Friday, 25 February 2011

Another Opportunity to Do Good

I don't apologise for re-posting this!

On April 23rd 2011 (Holy Saturday, Easter-eve), I will be leaping out of a plane at 10,000 ft (tandem parachute jump and free-fall). It is my honour and delight to have been invited by the Mayor and the Lymphoma Association to take part in this event to mark their 25th anniversary. Please follow the link to learn more about the valuable and necessary work of this charity.

The Lymphoma Association is one of the nominated charities of the Mayor of Aylesbury, Cllr Graham Webster, and provides support and guidance to those suffering from lymphatic cancer, and their families. Please give generously.

I dedicate this jump to the memory of Liz Cooper, a close friend of my brother and best friend of my wife, who died of Hodgkin's Disease far too young, at the age of 17. 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

In the Cause of Good

I have watched an excellent programme since it first graced our screens in the Neolithic Era. At first, it was the theme tune, the giblets and the gore, but more and more I have found Casualty to be one those must-see things in a week (after Top Gear, of course). 

This week, in the midst of more power-struggling, doctors-gone-mad, domestic violence, fears on the part of a nurse about his own Family Jewels (seed of a storyline for us blokes later, mark my words), a boob-job-gone-gammy and the momentary possibility of romance, there was an account of a couple who were Jehovah's Witnesses.

Now, before I go a step further, that since my initial frustrations about the Visitors to My Door, the lovely couple who visit me periodically to deliver their magazine, chat, are generous with the constraints on my time of my work and family (that is to say, they do not outstay their welcome, and a quite clear that they mustn't) - they have become a pleasant addition to my life. We will disagree on almost everything, but in the end, I respect what they are doing and why, and they respect what I do and why. The adversarial sense on my door-step is gone, and we can have very mutual conversations without the old angsts. 

The story-line in Casualty this week depicted a pregnant lady and her partner, both brimming with hope for the future. She took a tumble down an escalator as a result, I think, of a problem with her blood and a faint. You can see where this is going. After the rather cynical (but I understand why) inclusion in the story of said mum-to-be being robbed at the bottom of the escalator, she emerged in hospital. They discovered that she was a JW and would not want a transfusion if the need arose. The need arose, catastrophically. There was then a very well played-out debate among the medical staff about the conflict of religious belief and medical need, and in the end, the woman died for the lack of the transfusion. Why this was good, and it was, was because for the first time, I heard the JW position on this issue presented clearly and without hysteria, in a balanced and debated form through the theatre of this programme. I understand now that for Witnesses, transfusions and the like are regarded as a barrier to a share in the Resurrection. Whist I happen not to believe that myself, I now have a greater respect for their perspective. The balance was drawn in the story by the partner, the father to the poorly baby, conceding to let him/her receive a life-saving transfusion. This wasn't a depiction of a religious person blinded by a faith position, albeit resolute in it. This was a depiction of a faithful Witness torn by life and death, faith and science. It was a story without judgement, without rhetoric, and without needless pathos. It seemed real, and generously portrayed. 

You all know my feelings about the excesses of our TV writers. Some love to take lives and turn them into grotesque theatre for our delight, and others are just clumsy and puerile. This episode will be memorable because it took a real struggle and offered it to us realistically. 

Monday, 21 February 2011

A Hitchhiker's Guide to A Galaxy

This is not a post about Slartibartfast, Trillian, Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent or the Paranoid Android. More's the pity, you are thinking! I could expound the virtues of 42, 'Life, The Universe and Everything', but I won't. Shame, I hear you cry. Neither will I invoke the wrath of the Vogons - though a Babel Fish is always useful!

No, this is about priestly ministry. Did you just glaze over? Snap out of it, I am busy being meaningful and poignant here. 

You may have gathered, from the flavour of the last few posties that I am considering future ministries and the choices that will place me among them. Part of this is to do with role and what place the Vicar holds in his community. When I was a sprog (not so very long ago, for I am still very youthful), the Vicar was the Head Honcho, the Chief Poobah. He (use of language reflects my experience, nothing more) made the rules and the rest of us followed. Farvah Knows Best! Well, this has manifestly changed. The great comfort of the old model is that at least things were clear - now they are hazy and unclear. There are Uber-mega churches in parts of America who now make money out of defining the leadership of clergy. Yes, yes - path finding, modelling, empowering and aligning (I was listening, see), but what does this actually mean on a Monday morning in February when I have a honking cold, sniffles, a raw throat and a cold coffee awaiting my ministrations? I ponder this often because for priests who seek to lead communities, this is the '42' question.

To me there are several helpful models (not including the 'shepherd' model, that's plagiarizing none less than God, and can't be cool, ever); the conductor of an orchestra [the conductor is not the star, or the person with the skills to do everything - the conductor is a true collaborator with a team whose end product is stunning]; there is the Maitre 'D [not the skilled chef, the adept waiting staff, or the owner, but the one who keeps things going and the punters fed].

Another model of ministry struck me a few days ago, and like any that are not from the mouth of the Lord, it is flawed. However, there is a sense that the incumbent is the hitch hiker. The journey of the parish is well underway. It is going where it is going. It makes that journey in a vehicle that needs love, along a road that is confusing and apt to throw it travellers into uncharted territory. Vicars are hitch hikers. We may know that stretch of the route a little better, we may know how the combustion engine works and can help fix it. We can lend a hand if a tyre needs changing and we may even suggest a better radio station for the music. Then, after a while, we hop out and thumb our next ride to the next destination. In short, it is not the vicar's journey, it is the journey of those already in the car. Ultimately the choices are theirs, but the hiker can of course make helpful suggestions. For those in the car, over the whole journey, they may know lots of hitch hikers. Some will bring fun and excitement to the road ahead, others may bring challenge and admonishment for the quality of the driving, and so forth - so many hitch hikers, one journey. 

I am not suggesting that Douglas Adams is the new Bill Hybels (though thinking about it, it might have been fun but for two important factors*), but as priests try to understand themselves and the ministry with which they are entrusted (and believe me, it is like trying to see shapes in clouds at times), models are helpful. This is mine, and I offer it to you for your consumption. Back to my cold coffee ...

*he is a post-mortem atheist

Friday, 18 February 2011


The last week or so has been interesting. I have been reading Parish Profiles, and dreaming dreams. You may remember that I was planning to write a satirical Profile after my efforts with the Vacancies page in the Church Times, but recognise that they are written by untrained loving people who have a hard job to do for a whole community. They are, therefore, off limits to me.

I come to this post desperate to write. I have agonised over finding words for the last few days, and I am tired with the exertion of trying and failing. The words I need to find are the equivalent of trying to answer questions about why I love someone - you see the problem - you know the answer but no words exist to express it properly. I can write a blog post, though, free the words a little. 

Now, Parish Profiles. If you are unfamiliar with them, they are the statements of particulars of parish churches and their communities - prayer life, community, opportunities, aspirations and so on. Yes, the priest that many of them often seek (the cause of their creation mostly) cries out for no-one less that the Lord - but why not, eh? If it was was my church, I would want Rev J. Christ and no-one else. But they are wonderful documents. They are permission to daydream. This is just as well, as upon them we choose to move our families, their lives and hopes, and plonk them into the middle of p.8 for the next decade. The daydreams are therefore entirely useful! Prayer happens in those times too. To look at the church and imagine ministering within its walls, walking down its paths at Easter, the kids playing on the lawn at the back of vicarage, the summer fair on the green, the news that there is a school with relationships with the parish, a cry for enablement and collaboration, a deep liturgical life, a coffee rota, a treasurer and secretary - what better pastime is there than this for an aspirant parish priest. None, mate - let me tell you. That list is endless!

Now the words are coming. Thank God!

Do you get days like this? Days when you need to express yourself in one form or another and it doesn't or can't flow? I am trying to work out why it is, because in the midst of failing to find words for one thing, also wrote two sermons and a funeral. Those words were not a problem. I think it is when I have to write about myself. A blog is a subterfuge, a hiding place - we get so far and then stop, and in the end say little about ourselves, leaving you wonderful readers to join the dots!

Anyway, I have rambled aimlessly and pointlessly, so will stop for now. I just needed to write, release a little pressure. Job done. Thank you!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A Relevant Church II

It was my pleasure, recently, to share an 'away day' with the diocesan council for the deaf/hard of hearing, with whom I am a trustee. I thought I knew a great deal about this ministry, but it seems that I was sadly lacking!

Once again, I ponder a blog-stream that seems to want to denigrate my Church (and how easy that is to do in private). In the context of this day away, I find myself re-visiting an earlier thought process about just how relevant our church is (see here for my earlier post).

Imagine you are deaf (if you can't imagine, turn the TV down, move to a 'signed channel' and see how you get on, and that's only half the story), and a loved one is killed. The police would visit in the middle of the night, possibly, but would have to ring the diocesan chaplain to the deaf to interpret (who may live a hundred miles away). No choice, just got to do it. It doesn't end there with tea and much sympathy. The chaplain is often the one going to the funeral director's to view coffins with the bereaved person, planning services. Then what happens? Often the chaplain delivers the bad news to many others because of the communication difficulties, and so on. That is where the church is, at the raw edges of life. 

Then you have social-services meetings regarding the issues of sensory impairment. In that room will be the church in the person of the chaplain who takes his/her place in the line of those sharing the case load. This and so many things take place without most Christians knowing about it. Our diocese is fortunate - for its three counties it has two chaplains (and a wonderful support network). They have to regard the diocese as a parish, with the home-communions, pastoral support, liturgical provision all on that scale. Let us not forget, too, that they had to learn an entire language for this work. That is our church, relevant, useful, witnessing, real, current, ministering to people where they are. 

I wonder if this why I can't get steamed up about the so-called 'big issues' in the church. I can't because they aren't, not really. What I get steamed up about is how a society where 1 in 7 people [8.7 million people in GB] experience a hearing-loss (not forgetting of course, our service men and women back from active service in some circumstances) doesn't or cannot do more. And this is but one different ability. This is before we think even about those isolated by visual impairment, etc etc. 

This isn't a post in which I want to be despondent. This is one where I want to celebrate what our Church manages to do, quite quietly, without event, without fuss. It is doing this through so many chaplaincies, and I doubt that many people know that they are there. Our church is at its best when it does this work, and not when it's attentions are fixated elsewhere. 

Friday, 11 February 2011

A Spring Clean

Time is finite. 

Over a year ago, I was encouraged to take two hours a week 'in daylight time' for myself. This was part of learning the new patterns of working that clergy need to work out for themselves as they enter ministry. I find it hard to stop in the middle of a day, so chose blogging as a means of stopping 'work' for half an hour a day. It has worked well, and yes, it only takes me fifteen or twenty minutes to write and edit these smatterings! Claire Pedrick tells me that I am an 'extrovert thinker' - one whose thoughts form as they are expressed! Good-o! 

But, time is finite. 

I am entering a liminal space - a place pf change and transition. Not only am I entering it, but I am bringing my family with me - whether they like it or not. This transition demands that new tasks be done, more praying done, more emotion experienced, and more negotiation at home. I have a choice. I do these new things, at the same time as all the 'work' things need doing, at the expense of time with my wife and children (or in practice, I work late into the evening), or I look elsewhere for that time.

Blogging will be the sacrificial lamb. 

For a little while, I will be a less frequent flyer in my blog. I will still read and comment on others, as it is part of my own journey of learning and engaging with the issues, but the time I devote to writing in a week has another call upon it. My wife and daughters will need me with them more in the weeks to come, to talk about the future, to reassure, to debate, to consider, to dream, to fear, to cry, to laugh, to worry, to enjoy. Ministry is not just about the minister, because for many of us, we have family living 'over the shop' with us. 

I will not vanish altogether, and posts will appear, but will I just not appear on lists daily as I have to date. In the meantime, if it is your practice, please pray for me, for my family and for the church communities who will be affected by my transitions in the time to come. Be assured of my prayers too. 

May God bless us all!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Endlessly Possible

I am the process of entering into a process that will initiate the process by which I will process elsewhere. In the end, I will have to start to apply myself that I may, myself, apply for the next stage in this minsitry that God seems willing to grant me.

I take my first tentative step down this path, and I am struck by how endlessly possible everything is.

I am, by style, a positive kind of man. I am a glass-half-full sort of person (even in instances where the glass is manifestly empty, cracked, mottled with algae - but that is no reason to lose hope). I am fairly straightforward I think  - though not simple, I hope. I can usually get on with everyone whom I meet and with most situations in which I find myself, and that is blessing to me.

This process to which I refer will demand that I put words on paper to frame this out. Saying 'I am a nice geezer who gets on with people' will not cut it, and neither should it. It may not be true, other than in my own head, but people seem to echo this sentiment, which is kind of them.

My perspective is simple: everything is endlessly possible. Even in the realm of the impossible, there are things that are still very positive, and so it is with every encounter with every person of any age in any context. This endless possible-ness is a sacrament. It is God given. It is as wonderful a gift as that first daubed splodge picture from ones own children, that gift that says just about everything that needs to be said about what really is possible.

Even in days where the 'possible' seems elusive, it never actually goes. The gift of the next opportunity, the next day, the next chance - all these things invite the joy of possibilities. some of things will work and some will not - an occupational hazard of possibilities (no certainties, you see). As I look to the brow of a hill which as yet conceals from my view of the other side, I know that I needn't worry. Everything is endlessly possible.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Such Responsibility as This

Today (Monday) sees the Vernacular Curate, together with some other willing locals enter into a process that will by necessity directly affect the education of many hundreds of children over the next few years.

No, although I do teach some of the RE at this school, I am not shedding the collar in favour of an Intelligent White Board! No, I am part of a panel of school governors meeting to interview candidates for the position of Head Teacher. 

This may not sound remarkable, and may even strike you as some of the 'bread and butter' of a priest's job. But think about it. Until 2006 I was a glorified carpet salesman. I am surrounded by men and ladies from business, largely, plus some who are Governors by dint of being parents. With the exception of one of the panel, none of us are trained educationalists. 

I have trawled to a considerable depth through the Application Forms of the candidates in questions. 'SIP', 'CVA', SDP', SLT', 'KS1', 'NPQH', 'EYFS', 'CPD', 'APS', 'APP', 'ICT', 'SEF', 'G+T', 'SMT', and more besides; these letter are daubed all across the forms I am reading. Do I have the faintest idea to what they refer? No, of course not. Hopefully someone will (I know a couple, fret not). This said, I have interviewed hundreds (literally) of people for jobs in my time, but none for the job of Head Teacher. Barring one of us, we must all say the same. 

It strikes me as odd that a crew of laity can carry this responsibility. What we bring is the most acute care for the school and the welfare and development of its children (plus, in my case, a reputation in my former world of being a very tough interviewer), and a wish to see the school flourish. Our ability to conduct an interview is not brought into question; our ability to interrogate an Application Form is not checked. Looking at it another way, clergy are not selected by the nice ladies and germs from the pews, but by some of the most experienced priests and trained laity available. Staff in carpet shops are not selected by the customers, but by practitioners in the trade. Football players are not chosen by the fans. The appointment of Head Teachers seems almost unique in this and I am wondering if this is a good thing or not. We will see. 

As I put these blessed forms down for the night, with my list of canny killer questions (yes, I know the art of an interview is to allow the candidate to be seen at their best, yeah yeah yeah), I pray that this very significant chance I have to do a valuable service for a community will not be squandered by my inefficiencies and lack of specific educational knowledge. The things that we do for love .... 

...prayers for the candidates too, please. 

Sunday, 6 February 2011

What To Do?

I am a mild-tempered man. Yes, I may rant and rave on this thing, but in the end, better that I tap keys than deliver a dry-slap to a passing pensioner, no? Apart from in front of Saturday night reality TV when I am rage-incarnate, I am just a ball of fluffy loveliness. 

Until just now ....

My little girl, my darling daughter, all three-years-old of her returned home from church in a ponderous mood. She is only like this if she is once again contemplating issues of mortality and the theology of death (I often wonder if Paul Sheppy isn't her real dad, at times), or if someone has been mean to her. Without exception, such a person is another child, one of her peers, and we attend to matters accordingly.

Until just now ...

She is fairly shy or perhaps measured. She is well-socialised as any clergy kids are, but she is cautious about who she speaks to - no bad thing in the large public gatherings that my work and life expose her and her sister to. It is a frequent thing that complete (or relative) strangers speak to them like old friends, or (as happened this very week) grab and squeeze their cheeks. For them to have a healthy reticence in the face of all this attention (wonderful and kind as it is) is a useful skill.

Well, this very day, within the context of the Eucharist at which we had all gathered to celebrate, someone accused my perfect little angel of being rude, because she didn't speak to that person (someone she hadn't seen in nearly a year). Were it another child, Rebekah would have stood her ground, but when it is another adult, all she could do was package it up, internalise it, believe what was said and take it home quietly. 

I have discovered a new emotion. Fortunately, I only learned about this after collar-off time, so was safely locked into the house. Why? Because this emotion is a dark one, one that propelled me towards a fury the like of which I have not felt for some time. I wanted to fight for my little girl. I wanted to do the index-finger-jabbing-chest thing, ask what the devil they thought they were doing. It is in the heart of most parents to protect their youngsters, or to seek retribution when they seem to have been wronged. I now know this first hand, and was, I confess, alarmed by my own fury. They are my kids and I am their dad, but here we have the old balancing act thing again, because I am clergy, and clergy do not habitually throttle people. I am now at a loss to know what to do in this thorny world that my children will have to journey through. I know that my collar will hold me back, and whether that is right or not I don't know. I jealously protect my own, but for the first time, I feel that there is a barrier to that in some small part. 

I don't know how to end this post. At the moment I want to take my little girl's pain away and do death in equal measure. I am a nice man, and also a priest, and at the moment, I am not sure how this stuff works. 

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Our Holy Land

I watched a programme during the course of week where the journalist Louis Theroux, under the title "Ultra-Zionists" examined life in The Holy Land. It was an uncomfortable yet compelling programme to watch.

Let me add some other things to this thought process as I try to work through it. I receive regular emails from a Jerusalemite Christian (I am on a circulation, they are not just for my own edification) who has much to say against Israeli Jews. I have other contacts through the social media who are Jews and speak eloquently in the opposite direction. I have a genuine belief in the proximity of Christians and Jews (and an association with the Council of Christians and Jews, and a burgeoning one with the ICCJ), and am still raw with the emotional wounds of visiting the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. I hear news stories about actions on the part of the Israeli government that cannot be justified (speaking of the attack and murder of aid workers on ships). I am ever aware of the insidious reach of Islamic extremist groups who favour nothing more than a warm moist bed of brewing Palestinian hatred. 

What is absolutely clear to me is that this is absolutely unclear. It is reminiscent of my short stint as a jeweller when I used to set to and unpick knotted fine gold chains with five pins. Even the name is hard to claim without hurting someone. Calling The Holy land 'Palestine' offends Jews, and to call it 'Israel' offends Palestinians. Add to this the fact that not all Palestinians are Muslims (some are Christians and some are indeed Jewish by faith), and that not all Jews are Jews (in the 'observant' sense). Add to that scriptural motivation (expediently or through conviction), political dabbling, their finances and military might - and frankly, if this were a soup of many ingredients it would defy classification, beyond 'unholy mess'. 

Politicians have worked over this issue (and its issues) for decades. It is so much part of the narrative of the world in which I live that until recently, it was like so much white noise. Middle-East, blah blah blah. Guilty as charged. But I was wrong. Why? Because I am a Christian and although not as a resident, I believe that my faith story gives me a stake there. We are talking of nothing less than my Holy Land, my sacred place, the seat of my faith.  I feel increasingly strongly that Christians should have a voice in this almost Titan struggle - yet in a year of blogging not a single post have I seen on the subject. There are people dying over our most revered and treasured shrines. The fights are taking place over the very stones that our Lord walked across, but we seem oddly quiet as a world faith community. I venture to say that Manchester United fans would have more to say if Old Trafford were the scene of such conflict!

I will try to work out my thoughts and feelings on this very difficult situation. I have no doubt that representatives from each 'side' will make their representations (and almost with exception, angrily - born of such hurt). As I write, I have reached no conclusion, apportioned no blame - but am ever of the view that I must have a care. This isn't just a fight between two groups external to me, or us. If this were a a playground, I wonder if the Church wouldn't be the kid standing by watching the other two kids murder one another. 

Friday, 4 February 2011

You're Having a Laugh

I give you, after God, Jesus, the Spirit, my dad, Father Christmas and the gerbils, my hero - one Jeremy Clarkson. The co-presenter of Top Gear, my favouritist programme ever, he is something of a inspiration to my more playful writing styles. He is one of the funniest men on the telly, and he says some of the most outrageous things - and often gets into trouble for it.

Today has taught me how strange humour is. Jezza's crime today was stereotyping Mexicans as 'feckless and lazy', and something about sleeping a lot. The BBC had to apologise to the Mexican Ambassador, who was right unhappy about the national stereotype. Now,  the thing is this, I can only assume that Signor Ambassador was watching Top Gear, the vehicle (get it) of the comments. If he is a viewer of Top Gear he will be well familiar with Jezza's style. Now, if I were to stand up in my pulpit and call Mexicans 'feckless and lazy', he might have a case - but when a professional Rude Geezer does it (like he does every week), it seems like a willfull humour-bypass moment from the man from Guadalajara!

Which is why Sally Bercow is a numpty (allegedly). She is the Speaker's Wife (the Speaker being the fourth [I think] most senior bod in Parliament - a serious piece of political kit), and exclaimed (among her other facile exclaimings) that Mr Speaker Bercow was something of a yummy scrummy sex-god as Speaker. She said this and then ripped her kit off for a photo shoot, and the resultant image of her in a bed sheet caused mayhem - as well it might. Funny she thought, wrong time and place, I think! 

And all this on the day when we learn that the government of Malawi is intending to make farting breaking wind in public illegal

Now, that is funny ...

Called to Live Forever?

Life in so many ways is marked by progress in this field or that. These days, progress in ecologically advantageous matters are all the vogue. However, the might of science has been hard at work for generations to increase life expectancy. This has been achieved by the eradication of many diseases or by the discovery of their requisite cures. 

Now I should say that I would not deny any single human being the medicines that they need. I would do anything to alleviate suffering and pain, and as a parent myself hope and pray that when or if my children ever need the fruits of scientific breakthrough, they will be available. 

I read an article somewhere a week or so ago about a discovery about the polluting nature of home-based domestic fires in third-world countries. Evidence, apparently, suggested that they belched out more toxic gases than all of global industry put together. Answer, ovens for homes; solution, several million more people living longer. 

Simple mathematics leads me to a concern. If we will all begin to live into our hundreds, and in circumstances when millions more will live longer because of cleaner air, in an age when people have more children - where will we all live and what will we all eat? How will we keep warm, how will be dispose of our waste, and where will our hard fought eco-battles get us when all the green spaces and the fauna and flora are squeezed into extinction?

I wonder if there will be a moment of either critical mass or a tipping point at which point human lives will be too long in relation to the number of people alive on this rock? Will there be a time when suddenly there just is far too little of what we need to survive available to us (accepting of course that most of a continent already knows something of this way of life already). 

In short, we can't all live forever. I am not sure that is what we are called to do either. I am not suggesting that the Lord would have us die of some vile pestilence, but what if we started living to 150, 200, more? I see the lives of some people in their 80s 'buried' out of harm's way in care homes and wonder if the progress for eternity is worth it. One thing that utterly and momentarily grieved me on the day the twins were born was that, in normal circumstances, I wouldn't be there for them when they too were old and needed help. Old-age is a gift and a privilege of course, but I can't help thinking that we could end up with too much of a good thing. 

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Public Theology 2 - Blogging

Today has been an edifying one on here because I went out on a limb and did not find the place lonely. That is the thing about writing on weblogs, we go out on a limb quite often.

I have written for over year on an array of topics that I would never have predicted. When I used to read Bp Alan's Blog (long before I thought of doing it myself), I marvelled at how he found the variety of things to write about. People now say the same of me. To them I say that it is not a skill, but I think that blogging requires a certain courage to test an un-prepared idea of thought. There are times when those thoughts chime, and times when they don't - and that is to be expected. 

I believe that the corpus of work that is represented in blog is a purely personal theology. Yes, it has considerable overlap with the theologies of most Christians, but each blog has a distinctiveness. That is perhaps the reason why for the moment, blogs are popular reads for many, and I modestly add my own to that number in its own small way. In short, you get my theology. What is also true, is that it outstrips sermonising in terms of volume, variety and maybe raw honesty (though I hope not too far in the case of the latter). In short, I have said more here about Christ, directly or indirectly, than I have in all my sermons over all the years I have been delivering them. Each of these posts is read by more people than hear my sermons on a given Sunday - and I can no more stop this now than discontinue sermons. 

I have noticed something about blogging as public theology - a thing I believe wholly that it is. Pawing through the statistics that this site delivers, I have learned the following:

 - Bloggers write in a linear fashion, one post after another one day to the next. That is not often how they are read. In a given day on this site, ten or more separate posts are read, and given that I typically write no more than two posts a day, suggests that people come here looking rather than just finding.

 - I wrote a silly post about a BBC TV programme. Many many hundreds of people have read it because it was added to the BBC's own website. Each of those readers had never seen this blog, and have now visited - some even looking further than the post that they were seeking in the first place. They didn't run a mile when they saw that it was a link to a God-botherer! If I were to receive that many unsolicited new visitors to my church in the same period of time, I would feel very pleased - and that is even before I spoke a word to them about God. We don't need to be exclusively obsessed about speaking of God to speak about God!

 - The posts that people seem to want to read the most here are not all the ultra-pious ones (not that you would find any). Actually, the perennial appetite for a human story, good or painful - the accounts of faith as struggle, of theology bound up in the normal disappointments and joys of life - they are what people read. It is the joy of having a fairly wide 'back catalogue' of some fairly whacky stuff that I am able to make this observation. 

 - A phenomenon that I note but do not attempt to interpret: posts with the word 'Women/Woman' in the title is a 'fast sell', and not for the reasons you might imagine with a filthy mind (which you are invited to rinse out over there)! This at least tells me that a public theology is one that is still struggling for an equal voice for all. 

In line with my previous posting, public theology is lived out in the considered and conspicuous lives of Christian people. Priests have an advantage if only they recognised it and wore it, and so do bloggers. The danger for bloggers is that they may be so wrapped up in writing theology that they in fact stop being theology, just as priests who over-theologise the choices that they have miss a trick for those who never knew or cared for those choices in the first place. 

Public Theology

I wandered down my Blogs of Choice this morning and discovered a post that just 'clicked' for me. I pondered a long rambling comment, but thought it better to unpack the thoughts here on my own space. 

Her topic is 'doing theology in public', and in line with the best of Laurie Green, implies throughout her article that theology is not just a bookshelf topic but a way of life. My take on this is that we don't just read theology, but we do theology and are theology. For a Christian, theology is implicit in every action of our lives, intentionally or otherwise. 

Then I arrived at the killer sentence in Maggi's post:
Theology is much more interesting done in a broad context; it saves it from the angels-on-a-pinhead  stuff, and from disappearing down rabbit holes that are really not that important.  But what I fear to some extent is that Christian theology is becoming more and more privatised, and the gap between those who are totally inside it and totally alienated from it is widening. And we really shouldn't let that happen.
I couldn't agree more, but I have a very clear view about a contributory factor in this apparent departure. I have posted on this before, and have used an image on this post to highlight my view. In the picture that you can see at the top, it is clear who the priest is. Why? The clothes he wears tells us so. 

Priests in many circles don't like to call themselves priests - ministers, if you please. Priests in many circles have also decided that the uniform of ministry, the Number Ones (to coin a military term) are 'unhelpful' and 'barriers' - so stop wearing them. Dog-collars are pulled out for meetings with bishops, synod meetings and maybe even funerals. The rest of the time they are regarded as the dirty secret of ordination - the 'thing we don't like to do'. 

I meet many people from a diverse population in my work. I meet young and old, Christian and non (including those of other faiths), men and women. I wear a uniform, and my uniform is my theology. The life I lead is therefore projected through the lens of this little piece of white plastic. There are probably 500 kids in this town who can greet me as 'Father David' without flinch or awkwardness, and with all warmth and openness. They know who I am and what I do; I get the 'high-fives' and from the tinies a group hug. I can talk about God, but also I don't need to. With adults my collar doesn't eclipse the fact that I like a beer, am a normal bloke, like fast cars, swear a bit, laugh with the lads, be an idiot at times - they happen and I am still a priest. The implicit theology about priesthood that I believe very firmly that I bring is valuable. If I was the same person out of uniform, much of it would be lost. Not least of all, I'd have to waste half the time in every encounter explaining my Christianity, then my job - before I got around to asking them about them! 

Multiply my experience across a whole country, and we have a problem. If people in paid or public ministry seem to be ashamed (and that is how it is at time perceived by others beyond me) of the signs of their office, then the rest of world will make assumptions about the stuff that they believe too - that it too is worthy of concealment. Being a shining-example Christian inside the doors of a church is easy. What is harder is to be a Christian without saying a word as we walk past. We need not just preach our theologies to the converted, we need to walk them down the street around our necks too! 

The Bit Part

Imagine your favourite film ...

For me it would be Name of the Rose, Star Wars maybe. Add Shawshank Redemption and Monsignor Quixote in there, and my list would grow nicely. Other films like Gladiator and Ben Hur are much loved. However, who do we think of when these films are named?

Name of the Rose? Sean Connery. Star Wars? Darth Vader. Shawshank? Morgan Freeman, and so on. Could I tell you the name of the rider of the third chariot in Ben Hur or the hapless woman cut in half in Gladiator? No, of course not. Could I tell you name of the producers of those film? No, again.

I heard a sermon on Sunday that caused me to think along the lines that I am writing here (and thanks to John Bush for his sermon). I am expanding a thought that he offered, one that resonated with me as one who finds certain difficulties with the perennial 'shepherd/flock' model of religious belief and life.

So, consider Ben Hur, for example. Yes, it was lead by Charlton Heston and is a fine epic. Ben Hur = Charlton Heston, but imagine the film with only Charlton Heston. The image above would not be possible. We all watch many films, many television programmes, and they are often awash with people whose name we will never know. My bete noir, Eastenders, is the same. There are silent characters in that which have been there for decades, in non-speaking parts. Eastenders wouldn't work without their parts, and neither would Ben Hur work without countless 'crowd members', passers-by, and so on.

I wonder if church life is a bit like this. In my own experience of church life, the model of church is of priestly presence and a congregation. If I took the film-model, I think I would regard the priest as producer. God has to be the Director in all our epics, of course. But a church is no more the priest than Ben Hur is the producer. Both need every one else, with or without spoken parts. Each films has its stars, the Names In Lights, and the same is surely the same in our church life. With only once exception, and that being a place in Brompton, no church is remembered in terms of its priest (in my own experience). I can tell you why St Martin's In The Field is well known, or maybe St Aldate's in Oxford. I don't think of those places in terms of their vicars.

This is surely a good thing. The incumbent is the spiritual lead, not the starring part. Were it to be the other way around, where would the people be? In a shadow? Churches need, like films need, the bit parts. Without the crowds, the choruses, the fighter battalion, the hoardes of shoppers or market traders, there would be no church. The silent roles, the 'presence' roles add the depth that the fine performance of the one or two cannot begin to offer. 

...and it is with films that in the end, it is the story we love and hold close. The same could be for the church!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...