically it was 20 C on Friday but we had already made plans to see Casa Loma which is a neo-gothic house built by one of Canada's leading industrialists at the end of the nineteenth century. A fascinationg building that looked weirdly out of place and yet perfectly natural. The shame is that the man who built it overstretched his finances and was forced to sell up in the 1920s. There was a massive auction of the contents of the house as well as his amazing art collection including works by van Dyck and Joshua Reynolds which unfortunately has left the house rather an empty shell but fascinating nonetheless.

There was a group of children visiting from the local primary school and a man telling them all about knights in armour. I had to grit my teeth and not correct him in places and then drag Kerry away before she intervened with a discourse on armour-piercing arrows (she's a military historian, you know!)

Yesterday morning Kerry also took me down to the boardwalk around Lake Ontario which is SO massive that it feels like the sea. It feels like you're miles away from the city but there it is in the background. This really is an amazing place and I'm certainly going to miss it when I leave... today :o(
On the bright side I have all my friends to come home to.... MSN again (hurrah!)... lots of stories to tell... oh and the fabulous news that Shrek 2 is being delivered to my house as I type - yay!

Bump in the Night

Well I took part in the Halloween traditions here last night (when in Rome...) and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Kerry and I went to the house of her friends Mandy and Geoff to do the staying in waiting for trick or treaters thing. Mandy and Geoff kindly welcomed Kerry and I and their friend Brad into their home. We all worked together to carve the pumpkins and decorate the outside of the house and then we opened that hospitality out to the children of the local community. Here in Canada the whole trick or treat thing is something which is primarily for chidren. Most of those that visited us were under 9 and all under 14. It was really good for Mandy and Geoff who've only been in their house a few months to meet some of the parents who were with the children who took it as an opportunity to introduce themselves. So despite reservations about the whole motivation of Halloween, and some bad experiences in the UK of people taking it as an opportunity to throw eggs at houses and demand money at the doors of strangers, I was presented with new evidence and changed my mind. Ultimately my prespective was that Trick or Treating is something which brings communities together; a truly Christian act really. Is this not Christ in Culture?