Friday, December 29, 2006

A Festive Verse

We spend alot of time at Oxford thinking about weighty issues and dealing with the deep questions of life. To be honest, after nine weeks of it all, I have had a belly full. Hence, for my Christmas reflection I turn not to the scriptures or to the Church Fathers but instead to the poetry of my eight year old nephew. Verse such as this is surely good for the soul and made me laugh more than I have in ages. There is nothing better than school boy humour and this is it at its very peak. This has been recited repeatedly over the last few days and as the last line is spoken it is always followed by whoops of my nephew's giggles. Enjoy!

The was a young boy from Madras
Whose balls were made of brass
In wintry weather
They both clanged together
And sparks came out of his arse

Where, you ask, does a young poet get such inspiration for his work? I have to confess it is from his now deceased Grandfather who would compose little works of similar genius to entertain us on long car journeys. Here is one of my favorites from his collection.

There was a young man from Australia
Who painted his bum like a dhalia
The penny a smell
Was all very well
But tuppance a lick was a failure

All contribitions welcome.

Christmas Cheer to all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Humphrey's on God

John Humphrey, the infamous radio journalist and presenter of the Today programme, has prompted much comment and interest in his new series 'In search of God' on Radio 4. In fact, he says it has caused more of a stir than anything he has done in his career. In it he interviewed various folk, including Rowan Williams and today in the Telegraph (23rd Dec) he reflects on the experience. He is an agnostic and found little in his spiritual quest to convince him otherwise. So much suffering, so little intervention and so much to prove to us the seeming indifference of God affirms his agnostic stance. In the article he remembered one of his first interviews on the Today programme when he tried his best to catch out the then PM, Margaret Thatcher. He asked what she thought the essense of Christianity was expecting her to say 'love' or 'charity' with him then able to pull her up on her causing unemployment or poverty to the miners. The old girl, by his own admission, was too good to fall into his trap. Instead, she snapped back one word: "Choice!" and he says " I hit the canvas". Choice. There you have it. I wonder if D L Moody would be happy with that? Check out the Telegraph website for the full story "What I found out about God".

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christianity in One Word

D.L Moody the famous 19th Century American evangelist was once asked to sum up the Christain faith in one word. What do you suppose he said? Actually, if you were asked this same question what would you say? It's tricky when you are only allowed one word, particularly when brevity is not your strongest card as in my case.

I have been sorting out the Trinity this week. I stand in a long line of theologians down the ages who have sought to explain our three in one God and I am confident that in 2500 words I should finally get it all sorted out. Gregory, Augustine, Barth, Rahner and then at last Cookie comes to town with the answer. Phew! Sadly I fear this may not be so. I had tea this week with a wise retired Vicar who told me that pretty much every illustration of the Trinity is heresy and if he were setting an exam question he might take the various illustrations ( ice, the architect, the electric fire, egg, the shamrock etc) and ask students to demonstrate where the heresy lies.

The only thing I have been able to fathom is that my God is a God of relationship and relationship cannot be a solitary thing. Trinity is about relationship and we need someone else for relationship. C. S Lewis tells of the death his lifelong friend Charles Williams. They had been part of a drinking and thinking club that met regularly for beer and conversation in the Eagle and Child in Oxford with Tolkein as their third member. Lewis expected to have more of Tolkein once Williams was no longer with them but somehow he found he had less. He writes:

'In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him 'to myself' now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third , and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend'

Trinity allows us the opportunity to get caught up in the actions of God. Brian McClaren uses an expression I like, 'falling into God' , and perhaps that is what Lewis is hinting at. 'Three by a fourth' but only if we qualify as a real friend. Friends with God now that would be a thing wouldn't it(John 15:15)? So perhaps Trinty allows us, by grace, to join in with what God is up to. Each of us a fourth to God's three. And the real friend to us is Jesus hanging on the cross inviting us in, beckoning all to come, to join and to see.

Do you want to know what D L Moody's word was? 'Others'. Now I think about it, that works rather well as word to sum up the Trinity. Thank you Dwight.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Which Corgi Sticker

There has been much talk ever since my first day in theological college over what brand of Christian I am. I had no idea there were so many different types until I arrived at this infamous seat of learning. Surely the question is not what type of follower I am but whether I am one at all. Some are following on rollerskates, some in a car, some walking, some sitting down having a breather and some are simply taking their first steps. Does it really matter if I am not that keen on rollerskating? This issue is more complex than our individual responses. It is now clear to me that the modes of travel have various groupings with banners over them, many give themselves names, have 'Visions', host conferences and some are so bold and confident as to say theirs is the only way to travel. How do they know that? I have not infrequently been asked to join one or more of these travelling clubs and have been on more than one of their holidays. To date, I have resisted the urge to join up. With particular reference to one such travelling club closely associated with vintners, my friend Tim commented "just because you have a Corgi sticker on your van it doesn't mean you are a registered plumber". For the time being my focus I think should be on becoming a good and competent plumber and perhaps we should all be a little wary of stickers, whatever they say.

Black and Gold Movie

We all love coffee but perhaps we should think a little more about how it gets to us. My friend Katie has pointed me to a movie about the explotation of coffee growers. Check out the wesite

www.blackandgoldmovie.com

The Ignored Equation

I was recently sitting in a coffee shop in Oxford reading. On the table next to me were three young students who were having a conversation that fascinated me. They were what one might term 'geeky' and they were all crowded around a small Nokia gadget that seemed to enable access to the internet. They were discussing interfacing protocals, modular interplay, reconfigured this and downloaded that. This was their world, they loved it and understood it and exisited in complete ignorance that most poeple have not a clue about their world nor how to enter it. No sooner had my young google friends departed than I was joined by three mathmaticians on the sofa next to me. They similarly lived in a world I failed to comprehend. A world of formulas and dramatic numeric puzzles that they all pitched their minds against until they were solved. I had not a clue about anything they said, not that it seemed to matter. I was not part of their world.

Why am I reflecting on this? Well, as the mathematicians left I was left wondering about the church. Are not theology and church so often an obsure world of alien language, inner knowledge and exclusivity. Perhaps our historic liturgies so prized and defended by many are as foreign to a post-modern culture as the myspace site of my geeky students is to my 70 year old mother. Has church become a dislocated quadratic equation that few have the time, ability or inclination to solve?

Maybe that's the challenge?

I have not yet mentioned my favourite preacher. He's called Tim Keller. If you want someone to feed your soul and open up the bible to you then this may be the man. His series on Galatians is the best £100 you will ever spend. Check out a resources page I found on the web or Redeemer.com. Happy listening.

Tim Keller

Thursday, November 16, 2006

An Inch-deep Church?

It has been really rather a busy week so I have neglected my blog. I fear also that I may have missed some thoughts that had I got around to it I could have posted. Friends have very generously encouraged me to write some more posts having read my few musings. Where to begin. Well, why not with some thoughts on a sermon a friend gave earlier this week. It was given with great passion, contained much profound thought and challenged me to think more broadly. Always a good thing. One thing that Eric said has stuck with me: " We must beware of creating churches a thousand miles wide and only an inch deep". Indeed we must.

Here my thoughts again turn to Ted Haggard, the fallen American pastor. As a chance happening on a bus journey from Oxford to London I met a friend from London who helped me understand all of this. He said that initially he had been pleased to hear this news and than God said a simple thing to his heart. " Put down your stone". What a word for me and for all of us who would judge another man's sin. "Put down your stone". May God work this misfortune and pain to his glory as he did for Gordon MacDonald. The fruit of MacDonald's removal from leadership was a profound and important book called 'Rebuilding your broken world' and anyone seeking after a life in the pastoral ministry would do well to read it.

Yesterday, I learnt that 47% of evangelical pastors are suffering from stress. My simple word to them is this: take up fly-fishing. For an introduction to fly-fishing for the uninitiated I commend the wonderful book by Norman MacClean called 'A River runs through it' which I like to read at least once every year or for those more visually attuned you can watch it on DVD thanks to Robert Redford. Perhaps I am being a little narrow in my treatment of stress but the principle of finding a restorative pastime is a task worth undertaking.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A lesson from Catherine Booth

I spend alot of time thinking about God. This is particularly the case because I am reading theology and training to be a Vicar. It has seemed to me over the past few weeks that these two things often don't have much to do with each other. This term I have learnt about the existence of dogmatics, natural theology, biblical theology, pastoral psycology and ethics. The whole process seems to be about acquiring more knowledge and cleverness and what I am so much more interested in is becoming the person God means me to be so that I can serve him as best I know how.

I read recently Gordon MacDonald in a fascinating article about the inability of Christian leaders to finish the task and his observation that many are left broken and disillusioned after 10 years of ministry. Why might this be? He went on the quote a letter William Booth's wife (founder of the Salvation Army) Catherine wrote to him when he was on the point of giving up.

"I know how possible it is to preach and pray and sing, and even shout, while the heart is not right with God. I know how popularity and prosperity have a tendency to elate and exalt self, if the heart is not humble before God. I know how Satan takes advantage of these things to work out the destruction (if possible) of one whom the Lord uses to pull down strongholds of his kingdom, and all these considerations make me tremble, and weep, and pray for you, my dearest love, that you may be able to overcome all his devices, and having done all to stand, not in your own strength but in humble dependence on Him who worketh 'all in all.'"

An apt quotation on the week that a major Christian leader in America has fallen from grace and lost everything. How easily I too could let me pride, ambition and decietful heart lead me to burn out in duplicity and falsehood. Not yet thank God, but who is to say that I will be able to sustain the race to the end. For MacDonald, it is all about formation and its radical neglect in the modern church. Worthy of note is that Catherine Booth wrote these words at the age of 23 and seems herself to have been a profoundly formed woman given over to prayer and other disciplines. Will I give myself over to learn these lessons as she seems to have done and get my heart 'right with God'. I pray so.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The more we pay

I have spent the last hour reading my friend Tom's blog and in a moment of enthusiam started my own blog. Being somewhat challenged by technology this is something of an adventure but all seems to have been achieved.

So we're off.

What do I do now?

Incidently, I saw Tom earlier on today in the most disturbed state of hurry and activity. The first time he has ever not had time to stop and chat. I can usually rely on Tom for some destraction, mindless laughter and a timewaste. It really must be one of those days.

I can't imagine anyone wanting to read this apart from me and there is the extreme danger that this may absorb an unfeasibly large amount of time. Ah well, beats writing an essay. My quote of the moment is from Elizabeth Eliot who once said 'The more we pay for the advice the more likely we are to listen to it'. As someone currently wondering and deciding about all sorts of things and always looking for advice she makes a valid and intersting observation.

Well, mustn't bang on on my first posting and who knows where this may lead. It will at very least be a home for all my mindless book, music and other spurious recommendations that I repeatedly bore my friends with.

Happy days!