Monday Poem

I got a lovely poem off a friend’s facebook wall.

It was from this book:-

If they are cruel, be kind.
If they are mean, don’t mind.
If they reject, don’t fret.
If they insult, forget.
If they exclude, love still.
If you cannot, God will.
If you lose hope, just wait.
Don’t hate.
(p. 26)

Just the kind of thing I need on Monday to remind me what it is all about.

Random things I believe in part 8

 I read this a few weeks back…

Christians ‘….do this, not within an isolated or withdrawn religious subculture, not simply to create an idealised spiritual country club for their own benefit, but rather in the world as it is and for the world as it could be, as transforming agents of transformation.’

(p220 McLaren ‘A new kind of Christianity’)

The writer is giving a positive spin and exhortation as I can think of many places where this is not the case ‘Come apart from the world for a while to our country club’.

The phase I often go round with as a useful summation of Christianity to Christians is ‘You are blessed: now go and bless others’..

Part of a totally random series of things I believe in. You may believe that I have no consistency and am a mass of contradictions. This series proves it.

 I am away for a while. August this year is my ‘turn off month’. So if you respond to this I may not follow up for a few days.

He’s not the Messiah…part 4

I’ll be honest- I haven’t finished the book. It will make it’s way with me on holiday, where it will fight for ascendency with my pulpy Bernard Cornwell book (what can go wrong with a book dealing with senseless slaughter where men are violent and everyone else is scared?) and my world war 2 books. Maybe one day on a sun drenched veranda in the Loire (although living in Northern England, the sun scares me as it is so unusual) with a bottle of red I’ll work through a bit more….

Anyway, here are some more reactions and then a break for a few days, or maybe holiday will intervene…

Part 2 is the ‘Authority Question’- how do we read and understand the Bible?

I’d come to the point of view ages ago that the Bible is not a science textbook or ethical rulebook and also figured that shouting ‘Thou shalt not’ as loudly as possible does no one any favours. I like how he says we need to repent of using the Bible wrongly (eg look a couple of centuries back for how the Bible was used to justify slavery): ‘Repentence means more than saying sorry: it means being different’.

The core of his argument is that Christians have tended to read the Bible as akin to a legal constitution as opposed to

‘..a portable library of poems,prophecies, histories, fables, parables, letters, sagely sayings, quarrels and so on’

He gives examples of how we should treat enemies- if we read Matthew 5:44, Romans 12, Deut 7 and Psalm 139 as constitution then the Bible is a mish mash of contradictions.

A constitution is neat and has internal consistency. A culture is messy and inconsistent- Bible writers wrote to different cultures and different problems over time. It is therefore better to see the Bible as a divinely inspired library. So flaws and inconsistencies are not failures but signs of vitality.

So Revelation does not occur not in the words and statements but in the conversations, prayers and words between individuals/communities and God. Don’t snatch verses to prove/disprove a point- as if you would with a constitution-that mocks reverent reading of the whole text.

Sample quote:-

‘As we listen and enter into the conversation ourselves, could it be that God’s Word, God’s speaking, God’s self -revealing happens to us, sneaks up and surprises and ambushes us, transforms and disarms us- rather than arming us with ‘truths’ to use like weapons to savage other human beings?’

Did reading this book make me want to read the Bible and stay in it? Yes- in a way few other books have. That can’t be a bad thing.

A break tomorrow kiddies and some music…

He’s not the Messiah…part 3

When he gets to the overarching storyline of the Bible (I happen to think there are several). He talks about the traditional view…eden…fall….condemnation, then either salvation/damnation.

This is only a summary but it is a dominant way to read the Bible: Eden, goodness, fall, attempts to scrabble back, Jesus, a new way etc.

He argues that this is based largely on a reading of the Bible based on looking back through Calvin/Wesley/Luther/Aquinas/Augustine etc and not looking forwards from Adam/Abraham etc. We have to see Jesus firstly as part of a story emerging through his ancestors. No one in the Hebrew scriptures talked about ‘original sin’, ‘total depravity’, ‘the fall’ or ‘eternal conscious torment in hell’. Many of these concepts owe much more to a Greco-Roman world view (I’d have to agree here, but I’d also say that latter concepts can be useful- just as long as we are clear).

I’m blogging this as a way to force me to read and to break down complex ideas. This is where you have to read McLaren and not read what others say. Some would read that last paragraph and be initially alarmed. I was. But there is much value in reading and listening carefully. It is far easier to read a summary and attack.

The narrative he proposes is much closer to:-

Genesis- coming of age yet loss of innocence

Exodus- internal and external liberation

Isaiah- God as reconciler.

That is a gross simplification and it is rather like judging Lord of the Rings having only seen film 1 (and never read any of the books). As the old British comedian Jiminy Cricket says ‘there’s more’…

I think he goes OTT in this section (I’ve summarised to p86 so far). I think he is doing it to shock, like any good polemicist. Sample quote:-

‘It’s time to abandon the long experimental project of recasting the Bible in an alien narrative and reframing God in an alien story. It’s time to stop holding God’s people captive in an alien construction. God liberated his people from the economic and political concentration camp of the eygptians and the babylonians; perhaps now it’s time to be liberated from the conceptual tyranny of the Greco-Romans as well’.

and now I’ve got a headache and I’m going to have to lie down and listen to some music….

He’s not the Messiah…part 2

The  first part of the book (p1-214) has took me ages! This is why I cannot understand some reviewers who are able to dismiss it in one, terse, angry paragraph. It is worth dwelling on this as it is full of nuances.

He begins with his real experiences of being a pastor. I was impressed with this. I have read ‘controversial’ books that were written from the safety of a university study and did not seem to interract with real life.

I loved the bit where he highlights a growing sense of being stuck between ‘the brutal tension of something real and something wrong in Christian faith’ (p9-10). I often feel this- I’m more and more attracted to the wildness of Jesus and the wildness and unpredictability of scripture and I long (and do, increasingly) to share this. I am more and more turned of by mechanised doctrine written in angry capital letters that cannot cope with the wildness of Jesus or scripture.

I’m cheering with him as he talks of modern Protestantism in its liberal forms and evangelical forms ‘both sides increasingly reacting to one another and losing touch with the changing world outside their religiously gated community’ (p11).

This is the strength of McLaren- he is a poet, a gadfly and I feel, you have to read him as such.

Then he traces what issues have led him to write- the growth and development of Christian tradition, how it has shifted and changed and also questions he has received from others like; ‘is God violent?’ ‘If the Bible is God’s revelation- why do Christians disagree so much?’ ‘what is the gospel?’ (these are normal questions that people ask).

My reservation was with the title of the book- it sounds presumptious. I love the quote he uses- he is not attempting a new blueprint, but ‘responses’ .

Responses, please remember, are not answers: the latter seek to end conversation, while the former seek to stimulate more of it. The responses I offer are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully…in an attempt to win the game and create a loser’

Most critics of anything would do well to live by that…

He’s not the Messiah*…part 1

It was months ago, when spurred on by http://www.narrowseventhirteen.blogspot.com/ that I bought a copy of ‘A new Kind of Christianity’. I promised a review within days. Well it has been months- partly to do with my lifestyle and partly to do with the richness/intense nature of this book.

I want to make one or two things clear. Firstly: a couple of years back, I met Brian McLaren. I found him to be a gracious and open man. I also watched him speak, watched how he related to others and watched how he dealt with hostile questioners. How I saw him, affects how I read his book. If I meet you in the flesh and discover you to be generally graceful and interested, I will cut you a lot of slack. I will listen to you.

Secondly, I was in a meeting last week. Someone began to express an opinion that did not seem ‘orthodox’ (well I disagreed with it!) yet was open, very open and trying to grapple with it in public. I watched one person of, shall we say, very evangelical views, and it was almost like watching a crocodile waking up and slithering off a bank, ready to attack. It seems to me that if one is convinced that one has ‘the truth’ one should be confident enough to listen in good grace and at least ask open questions to try and understand/explore/seek common ground and only then begin to, in good grace, disagree. There are too many of my colleagues who seem more ready to score points, play to their camp rather than listen. To me, this betrays not a confidence in the truth, rather an insecurity in the truth.

Thirdly- I hate labels. I would, however place myself somewhere in the evangelical camp. This affects how I read books like this. When I say I’m in the camp, I may be hanging round the back in meetings, sometimes pulling out tent pegs, lying in my tent when someone tells me I have to be on parade or exploring outside when someone tells me that there is a curfew…

 

(* of course- the top bit is from the Life of Brian: ‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy’ but you knew that didn’t you. and you worked out the joke re: McLaren didn’t you?)

Finally!

At least 3-4 weeks ago I promised one or two contributors that I would begin reading Brian McLaren ‘A new kind of Christianity’. Well, finally I have.

I’m about a third of the way through and eventally I will start posting extracts/thoughts/reviews. As this book has been so controversial, I will not do so until I have completed it. That is because I want to hear the whole voice of what McLaren says and then think about it before writing. If someone has put thought and effort in, I feel I should. Initial thoughts: interesting- at some parts I am shouting ‘Yes!’, others ‘I’m not sure about that’…..others ‘Hmm….I think I need to read to the end’.

Part of that is a character trait- I like to try and understand before reacting, part of it ‘British fairplay’ and part because a couple of years ago I heard Brian McLaren talk over a few days and was fortunate to have a brief chat and prayer with him.

So watch and wait with bated breath people…

A brief quote from page xi

‘Even though I am no longer a local church pastor, I love church life. I love churches. I love singing good songs, praing rich prayers, sharing in the Eucharist and listening to sincere, passionate and thoughtful sermons. (As a listener, I’ve noticed I like them shorter than I did back when I was a preacher!)’

Amen to that!

It has arrived!

By a delivery van, yesterday lunchtime, eventually. When I have finished reading ‘The New Conspirators’ (Tom Sine), I will be plunging into this book and blogging through it.

I took this challenge through Matthew at http://www.narrowseventhirteen.blogspot.com/ and Glenn at http://glennchristopherson.blogspot.com/. They have both visited this blog and we have had some interesting debates. It is fair to say that we disagree on a lot, particularly on Brian McLaren!

I bought the book as I wanted to come to my own point of view but also to hear what you all had to say. So here is notice: wait about two weeks and get ready to hover those fingers over the keyboard…

….this book has proved controversial in some quarters, viz:

 

Sunday morning thoughts…

So I’m sat here in my study/office/den/house tip…. and I’m praying or trying to pray. What do you pray on a Sunday morning if you are a professional God botherer? Millions to be ‘saved’, for a ‘good message’? ….. and how do you pray without using jargon or well-meaning phrases- both of which I expect God sees through and understands. I’m always in a quandary. I find it harder, being evo- things are changing now- but I kind of got messages that God has only blessed when their are lots of people there.

As I get older and less wiser, when I’m in this position and I’ve run out of words it seems all I can pray is the old orthodox prayer ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ and try and be still and listen….

I read this yesterday in ‘More Ready than you realise’ by…..

brian-mcclaren

…whom I hold in total respect*…

(p158)

”Do not depend on the hope of results,’ Merton said. Being involved in God’s work requires us to face the fact that our work will at times appear to acheive….’no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.’

I don’t find that depressing- I find that liberating………indeed helpful in trying to bring a message whilst trying to step out of the way and not keep saying ‘me….me’….and try and count the 100s who are there (always a problem in British Methodism- working out how to seat the vast numbers that are  there… ok, there could be a touch of ‘evangelical exaggeration’ there….).

(* He is called Brian McLaren)