Monday, 30 March 2009

Upon what rock?

On Sunday evening I preached on the life of Peter and what we might learn from him as we journey through Lent. In the course of the preparation I discovered something I had not known before. This may be 'old hat' to many of you out there but it hit a chord with me.

We started with his confession of Jesus as Christ at Caesarea Phillipi and talked about the well known geography of the context ... that he possibly made this famous statement of faith, right by the 'Rock of the Gods' with all its many niches for statues as objects of worship and the spring known as the Gate of Hades. Hence the context for the comment by Jesus when he calls Peter the rock upon which he will build his Church and the Gates of Hades will never prevail against it (and yes we sang 'that' song!)

While I knew the Roman Catholic Interpretation (the church is built on the rock of this man Peter ... handed down through the apostolic succession and papal authority) and I knew the Protestant interpretation (the rock upon which the church is built is our confession of Christ as Lord) I had never come across a third option.

Jesus has taken them all on a 32 mile round trip to 'Sin City'. He's not en route anywhere as such that takes him pass Caesarea Phillipi so that he might suddenly decide 'Hey lads let's just pop in for a look at the Rock of the Gods with its orgies of worship to Pan and Nemesis, Caesar etc ...'
It was hardly the place for a deacons' retreat no ...
but it seems he has taken them there for a reason.
And maybe the reason is this:
When he tells Peter that the Church is going to be built 'upon this rock etc' what he is saying is
'I want you to built the church, proclaim the gospel, confess me as Lord in places exactly like this ... the 'Rock of the Gods.' In places where God is not honoured, where worship is misplaced and are idols glorified ... that is the proper location for the church to begin its proclamation that Jesus is Lord.

If that is so then some removal vans might need to be ordered now.

Friday, 27 March 2009

What a fun hour spent in school today and yesterday ... making connections
If Jesus knew he was going to rise from the grave its not like he really died ... is it?
Why does have to get his son to do anything ...
why doesn't he just do it himself, especially the hard stuff?

If God tell us not to judge but then threatens us with judgment isn't God a hypocrite?

Is there such a place as hell and do you think that everyone who's not a Christian you will go there?

Do you ever think you might be wrong?

Do you think God hates gay people?

Do you think that God is on Britain's side when the army fights?

Who is more powerful God or Jesus?

If God is so good and can do anything why does He not stop bad things happening to people?

These are the questions, or most of them any way that have occupied 2 hours of Q and A with me and the students at the local High School.
As you can imagine it was fantastic!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Mission without theology

At BUGB Council last week there was some debate about mission strategy and whether some of our endeavours reflect a sufficiently robust theology. (at least that's how I remember it) If we are called to be 'fishers of men' (and women) I wonder if this from Harold's Planet is what that mission without theology ends up looking like?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Homesick for what exactly ... liminality?

Now the euphoria of yesterday's rugby has passed, it did by bedtime by the way, I got to feeling nostalgic for 'the old country.' The Celtic gloaming is never far away ...

It never helps in times like this to listen to Van Morrison but I go there all the same and join him on a journey back ... i let the melancholia jazz soak in:

When I was a young boy
Back in Orangefield
I used to gaze out
My classroom window and dream
And then go home and listen to Ray sing
I believe to my soul after school,
Oh that love that was within me
You know it carried me through
Well it lifted me up and it filled me
Meditation contemplation too

Chorus:Oh we've got to go back
Got to go back
Got to go back
Got to go back
For the healing
go on with the dreaming.
Well there's people in the street
And the summer's almost here
We've got to go outside in the fresh air
And breathe while it's still clear
Breathe it in all the way down
To your stomach too
And breathe it out with a radiance
into the nightime air

We've got to go back etc. etc...

Got my ticket at the airport
Well I guess I've been marking time
I've been living in another country
That operates along entirely different lines
Keep me away from porter or whiskey
Don't play anything sentimental it'll make me cry
I've got to go back my friend
Is there really any need to ask why

Well, yes Van, there is a reason to ask why ... for me at least, because I never lived in that 'old' place of Gaelic charm or suffering. I was never truly Irish. The middle class Protestant (Northern) Ireland of my youth wasn't the sort of thing to get overly reflective about, neither was the 'schizophrenic' feelings of being British and Irish at the same time, but knowing that neither Britain or Ireland count you as being wholly theirs ( even when you own two passports!)

So even though the rugby pulled from either side of the border it was hardly at the heart of Gaelic identity. At the time of the Anglo Irish Agreement I remember the reaction to a Protestant like me going to play in Irish Youth Orchestra based in Dublin. 'Why would you want to play in and for a foreign country?, I was asked, a less than slightly well veiled threat shimmering beneath the Loyalist question. Cross the border and it changed to 'Do you not have a British Orchestra to be playing in?

This was my induction into liminal living ... exilic living if you like
learning to be homesick for a place you've never really been to
and yet there is that unmistakable longing for somewhere else ...
It is not bad preparation for Christian discipleship.
I often speak of church 'as a colony of heaven on the earth' ... a good translation I think of Phil 3:20 We inhabit this world and live in it fully ... but we live be other rules ... our citizenship is elsewhere ... we are 'resident aliens'
The Powers that Be are not our masters
We belong to a kingdom of heaven which we have seen glimpses of ... but in many ways we've never fully belonged ... our membership has always been in part compromised ... even if we have been always truly welcomed and though our identity is rooted there and our inheritance there is assured.

I'm reminded of CS Lewis' words:
'The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing ... if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited … Heaven is, by definition, outside our experience, but all intelligible descriptions must be of things within our experience.

This is at the heart of Christian discipleship for me
All I need to do now is 'stay away from the porter and strong whiskey!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Yes, yes, yes and hallelujah, yes.

Yes, yes, yes and hallelujah, yes.
Basically I won't be allowing myself to say this in church tomorrow and quite right too. It would be somewhat pastorally insensitive to a Cardiff congregation within 1 mile of the Millennium Stadium, and on any other day, against any other team, I would've prayed for Wales and for that last minute penalty to go the distance:
I love my adopted home here in Wales and I love its people
But it's hard to shake to soil from off the boots you wore when you were young
so forgive me if i say it once again:
Yes, yes, yes and hallelujah, yes, amen.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Martyn Joseph was born for this

This morning I received the new free CD from Martyn Joseph's Passport Q.

Much of this was recorded on the last tour when I was fortunate to hear him at The Point in Cardiff. That night I felt that I had witnessed someone who had truly found their vocation. I don't just mean they had found the right job for them, I mean here was someone who had been created to do exactly what he was doing ... and it sounded good, albeit with a typical MJ melancholy. This is especially so on the new song written to remember the death of five young sisters following an Israeli attack in Gaza.

The lyrics are as follows;
This is not the place for vengeance
Not a place for battle cries
This is no rally it’s a funeral
For five sisters lives
Every day I watched them growing
In the night I watched them breathe
But it only takes a second
Five sisters gone

We walk we breathe we are not animals
Though you treat us like we are
I never fired a rocket sir at anyone
But you may have pushed too far

The propaganda of the leaders
Making speeches heads held high
I want them standing by this graveside
Where five sisters lie
Every day…

Take away a man's water
Build upon his land
Raise a mighty wall around him
What is it you don’t understand?

Make his children walk in squalor
With only night stars for a view
Then the rage within that helplessness
One day comes back at you

But this is not the place for vengeance
Not a place for battle cries
This is no rally it’s a funeral
For five sisters lives
Every day…
One day I’ll buy a rocket
And I will aim it at the sky
Celebrate in the light of a thousand colours
I pray, peace and justice in our time
For five sisters
Too late for my five daughters
Tahir, Ikram, Samar, Dina and Jawaher Balousha

As if this wasn't down beat enough I am finishing off the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson ... it is beautifully but sometimes savagely written ... bleak and disturbing ... the chill of the winter setting and the desolation of the characters seeps into your being as you read.

It's a good job it was a sunny day overlooking the park
I can only take so much!

De Baptised

Thanks to Louise for pointing out this interesting article on getting de-baptised.

Candidates really should get the chance to sprinkle the vicar back!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

St Patrick's Day

Today I am at Baptist Council thus missing my daughter going to her Cardiff nursery resplendant in her Irish Rugby Shirt to celebrate St Patrick' Day. I am not sure if they will have many Shamrocks there, but I'm sure she has time enough to learn about that less than fully satisfactory metaphor for the Trinity! There is an embroidered shamrock on her shirt and she wore it to church on Sunday (which was me hedging my bets in case Ireland loose to Wales on Saturday's big rugby game and she has to transfer her allegiance to the Welsh overnight!

Icons of Discipleship

My daughter has just started drinking from an open cup: despite the odd spillage she is giving her absolute attention to the action needed to hold it steady and perform this simple task. I hope to aspire to the same focus when next I celebrate the Eucharist