Archive for the ‘Opening the Bible’ Category

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Repenting on Trinity Sunday – a thousand bad kids talks and other terrible ‘trinitarian’ sins

June 15, 2014

SMITFsunlight

God beyond our imaginings and present to us, more near than we know,

We repent of reducing you to an idea.

We repent of breaking the second commandment.

We repent of calling you ‘like’ anything you have made

like an apple, an egg, a triangle, 
like ice,

like a cord of three strands, like a ponytail*

We repent of these thousand terrible ‘children’s talk’ object lessons.

We repent of our great sin – objectifying you.

We repent this day in which we see how our theology forms us:

 as we have brazenly objectified God,

so we have issued ourselves with license to objectify others.

We rejoice in the deliverance from binary locks

that your trinitarian self brings our imaginations,

and yet there is still much to repent.

We repent of our mis-shapen doctrines,

pressed from tri-level politics:

Our hierarchies, our patriarchies,

our ecclesial castes, our idealised family structures.

We repent of the elite Father,

merchant middle-class Son,

transient slave Spirit.

We repent of all the times we have said

‘Trinity is a hard thing to understand’

and added another stumbling block before one another,

before our children,

implying that they should understand you

and yet not offering the faith that they can,

as if you had not your very self already revealed.

We repent of making of you an intellectual challenge,

that we might feel clever,

of pretending you are a science to be measured like stars

and hypothesised like philosophy –

and then all your complexity reduced again

to five minutes of thinking about an orange.

We repent of forsaking scripture.

We repent of abandonning the stories you have given us

and replacing them with points and propositions

and proofs and prolegomena.

We repent of abandonning the stories

in which you entwine your call, your questions, your challenge,

your care,
 your suffering, your solidarity and your otherness

perfectly and accessibly.

Let us not forsake who you are – real, revealed and revealing still.

Let is not forsake true trinitarian life in you.

Through our repentance show us doorways to living truly:

let us find and know and follow your trinity

in doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly.

Let us find and know and follow your trinity in faith, hope and love

*http://www.christiancrafters.com/trinity.html Yes, there really is someone who has attempted to explain the trinity with ponytail. Obviously, I don’t recommend it.

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Twists and Turns: an introduction to mission

November 30, 2013

[from the Scripture Union Mission Resource ‘Twists & Turns’, Beth Barnett, 2012.]

if you are a disciple, you are part of the mission of God. There is no other special fancy category of missionary or minister or evangelist needed. There are people within the mission of God who have those titles and some specific roles….but the mission of God is the everyday business of every disciple.

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This means that anyone who is learning the ways of Jesus, is caught up in the mission of God, both as a giver and as a receiver. We do mission together with those to whom we are sent.  ‘We’ are not a jug of gospel and ‘they’ are not an empty glass.

Rather, we all together are thirsty people and we drink from the spring of living water together. We serve each other as we do it. Some of us, have waded out into the water, a little deeper. Some of us have taken the plunge and gone in over our heads. Some of us stand with the water up to out knees and call those on the banks to join us.

That is mission.

You can see in this metaphor, that the content of the gospel is no small thing we keep in our pocket. But something that is bigger than all of us – a gushing water flow…like the river that Ezekiel is called into, ankle, knee, waist deep. Like the river that Amos calls down to roll in waves and floods of justice and righteousness.

This image of the gospel as a mighty river, with tricky currents and motion and power of its own, that sweeps us along, transforms us and overwhelms us, is a good one to remember when we feel burdened by the ‘effort’ of mission. Or when we are scared that we might not have what it takes. We don’t…

We don’t take it – it takes us!

Twists & Turns trusts in the power of the Word. It operates on the values that God is alive and active, present by the power of his Spirit in our midst in ways far stronger than we know, or can engineer, or can control.

And it operates on the value that encountering the Bible should be (and naturally is) more like being immersed in a river than taking a sip from a water bottle.

So the design of these resources is to provided a rich encounter with the text in ways that will leave us all thinking and wondering, impacted beyond perhaps what we can name at the time.

To evaluate such a mission will not mean asking ‘did they get the point?’ or ‘can they parrot the main theme back to us’ or ‘what did we learn?’

Many years ago I developed an evaluation frame work that asked three question of any missional happening.

–       Was the theme clear?

–       Did everyone participate in some way?

–       Did we build positive relationships?

 

Looking back, over 20 years of using those questions, I think they ask about the ‘immersion’ of mission.

But I think now I want to change the first question to something like:

  •  ‘Was everything drenched in the ideas, vocabulary, symbols, characters and      materials of the Bible?

or

  • ‘Was the text ubiquitous’

or

  • ‘Was the Living Word alive and active in everything, propelling our thinking and being together?’

Probably ,‘Was the theme clear’ is a concise summary of the idea, so I might stick with that question. But you can perhaps see how ‘clear theme’ might limit our imagination for how strong an experience of the Bible might be.

Are you gasping for breath?

Are you feeling overwhelmed?

Are you thinking – ‘This is will be too much for the average family on holdiays?’

I hope so.

I hope as we consider our methodology we have that ordinary family in view.

How will they experience the mission of God?

As we consider the methodology of  ‘Twists and Turns’ there are a couple of things to hold on to.

 

Firstly, the experience of immersion is in the Spirit of God, not in our program. So it is the gospel that is overwhelming not our words and actions and programs. There ‘s a big difference.

The materials here will help you create relaxed, happy, interesting, engaging environments. As you invite children and families into those environments the first waves that splash in their faces will be the waves of fun, friendliness, care, laughter, silliness, warm invitation.

But because there is no separation between the character of your activities and the content of your message you are already on the way.

The task of mission is to be disciples and make disciples. To do life together in such a way that we all find ourselves speaking of God to one another, that our conversation turns to God, because, well, God is real and there, and is capturing our attention, wonderment and ideas about how life might go.

The Twists & Turns methodology is one which shares the gospel.

“Here – you take a swig” you say, passing the bottle of life giving water around.

We share the gospel.

This is a really helpful word.

Using these resources, in which the materials and vocabulary, the emotional engagement and the intellectual structure of the Big Story are constantly present means that many times our conversations with children and families will take a turn and we will speak directly of God for a time, then things will turn again, and we’ll be speaking of holidays and work and politics. But soon enough the conversation will turn again.

With the ubiquitous flow of Living water from the open Bible there will be many opportunities for us to speak of what we know of God, and to listen to others respectfully and encouragingly, as they too endeavour to articulate faith for themselves.

In the end, the things that ‘Mr. Enthusiastic Dad’ or  ‘Shy Grade 3 Girl’ says for themselves about Jesus, are more important than thousands of our words. Our aim in conversation and activity should not so much be for us to deliver a fine speech, but to release those we meet to speak. IT is in in speaking that we often discover, surprisingly what we really think.

To prepare as a team for Twists and Turns, there are two exercises that will help limber you up for immersion in missional currents and conversation.

1)    Become really familiar with the concrete things of the text. The rocks and sand and hats and camels and torches aren’t just decorations to make the text interesting or attractive. They are the text. The meaning and message in attached to them, found in their very molecules. So get to know them.

2)    Practice talking about the text and about your own story of God. This might seem a little odd to do in preparation together, but it will equip you well for conversations on mission. Just sit and talk together in small groups about the test, about the materials about your own encounters with God.

 

 

 

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Raw from the vault of 2008

November 11, 2013

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Back in 2008 I was tutoring in  unit called Living the Faith. Some of my tute group had rankled at the assessment task of Journal reflections. So to show that I considered any writing task potentially fruitful for any faith, I sat down one morning to do the eight Journal reflection topics set. I barely moved for the next 48 hours except for a little sleep. I began to write, and words and tears gushed out together as never before. It was the great catharsis. The process itself was what was important, so very few people, fewer than fingers on my right hand, have read those 8000 words of painful redemption.
Now, so many years later, I find myself walking with others whose stories remind me a little of that time. It is for them, and for others whose stories I don’t know that I repeat here, just the first short piece of the reflections. I’m pretty sure you’ll know if this is intended as a gift of solidarity to you.
………

At this point I have no idea where I’m going. Totally clueless.

I do not know what I will do. I have no job, no role, no career, no reliable plan. I am disoriented and trepidacious. I do not know if the people in these parts are friends.  No one is walking at my pace. They pass me by. Eyebrows raised, heads shaking, puzzled looks.

I used to describe the unusual twists and turns of disappointment, closed doors, surprising opportunities and new beginnings in our life as taking ‘the scenic route.’ Even though we weren’t moving very directly, there was a sense of direction.  But right now I can’t even claim that. I’m not sure that I’ve come to a stand still, quite, because I remember yesterday, I’m sitting in today and I anticipate tomorrow. But I’m just muddling around.

On the one hand I have a great sense of passion and vision for a place where people of all ages are fluent in the languages and culture to celebrate God in each other’s lives from the cradle to the grave. That those who provide the safety (pastoral care) and structures (liturgy and mission) to enable this will have confidence in the power and passion of God evident in the lives of all people. For years I have looked in hope towards that horizon, and shared the signposts and landmarks I’ve discovered along the way with others who seek the same.

But on the other hand I have been so rabidly criticised for seeking this horizon, the accusations are deafening and disorientating, spinning me round and round on the spot.

“You’re a fool*it won’t work*we tried that in the oh-so-embarrassing-seventies*the statistics show that mission must be age specific*you are too creative*too poetic* too honest *too different*too team-approach*too community oriented*you take emotional risks* you’re given to relationship* you believe in reconciliation* you’re too inclusive*it will exclude those who are single*so get with the program*sit at your desk more*tidy your desk*pack things up*the bible is really for adults* the bible stories are just for kids*you’ll undermine people’s confidence in the Bible* people won’t like your style… ”

The criticism has fallen and fallen and fallen like hail pelting down for so long, that I feel frozen on the spot.  Can I thaw out and keep going?

Praying is hard, because I’m not sure what to pray for. I used to ask ‘What are you doing, God?’ and ‘How can I help?’  But now I’m terrified to ask this – because the answer might be “be a fool, be creative, poetic, honest, different, team approached, community oriented…”

You get the picture.

I used to pray ‘bring in the kingdom’ and I thought I had some idea of what that might be.

A mustard seed that would grow.

The worldly wise lad who’d grown too big for his boots  falling back into dad’s arms and  becoming a young child again.

A round-up of the hungry and needy to a fabulous feast that was just starting, and was never  going to stop. No one was going to be thrown out at closing or told to go home, because  they already would be home.

So I’ve planted mustard seeds and dropped off invitations along the way. But I can’t go back to see what’s grown, or who’s replied. Talk about a ‘faith’ journey.

And reading the Bible is hard, because it is full of the stories I’ve lived and loved since before I could walk. I placed all my bets here. I’ve staked my life, my character, my ethics, my allegiances, my desires and my failures on this stuff. I believed that these words were enduring, that they would last my whole life, that they weren’t just for a particular age –childhood or adolescence or adulthood or old age. These are the words of the living God, surely they are robust enough to last the journey and not wear out. They are my tread, and I was counting on them lasting like the sandals of the Israelites.

I’ve staked my purpose, my sustenance, my story, my identity, my destiny on this stuff. And now I realise,  I can only know if it is true, that the path goes all the way round, if I follow it all the way round. Is there no other way? What other road could I possibly have been thinking I would take?

….

‘Where else have we to go? You alone have words of eternal life.’ John 6:68

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the Sunday School Debate

July 31, 2013

An article questioning whether Sunday School is bad for our kids has been doing the Social Media circuit this week.

I wonder if Sunday School is destroying our kids

It’s main point, which I essentially agree with, is that turning the vibrant, complex, theologically rich narratives of the bible into trite moral lessons is no gospel exercise, but in fact, bad news all round. The pre-packaged didactic moral lesson ending to a bible story butchers the text, robs the hearers of their participation in the text through wondering and questions, and quenches the Spirit’s role speaking fresh truth through a living Word.

But there are other aspects that lie behind the critique of sunday school in this blog that I am not so enthusiastic about.

Firstly, I find it frustrating to have this caricature of Sunday school perpetuated, when as a practitioner, resource writer, trainer and consultant in children and families ministry, I can testify to a widespread move away from ‘morality’ based hermeneutics and teacher centred didactics, towards inquiry based learning, discovery and exploratory models, multi-sensory textual experiences and deep commitments to nurturing the holistic spiritual development of the child in community, not just an agenda for producing moral conformists. There are no doubt places where there’s no school like the old school and the practice persists, but I would not consider it best practice or representative of church-based sunday programs for children.
Perhaps, though, sermons for adults suffer this weakness in many places – but is delivered with greater sophistication, in terms that sound like ‘life-application’, and yet are no more than simple moralisms for adults. ‘Read your Bible more’. ‘Share your faith with your neighbour’. ‘Prioritise your family’. ‘Don’t cheat on your taxes.’

Secondly, the theological underpinnings of the article presume that it is wrong to treat children as genuine followers of JEsus. That the focus of children’s ministry should be to communicate to children their sinfulness and the primary case of rebellion, prior to them reaching an age at which they might then receive a saving faith.

This taps into a long held frustration between the methodologies of best-practice children’s ministry and youth ministry. Those entrusted with the nurture of children recognise the biblical mandates to incorporate children in the daily, incarnational faith practices of the community. As you sit and walk and lie down and get up – these are the times to talk of the One faithful God, who has made his covenant not just with consenting adults, but with all generations (Deut 6).
The biblical template for children, as for adults is to walk with God, by the faith that God gives. This ancient (Old Testament) way is entirely consistent with the kind of justification by faith that Paul writes of. It is always God who gives saving faith by his grace. Shibboleths of cognition, understanding and an ‘age of accountability’ all frankly boil down to ‘works’ which would make the old reformers turn in their graves.

However, after being discipled according to this biblical model through childhood, many emerging adolescents are confronted in youth ministry with an over zealous and misplaced assertion of their guilt, rebellion and unacceptability to God – and of course the need for salvation. This is readily seen as the purpose of the attack on Sunday school moralism in the article.
But how disorientating and damaging this must be for the young person. Having been taken seriously as a genuine participant in the grace of God – a pray-er of real prayers, a person whose choices are to be careful, a person who can serve, and a giver of gifts – suddenly all of this is proclaimed counterfeit.

What is lacking is a deep understanding of the gospel that does not need to progress in a linear point to point manner – beginning with sin and moving to salvation then being validated by sanctification.

Again, looking to the biblical narratives this trajectory is remarkably absent. Instead we see real human being in bumpy, yet gracious relationship with a real God. A God not constrained by formulaic faith or four spiritual laws, but a God that establishes covenants with people and persists, despite failures which come around in cycles like the seasons.

We need to have confidence in living deeply in the biblical texts that ‘make us wise unto salvation’, listening for the goodnews of grace, and the ways of God in them – but without trying to ‘import’ a gospel formula into the text. If we really believe the
Bible is of God (and I certainly do), we do well to trust its power.

Oddly, for an article that called for a greater faithfulness to the text, some of the examples given of Bible narratives ‘reinterpreted’ according to the author’s favoured rubric suffered some significant interpretive adulteration. Esther, for example did not chose to have pre-marital sex, but was compelled as a sex-slave to satisfy a King’s appetite. David is not identified as an adulterer in the text, but as a predator who took the (conjugal) property of a neighbour.

The article has struck a chord with many in children’s ministry on a surface level, as we resonate with the rally against moralisms.

But a stronger call must be sounded against replacing the perjury of moralism, with an alternate perjury of pseudo-evangelicalism. Plastering a Sin-Sorry-Salvation-Sanctification gospel formula over the complex and life giving texts similarly obscures the grace and truth which children of God of all ages seek.

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wild liquid living words

July 20, 2013

cape-bridgewater-n2-portland-australia+12727313048-tpfil02aw-5121Once upon a timethere was a very little girl who lived in a tiny little house on the corner of two streets, Clark Street and Otway Street by the rough old oceans that beat the cliffs and rocks every day, and change the shape of the world. 

And she lived there with her mum and her dad and her big brother, but not her baby sister because she wasn’t born yet.

(This is how my children have heard me start hundreds of stories – the stories of my life growing up, to strengthen them in their stories of growing up).

And every week since this little girl was 8 days old; she was bundled up in a double wrapping of love – love for her and love for God, and taken to church. And as she grew, she grew wriggly fingers and wriggly toes, and wriggly legs and a wriggly tummy, because she was fascinated with life. She had so many thoughts and these thoughts made her wriggle.

And her mum and dad kept bundling her up in that double wrap of love, love for her and love for God and taking her to the church where, despite all her wriggles, she tried very hard to sit still. But it was especially hard to sit still in church because there – in church – were Bibles! And people spoke of God, and this made her especially think-ful of thoughts and especially wriggly. But her mother, being full of love for the little girl and full of love for God, and a great lover of the Bible and also just a tiny bit desperate to not have such a wriggly girl in church began to do something.

Something that would shape this little girl and all her wriggly thinking forever.

This mum, who always took pencils and paper herself to write and draw as she listened in church, gave pencil and paper to her wriggly-thinking daughter.  And as they sat side by side in church, this mother would lean across and say,

The man is talking about a part in the Bible with a tree. Draw me a tree.”

And the mum would draw a tree, and the little girl would scribble on her paper. Then the mum would lean across again and say,

“The tree is beside a river…draw the river” and the mum would draw a river, and the little girl would scribble with

her pencil. And as the little girl grew she began to form the shapes she saw on her mother’s page, and her mother would keep leaning across…

“There is lots of beautiful fruit on the tree.” And the little girl would draw colourful delicious red and orange and green fruit all over her tree.

And soon, after a few short years, though it must have seemed like an eternity to a mother with such a wriggly daughter, the little girl learned to read. So the mother stopped leaning across and whispering, and began writing her suggestions on the page. “In this part of the Bible, Jesus is talking inside a house.” And the little girl would draw.

And then questions would appear….”Four friends have come with a man on a stretcher –how can they get to see Jesus? Draw 3 possible ways to get in.”

“Some of the people are grumpy with Jesus; draw their grumpy faces – but who is happy? Draw their face…”

And so it went on. And over time the questions changed…

”The preacher is talking about something called “redemption” – keep a scorecard of how many times he says that word.”

“Write or Draw 4 ways that David was protected as he fought Goliath.”

And so by the time this very little girl, who had started off so wriggly, was going to high school, she was full of expectations. She expected that when the Bible was opened, there would something for her to do with her wrigglesome thoughts; she expected that if someone was speaking about the Bible, she would hear and wonder and understand something; She expected that when you read the Bible there would be pictures that you could form in your mind and on paper. Because the Bible is full of things, real things, strange things, interesting things, God things, and human things. 

As she read the Bible she would hear the different voices in colour and form, and it would make her wriggle. Because every sound has a colour and every shape has a sound, and every movement has a shape and every sound has a movement.

Although after many many years, this very little girl grew up, she never gave up reading the bible and she never gave up her crayons when she read it. She was always wriggly restless. And the voices, sometimes songs, sometimes shouting and sometimes silent were always stirring and storying and shaping her.

Like the rough old oceans that beat the cliffs everyday, the wild liquid living words  would froth over her edges and submerge her coastline, reshaping her world with courage and love, forgiveness and grace, daring and hope.

 

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What do you know about slavery in Venezuala?

May 27, 2013

Last week there was an evangelical uproar about the presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preaching what some have called a candidate for

Jose Chirino, leader of Venezuelan slave uprising. Executed, dismembered, publicly exhibited. Now honoured in Caracas.

‘the worst sermon ever’. You can read it for yourself here  and get a feel for some of reaction and criticism it has drawn.

Those who know me or have read me well, will know that I am no defender of sermons. A friend calls me ‘Slayer of Monologues’ because of my passionate crusade to try and get people to stop listening to sermons as their primary source of biblical engagement, and start actually reading the Bible. So it is ironic that I might bother with a bit of preaching at all. However, as a case study, it illustrates some of what is deeply wrong with the whole system of preaching – how ‘verbal’ it is – when text is cultural and textural and symbollic and political. That preaching is monological and hampered by disconnection, distance and dissociation from our lived contexts, and suffers lopsided power.

Further, the sermon centers on a passage that I have written passionately on in response to a context in which spirits and children and power were dangerously combined: Jesus placed a child in the midst, not on the stage. I, perhaps with many of the critics of  Katharine Jefferts Schori’s sermon, do remain cautious of the dangers in romanticising children and gifts, as much as I remain sceptical that we routinely underestimate the qualities of children and their gifts.

Schori reflects on a text from Acts16, in which  young girl, enslaved and exploited for her ‘python spirit’ (euphemistically rephrased ‘spirit of divination’ in our english texts) by her masters. The spirit causes her to expose the apostles, Paul and Silas, as “slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation”. I have to admit – I’ve been called worse things, and certainly so has Schori. (Don’t take my summary or Schori’s version though – do read the text of Acts 16:16-40 for yourself.

Schori’s controversial interpretation narrates Paul becoming annoyed with the girl and delivering her from the spirit, which then triggers reprisals and public upset, landing Paul and Silas in jail.

Schori puts an unorthodix spin on Paul’s frustration – suggesting that he failed to see the ‘gift’ and its beauty in the girl.

This is what has set the cat among the pigeons.

People can be extremely defensive of Paul.

From the vagabond life of a social outcast, a betrayer of his social and ethnic caste, in and out of trouble, often at the centre of violence and controversy, a dissident even in the new Christ-follower movement, Paul has been rewritten as a leader, a pastor, a teacher, a theologian, an apostle with a capital A.

I spend almost everyday reading and studying Paul. I don’t claim to know him better than anyone else. But to me, he seems like a ‘few-screws-loose-radical-genius’. And personally, what’s not to love about that?! And I’m prepared to listen to the voice of the Living God through such a one, though I’m not surprised if the Galatians resisted his ‘pastoral’ side as he spoke of castrations, and the Corinthians marginalised him in favour of other more respectable candidates like Apollos.

He was complicated.

We are very accustomed to thinking that an evil spirit is all evil, and in contrast the use of the gifts of the holy Spirit are always benign. (Though actually we’ve probably seen enough ‘annoying’ worship music not to cling too tightly to this one.)

What has not been considered in the critiques I read of Schori is the context she was speaking to. She explicitly engages the history and topography of her Venezuelan context. She tells us that she is mindful of where she is, and what has been done in the name of the gospel – making slaves, seizing beauty on the very ground where she stands with the text open.

“One of the gifts of this remarkable island is its diverse mixture of desert and tropics on land and sea – and even more so, the beauty of its different peoples, languages, and heritages.  Yet the history of this place tells some tragic stories about the inability of some to see the beauty in other skin colors or the treasure of cultures they didn’t value or understand.”

Let me think for a moment – if I were speaking in Venezuela, a country whose history and culture has been seared by European-driven african and  hispanic slavery, both in the enslaving and in the freeing,  how would I locate my listeners in the text? Where would I find them?

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For those who have been enslaved – no matter how terribly – there is a deep truth that we are more than our masters told us. Even when others liberate us – we are still deeply more than ‘just’ a liberated slave, more than a post-victim, a slave-survivor. In slavery, as in freedom, we were gifts and character and content.

When a Bishop, whose primary role is pastoral, addresses a culture that might be seen as having only a slave identity and then a liberated identity – whose other strands have been lost by history’s priorities and politics – I think she does well to connect with her co-readers in the beauty and giftedness, shown in the text by a clear action of repeated truth telling by the slave.

Although her audience are not slaves nor probably even sons and daughters of slaves, I wonder how strong the slave story still is in Venezuela?

I reflect on how strongly the colonial story still marks our public discourse in Australia.

So heavy is the history of  an ‘Australian’ identity of convicts  from England, migrants and hope-seekers from Western europe and run away rebels from Ireland, that mainstream Australia sometimes has trouble in recognising itself in the mirror, and trouble understanding our place of privilege and the burden of  host we now owe those who are  on the wrong end of the law, migrants, hope-seekers and run-away rebels arriving in our midst.

Schori shows an understanding of where her hearers might assume themselves in the text.  And by the way, this is where I would locate myself in the text too. I have far more in common with the slave girl, who has been abused, and exploited for her gifts, then ‘released’ with no further thought for my path.

(In Acts 16, she disappears after this cameo – and we are left thinking more naturally of the Philippian christians gathering around the comfortable persona of the wealthy and hospitable Lydia).

Schori speaks to a culture who might hear in this ‘liberation’ text  the message ‘Slavery is evil! The agency of the slave is from an evil source. All that a slave was and did was overrun by a stronger force of evil than even the basic human participation in the imago dei.’

I would actually think this to be the greater heresy – that evil is stronger than the life giving, primal patterning of God in the world. I think evil has a red hot go. No joke. But the ambiguity of humanness is that we are not totally depraved – we are not for the scrap heap. God has declared it ‘not so’ in the flood, the exodus, the exilic remnant and ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We do not belong in kingdoms of darkness – we were made in the image of the one who speaks Light. Evil is not Lord. Jesus is. Depravity is not total. Salvation is. What fascinates me is the calls of ‘liberal’ and ‘heresy’ over an interpretation that to my ears declares Jesus as sovereign Lord.

From the scoffs of many  Biblical scholars posted under her sermon transcript and in blogs here and there,  (admitting a very broad range of professional to arm chair varieties are represented) it is obvious that there is generally a more natural affiliation with Paul and Silas – commanders, preachers, articulaters who are in control, free-ranging gospellers – even when imprisoned they are evangelistic victors! Let it not be always so.

It is true that Schori didn’t tie her sermon up neatly with ‘and the way to unity is through salvation in Christ, found by the grace of God in the atoning work of the cross.’ like every good conservative evangelical sermon should. I can’t say why she didn’t  – however she was preaching to a group of Christians. It is likely that they already know this. It might be taken as read. (Which leads me back to my quandries about what preaching is really for?)

I wonder if, in the eyes of the evangelical critics, a reference to the cross would have ensured this sermon flew by under the radar like many many many other less than enthralling and mildly to wildly inaccurate sermons each week?

Even if they don’t like her exegesis, the arbiters of ‘rightly dividing the word’ might humbly learn from Schori.

We cannot always read our bibles as if the important characters and good guys are always the preachers or evangelists.

It doesn’t help us at all in our own relationships with leadership and preachers in our communities. And it doesn’t allow the surprising character of God to take central place in the text.

For a realistic reader, we know that finding a critique in the text of  the way Paul and Silas went about their evangelism in this instance,  doesn’t detract from the importance of proclaiming the goodnews.

I am not going to stop being a disciple or a peace maker and making disciples and peacemakers or seeking  (as I think Jesus asks those who would follow him to do) just because Paul had an anger threshold. In fact, I learn more about what is important in goodnewsing from this text, than if Paul had been the model of good grace, pastoral senstitivity and self restraint.

Does not anyone find it disturbing that Paul wasn’t motivated to deliver the slave girl from human or spiritual oppression out of compassion – only when he felt overwhelmed and thwarted? Hardly text-book ministry there!

Katharine Jefferts Schori belongs to a hierarchical ecclesial system I find philosophically  incompatible with the gospel – as incompatible as slavery. (However, I find the gospel remarkably resilient and it breaks through in beautiful and redeeming ways, perhaps against all odds, even in our strange church systems.) But she is also a gifted person herself. She flies aeroplanes, she plays the harp, she looks quite good in purple (important for the episcopally inclined) and she knows that even places where evil has set up shop, are still places where the goodness, truth and beauty of God is not irrepressibly silenced. How could we live with hope on this planet if it were not the case?

As Kuyper dramatically proclaims

“Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’

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Let the little children come

April 29, 2013

This is a story of powerlessness and marginalisation that is repeated all over the place – and it is to our shame as disciples of Jesus. Where’s our guts? our verve? our passion for justice? Who will speak up and call the church on their poor, pitiful and pathetic grumbling? Over a number of years of consulting in churches that say they want to welcome children and families it has come down to this question for me. Things need to change – the way we do what we do excludes most people, even those who acquiesce to it, and sit quietly. Children who are active in our midst – who want to run and jump and touch and ask questions remind us what faith should look like – active, inquiring, curious, risk taking, unashamed, uninhibited.

The path forward for the health of the whole church, not just the sake of children and mothers, is in a radical reorientation of the church back to interactive communal cross-generational encounters of faith sharing, story sharing, and rituals of joy, peace and rememberance.
We have invested in sermons and mostly passive prayers for all of these years – and look at the church – sick and dying, flaccid and ineffectual. We can clearly see the outcome of sermons week after week and its not healthy, courageous disciples. When we give up this foolishness?

In curating gatherings for celebrating faith of all ages – occasionally people have, in anticipation been anxious – and said ‘Don’t do that! Don’t not have a sermon; don’t lead us in something interactive! We’re used to sermons! We’ll be uncomfortable.”
To which I have learned to answer: ‘Are you going to stop following Jesus if I do this?’

And usually they raise themselves up, indignant and defensive: “Of course not! I’ve been a Christian for 50 years!”

“Great! I say – because if anything I did was going to stop you following Jesus, I would desist immediately. But as you are going to keep following – and this just might give some others the chance to join you and I in following – let’s go ahead with it.”

This has to be the only criteria on which the church is configured – the making of disciples. It’s all Jesus asked us to do.

The practicalities of how to facilitate such a time are in lots of resources – every teacher knows how to lead a group in sharing their stories, moving through a process together, empowering those who need encouragement as well bringing the best out of those who have much to offer without overcoming the less robust.

Be bold and very courageous RevClaire. If you know how to do this – as you said – do it! every week! Call the bluff of the PCC and the Steely-stares. They are not made of anything but chaff. There is absolutely nothing to lose.

Rev'd Claire

cross toddlerYesterday was dominated by a Baptism service for two babies (noting that a Baptism service is for the glory of God, like every church service) up at our biggest church. We were expecting about 160 people, a rough count gave us 180 people there, and there wasn’t a seat left in the place (except for next to the organist on his bench, but I don’t think he’d have thanked me). Two lovely families. Two families wanting to come and bring their latest additions for baptism. Our benefice operates a generous baptism policy – the incumbent was charged by a bishop long ago to “baptise promiscuously” and has done so with enthusiasm ever since.

I love baptism services. I love being able to tell a Bible story in a way that people enjoy – I generally use a Children’s Bible and wander up and down showing pictures, often adding comments to…

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