Tear Down the Wall!

Church newsletter article 10.12.17

This will be one of the last newsletters of the year, a year in which the news has been dominated by borders and boundaries: Trump’s promised wall between the US and Mexico and the banning of visitors from Muslim countries, missiles fired across the border from North Korea, the Brexit debate and questions of the nature and location of the border between the UK and the EU, especially the thorny question of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This week the nature of borders and capitals reared its problematic head in the Holy Land too, with the proposed move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the recognition of that as being Israel’s capital city. What does this mean for the Palestinians who find their boundaries being squeezed? It has been a year of us vs. them and who’s in and who’s out. So often the divisions have seemed stark and irreconcilable and the debates and discussions impossible.

Advent seems a good time to reflect on these stories and situations in light of the Christmas Story. This story is all about such questions and debates. Today the Palestinians might feel they are living in an occupied land, then it was the Jews under the Romans. Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem because of the census, a count of the people to see who was in, and by implication who was out. Wisemen come following a star, crossing borders of geography, ethnicity and religion to visit a new king. Can you imagine the response from Herod (picture Trump receiving them…)? The next scene makes it clear, Mary, Joseph and Jesus are fleeing across the border to Egypt to escape the threat of murder.

Who is in and who is out? Who belongs? And who does not? Place the past and the present on top of each other, do they sound that different?

There is another story of boundaries, the boundary between God and us, the wall erected between us and Eden comprised not of brick but our anger, selfishness and suspicion that says we’re doing life our way not yours. This story doesn’t end in firm positions, hard ball negotiation or red lines draw in the ground, but through God sending his son to cross the boundary, to see through our eyes, to walk in our shoes, becoming one of us, entering our world and speaking our lingo, so that in turn we could see and hear and understand his. This is not ultimately a story of us and them or in and out, but a story of reconciliation. My hope and prayer is that next year our story might begin to reflect this story instead…

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Book Review – Doctor Who: Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds (4/5 Stars)

Before reviewing this, I must be honest and confess up front that I’m a bit of a Whovian, growing up with the mighty Tom Baker, and following every incarnation and companion since on screen. I’m also a great fan of Big Finish’s brilliant Doctor Who audiobooks, which I can’t recommend enough.

So what did I make of Harvest of Time? I didn’t come to it expecting it to be a piece of high class literature, rather fun escapism, also Who doesn’t shy from taking on moral and ethical issues. This was certainly the case here with questions of power, personal sacrifice, honesty, trust and interpersonal relationships examined. Contemporary concerns around the environment also hold a central place.

The plot was fun, a classic tussle between the Doctor and an alien invasion of earth with a bundle of twists and turns thrown in for good measure. It was the interplay between the two main protagonists (trying to avoid spoilers if I can) that made it more than just a Who versus the Alien of the Week story. Really well portrayed I thought other than one gripping scene where the Doctor faced a choice about how to respond to his opponents plea, which I felt although a great idea could have been played out a little deeper (as between The Doctor and Davros in the Genesis of the Daleks).

What particularly impressed me was the way this felt like a Classic Who episode rather than one of the modern new Who shows. These have a different pace to them, a sense of side rather than relentless action, which was carried off neatly here.
For fun Who action? Definitely recommended!

(Copied from my Goodreads account)

Back to the Books

Having got my research application sent off for ethical approval, it was good today to be able to turn once more from form filling to reading and thinking. Started to read through The Mission of Preaching: Equipping the Community for Faithful Witness by Patrick Johnson. Very promising start, looking forward to working through the rest of it.

Whole Life Preaching

The DMin thesis I’m working on, arose out of the impact London Institute for Contemporary Christianity’s (LICC) Life on the Frontline had on me and our church. At the course’s heart is a very simple thesis, how can we resource the church to fulfill its every day mission serving God where each person spends most of their time, which for many who be at work. What does it mean to be a teacher for God, a rubbish collector for God, a parent, accountant, volunteer or friend? As they neatly put it, don’t ask what new members of the congregation can do for the church, but what the church can do to resource them.

On the back of that, I started looking around for homiletical approaches that specifically seek to support that view of frontline mission. I quickly discovered Anna Carter Florence’s Testimony Preaching, which claims to equip congregations to share their experiences of God in their daily lives by the preacher modelling this through sharing their experiences of God in the text and life. My research question is simple, does it work?

In light of this, I was delighted to be at the launch of LICC’s new resource, a suite of videos and handouts entitled Whole Life Preaching. I’ve not had time to work through all of them yet, but the taste I have had suggests they will be really useful for me as a preacher, and hopefully for my research too! Based on previous experience with their materials, I recommend then to you.

Going Analogue

I was brought up on vinyl. As a teenager there was nothing better than flicking through shelves of new or second hand records. Cassettes were of no interest to me, they sounded dull and had a habit of getting chewed up, besides, the artwork was so small it was almost pointless.

Then came the CD. I was a late adopter. In fact it was not until I got married that I made the switch, my wife had a CD-player and it seemed daft not to. Besides, soon after I did much of my work on the computer, and soon these were able to play CDs as well; strangely they never did make the leap to playing LPs!

Before long, vinyl was declared dead.

This was premature. Checking out HMV in Oxford Street the other day it had shelves of good old fashioned vinyl LPs. It was wonderful! They might crackle and get scratched, but they have soul. I might have to start buying them again, not just using my old collection. Perhaps a new stylus is in order too.

Funnily enough, I’ve found my sermon preparation method has changed too. Having been digital for so long, writing them on the PC and then preaching from a tablet, I’ve found myself going back to pen and paper, scrawling notes and ideas everywhere. I’m finding that this is a much more creative and organic process that is both liberating and perhaps also has more soul too. There’s something about the freedom to express ideas all over the page as they come to you, and something about the physical link between the heart/brain – hand – pen and paper that is more intimate than fingers on a keyboard.

There are of course drawbacks. My writing can boarder on the illegible, and storing old notes is not so viable (especially those literally written on the back of an envelope)! But at this moment in time, this going analogue seems to be suiting me, scratches and all. Hopefully, like with vinyl, my sermons now have a little more soul!

Review: King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition 4/5 stars

King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition
King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition by Greg Stafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up a hardback copy at Dragonmeet 2016, naturally getting Jeff to sign it (hopefully one day I’ll get to add Greg’s autograph too!) having recently fallen in love with Glorantha through both reading around the setting and the fantastic games run there by our GM. For those that don’t know Glorantha it is a mythical world created by Greg Stafford and the setting for a number of roleplaying games over the years.

King of Sartar is a fascinating experiment. It isn’t a novel, rather it is a collection of writings from Glorantha – I say from rather than about, as the writings are presented as source materials about the place by its own people, a bit like the source materials that historians in the ‘real world’ might sift through. There are inconsistencies, gaps, and questions left unanswered. In places its deliberately dry, in others it sparkles. As a piece of creative writing, it’s a remarkable work. As a book to simply read through for fun, it hits a different spot than a standard work of literature, its more of an experience than a story. It’s full of the myths and histories of the peoples of Glorantha from creation to the ‘present day’. Unlike many fantasy works, the conflicts aren’t presented as black and white, good and evil, instead we hear from the viewpoints of different factions, making a much more nuanced and satisfying picture, although of course the tendency is still to regard the Lunars as the enemy with the general bias towards the Orlanthi people.

Personally I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and will certainly return to it for the background it gives to this imaginary world. Hopefully, it will also inform future gaming there too.

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Review: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a child I fell in love with the Norse myths through Roger Lancelyn Garden’s retellings. Many years Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors has released his own retellings. Obviously I was going to read it! I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting them after many years, and what better guide than Neil Gaiman. His love for these myths is clear and the gods come alive in his hands, especially Thor. Was fortunate enough to hear him at the book launch at the Festival Hall in London, and hearing him read Thor’s Wedding was a delight and helped hear this book in his voice as I read it, capturing the humour as I went. I still have questions about the myths that remain unanswered, but Gaiman’s task was not to add to the tales but simply retell them for a new generation following in the footsteps of the great Roger Lancelyn Green whose telling I and he grew up in.

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Review: Judas: The Biography of an Idea

Judas: The Biography of an Idea
Judas: The Biography of an Idea by Peter Stanford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating read, sifting through the Biblical references to try and gain a picture of Judas and then tracing through popular thought through the ages to see how this enigmatic figure had been seen in the public imagination. Whilst I have a more evangelical view of scripture than Stanford and so differ a little in my treatment of the Biblical texts, I was drawn into this work; for me too, Judas has long been a figure of intrigue. Stanford’s biography bright to my attention the sorry history of anti-Semitism that although I was aware of it, I hadn’t quite grasped it’s extent and the connection to portrayals of the disciple, Judas. Evil betrayer, innocent part in God’s plan, Satan’s agent or revolutionary whose plans backfire? Stanford’s picture is more nuanced than these simple clichés, and tinged in the epilogue with a surprising touch of grace.

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