Here is where I am grateful not to be an employee. I am not paid a wage or a salary (and if you are ordained, ignore the occasional siren voice that says ‘we pay your wages’) but rather a stipend. I think a stipend is defined as enough money to live on so that you have space to pray, to study and ‘to be’. And yes- we do confuse availability with activity; one reason why the great Eugene Peterson says that a ‘busy minister’ is an oxymoron like an ‘unfaithful husband’.
Sometimes, like this week I get presented with something to preach on whose meaning is not immediately apparent. Actually, most stuff in the Bible is not immediately apparent; you have to wait, listen, pray and wrestle. I honestly do despair of people who consistently get up early on Sunday to prepare worship from scratch: if it means so little to you- how do you expact anyone else to engage with what you are saying?
So I have spent a lot of time this week wrestling with the book of Romans. It is not easy to understand. It is like someone has been so captivated by an idea (Jesus is alive, Jesus has changed things) that he throws the kitchen sink at it- he uses prose, poetry, Jewish scripture, hits a point, rounds it, goes off at a tangent and comes back later, much later. I would love more time with this book as it blows apart the GCSE lite definition of Christian as a nice person who is kind and believes strange things: a ‘christian’ becomes a weak anaemic word that no sane adult would want anything to do with.
But then again I have heard so much bad preaching on Romans- dull, dry, word heavy & if the sermon could be personified it would be like a grey man in a dull suit who just looks angry most of the time. The passionate word of life becoming angry words to beat people around the head with. And don’t get me started on the heavy use of ‘the language of Zion’ whenever someone preaches on this….
I am still wrestling- but even at this stage, I don’t think I am going to win…
A really good post a few weeks back at http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/28492 . It features reflections on a book by Rev Dr John Polkinghorne, scientist and priest.
This is from the book:-
‘The tapestry of life is not coloured in simple black and white, representing an unambiguous choice between the unequivocally bad and the unequivocally good. The ambiguity of human deeds and desires means that life includes many shades of grey. What is true of life in general is true also of the Bible in particular. An honest reading of Scripture will acknowledge the presence in its pages of various kinds of ambiguity’
This is from the blog (and I would recommend reading the whole post):-
The Bible is like life, John Polkinghorne affirms. It is multifaceted, complicated, and at times bewildering. It portrays characters and situations with all the rich complexity of life itself, exploring the shadows along with the light. Furthermore, it is written about people who lived long ago, in cultures quite different than our own. It uses language, metaphors, illustrations, and conventions that are foreign to us, that may reflect practices and perspectives we find troublesome or obscure.
Trying to understand and apply what Scripture says can be frustrating, especially if we have accepted the commonly advanced idea that the Bible is “life’s instruction book,” designed to give clear answers to life’s problems and questions. Open its pages, and you’ll find a much more interesting — if ambiguous — story than that.
The Enlightenment has a lot to answer for when it comes to reading the Bible.
Certain strands of evangelicalism (which is heavily infuenced by the Enlightenment) read it like a text book and miss nuances and ambiguity; there ain’t a lot of doubt or laughter. Some strands of liberalism take the whole of scripture as metaphor or good moral stories and downplay any attempt at ‘truth’. Furthermore, hardline materialist atheism seems to read everything through a lens of if there is doubt,nuance and ambiguity, there cannot be rigour- only delusion and woolly thinking.
Me? I’ll go with this author anyday….
(there are an awful lot of cheesy images on ‘prayer’ on the net. This isn’t one of them. By the way, you don’t need me to tell you that Jesus, as a good Jewish rabbi, probably opened his hands when he prayed, not clasped them. Glad we cleared that one up).
Actually prayer would be really cool. Prayer doesn’t avoid arguments or tension, in fact a community with creative tension is often better than when all seamlessly agree (and seamless agreement may have within it elements of repression, but that is another story).
It is just that I have seen so many destructive arguments develop between churches and individuals when prayer has not been there, or it has been relegated to a ceremonial bit at the start to ‘get God out of the way’.
I’m not looking for lots of words- although sometimes one person’s heartfelt prayer may have them. Others may bring liturgy, silence or music. However it happens it involves a bit of exposure to God and to others and it is harder then to stand back and lob bricks.
So I guess I’m looking for when people from different churches meet to have a bit of prayer- maybe even a lot. Christians. They pray. It’s not exactly rocket science is it (actually, it is not rocket science, as rocket science is rocket science, but you know what I mean…)?
I think I am drawn to Good Friday most of all.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe in Easter Sunday, resurrection and hope
But to stay with ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ rather than chant hollow ‘victories’ which seem like a kind of Western wish fulfillment seems to open my eyes to situations as they really are, rather than I’d like them to be.
Ok, I know that the most neglected organ that we Christians have is the brain, I know we need to grapple with issues. It is just that…..
…..well sometimes the way I have seen debates conducted (the bile, name calling etc) and the way they can lead to over-cerebrality (if that is not a word then it should be) makes me think sometimes ‘And this is following God?’.
I don’t pretend to understand the debate on the atonement and the many spats in the last few years about it, but this post really got be thinking (and applauding….does that mean I am a heretic?) :-
The very fact that this controversy is so often approached as a debate about â€˜theoriesâ€™ of atonement has the effect of confining us to a rationalizing, modernist mentality that will inevitably miss the point. There is no theory of atonement â€“ there are no theories of atonement â€“ in the New Testament. What we have is a story about how the people of God found a means of escape from the historical impasse into which they were being driven by their persistent state of revolt against YHWH..
..What we cannot do is discard the narrative-historical setting as though it were merely the husk around some essential theory of atonement. Indeed the opposite is true: the narrative is at the heart of the matter, the theology is merely interpretation.
Evangelicalism will not settle the debate over the atonement, in my view, until it grasps the fact that not only is it the product of the narrative, it remains subject to the narrative. As long as it insists in dealing with abstractions, it remains a sub-biblical movement.