Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A life in the day

One of my favourite newspaper columns in the Sunday Times magazine is 'A life in the day' and takes the routine of one day in a persons life and through it tells their story. In this week's, a girl called Alison Balsom who is a world famous trumpeter aged 28 told us of her day. The one thing that she showed me was what it means to truly learn how to do things well.

She writes:

" One Sunday night my parents allowed me to stay up late and watch a documentary about the brilliant Swedish trumpeter Haken Hardenberger. I was hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. Later I studied with Haken. He was tough. If I did something that wasn't good enough, he'd stop me and make me start again. I don't train with anyone now because Haken was such a good teacher. I know, when I'm playing, if a passage is wrong. I imagine Haken is there listening, and I go over it again and again until I get it right"

Don't we all yearn for a good teacher. I guess most of us, if you are like me, find it difficult to find the will, the time and the patience to put in the hours to learn to do as the teacher does. Very little comes naturally but it only comes if you are prepared to put in the hours and submit to what the teacher demands. 'Go into strict training' Paul encourages and Alison knows what that means.

Talking of teachers, I have a few thoughts. When I came to study I now realise I had unrealistic expectations. I thought somehow being in an institution with lots of Christains would somehow be different from the world. Somehow, I thought this place would be radically contrasting to big blue chip company I left behind to come here. Yesterday I realized something, something I already knew, but that I had temporarily forgotten. We are all sinners. Messy, selfish, pride-filled, egotistical, unrepentant, self-centred, power-hungry, unforgiving sinners. Each and every one of us. Yesterday, I saw that more clearly than perhaps I have on other days. I do not think I was alone in that revelation.

Isn't it strange that we can spend so much time looking at each others faults? Judging people's choices, views, the things they value and think are important and all the while we fail to examine our own hearts. Yesterday, the pharisee and the tax collector came to mind and it was a reminder of how often I am blind to my own sin yet judgemental of others.

I awoke with a heavy heart. Over the weekend I read a super book called 'Adventure of Faith' , the story of Michael Green's life. In it, he observes a changing tide in the way the people of God need to be trained for a new world and the challenges it presents. He observes, 'The major part of theological training even today is done by lectures, books and examinations....The old-fashioned method of apprentieship has more to commend it as the main way of training, and it could be supplemented by short sandwich courses at a theological college'. Has the tide already turned and we have failed to notice it? Are places such as the one I am in catering to a world that has already disappeared and we have been too busy reading and writing essays to have spotted it. We don't have much time left and maybe we are witnessing the last throws of a world that is in fact long gone. Perhaps we will always be the last to see this.

My readings this morning were 2 Cor 5, and Ezekiel 19. In commenting on these, Don Carson writes for today:

" This is the first nor the last time that a nation or an insititution was destroyed from within. Readers of history may call to mind the Roman Empire, the Russian years under communism, certain local churches, Christian universities, confessional seminaries, and on and on. They know that human institutions can never be so safely constructed that outcomes are gauranteed. For the heart of the human dilemma is so deeply rooted in personal sin that no structure can finally reform it. The lament for Israel's princes becomes a lament for the human race, which desperately needs a solution far deeper and more effective than princes, presidents and structures can ever provide"

Has Alison's trumpet sounded and have we heard it in time...........................

Friday, January 26, 2007

When theology becomes biology

I am sitting in the Bodlein with the end nearly in sight. In six weeks time, I will have done over thirty essays on everything from predestination to the gift of tongues. It has occured to me recently that for many in this city and sometimes for those in my own fine college and, at times for me, the reading of theology has become utterly distanced from the experience and reality of a living God.

I recall being told the facts of life at school by my biology master 'Slumper Jarvis'. He walked us through the rudementary workings of our bits and bobs and then told us the theory of how the bits and bobs fitted together to make new life. We looked at diagrams of gentitals and a strange plastic model of the human body that you were able to detach various parts from. It caused the inevitable adolescent giggles. (As it happens, Jason Parrot had many years earlier brought to school a copy of Desmond Morris's 'Manwatching' within which the secrets of new life could be seen in full colour). The facts of life were, so we were told and lead to believe by Slumper, all in the detail. It was quite some considerable time before I had any opportunity to contextualize all this information and I discovered it bore little relation to the experience of love and sexual intimacy. When love hits you, you soon discover you don't need to know the detail.

A lecture this week told us about the animal husbandry of camels in the ancient near east and the importance of the distinction between a one humped and two humped camels. Apparently this fascinating information has some bearing on the dating of Genesis. Hasn't this slightly missed the point? This may well be true, but for me it is a long way from knowing the love, power and grace of God who has risen from the dead to redeem all mankind. Or perhaps this just isn't the way I work and think.

Anyway, for any reading theology please don't drown in the detail, important though it is, and remember the love won for you on the Cross. Lose the love and the story and the fact that that you are part of it and you may as well be studying biology for all the difference it will make to your heart and the hearts of others. Lewis wrote "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”

Where there's no sun it's all camels

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Big Questions

We recently had a good day exploring our 'Spiritual Age'run by Yvonne Richmond. It surprised me to learn of the six big questions for people in our post modern times. Here they are in order of importance:

People's Six Big Questions

1) Destiny: Where am I going?
2) Purpose: What's it all for?
3) Universe: How did it all get here and why?
4) Is there a God?
5) What about the Supernatural?
6) What about suffering?

In the same survey they asked people about Church. Here's what they said:

-Irrelevant, inflexible, intolerant,institutional, cold, formal, wordy, unspiritual

And some of us wonder why people don't come to Church any more? Here's their answer.

For more check out www.churchinaspiritualage.org.uk

Friday, January 12, 2007


My new favorite person is Doctor Gregory House. I was recommend this excellent series by a friend and spotted Series 1 on special offer while doing my Christmas shopping. As so often happens, instead of buying it for a present I bought it for me and the character of this extradordinary Doctor seems to have dominated my festive viewing. He is a very grumpy but brilliant diagnostic doctor mentoring a team of young hopefuls in the art of working out what is wrong with people. He never see patients if he can help it and is constantly breaking rules in the interests of a greater good. Lots to make one think and compelling stuff. £14 in HMV in the sale so go out an buy it. Happy watching.

Saturday blog-sweep

 Some interesting books for pastors The State we're in Attack at dawn Joseph Scriven Joy comes with the morning When small is beautiful