Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lambeth live!

After what seems like an eternity, the new Lambeth Conference website is finally uploaded. Anyone interested in seeing what I'm working on, visit it here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Good day....!

(Warning: long post.)

I have just finished 'The last word and the word after that' by Brian McLaren. It's 'creative non-fiction' - an academic/theological exploration of something dressed up in a novel.

Dan Poole, is a pastor under 'investigation' by his church because he seems to be preaching liberal theology from the pulpit of his (increasingly) conservative church. His character is used to explore various ideas about God's character, about mission and about hell.

I knew the 'eternal fires type hell' to be a human construct, built by Dante and others rather than biblical writers. But I didn't know that 'hell' wasn't really a concept at all for the Jewish people until very late. Establishing themselves as God's people in the here and now, in this world, was their only concern for a very long time.

If my understanding of what McLaren says is right, an 'afterlife' concept of hell was later adopted for very pragmatic reasons. The Jews were persecuted. And yet they knew themselves to be God's people. Two difficult facts to reconcile. So, the question: 'why aren't things as they should be for us?' was answered: 'because somebody must be screwing it up.' Who?
  1. For the zealots, the people screwing it up were those Jews who submitted to Roman authority. The zealots wanted to fight back - to bring Israel's God back to power in battle.
  2. For the Essenes, the 'screw-ups' were the people who were too politically involved in fighting the powers and authorities of the physical world. The key to uplifting Israel was focus on the spiritual life, on God's law, etc, in detachment from 'worldy' things.
  3. For the Pharisees, the scapegoats were 'sinners': people not keeping God's laws. So, in a sense, they developed a theory whereby those who didn't follow God's rules were destined for 'hell'. If they would only clean-up their act, the world would become perfect. Hence new and more detailed interpretations of God's laws became an obsession.
When Jesus came, he did indeed speak of a place like hell (in picture language and parable, and in such a way that we cannot possibly pin his meaning down). At least part of his intention in speaking of it was to turn the Pharisees' and others' misconceptions of 'hell' on their head. His purpose was very definitely not to drive fear into sinners and the marginalised.

In theory, none of this surprises me. But I am struck again by how pervasive is the theory 'a Christian's task is to save the unchurched from hell'. This can only lead to judgmental behaviour, to an overemphasis on a future world we can never understand and to incredibly patronising 'evangelism'.

Churches are there to usher God's perfect kingdom in and, yes, to introduce people to him. But the motivation for that is that life is immeasurably more empty without God, not because they'll go to hell after death. The bible does very clearly indicate that we will all face God's judgement, and that everything about us will be revealed at that time. But the emphasis is (I think) always on the 'process' of judgement. What happens afterwards is described in poetic, metaphorical, terms.

McLaren's book showed me again the reason I want to 'do stuff' in churches. I believe there is as much of a mission field inside the church as outside it. My passion is to help people who call themselves Christian to see how wonderful God is and how their understandings of him limit and demean him. And I include myself there.

McLaren begins: I believe that God is good. No thought I have ever had of God is better than God actually is."

Amen! Perhaps there's an awful lot of deconstruction work to be done before Christian communities will allow God, in all his fulness, into their midst. And perhaps, when they manage to do that, God's kingdom will really be upon us.

Let's get to it, I say.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bad day.....?

Is it wise to rant about work on a blog?

Ah well....wisdom's overrated anyway. I know you'll all take this with a pinch of salt. Please.

The order of the work-related events that have annoyed me:
1. I was asked by my manager to represent my team on a particular group, which has significant responsibilities.
2. Another team member, with similar role to myself, told me he would also be joining the group (though he couldn't make the particular meeting I describe below, which happened yesterday) because its chairman had invited him. This irritated me (can't I be left to do this on my own?) but I let it pass.
3. I was asked by one of the group members, who works in my office, to prepare a contribution for the meeting (something he had been 'tasked' with, but thought it 'would be good for me' to do.)
4. Obedient as ever (!!), I prepared this quite thoroughly along with a handout.
5. I arrived at the meeting: the members, who have all met me at least once, seemed rather vague about who I was. Given that I am one of three people on the management team for the project towards which we are all working, this was disconcerting. The meeting provided no opportunity for introductions.
6. The meeting began with a eulogy of the colleague mentioned in 2, who had at some stage spoken privately with the group chairman and established himself as being "clearly the person in the know" about my team's activities. I sat there like a lemon, wondering if it struck anybody else around the table that perhaps I too would be 'in the know' about my team's activities.
7. The chair proceeded to speak to the group about the topic that I had prepared. I tried to interject, as the papers I had copied would have helped everyone get a handle on what he was saying: this wasn't welcomed.
8. I eventually said I had prepared some material that people might like to look at. I was thanked but told its distribution could wait until the end. The conversation then went off on various tangents until...
9. ...I had to leave the meeting early, so made my apologies and left my hand-outs on the table.
10. As I was walking out of the door, I heard someone say: "well, these documents are very useful".

Now, I accept some of the blame. I can be a bit diffident and uncertain. And one can't expect to be listened to just because one is present and attempting to speak. A little self-assertion is surely necessary.

But, no, actually, I would hope that when judging who to listen to I consider it enough for a person to be a) present and b) attempting to speak. At least, until I know them well enough to realise that everything they say is rubbish......!!

Did I mention the male:female ratio in this group? Some other time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

some things that have been going on

1. Discussion at house group that touched on marital breakdown. Quite distressing. Decided changes in attitude to loyalty in marriage have developed in a similar way to changes in attitudes to loyalty at work: people are no longer prepared to stick it out down the mines, or in the call centre, day in day out, unless there's no way out. And I can understand that. Just very grateful that I have an extremely wonderful marriage. And hope I will remain grateful.

2. Some time in the next couple of weeks Jon and I will be interviewed about our elligibility for church membership at the place we've been worshipping for seven months. Good old Baptists!

3. Watermelons, sunburn, mojitos and picnics have all taken place in the last fortnight. Hurrah!

4. Watched Jarhead. Enjoyed it. Very stylish, quite disturbing, not a cliche in sight.

5. Have tried to write a post a few times about the lack of female bishops in our country but keep getting over excited/confused/verbose and needing to stop. It might appear one day.