Saturday, December 24, 2005
Friday, December 23, 2005
Sincere as these people are, I'm forced to disagree with them.
A reading of Jesus' teaching in the gospels, along with the preaching of the primitive church, leads me to the conclusion that Christianity's core message is the kingdom of God. The Christmas story is about Messianic hopes, not metaphysical christology.
Consider the Song of Mary in Luke's gospel:
"He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;This is the same message that blazed forth from the Hebrew prophets. A great successor to David would come and take the throne, ruling with perfect justice. Peace and goodwill were destined to reign on earth. The knowledge of the Lord would fill the world from the rising of the sun, to its setting.
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."
Angels heralded the beginning of it all in Bethlehem. The realm of God had penetrated the human realm in a new way, never before seen.
We're called to continue what began on that day. The incarnation is not a theological abstraction designed to satisfy speculation about Christ's ultimate identity. It's not a dogma that we merely file away under the "orthodox" tab. It's a reality that we fulfill ourselves in this world.
When we love our neighbors, forgive without end, become like little children and live irreproachable lives, we bring heaven down to earth. The kingdom of God comes with power.
And our work continues. As long as "peace on earth" is absent from any corner of our globe, we Christians have a lot of incarnational work to do.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts
Research Colloquium, Spring 2006
'Patterns of promise: art, imagination and Christian hope'
27th-29th March 2006
St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland UK
Hope is an inherently imaginative human disposition.
While securely rooted in something revealed, Christian hope nonetheless also engages our imagination.
In hope, faith reconfigures the shape of what is familiar in order to ‘pattern’ the contours of God’s promised future. In the process, the present is continuously re-shaped by ventures of ‘hopeful’ and expectant living.
In art, this same ‘poetic’ interplay between past, present and future takes particular concrete forms, furnishing vital resources for sustaining an ‘ecology of hope’.
This colloquium will explore our imaginative engagements with the shape of things to come. In particular, we will attend to the contribution that literature, music and painting can make, as they trace ‘patterns of promise’ and so generate hopeful living.
* Professor Richard Bauckham, University of St Andrews
* Dr Anna Williams, University of Cambridge
* Professor Paul Fiddes, University of Oxford
* Dr Daniel Chua, King's College, University of London
* Dr Patricia Bruininks, Hendrix College, Arkansas
* Professor Trevor Hart, University of St Andrews
* Professor Jeremy Begbie, University of St Andrews
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
So I'm going to use my ears! Babies cry and cry so that no matter what else is going on you hear them. So I'm listening waiting to hear what he wants to say this Christmas.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Years ago now, just before Christmas, one of my best and closest friends died in his 20's from cancer. We had prayed and hoped for months that there would be a cure, or even a miracle. But as Randy got weaker and thinner, one by one we began to give up on the hope that he would live. It was clear that our prayers were not being answered the way we wanted. I began to pray for his future "life" in terms of the mystical beyond, not physical healing. He had been an aircraft engineer, and loved flying. Sometimes he used to talk about his fantasy that he could fly with God through the universe, looking at the stars and planets. I began to think that was a good metaphor for the timeless, spaceless sinking into God that death might be like.
Sometimes I think the waiting of Advent - waiting for God to break into our world with salvation and redemption - can, if we aren't careful, turn into a fixed idea of what it is we're waiting for. We gather ideas and images of what the redemption will look like, what needs to happen in order for our salvation to be complete. And sometimes when redemption comes it is not at all in the shape we anticipated. Sometimes it doesn't even look particularly redemptive. Sometimes a redemptive moment is disguised under moments of shock and grief, and we have to wait a while. Only when the shock of events begins to recede do we begin to understand that redemption is hidden in the shadows of current events, waiting to dawn on us when the right moment comes.
Death seems pretty bleak as an answer to prayer. But even a shortened life still has its impact. Even now, years later, I still sometimes think I see Randy's extraordinary clear blue eyes looking into mine, searching for honesty, looking for the answer I'm afraid to articulate. Even now, his legacy to me is to make me brave enough to tell the truth, to myself most of all, regardless of whether other people approve.
Earlier this year I collected up a lot of poems and prayers about death while I was planning a memorial service. I came across this one, which was originally written for Jonny's father . It fits the theme rather aptly of transforming our idea of what we are waiting and praying for. Sometimes our prayers get answered, but not at all in the way we've envisaged.
it was a marvellous healing;
after the months of asking,
after the desperate, slow deterioration,
the warring tides
of faith and doubt:
to be released in an instant,
from every pain.
it was as if the very molecules of his flesh
had been infused, invaded,
with the life of God,
until he was filled, fit to burst,
with the Shalom, the peace,
of the Father's rule.
limbs that had fallen flaccid with weakness
waved and danced with joy;
lungs that had so utterly failed him
sang out with strength and boldness.
through the unfamiliar sunlight,
drinking it in,
experiencing all at once
the thousand and one feelings
that for so long had been denied him.
it was a marvellous healing:
to be so totally restored,
it had just surprised him,
that he had had to die
to receive it.
Monday, December 19, 2005
this saturday gone, I and a different friend headed down to Camden Lock to pick up a few slightly odder gifts. Following this, we headed down to Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road because I needed the loo and wanted to look in the bookshops.
Both days I expected it to be manic. I expected Oxford Street and Leicester Square to be full of insane people who want that bargain or ticket and are prepared to kill me if it means getting there 0.2 seconds quicker. This is what Oxford Street is normally like. I've been there on non-seasonal occasions and, within 20 minutes, been quite ready to spill the blood of the next person who pushes me.
But, the 2 last weekends before Christmas, and the place was... relatively quiet. I've been on busier days. much busier days. Apart from the 300 odd people dresses as santa and protesting that they want Christmas and want it now (genius) and singing carols that are slightly altered, such that they are about booze (also genius); it was pretty empty.
This tells me one of 3 things.
1) everyone is so efficient that they all finished their Christmas shopping in July.
2) everyone has ordered their gear from the internet.
3) people aren't buying as much.
I hope it's 3. Very much. So my inner cynic is at war with my inner optimist....
May you all have a Christmas and New Year full of peace and devoid of debt and materialism.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
The anticipation! I am strangely in a good mood today; I feel Christmassy and full of goodwill. Which is always fun. But anyway. I'm not really sure what I want to say, except that we should be happy... This has been hard for me over the last few nights; I've been having trouble with friends, they keep doing things that annoy me, for instance spending the whole time gossiping and slagging people off, and trying to get me to join in etc etc... But I feel on top of things today. I read last night "if you don;t forgive your fellow man (or woman ;) then God won't forgive us. Which is fair enough.
So anyway, back to advent. I think that this time of year should be full of goodwill etc. I think it's time I started to enjoy God's love abit more. Show a little kindness, instead of hate. Stick with Him through and through, because I have just found out that it's quite cool at the end of it. We have soo much to be thankful for! :D
So be happpppppppppppyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!! :D :D :D
Friday, December 16, 2005
FRANKLY MY DEAR, I DON'T GIVE A DAMN*
What do you seeee?
The lights not yet here, fantastically.
But you keep waving your hands,
throwing vases and smiles.
Wrap up in rugs and wait a while longer.
*With thanks to the Reverend Graeme for this title.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
But Advent and Christmas are saturated with memories and associations. Maybe more than any other time of year, Christmas and the time leading up to it are redolent with sights, sounds, smells and tastes that transport us to another time, another place. And so the more I have experienced Advent and the anticipation of Christmas here, the more I am – ironically – somewhere else.
Frango Mint Chocolates are one of my memories not only of Christmastime but also of my hometown, Chicago. They are made and sold by Marshall Field’s Department Stores, and both the candies and the stores are distinctly Chicago institutions. Frangos are a popular Christmas gift and end-of-the-year indulgence. They are a sultry, luxurious delight, chocolate and mint melting in your mouth, leaving your taste buds begging for more.
My in-laws, who have come to spend the holidays with us, were good enough to bring us a box. I leapt on them. (In fact, I ate three while composing the last paragraph – purely for research, you understand.) And tasting them, I found myself standing on State Street, in the heart of Chicago’s Loop, in front of Marshall Field’s, as a child, standing in the snow, looking in at the Christmas windows with my parents. This one taste vividly summoned for me sights and sounds of a quarter century ago. Memory is an amazing thing.
But what if it’s not only meant to work in reverse?
What if we are also meant to remember in advance?
As every year passes, I become more attracted to the Advent theme of looking ahead – not just to the coming of Jesus in the manger, but the return, the final Advent of Jesus. We look for that final return when things will be set right, justice and peace will embrace, when the whole creation will know God, and God will be all in all.
I know we usually talk about this in terms of hope, and I don’t disagree. But I have a harder time getting my arms around hope. It feels more abstract, more like a pie-in-the-sky, wish-upon-a-star kind of thing.
But what if instead of just hoping for something which is not yet, we could remember something which is not fully yet? What if a sight, sound, smell, taste or texture could capture us and transport us to another time and place, which is yet future? What if we could take that small, fertile memory and let it open up into an incalculably larger picture? It seems to me that this would allow us to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the reign of God which is already here through the ministry of Christ, and which is not yet here in its fullness.
When we are reconciled with someone, when we see justice done, when we reach out across a surprising boundary, when someone feels the energy and vision which can only be called new life, when the poor or the suffering find hope and deliverance, when someone comes to God – or returns to God – these help us to re-member, to put together again the whole from parts, of what lies ahead of us in God. And, I think, it leaves us begging for more.
This vivid anticipation, this remembering in advance, is a means of nourishment for our waiting, watching, working and worshipping for the day when it will be complete. In short, perhaps, it will be a way of cultivating a hopeful imagination.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
As the day draws nearer the pressure builds: find the right gift for the right person becomes find anything that will do (and fast). I am sure there are little gremlins that grow increasingly stronger, feeding on the blind panic of Christmas shoppers who don’t have a clue where to start. Fazed with a dazzling array of choices and offers the poor shopper slowly begins to suffocate in a dense fog of pressure and confusion.
On Christmas Eve fever pitch hits. The gremlins reach the height of their power and you can easily spot the haunted souls who have fallen foul of their schemes. You see them piling high baskets with gifts and food that family and friends will probably not like or never open. Auntie Vera really will never use that luxury bath oil and Uncle Arthur already has 3 pairs of unworn, extra warm totes non-slip socks that you got him in 2004,3&2.
What have we done with Advent? How have we let it become this consumer binge? You have probably heard of the Oxfam Unwrapped or Christian Aid's Present Aid, or another such scheme. I like them. They are like pure water in a sea of filth. They offer us an alternative and a perspective on the world that we're not going to find amongst Boots' 3-for-2 offers. I am plucking up the courage for the Christmas that everyone I love simply gets a chicken, or if they are really special a donkey. But for now I am incorporating it gently a tree here, a water tap there...
The most important thing we can gain this Advent is a little bit more self-awareness: who we are in the world and the riches and power we hold over people we will never meet. So, I would encourage you, when the gremlins come to over-whelm you this Christmas: resist, stop, think and put the shopping in perspective. Maybe even get a donkey instead?
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Just over eight years ago I was a PhD student, an ordinand (priest-in-training), and five months pregnant. The pregnancy was on course; it looked like this baby was really going to be born. So I needed the relevant information on maternity leave for Ordinands, what would happen to my funding, housing allowances etc., ... you know the kind of thing.
I went up to see my tutor at Theological College - a kind and humorous woman, who could be formidable when necessary. I discovered that to date, there was no policy on maternity leave or funding breaks for pregnant Ordinands. I don't think I was the first woman to have a baby mid-training, but there had been so few thus far that there wasn't any established pattern. I sat in my tutor's study while she phoned the relevant grant-awarding bodies, Diocesan and National offices, trying to get some kind of game plan together. After some long, frustrating phone calls, I heard the mumbling of a man's voice at the other end of the phone, and then my Tutor's terse reply: 'It may well be that you don't have any policies. But what you don't seem to understand is that the birth of this baby can not be postponed. This baby will be born in four months' time whether you have policies or not.'
I like the fact that the coming of God into our world was realised in something as inconvenient, unpredictable and untidy as the birth of a baby. A baby will be born when it's ready. It makes no difference whether we are ready for it (who is ever 'ready' for a baby?). But regardless of policies, theologies and leadership structures, and irrespective of postmodern theories and conventions and housegroups, God will come and be born in our world.
Birth is a great leveller. It is always messy and inconvenient, painful and undignified. It is usually joyful, often frightening, sometimes tragic. It happens to those who are ready and those who are not. Babies break up the order of our lives, and defy the plans of even the most organised of mothers-to-be. Birth isn't fair or controllable: it sometimes comes quickly and easily to people who are unprepared, and with agonised diffuculty to those who have a meticulous birth plan.
So it is with God. He will be born in our world whether we're ready or not, deserving or not, prepared or not. The incarnation of God will defy our plans, upset the organised, and come with ease and rapturous joy to undeserving sinners and the poor in spirit.
'Now let your love be born in us,
O come, Lord Jesus, Come.'
Monday, December 12, 2005
We are waiting for friends held in Iraq. The four CPT members. We wait with prayers for a good outcome, waiting for peace, waiting for hope, waiting so hard that I feel separated from the wait for "Christmas". In my neighborhood, it means walking sober through crowds last Seventh Day (Sat.) crowds of young people dressed in Santa Claus suits for a newly emerged holiday, the weekends before Christmas, Santa pub crawls, where bands of rowdy people stager around the streets drunk and dressed as Santa Claus.
Before my separation from that was a sort of bemused, "och, look at that..." Now, I am just sad.
But Jesus taught us an important thing. He taught us to seek joy in the worst times. To find peace in days like these. Last night at a meeting for worship with a concern for business, we spoke for a time about our friends, now missing... and a message came to me, that we may find joy in the expressions of tenderness for our friends from people and organizations hardened by war. Another friend said yes, that the hardest hearts are touched by loving truth. That the other day, a friend showed him a fragment of cloth. She told him it was a piece of the wedding dress of Mary Dyer, the Quaker martyr. It had come down in her family. She was the descendent of the man who hanged her. He had become convinced of Quakerism by Mary Dyer's courage.
Waiting for peace.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Advent - a time of waiting. For lighting candles, praying, meditating, anticipating, looking forward, waiting with all our hearts. But what is this in reality? Are we really waiting on a God so amazing, to give us the ultimate present of all time? Or have we put God in a box again, forgetting to open the lid, squishing Him out of our busy routines each day?
What are we actually doing for Him this advent?
Walking down the street today, amongst the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, past signs of "Tis the seasin to be merry!" and other such revelating messages, it struck me how pointless it all was. We dive in and out of shops, picking up useless rubbish, indoctrinated about the fact that we must buy stupid pointless stuff for the sake of buying... Aren't we meant to be waiting? Aren't we meant to be waiting and watching and seeking for Him to make a move in our lives, our hearts, our souls? How many of us, every time we pick up a future-present for someone actually think what the giving is all about? Not many I'm guessing. We shove it in our bag, with a mutter of "Cath will like that, this'll do for Aunt May..."
I know this is turning into a rant... forgive me for that, please!! But, my message is this: God gave us the most astonishing life-changing present there is. To us. Sinful little earthlings. He gave us his son, His most valuable thing. And all we do in return is skit around being pressurised by one another to buy everyone rubbish and put God on hold for a while, while we get our shopping done.
I think it's time to stop. I think it's time to see where we stand. I think it's time we did something different this advent, and, indeed, this Christmas. Let's give a present back to God. Let's give Him our lives. Let's truly and thoroughly wait on Him. Let's seek Him with every ounce of our being. Let's ask Him where we are, what we should do, and listen for the answer that comes.
Let's give this advent back to God.
Yet God sent his son into our sinful world not as a fully-grown man but as a helpless babe, fully human but at the same time fully God.
Just think for a second, what it was like for the “son” Jesus to be born into this world with the wisdom of God in his head and heart yet being fully dependant on us mere humans, eek to look after him!
This brings the hymn Servant king into a whole new light for me.
From heaven you came, helpless babe,
Entered our world, your glory veiled;
Not to be served, but to serve,
And give Your life, that we might live.
This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now, to follow Him,
To bring our lives, as a daily offering
Of worship to, the Servant King.
There in the garden, of tears,
My heavy load, he chose to bear;
His heart with sorrow, was torn,
'Yet not My will, but Yours,' He said.
Come see His hands, and His feet,
The scars that speak, of sacrifice;
Hands that flung stars, into space
To cruel nails, surrendered.
So let us learn, how to serve,
And in our lives, enthrone Him;
Each other's needs, to prefer,
For it is Christ, we're serving.
Imagine if you will for a moment a helpless babe throwing stars into space?
Why did God put himself through this, why not just turn the air off and start again afresh with a new set of humans, this would have been much easier, but not our God, God loved his son so much and he loves us just as much despite the fact we keep mucking things up!
Imagine if you had a son who of course you loved, would you send him to die without going through all the other possibilities first, weighing up all the pose and cons!
But we can see that he must have done this and the only option he had as our loving God was to send the one sinless thing he had, his one and only son to die for us so we could have that relationship back with the father which he longed for, he died for you and for me!
God came to earth to die for us, is that not a totally awesome thought, he was born and ministered among us knowing that he would die for us, he died for us to live.
God came to us, as at Christmas as a present to a sinful world, at Easter he was broken like an egg for us to have new life!
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Waiting is a bit of a recurring theme on my blog. It's a theme that comes to the fore between Ascension Day and Pentecost, when Jesus told his disciples to go and WAIT in Jerusalem. He was none too specific about how long to wait, or even what to wait for. "Power from on high" was the mysterious promise. But wait they did, and when the curious promise was fulfilled, they were in no doubt that it had happened.
Lent is also about waiting, but not so much waiting FOR as waiting ON - putting the rest of life on hold to wait in a consciously devoted way for the presence of God to pervade the soul. Lent waiting has a wilderness quality to it - a deprivation of the things of ordinary life in order to become one with God.
Advent waiting has a subtly different touch to it. This is a waiting with hope and anticipation for God to break into our world. According to Christian tradition, the first waiting is for the Messiah or Saviour to enter the world - a waiting and anticipation reflected in the promises of God to the Patriarchs, the dreams of the prophets, and the prayers of generations of saints. The second waiting is for the return of Christ in glory, heralding the end of this era. Advent is waiting for Christmas, but it's also waiting for the great maranatha.
Waiting for the Messiah was not a passive waiting, but an aching, a longing, a reaching-towards. I love the words of Simeon, a very, very old man who had spent his whole life waiting and longing for the salvation of Israel. Did he know what he was waiting for? Probably not, in exact terms. But somehow when he saw the child Jesus he just knew that this, at last, was what he had been waiting for. "Now, Lord," said Simeon, "now I can die happy. Now I've seen the thing I've been waiting for all my life. Now I am fulfilled." (Luke 2: 25-32)
There is a paradox in this that sums up so much of our faith - the drive to reach out, move forwards and make something happen is constrained by the need to wait on, wait for, the initiative of God's spirit. You can't force the work of God. Neither can you go to sleep on the job. I suppose that gives us our model of waiting for Christ in glory too - although here, perhaps like waiting for Pentecost, or for death, the promise has very little tangible shape to it because it is a matter of waiting for something beyond our experience. We have no categories or pictures with which to describe what it means that Christ will come again in glory. We just know, somehow, that while we live in celebration that God has broken into our world, yet we are still waiting and longing for something more. Like Bono said, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." Not a passive waiting though - not just lying back despondently, waiting for God to come and fix things. Living to the full, building the "kingdom of heaven" here and now, in the only life that we know we have. But doing it from a well of hopeful dissatisfaction. Waiting and longing.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
You came to us as a child, vulnerable and defenseless, and it's as a child I must come to you this Advent, this Christmas. But not just any child, for most look among the tree's, tinsel, presents, and some event look for you in the 'nativity scene'. But you are not to be found there .....no you are the vulnerable and defensless one and it is amoung them that you are still to be found.
Oh that I could be that kind of child - vulnerable and defensless, able to lay aside my cares and possesions so as to find you were you are and not where I'd want you to be.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
There’s a lot of finger pointing in yesterday’s gospel reading for the second Sunday of Advent (Mark 1:1-8), too. After Mark’s rather bald preamble, he points to Isaiah. Isaiah in turn points to John the Baptizer. John is perhaps the biggest finger-pointer of all time, pointing at the one who is to come, Jesus. And Jesus, perhaps self-conscious from being pointed at so much, doesn’t even enter the scene!
But this is a different kind of finger pointing. Rather than simply passing the buck, these fingers are pointed to bear witness to Jesus the Messiah, the righteous one, as Mark says at the beginning. This isn’t finger pointing to avoid the truth, but to attest to the One who is the truth.
It’s worth spending some time pondering this finger pointing, for as the theologian Karl Barth says, “the church stands in the tradition of John the Baptist. What it can and should do is point an outstretched finger: ‘Behold the lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.’” In other words, the vocation of John the Baptizer is our own vocation: to bear witness to the one who is powerful and worthy and who brings the Holy Spirit; and we are to point to the truth, love and goodness of Jesus Christ both in our words and in our lives.
In what ways do you, your family, your friends, your parish, already point to the coming Lord?
After we have mentioned the obvious (and important) notion of telling others about Jesus, what other ways are there for making our lives embodied “pointings” to Jesus?
Will this always look “religious”? How would it look?
What might the Spirit be calling you to do? What specific, concrete action might you take this week to grow in becoming one who points to Jesus Christ?
Saturday, December 03, 2005
I think the blog thing here is largely about re-capturing Advent. In days gone by, where Christmas wasn't quite so shiney and musical, the Church held Advent as a time of waiting, preparing for the coming of the Christ Child. Preparing, in a spiritual sense, not just preparing dinners and wrapping gifts. Imagine the anticipation. the excitement. Imagine how you felt at 8 years old waiting to see what santa would bring... and times it by a million. Let us look forward to Christmas with anticipation and longing, and let us prepare, now, our hearts for that miraculous event.
God of the watching ones,
give us Your benediction.
God of the waiting ones,
give us Your good word for our souls.
God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest.
God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
and of the angels in heaven,
and of the child in the womb,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest and rise
in the kindness of Your company.
And evening prayer for blessing during Advent, from Celtic Daily Prayer, The Northumbria Community, Collins, 2000
Friday, December 02, 2005
Thursday, December 01, 2005
And so our watching time begins,
time for watching and waiting, for looking and longing,
for dreaming and wishing.
It is our time for lighting candles and looking for stars,
for opening calendar windows and counting the nights.
It is our time for the story,
the ancient story that weaves into our winters
stitching mystery and hope and a pure-gold thread into our long dark evenings.
It is our time to gather around the yule log that’s burning in the grate
and listen for the shepherds knocking at the door.
Our watching time is our precious time,
to wait for the moment that we will gather
around the tiny baby and the exhausted mother
and bring our treasures and lay them at their feet.
It is our waiting time.
For the travellers to arrive,
and the birth to begin.
And so we watch.
For the singing in the skies and the change in the wind.
For the light through the winter fog and the pull in our souls
It is our watching time