Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bonhoeffer, Fundamentalism and Secularism

Just published is this slim and slender (not) 424 page volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Theology Today: A Way between Fundamentalism and Secularism? It's not cheap, at around £45, but it is a great collection of papers from the International Bonhoeffer Conference in Prague 2008 and it contains lots of interesting material from people like Jurgen Moltmann, John De Gruchy and Martin Marty ... oh and it has a section from me too.

Things that Get in the Way at Christmas

Tomorrow evening (Victoria Pub, Canton, Cardiff, 7:30) sees me leading an ecumenical event that seeks to build on some of the common journeys our 'churches together' have made during Lent. I have used the picture above in the publicity material, (a Banksy pic where Mary and Joseph can't get to Bethlehem today because the Israeli Security Wall might get in their way) . The idea was to have a dramatic metaphor for how things can get in the way while we are on the way through Advent towards Christmas. However it has already generated some debate that I didn't intend ... and while I am happy to reflect with people on the issues of peace ,justice, security and poverty in Bethlehem, Palestine, Israel and the Disputed Territories that really wasn't the intention here.

Although clearly these issues are of great importance for many (including the creator of this display in a Vancouver,) that is not what i want to engage with on this coming Friday evening.

As with Lent I try to do less rather than more in these traditionally penitential periods ... but it is very hard
(especially if you are a religious professional).

There is, for better or worse, a lot more to be doing around this time of year and much of it does not help me actually prepare for the depths of the Christmas experience. I'll try and do some more pruning over the next four weeks but i wonder what gets in the way on the way back to the manger?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Civil Partnerships

BUGB Council spent some time this week discussing if and how a Baptist pastor might participate in Civil Partnerships. There was, as you might except, a wide diversity of opinion but I thought we had covered all the possible positions. Until that is, I listened to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 this afternoon. He had as guests a woman and man who do not wish to get married (in Church or civil ceremony) because marriage discriminates against gay and lesbian people who are denied the instituion under law. What the couple want is to have a Civil Partnership, but they can't do that because they are not gay. This they claim (not without some logic) is also discrimination. As a commitment to justice they wish no part in any arrangement that sustains such inequalities. I am not going to make any further comment on the rights and wrongs of this, except to say that we never thought of it arising when we were at Swanick.

Friday 13th: Put your money where your mouth is

This afternoon I have to see the dentist. And yes I know its Friday 13th ... which due to weird conflation of inaccurate Christian story-telling and natural superstition is said to be unlucky. When I spoke to the receptionist about the appointment I mentioned that Friday 13th was not a date I would have chosen to visit my dentist she casually checked her records to confirm the facts before her and then chalenged me
'But you're a Reverend ... we thought such things wouldn't matter to you.'

So off I go at 1 o'clock to put my money where my mouth is
and my mouth in someone else's hands.
Faith eh?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

This is not the light of the World

Carrying on from my carol singers last week I discover that tonight's the night when the Christmas Lights in Cardiff will be switched on. I do not want to be a perpetually whinging Scrooge, but it is not even Advent yet. If we complain that our weather no longer seems to know the proper season, is it any wonder, for we do not know the time or date ourselves. Surely we must do something to reclaim a proper rhythm and an appreciation of time as a discipline for ourselves and as a witness to a watching world. Pretty as it is ... this is not the Light of the World and i am not convinced that all the premature illumination will help us find it.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

What is the measure of a friend?

Finally I have bowed to the increasing pressure of friends and circumstance and joined Facebook.
Having done so I am faced with the question of friendship ... people are being recommended to me as friends ... worse still, I am being recommended to others. It seems impolite to refuse someone who wants to be a friend ... but do I want to be friends with everyone on the planet who has a tangential connection to two other people I once knew? Is this friendship? Are these people for whom I would lay down my life ... would they reciprocate?
I want to value the friends I have (on Facebook and in real life) but like love, I wonder do we debase the meaning of friendship by using it so lightly.

I am reminded of Emily Dickinson

"My friends are my estate.
Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them.
They tell me those who were poor early have different views of gold.
I don't know how that is.
God is not so wary as we,
else He would give us no friends,
lest we forget Him."


Saturday, 7 November 2009

Remember Remember

I think Remembrance Sunday should always be a time for celebrating Communion For while this is a day when we should remember the sacrifices made in the past and things that make our present freedoms possible, it is also when we should remember the Day that is coming when the kin-dom of Shalom shall soak up every tear.

Tomorrow is surely a day when we remember not just the conflicts of the past but recall the peace of the future that is ours. It might even be a day when we dare to start acting in the knowledge that such peace is among us already. Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.

Vanity Vanity

A Welsh guy on the run from police has sent a picture of himself to the South Wales Evening Post because apparently he disliked the mugshot they had printed of him as part of a public appeal to track him down.

Matthew Maynard is the man of the moment, helping the Police with their enquires but from a distance! The cheeky bit is the fact that he sent the newspaper a replacement photo of himself standing in front of a police van.

He might live to regret this I fear
and in case you're wondering the one on the right is his preferred photo.

What price vanity eh?

Friday, 6 November 2009

I don't beleive it ... Carol Singers!

Yes folks it happened here last night ... I came home from a church meeting at about 10:30 and as my wife had an early flight this morning I decided to get ready for a relatively early night ... whereupon at 10:47 pm the door bell rang, the knocker was knocked, and fearing some pastoral emergency I rushed down stairs to be greeted by two young women serenading me with Silent Night. I told them that it was not a silent night and that their approximation at carol singing was exactly the reason why but if they would remove themselves from my doorstep I would indeed retire for said nocturnal season free of external cacophony. (Well it was words to that effect).

But really carol singing, at that time of night and Guy Fawkes hardly turned to a crisp.
Its enough to make you go 'bah humbug'.
On which tangential note
my copy of the Atheist's Guide to Christmas has just arrived.
Always good to know what other folks are thinking

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Youth of today ... church of today

So I had just finished my preach on Haggai on Sunday evening (John Bell says that prophet sounds very Scottish ... think about it) focusing on getting our worship of God at the core of our lives and then I moved to the communion table ... to celebrate Eucharist ... just began the liturgy whereupon about 15 young people, (11-14?) burst into church seemingly full of the 'joys' of Hallow e'en. What to do now?
There is no pastor's remote control for such events (and I am glad of that) but what to do?
It had been a busy morning, a wet night and Cardiff City were playing at home with a five o'clock kick off, so attendance was a little low on Sunday evening ... the late comers effectively doubled our numbers. Imagine if it could be sustained I thought: 100% growth to nonchurched teenagers ... a new youth centre established ... we would be a feature in Transform Magazine!

Except that's not how it panned out. I was impressed with our welcome stewards ... they didn't panic ... they were indeed welcoming ... they invited the young people to come in (with or without bikes) ... many of them did ... and in fairness the boys were fairly respectful of what was going on (I was adding my welcome from the table, explaining what was happening and hastily editing the usual religious speak out of the liturgy). I took a certain 'theological risk' by letting them know that it was not my table or the church's table, I had no right to say who could come or not (some in church may not agree) it was the table of Jesus so if they wanted to participate they could. But it was the girls who were for messing about ... by which I don't mean surpressed giggles adn embarrassed shuffling of feet, it was deliberate disruption of the remainder of the service ... shouting ... mickey taking ... running around the balcony.

Now don't get me wrong ... there was no malicious damage ... no threatening behaviour ... just a lot of high spirits and disruptive messing about. What to do? We want to be welcoming and inclusive ... we want to be a missionary people who reach young people just like these for Christ ... you could pray for years before 15 young people would darken the door of a church today. I am not so dedicated a liturgist to think that the Communion must be preserved at all costs ... indeed in many ways it is the most effective symbolism we have for mission and it may have been that for some a connection there was made. I am also conscious that they may have been the Spirit's gift to us ... breaking our comfortable familiarity as surely as bread was lying broken on the table ... they may have been the gift we failed to unwrap or accept ... but in such a scenario ... when disruption is seemingly the only intent what is the right response?

The temptation of course is to focus on the ones causing disruption ... asking for some respect / (ie compliance with our norms), but surely the danger there is that we miss the one or two quieter people who were perhaps genuinely intrigued by what was going on. What to do? As they said in the 90s what would Jesus do?

What would you have done?