Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Poem What I Wrote...

On Sunday, for the first time in twenty eight years of preaching, I decided to finish my sermon by reading a poem - written by me during the week called 'Did I Glimpse the Face of God'.  I suppose I decided on this conclusion because the topic had seemed to me to be a bit tricky and somehow poetry rather than prose becomes a good vehicle at times for communicating complex or contradictory ideas - in a way it doesn't have to make quite the same sort of sense because what is being aimed for is the 'feel' of a concept rather than its scientific evaluation.

Well I was a little blown away by the reaction at the door to my attempt at poetry - it seemed to have struck a chord.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not going to do it every week because I know the encouragement came my way probably because of either the shock of it or the hint that it was a 'one off'!

Someone suggested I might put it in the blog so here goes - a poem exploring how the reality of God comes to us in daily life:

Did I glimpse the face of God this week?
...when I talked with a friend living with terminal cancer yet dealing with it showing such grace and courage.


Did I glimpse the face of God this week?
...when I chaired an Elders’ Meeting and heard my colleagues address complex issues with patience, courtesy and wisdom.

Did I glimpse the face of God this week?
...when I witnessed on the Tube a young man give up his seat for a partially sighted passenger and guide him to his place with such tenderness and sensitivity.

Did I glimpse the face of God this week?
...when I heard a gentleman at LunchBreak who is a remarkable 100years old tell me that event was the highlight of his week.


Did I glimpse the face of God this week?
...when I sat with fellow pilgrims at a Life and Faith Group, watched a film and we then talked about generosity.

Did I glimpse the face of God this week?
...when I shared meals around the family table and that time was as much about sharing and laughter as it ever was about eating.

I think I did
I saw the face of God this week
not just through scripture and prayer
but in people and encounter


The face of God
The face of love
With all good wishes,

Ian
Blog holiday next week!





Thursday, 16 October 2014

Sacred Spaces

On Monday evening we watched one of those travel programmes on TV (we are becoming very middle aged!!) - this one showed Simon Reeves travelling along The Ganges, part of his Sacred Rivers series.  I like this presenter because he has a certain 'sincerity' about him.

As we accompanied him through India it became increasingly obvious that Hindus hold this river in the highest esteem, indeed some want to be physically close to it when they die. One 'holy man' had even given up work to live in a cave all year round by its banks, never ceasing to draw inspiration from its flow.

This idea of holy places and sacred space came up at our Bible Teaching Day last Saturday as Ruth Gouldbourne ably led us through the subject of 'Church' and what it feels like to belong to it in ways we know, and ways 'still to be made known'. In one of the plenaries after some buzz groups we briefly considered our buildings and whether they were simply functional or purposeful; do they (even in our non-conformist tradition) have a sense of the sacred about them?

In the spring, on a wonderful visit to Rome, the most disappointing moment for me came in the Sistine Chapel.  We had queued up quite a time for entry and once in it felt to me as if we were simply being 'herded' - so even though I desperately tried to find meaning, transcendence and sacredness I simply couldn't!  I felt a bit of a heretic as I left but perhaps the pre-visit hype had simply been too much and the expectations too great.

The truth is that anywhere can become 'sacred' - and isn't that wonderfully liberating.  From a cathedral chancel to a forest clearing the reality is that God can be found because he is always and everywhere present.

This talk of ecclesiastical buildings has brought back a memory for me of travelling home from a holiday on the east coast.  Driving through Cromer I noticed that above the door, rather than naming the church it said - perhaps somewhat provocatively, 'Cromer Baptist Church Meets Here'.  In other words the 'church' was essentially the congregation.  Yet...I hope that building and congregation can blend and bless each other in some way; for it seems to me when that happens it really does become sacred space.

With best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Sola Scriptura?

I am a creature of habit as I arrive at church because the first place I go to whenever I enter the building is invariably my 'post' drawer.  It's here that members of the congregation leave me notes, letters and leaflets.  This week someone has left me the latest edition of WordinAction from Bible Society - always a well produced and interesting magazine.

The current edition made reference to the fact that 'the importance of biblical literacy among children and their parents has been raised in parliament'.  However I can't work out if I was either saddened or amused that the MP raising this question, rather than take on board any responsibility for this theme himself, simply asked what the Church of England is doing about it!  Strikes me it's always somebody else's problem!

Well in our own church we are trying to promote that sense of biblical literacy amongst our own children.  The new Junior Church Roundabout programme looks at one bible story a month and explores it on consecutive weeks using four different types of activity.  We are also supporting a new initiative called 'Open the Book' as we pray for the ecumenical team (including a number from our own church family) which has started taking weekly assemblies at one of our local schools - assemblies that have at their centre the retelling of a bible story.

And we don't just leave the idea of biblical literacy with children.  This 'term' one of our 'Life and Faith' groups has deliberately set itself the task of asking what place the Old Testament has in our on-going Christian spirituality and theology.  So some good stuff is happening!

I grew up in a church where scripture was genuinely cherished and taught with enthusiasm - for which I am still so grateful.  Yet it strikes me as significant that in Sunday School every year at 'Prize Giving' we received books about the life of missionaries - I still have them on my shelf!  Narratives about Mary Slessor, George Grenfell, David Livingstone and William Carey.

Now, years after my Sunday School days, I realise that this 'blending' of God's story and our story is vitally necessary. Indeed every preacher knows the value of illustration and application in any sermon.

Both the Baptist and URC traditions (the 'parent' denominations of AFC) belong to the 'Reformed' wing of the Church in which we often emphasise the idea of Sola Scriptora - the essential place of the bible in our life together.  Well - I want to say both a qualified 'yes' and 'no' to that.

The gift of scripture to us has also to be blended with our life experience - the one informs the other - and both, I would suggest (I hope not too heretically) are impoverished without the other.

Actually I'm much more likely to agree with the first minister of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church (from where our visiting preacher comes this weekend) - The Revd William Brock who said 'the bible and the Times newspaper are the best materials for the preacher'.

With best wishes,

Ian


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Complexity

Last weekend we were walking through the Great Court of the British Museum when I heard someone near me say: 'The thing is I don't actually like old things'.  Now that struck me, due to our present circumstances (i.e.in a museum) as a bit odd!

I have to say I'm rather taken with 'old things' and history has always been one of my favourite subjects. Because of that, and also its excellent acting, I really enjoyed re-watching Alan Bennett's play/film 'The History Boys' earlier in the week.  It charts the progress of some lads from a Sheffield Grammar School as they prepare for the Oxbridge entrance exam. The school, conscious that this was their brightest group of a generation, brings in a special tutor to coach them.  These boys knew the facts of history and wrote 'passable' essays.  The trouble was their work was 'dull' - that is instead of developing an interesting or unexpected line they simply churned out the fact as they saw them.  Their new tutor isn't so much interested in truth but interpretation.  He wanted their examiners to be startled by their work rather than become bored by its predictable content.

Well it makes for a good play but it also poses serious questions about what we do with knowledge, facts and the complexity of statistics.

Our guest preacher/lecturer on Sunday evening addressed some of these issues as he spoke to us on 'Ecology Matters'.  Bob, with a lifetime of research behind him, made us aware that no one should take the science of something so complex as climate change as a 'settled' given.  We can all too easily become either an advocate or sceptic based on false and lazy assumptions.

There is, I sense, (and always has been) a brand of Christianity that longs for simple, watertight answers. Yet the more I experience this pilgrimage the less 'obvious' some of those so called answers become.  Week by week I prepare sermons on lectionary passages that seem to me far from straight forward when it comes to interpretation or even application.

Yet none of this need either depress us or cause us to run away from the tough questions of faith.  Struggle seems to be a natural and often worthwhile part of any normal life.  In the struggle - as we pray, study and live this Christianity, I sense we eventually discover that which is of real worth.

Running away and taking refuge in easy, comfortable answers would mean us missing so much.  But we have to be 'up for it' and willing to live with that sense that maybe in the end we are actually searchers for truth rather than its guardians - as Brian McLaren, a modern theologian puts it:

'Does one have to be wrong and the other right?  I mean, it's right there in the Bible - the sons of Rechab in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New served God by being total abstainers from alcohol, and Jesus served God by turning water into wine.  Talk about complexity!'

All good wishes,

Ian

Who is up there?!

We were in Lisbon over half term and enjoyed glorious sunny days throughout our visit. The city has many squares, almost all with statue...