Friday, February 27, 2009

Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense

In 1977 I paid £2.95 for my copy of Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense. Ever since, I've lived more deeply, theologised more humbly, loved God more intelligently, preached more creatively, cared more compassionately, prayed more fervently, hoped more persistently, felt more passionately, wept more willingly, laughed more lightheartedly, taken friendship more least if I have, it's because of the basic insight that illumines this book.

Canon W H Vanstone is one of that long tradition of Anglican theologians who don't teach practical theology, they instinctively think and live it. For Vanstone all theology must ultimately be pastoral. He never went into academia; resisted any promotion that removed him from his vocation as parish priest in a housing estate in the north of England. He only wrote three books, and this was the first.

The book is about the love of God - risk-filled and vulnerable, precarious and self-emtpying, patiently redemptive but with no guaranteed outcome. Love is essentially the outgoing of generous self-gift. God who is love is "the God Who will not abandon and to Whom nothing save himself is expendable". (65)"If the creation is the work of love, its "security" lies not in its conformity to some predetermined plan but in the unsparing love which will not abandon a single fragment of it, and man's (sic) assurance must be the assurance not that all that happends is determined by God's plan but that all that happens is encomapssed by his love." (66)

The number of analogies from human experience used by Vanstone is a clue to the pastoral nature of his theologising. From half a dozen pastorally borrowed parables here's one to ponder on the way to Easter:

[The love of God] is the love which overflows from fullness. Its analogue is the love of a family who, united in mutual love, take an orphan into the home. They do so not out of need but out of the sheer spontaneity of their own triumphant love. Nevertheless, in the weeks that follow, the family, once complete in itself, comes to need the new-comer. Without him the circle is now incomplete; his absence now causes anxiety; his waywardness brings concern; his goodn4ess and happiness are necessary to those who have come to love him; upon his response depends the triumph or the tragedy of the family's love. in spontaneous love, the family has surrendered its own fulfilment and placed it, precariously, in the orphan's hands. Love has surrendered its triumphant self-sufficiency and created its own need. This is the supreme illustration of love's self-giving or self-emptying - that it should surrender its fullness and create in itself the emptiness of need. Of such a nature is the kenosis of God - the self-emptying of Him Who is already in every way fulfilled." (69)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What do you want?

I am presently reading: Howard E.Friend, Jr., Gifts of an Uncommon Life (Herendon: The Alban Institute, 2008).

Came across it on a 'Mennonite' inspired book site. Know next to nothing about the author except that he appears to be one who has lived an uncommon life. Was interested in its central idea that contemplation and activism are not two opposites poles on the spectrum but instead belong together in an integrated way of living. Indeed Friend argues that if a person is 'contemplative', yearning to celebrate the divine presence in all creation, and to welcome Christ deeply into their life then they will be 'inevitably, intrinsically, an activist as well'.

Ground to a halt early on in reading though. Not because the book is bad but because the author told me to. For early on Friend says, put this book down and go away and ask yourself, really ask yourself and take the time to consider:

'What do you want? Really, profoundly, urgently, want? Personally and professionally? What is your "pearl of greatest price," the "hidden treasure" you search for tirelessly? What do you yearn for? Long for?'

Now in my experience, Christians like me, are masters in giving the clichéd responses to such questions. Lent I think is a period for rejecting the cliché, for exorcisng its seductive promise, for lingering a bit in the wilderness of the question...I am living with this one and with this book' which thankfully allows you to read the chapters in any way that you want - 'Prophets Wanted: The Gift of Outrage' was a good chapter.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lent group book blog

Choose a book (apart from the bible) that has made an impact on your life and thinking - could be from a long time ago or very recently. The hope is to have at least one or two books over the six weeks. Tell us a little of something about the book (and perhaps the author), why it made an impact and perhaps a short extract. Via comments let me know the date and if you can book title.

Readers are then are encouraged to post comments either with their thoughts on the book or with some questions if they've not read it.

Feb 25 Stuart Blythe on Gifts of an Uncommon Life by Howard E.Friend, Jr.

Mar 2 Jim Gordon on Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense by W H Vanstone
5 Andy Goodliff on Evangelicals in Exile by Alistair Ross
6 Catriona Gorton (TBC)

13 Geoff Colmer on Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie

16 Miriam Pugh on The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson
18 Andy Scott on Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson
20 Ash Beck on Christology by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

23 Jim Gordon on Seeking God by Esther de Waal
27 Geoff Colmer on Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson

30 Neil Brighton
Apr 1 Andy Goodliff on Living the Christian Story by John Colwell

7 Helen Swinyard