I am currently auditing a module on biblical exegesis (while I do an independent learning module on Church planting and mission on contemporary culture along side it).
When we began this academic year I realised I was quite confused about the bible - having been a good (rather fundamentalist in my youth!) evangelical I had a clear set of beliefs about what the bible is and what it is for. As time has gone by and my faith has had to (hopefully) mature through some challenging interactions and cultural experiences, I have come to see many of those beliefs as leading to 'dead-ends' that don't lead to the Kingdom of God, I've begun to doubt those premises.
So as I approached this year of doctrine and bible studies, I wanted to get down on paper what I did believe about the bible, in order to see if that changed over the course of this year. This is what I wrote:
The Bible is: • a collection of writings about God's action in the world. • written by humans (men), inspired in their work of composing, compiling and editing by God's Spirit interacting with them. • God speaking to us through these human writers - through the lenses of time, context, culture and human understanding. • not complete, in the sense that it does not say everything there is to say about everything. • enough to reveal a coherent picture of God's nature that orientates us to God's truth. • essential as the anchor to God's truth.
I'll say more about this over the next few weeks (well, based on my track record of blogging it'll probably be more like months!) but I'd be interested in your thoughts in the meantime...
My grandad died last week. He had had Dementia for about 15 years, and the last few years he has been excellently cared for by New Close Care Home in Kent. Unfortunately my mum and my uncle weren't able to be with him as he passed away, but I feel quite sure he was well looked after so I don't worry about that - I believe he knew in his heart that he was loved.
My grandad spent a lot of time with us when I was growing up -he taught me to rollerskate, took me to the beach, the funfair, helped me choreograph dance routines...
When my mum and uncle and aunt were sorting through his belongings over the weekend, the photos of him were all with children, us grandchildren and assorted friends...
He befriended all my friends, and all my cousins' friends, to the point that some of them were still in touch with them after I'd lost touch.
He also taught me to read the bible, reading to me from his black leather KJV, when I crept into his room in the mornings when he stayed with us. I'm convinced that my own faith journey has taken me here because of his influence.
I had naievly thought I had done all my grieving for him, as he has been unable to speak or feed himself for a long time. I felt terrible when I caught myself wishing he would die so he could be free - I just wanted him to be able to go to his home in heaven. I hated the idea that he was suffering when he had pressure sores or a chest infection, the physical pain made worse by no longer having the faculties to understand why he was in pain. I thought his death would be a relief for him and for us.
A good friend who lost her mum to Alzheimers warned me that she'd felt the same way until the day actually came, and then she realised that no matter how much we long for the end of their suffering, when death steals them away it's still an heart-breaking wrench.
Now I know she was entirely right, as I miss Grandad more than I could have imagined, especially since the Grandad I miss is one who was stolen by the dementia a long time ago.
My grief feels like the my chest and stomach are swollen to twice their size, leaving no room to breath and no strength to think straight. It leaves me for an hour at a time so I can almost forget, and then it returns with a vengeance and I dissolve once more into tears.
It will pass; the funeral service will help as we gather together to comfort each other. I will feel something of the peace I know he now has, and I will be glad he is now free.
I just have to bear this time and be willing to feel it and let it go. If you're the praying kind, I'd appreciate your prayers...
My objections to this policy are theoretical, political and theological. I'll start with the theory:
For me the main problem is about how you use statistics to prove cause and effect - I once heard Oprah Winfrey quote a stat that said that people who floss were a certain % less likely to have a heart condition, which was the reason she started flossing. Surely its obvious that flossing has absolutely no benefit to your heart; the fact that people who floss have less heart disease is because they're the type of people who look after themselves well, and so will almost certainly be doing exercise, eating fruit etc. The flossing is a symptom of their attitudes and values, just as the exercise and healthy diet are symptoms of the same thing. They do the things they do because of their values, and so the true statistic is that people who take care of themselves generally have less heart disease.
In the same way, I have always found the central tenant of the argument to incentivise marriage unconvincing: children do better when they have married parents. This statement may be true, but just as with the flossing and heart disease statistic, they are not cause and effect. Ed Balls sums it up well:
The evidence shows that if you are married, children do better, although once you adjust for the fact that people who are married tend to marry older, be better educated and have higher incomes, once you adjust for these things, you find that it is not the legal form, it is the strength and stability of the relationship which is the most important thing" (italics mine)
In my view the fact that their children do well is more likely to be because the parents engage in their children's lives emotionally and in their education because they themselves benefited from a good education, they have the emotional and financial wherewithal seek out alternatives when schools and other support services are of a poor standard and have the maturity to seek support for their own relationship.
So here is my political objection: If you follow this line of argument its absolutely bonkers to financially incentivise marriage - those that are married are likely to already be in a far better financial position than those who aren't.
And even if the money did encourage people who weren't planning to get married to marry, it wouldn't make a jot of difference to whether their relationship was stable - its the quality of the relationship and the commitment to making it work that does that, not a ceremony and a big dress and £40 a month.
So politically, this is directing funds away from children who need it (ie those from broken or unstable homes who's parents are less mature, poorly-educated and are struggling financially) to the pockets of those who have enough already. I don't think that's (a) fair or (b) likely to build a better, more just society.
My final objections are theological: our understanding of what constitutes marriage is a very western notion that originates from the 18th century, and thus impose a whole set of assumptions and cultural norms onto people that have little of use to add to the biblical standards of love, service, mutual-submission, loyalty, and commitment.
Relationships that have these values at their core will be a wonderful environments not only for children to grow and flourish but also for society to be healed and nourished. Committing before our Triune God to follow God's lead in living out these values with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength is the best way to hope to fulfil our dreams of successful family living. The church needs to be praying and loving and serving people in order to support them in living out all their relationships in this way, and especially their relationship with their partner if they have one.
This is what will change society, not a £10 a week tax break....
One of our church family, Rosemary, passed away unexpectedly just after Christmas, so this morning's service was a remembrance of her life with us, our memories of her and it was wonderful to hear about a life well lived in all it's details:
Rosemary looked after the hall and was a force to be reckoned with if you left it in a mess - it came from her love of the hall as an expression of her love for the community. She cared that the space was well looked-after because it meant that it could then be welcoming.
Everyone from her yoga teacher, the vicar, the meditation group, our alt-worship community, the lunchclub she'd helped run for 20years - everyone remarked on her commitment and faithfulness. She never missed a week, regardless of the weather. In fact she was usually the one clearing the snow on the paths. Her neighbours voted her the best neighbour in the world last year, because she was always there for everyone.
So many people remembered her encouraging words to them, on the service they'd led, the sermon they'd preached or the project they were starting. Those small words of kindness and encouragement meant so much to us, and it served to remind me that living out Grace and Peace can be most effectively done by being faithful and paying attention: to the small details, to the individual, to the efforts and offerings of those around us.
We will sorely miss her efficiency and commitment to keeping our church running smoothly, but more than that we will miss her thoughtfulness and self-giving, her kindness and above all her example of how to live for God, faithfully and in detail. I'm glad we know she is resting in God's Peace.
On New Year's Day my mind automatically turns to 'Bond, James Bond.' Actually I have not checked whether there is one showing today, but there usually is and it's engrained in my psyche!
I've just finished reading the Sebastian Faulk's Bond book "Devil May Care" - it's the first one I've ever read, so I have no idea how it compares with Fleming but I've enjoyed it in a light-reading kind of way.
Ive always loved the films ever since I was old enough to watch them. I used to think Sean Connery was the best, until I rewatched a few and realised he always hits a woman in one of the scenes, which annoyed me so now I'm not so keen. I adored Pierce Brosnan and was gutted when he was dropped, but Daniel Craig has completely won me over ;)
However, when reading the book I realised that I was picturing Brosnan not Craig in the role, which got me thinking: it's difficult to change how we encounter a character when we've had it drummed into us that he is a particular way.
So when we've heard sermon after sermon and read book after book that depict Jesus in a particular light, it's difficult to step back from the character and allow him to be more multi-faceted or different or gentler or kinder or more challenging... Whatever picture we've got used to needs to change in order to keep encountering him in all truth.