Saturday, 26 May 2012

Does God speak Twitter?

Two themes which have preoccupied me recently fed rather neatly into thoughts on Pentecost.

1. Life is complicated.
2. Communication is complex.

And Where is the multi-lingual God in all this?

I've been learning Twitter. It's a strange language. I've learnt bits of many languages in my time- in this order: baby; English; French; Latin, German; Spanish; Mandarin; Phonetic alphabet; Teenage-speak; New Testament Greek; Facebook; Twitter. Not bad going for half way through my forties I suppose. Apart from Teenage-speak, Twitter is the oddest. Why do people learn Twitter? To communicate of course; mainly with strangers who share one's interests, but, boy it has to be brief; and this can make communication a little about a tweet for Pentecost: in under 140 characters (does this include punctuation?)

@gentilesinners @randomerseverywhere
Not drunk, only 9am, Joel right, last days, Spirit on ALL, be saved, portents, Day of the Lord, call out, God's plan, resurrection Messiah, repent believe be baptised. #peteratpentecost

(140, including punctuation).

I want to learn multiple languages so I can understand the culture in which I live, and be fluent in communicating the gospel within it. If this means learning Twitter or Facebook, bring it on. But what with email, land line, mobile, work mobile, smartphone, Facebook, Twitter and complicated work/life patterns, there are still numerous and ever complicating language barriers:

'Oh I didn't see your message on the answer phone till it was too late.'
'I  couldn't retrieve your message; the signal here is terrible.'
'I Facebook messaged you last night about the rehearsal...'
'My email to you keeps bouncing back.'
'Don't phone the land line; I'll be at work.'
'Don't phone work; leave a message on my mobile.'
'Just replying to the message you left re. my message last night...'
'I never got that text...'

Just some of the real life obstacles to communication one encounters when learning new languages in the atomising 21st Century (that sometimes bewildering and complex place where we conduct Christian ministry now).

By and large the message doesn't change ('Jesus is Lord' just about does it for me...) but the medium does; sometimes too rapidly and confusingly for us all.

Oh for that real, connecting communication which changed lives, as tongues of the Spirit lit up the first Pentecost, equipping the followers of Jesus to be multi-lingual for the sake of the gospel.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Multitasking (AKA screwing up several things at once)

This morning the bread didn't rise.

Which was odd because I've been using the bread maker for a while and normally it's perfect. 

But thinking back to last night, I might have been indulging in a bit of multitasking at the time.

Just a bit. Let me see if I can remember...

I know the supper was on - pasta - which cannot be overcooked, so I was prodding it. And I took the food bin out onto the patio, emptied it and sloshed it round with boiling water and bleach, which meant walking backwards and forwards from the kitchen a bit. The tumble drier was on, and I wanted to see if I could stop it before the cycle ended for the new T shirt not to shrink...just six minutes more should do it...I think I'm right in saying the bread maker pan was out and I was filling it up with yeast (I think) and of course, flour, while looking up  in the booklet, the amounts for sugar, salt and water.

It may have been at this point that I helped with some Spanish homework (feeling pleased that my studies in that marvellous language had not gone to waste) YES!! I can look up Spanish irregular verbs whilst testing pasta, pouring bleach, weighing flour, watching the tumble drier and composing a tweet about it all, AND thinking about the church service and all the books on mission I haven't read yet.

Somewhere in all of the above, clearly, I left out the yeast.

Which must be a huge metaphor, if you think about it, for life. Or something profound like that.

Studies in neuroscience have proved we're all getting worse at deep concentration due to multitasking. One of the best things for me about going on a retreat day is that at 11 o'clock I get up from my chair, where I have been reading, and cross to the table, switch the kettle on, wait for it to boil, make myself a coffee, sit down in the chair again and drink it. All. And thank God. Full stop. One thing at a time. Is it any longer possible?

If you leave out the yeast, the bread won't be bread. And though you need more than bread to live, it is a good starting point.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

1662 anyone?

I am feeling very, very Anglican. I have sung my way through a full blown BCP Choral Evensong. We only manage one occasionally - it's not often a 350th Anniversary comes up (wonderful, but a lot of hard work).  

It made me think about language, liturgy and context. Do I cringe at, or poetically and theologically love the language of the Book of Common Prayer?

On first exposure, I thought it was hard going, then I looked at the bits we miss out....I'm wondering if it's time to reinstate them? Take the Holy Communion, and the danger of drinking and eating unworthily:

'lest, after the taking of that holy Sacrament, the devil enter into you, as he entered into Judas, and fill you full of all iniquities, and bring you to destruction both of body and soul' (Cambridge University Press Edition, p.247).

'For then we are guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ our Saviour; we eat and drink our own damnation...we kindle God's wrath against us; we provoke him to plague us with divers diseases, and sundry kinds of death (as before, p. 250). 

I'm kind of in awe of a society where Holy Communion was taken so seriously (but still very grateful I wasn't around when they burnt at the stake all those who held a different view from the prevailing one...)

I have a few issues with the idea that God speaks mainly through Elizabethan language - it was Cranmer's intention that God's Holy Word should be heard 'in a language the people understandeth', but if no one understandeth it 350 years later, what do we do? Its biggest fans are generally people who had a Prayer Book upbringing, or Oxbridge students with chapels and choirs and very high IQs. 

Same with the King James Bible - Michael Gove has this week enabled a free copy to be presented to every school in the country, and now headteachers are gong on the radio complaining no one can understand it. Fair point, or lowest common denominator argument....?

I couldn't understand half the hymns we sang in Junior School in the 70s, but that doesn't mean they didn't affect me - their words haunt and comfort me down the years:

''A man that looks on glass, 
On it may stay his eye; 
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass, 
And then the heaven espy.'' (George Herbert) - a favourite with 8 year olds back then.

So I guess I'm torn. There are bits that really stick in your mind after a while: 'We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us...' (as before, p. 251). 

But there's also a lot of grovelling. We 'most humbly beseech' Him an awful lot, never quite believing he actually LIKES us (?) When I do something wrong, is God so very angry with me? What about the prodigal son? I rather liked that story until I read the Prayer Book.

It must be that magic they say over you at Ordination, but I'm getting so Anglican I'm worried I'll cease to care what the 'common' person thinks of the 1662 Prayer Book and if it can speak to him  today.

So, how Prayer Booked-out are you?

Consider the following Anglican words and phrases and if they confuse you at all:

The Daily Office (yes, the commute is ghastly...)
The Second is like, namely this...(as mother to a teenage daughter, I had to stop myself giggling first time I said this and remind myself it didn't mean like, you know, like when people say 'like', like every second word...)
kindle God's wrath (I haven't got a Kindle...the word worked well for me as a lower case verb, till it became an upper case noun...bother)
Lover of Concorde (I never got a chance to fly, but my dad loved it)
The Comfortable Words (like a DFS sofa, you just lie back and sink in)

Common Prayer (public school educated, I feel this common stuff is a bit beneath me)

Ah, it we are undone...

Friday, 11 May 2012

Very busy (and important).

Recently I wasn't too busy one week.

It had a strange effect on me. 

You'd think I'd be glad of the opportunity to have some precious space in my life, not to have too much paperwork, too many emails, extra runs in the car, parents evening, two birthday cakes to bake, pastoral visits, a sermon to write.

But actually I felt rather empty and spare's the rub...unimportant.

Since when did being busy become equated with being important?

It's a terribly insidious thing. We all talk as though we're busy and therefore important. You meet someone and say 'How are you?' 
'Oh, you know, BUSY!' (i.e. I am a fully functioning human being. Are you?)

There's a subtle one-upmanship in conversation with other working people - the busier you are, the more needed you are; the more needed you are the better you feel about yourself. This is true of church 'professionals' too.

Curate 1: Hi, how you doing?
Curate 2: Been run off my feet.
Curate 1: Me too. There's not enough hours in the day.
Curate 2: I've had Morning Prayer, 2 assemblies, a meeting over lunch, a funeral, 59 emails and there's PCC tonight.
Curate 1: I know, it's mad. The phone started at 8 this morning. I haven't had a day of for 3 weeks.
Curate 2: Sunday I've got an 8 o'clock, a 10.30, a bring and share lunch, two private baptisms and of course Youth Group till 10pm.
Curate 1: How many Christmas services did you do?
Curate 2: Five in 24 hours.
Curate 1: I did 6.

And so it goes on - I exaggerate not.

I feel a bit sorry for the Almighty Creator. He clearly had no idea that 24 hours was hopelessly insufficient for all the (very important) work that needs doing. Maybe someone should tell him.

Meanwhile, when another not too busy week comes along, I'm going to sit around and do nothing (aka pray, reflect, remember, listen to the washing machine).... particularly when my children are in the house. That way I might even be properly available when they need someone who's not too busy to sympathise with exam stress, laugh at the latest Facebook joke or comment insightfully on Clone Wars.

Friday, 4 May 2012

When God asks the impossible.

5th of Easter, Sunday May 6th 2012
Genesis 22:1-18 and John 15:1-8

When God asks the impossible

It’s time to engage with the Old Testament again and it’s a tough story today.
God (apparently) commands Abraham, his faithful follower, to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as a test of obedience.
There are different ways of looking at a story, and it’s the same with this one.
I’d like to offer a theological and then a personal look at the story.
In one sense the command to sacrifice Isaac is a 'set piece' in the collective Judeo-Christian canon - a ‘type’ of sacrifice which is fulfilled ultimately in Christ’s own death and resurrection.

(Artwork - Roussimoff)

Both Abraham and God are fathers who are willing to give up their only sons.
But this analogy is probably a bit crass from a Trinitarian point of view.
Yes, God the Father gives up his only Son, but in another sense, God became flesh and was wholly involved within himself in the mystery of the Incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.

2 Corinthians 5:19 says
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.’

So it wouldn’t be right to draw the conclusion, as some atheist commentators have done, that God is a sadist in sending his Son to die, whilst remaining unaffected himself.
God the Holy Trinity is not divided.
So here is the theological version of the story of Abraham and Isaac:
Faithful Abraham is asked to give up his son; his actions prove his obedience; God intervenes and provides the offering himself; God now knows that Abraham really is faithful.
It would be similar for Job.
But is the theological take on it enough?
When we read the bible we may have a number of reactions.
We may read the stories in isolation from our experience, as standalone bible gems that do not touch our lives at all.
Or we can read them from a ‘what if this happened to me?’ angle.
When Jesus told stories they provoked a reaction from his hearers.
He asked awkward questions:
‘Who do people say that I am?
‘Who was a real neighbour to the man?
In the same way, God would have us engage with the stories of the bible personally.

One of the bigger mistakes people make in reading Scripture is that they read it as a spectator. For them Scripture is a collection of stories and events that took place thousands of years ago. True enough, we are reading historical accounts. But, truth be told these ancient stories are our stories. We are in the narrative. You are Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Deborah, Jeremiah, Ruth, Peter, Paul, Magdalene, Mother Mary, and, if you are prepared to accept it, you are also Jesus.’

So this is a personal story involving real people and a real situation.
What is our personal response to it?
Your answer to this question will depend on how you reacted when you heard it read just now.
Did you think: ‘Oh I know this story’ and immediately switch off?
Did you sit and think ‘That is a barbarous thing for God to ask’?
Or did you leap to the personal and say ‘I wonder what God might ask me to give up for Him’?
Is it barbarous of God to ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son?
Is sacrifice ever good, ever desirable?
As a parent I find it a very difficult story, not least because it contains a command to do something which was against Jewish Law anyway.
Child sacrifice was characteristic of the Pagan societies around Israel but expressly forbidden by the God of the Israelites.
Maybe Abraham was comforted by this fact.
He says to his travelling companions, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you’ (Gen. 22:5).
Perhaps he was so convinced of the righteousness of God, that he was pretty certain he wouldn’t have to go through with the terrible deed.
But doesn’t that negate his obvious willingness to go through with it, which God identifies as faith?
As they approach the place, Isaac says to him ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’
Abraham’s answer reverberates down the centuries into this Eastertide: ‘God himself will provide the lamb…’
‘Behold the Lamb of God…’ (John 1:36).
However, and this is the hard part, Abraham does get as far as binding Isaac, laying him down on top of the wood and raising his knife above the young body of his only beloved son…
This is the part of the story where I find my reactions becoming most personal and least theological…(or perhaps they are not at odds with each other…)
Can you imagine how Isaac felt at this moment?
How he would forever recall the moment when his trust of his father wavered to the point of terror?
This really is a story of faith tested to the limit.
James, in his epistle, says there’s no real faith without actions.
Do you follow Christ and love his church?
Prove it!
Do you want to serve others in this community with the love of Christ?
Prove it!
Faith is like an elastic band which cannot prove its worth until it’s stretched and stretched (but hopefully not to breaking point!)
God is not a sadist.
We know from the New Testament that the testing of our faith brings a harvest of righteousness.

Talking of harvest, our gospel also speaks of fruit.
What are the links between the command to sacrifice Isaac and the command to abide in Jesus?
John 15:4 - ‘Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.’

Abraham so abided in obedience to God that he trusted even when God seemed to demand the impossible.
How can we abide?
For some it will be through the contemplative worship of Evensong.
Some will 'abide' through daily bible study.
We all need some diet of bible and prayer in order to abide.
Nurture groups help us abide – maybe we need one of those…?
We abide through feeding on Christ at Holy Communion.
We abide through letting God speak through creation; through letting the stranger teach us; through finding Jesus outside, as well as inside, our comfort zones.
When we abide in him we discover he prunes us, just as an effective gardener prunes a vine.
That way lies growth.
If our branches have become unproductive, we go back to Jesus for a remedy.
In the life of any Christian, and in the life of the local church, there is always pruning going on where Jesus is at work.
Pruning is good.
Pruning leads to growth.
Pruning may mean laying things down which are not growing any more.
It may mean looking for new shoots, shoots which seem at first to be fragile.
Pruning can feel a bit like sacrifice.
But whatever sacrifices are asked of us, those very sacrifices will be the means by which, like Abraham, we will know God’s abundant blessing, grace and new wine.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

for my beloved (misleading poem)

smooth like black magic
dark as envy
your box of secrets
waiting for my
depends on where
the fingers roam
to unlock your treasure
feeling you yield to the slightest
but when you
haunt each waking hour
with the power
of knowledge
who is master now?
the toucher or the touched?
you know
the slow
naked temptation
of information
so entwined
we cannot unbind
the ties that make us
without you I am
missing your soft weight in my
I understand
the pang of being alone
without you