Talking Christmas…

Posted: November 14, 2015 in Faith

It’s that time of year again. The hype-machine of the market place has begun churning out the plethora of adverts that will spew all over the place over the next few weeks, calling us to celebrate Christmas by buying this item or that item. The meaning of Christmas we’re told, is found in the purchases we make, the value of the gifts we receive and the look and taste of the food we eat. Christmas is a consumer celebration. The market place has hijacked our festival and ripped the heart out of it. Queue the customary grumpy old man moan. Bah humbug!

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh and moany. If I’m brutally honest, I enjoy giving and receiving gifts as much as anyone. The little boy who woke at 5am if not earlier all exited and demanding to know ‘if he’s been yet’ lives on in me. Although a lot of the season as it is celebrated now is about making money and getting gifts, there is something inherently right about the concept of giving to others. There’s more to the modern celebrations that that as well, there’s also in there a focus on relationships; Christmas we’re told is a time for children, for getting the family together, for visiting friends, for doing things together. Again, there’s a lot that is good about that, even if the pressure to make it perfect and spend lots of money on it is perhaps not in line with what our faith teaches us.

Truth is, of course, as Christians we have another story to tell. Our story begins even earlier that the hype machine of the modern advertising age. Is November too earlier to start thinking about Christmas? October? God started thinking about it before the beginning of time! He always had in sight the plan to send his Son to become one of us, an astonishing gift of grace and love, expensive beyond compare, in order to bring us into relationship with him as his children. We had a great discussion about this at the Bible Study on Wednesday (8pm, Slipe Lane, most weeks – please do join us!) when we found ourselves expectantly pondering this very issue. What is the right way to respond to the story our culture tells about Christmas? Do we accept it wholesale? Do we reject it? Or do we look for overlaps with our own story, opportunities to take what we have in common and build on it to share what has been shared with us? What do you think?

Church Newsletter 14.11.15

Preaching as Testimony
Preaching as Testimony by Anna Carter Florence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picked up this book for my DMin research (Doctorate in Ministry) as I’m looking at doing a project based on encouraging people to share their stories about their experiences of God in their daily lives, ‘testimony’ if you like. The title seemed to support that. At some point I shall be writing a proper review of this, but for now suffice to say I found this a challenging and encouraging book both for myself as a preacher and for my thesis. In some ways it feels like three distinct books, a theological overview, a biographical survey of three female examples of testimony preachers, and then a section on ‘how to’. This is a deliberate move by the writer to echo the journey she went on in her thinking. Is that helpful? Hard to say. There were certainly sections I think I could have done without, and some spoke to more more than others, that said, the journey helped to earth the book and to make me ponder on how it reflects my own journey.
So what’s it about? It’s her presentation on an approach to preaching based not on explaining the text or proving the text, but living in the text and sharing what you encounter there – a confessional approach. This is what I encountered in the text and this is what that means for me in my life. This is a liberating approach, you don’t need to be a theological or Biblical expert to engage in it, and a challenging approach, if your encounter with God is shallow or absent, that will show up in your preaching, and if you avoid saying the hard things in that encounter, taking a risk in what you say, then you will be preaching a lie.
The practical notes at the end are fun, and I shall certainly be trying some of them.
One note that particularly hit me was her insistence on this not being primarily for preachers, but an encouragement for all people to ‘preach’ their experiences of God in the text and in their lives, but a recognition that for many this is a big step, therefore as preachers we have a duty to practise this in our preaching to help our congregations make that step.
More to follow when I’ve had time to deliberate further in the course of my studies, but I think this book has been a great place to start.

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Take a Break

Posted: June 21, 2015 in Faith
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Let me be honest with you, coming up with ideas for the newsletter each week can be a bit of a struggle. Some weeks I have some notes jotted down from something I’ve heard or seen, but often the allotted slot in the timetable comes along and I stop and think and …nothing comes. In fact that’s a lie. It’s not nothing that comes, but a shed load of distractions; the phone goes, I remember an email I must send, browsing the internet for some ideas I get distracted and so the list goes on. It’s like going to bed at the end of one of those days that doesn’t stop until the head hits the pillow and as it does the brain refuses to switch off but continues to whirl over all the things you’ve been dealing with throughout the day.

Earlier this week I read an interesting article about the rise in aimless walking. The title caught my attention. So much of what we do is purposeful these days, done with an objective in mind. The problem is that this can only go so far before it starts to become inefficient. Some of you know the annual saga we have with our car when the filters in it get blocked. The idea is that you’re supposed to drive it normally most of the time, but regularly you need to drop the gear and take it for a spin at full pelt to heat it up and burn clear the filter system. Trouble is our kind of driving doesn’t suit this and most years just as it gets cold our system gets all bunged up. Humans are a bit like that except that rather than upping the revs to clear the filters, we need to slow down and let the mind unwind. The idea behind aimless walking is to go for a wander, with no particular route or objective in mind and no headphones on or mobile in hand and let the mind wander. This is one of the reasons I like to go for a spin on my bike each day, I find it helps me think better afterwards and work in a more focussed and creative fashion. In case you’re thinking this is just mumbo jumbo or wishful/lazy thinking, God says the same thing; that’s why he gave us the pattern of the Sabbath.

Our midweek Bible Study group were thinking about prayer this week and different ways to develop our prayer lives. One of them relates to this and maybe sharing it is a good way to round up this week – perhaps you’d like to try it with us? Here goes: ‘03 Time Out – We are surrounded by constant distraction and noise. Create space for silence this week by turning off the radio or your iPod on your journeys so they become a place to find quietness and listen to God. If you walk the dog – resist the urge to listen to music. Instead observe, look and listen to the sights and sounds of nature. Just find space, even for 10 minutes each day to be alone and quiet with God – even if that means getting up a little earlier each day or staying up later at night.’

Church Newsletter, 21.06.15


Catching up with a few articles from this blog which directly speaks into my life as a scientist which is where my career path started out and my life as a Christian minister which is where it ended up!

Originally posted on Science and Belief:

Woutergroen, 2008; Jens Maus, 2010. Wikimedia Woutergroen, 2008; Jens Maus, 2010. Wikimedia

If all truth is God’s truth, then science must have an impact on our theology. This was the central message of theologian Steve Motyer’s seminar in the God in the Lab evening series at London School of Theology (LST) earlier this year.

Having taught theology and counselling for a number of years as part of his role at LST, Motyer is all too aware of the connection between mind and brain. Neuroscience is showing that everything we call ‘mind’, including feelings, instincts and intuitions and spiritual apprehensions, is rooted in brain function. Various parts of the brain are active when we pray or have spiritual experiences. If those parts are damaged, then we can lose the capacity for certain spiritual activities and feelings. So the spiritual and the physical are not separate, but intersect completely with each other.

Motyer then used evolutionary biology as…

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Christ’s Antidote

Posted: June 7, 2015 in Faith
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From time to time I like to comment on items in the news in this article and think about what Scripture might have to say about these situations. Two items have dominated the news this week, the first is the horrible roller coaster crash at Alton Towers, and the other is the emerging collapse of the leadership of world football’s organising body FIFA.

Alton Towers first. As most of you know our family are thrill-seeking roller coaster junkies and have regularly screamed our way around various tracks. The other summer we stayed near Alton Towers and rode on Smiler a number of times and totally loved it. It is a ridiculous, zany, full-on, bonkers ride. I’ll be honest and say I would hesitate before climbing onto it again though, and my prayers and thoughts go out to those who have received serious injuries in the crash.

FIFA? Who am I to comment on this story? It is so hard to know what is really going on here beyond the reporting from Western media outlets. It would seem that the organisation’s top hierarchy is corrupt to greater or lesser degree, something that the Bible has a lot to say about with its practical messages about justice and fairness in trade and general life. It is interesting, however, that beyond our media, other parts of the world are reporting it quite differently and have a contrasting impression of Sepp Blatter and his colleagues. Hopefully the investigations will be themselves fair and unbiased and the truth be revealed and responded to appropriately.

There is a link between these stories. In both cases much of the reporting has been over-dramatic (The Sun’s headline about the Smiler crash, I’m looking at you) and the commentary over the top. Blatter has become a hate figure and demonised by so many who don’t know him and don’t know the truth about what’s going on and are simply feeding on the general hype around the case. There’s a form of ‘political correctness’ these days that calls us to feel the need to express moral outrage at such events in a way that simply feeds others in escalating the scorn or hatred or ridicule.

In the New Statesman this week Amanda Palmer, herself a recipient of such vitriol reflects on its cure. Courting controversy in her choice of words, deliberately so I’m sure, she writes her thoughts about how to respond to figures who by their deeds or words stir up such hatred in us. ‘I am, perhaps, an extremist in this regard,’ she says. ‘But I am starting to think that the only true antidote to extreme hate may be extreme love, a radical empathy. Jihads of compassion. Crusades of kindness. A movement in which we attempt to love our enemy . . . Oh, hold on. Jesus already said all that. Wait – did it work?

A provocative final sentence which she leaves hanging unanswered. Did it work? Does it work? Will it work? In many ways the answer is no, we still have hatred and violence and retribution. On the Cross Jesus was killed trying to overcome with love and his followers still haven’t brought an end to scorn and slander and worse. But I have faith, faith in Jesus and his Father that as the Bible says and the resurrection supports, eventually love wins. That is why I’m willing to give Palmer’s exhortation a go and try out what Jesus preached and demanded of his followers. One day love wins.

Review: In the Blood

Posted: June 1, 2015 in Books
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In the Blood
In the Blood by Steve Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one has been sitting on my Kindle for a while now, as have the others in the series, having picked it up believing the combination of family history and crime could make for a novel take on the genre, which it certainly did. he basic premise is that Jefferson Tayte, a professional genealogist, is sent from the States to the UK to investigate his client’s past. Whilst here, that past comes to meet him as it quickly becomes clear that someone doesn’t want it unearthed and is prepared to use any means to ensure this. It’s a quick, pacey read. One tip I gleaned elsewhere was to keep a pen and paper handy to write the family tree on as it emerged – I wish I had done that. Would have made it easier to follow and rewarding as clues emerged. The style of writing does perhaps betray occasionally that this is a first novel, but the plot and content means this isn’t a deal breaker at all. I look forward to seeing how the character and books develop over the rest in the line.

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I treated myself the other week to getting the latest book of short stories by Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors, out of the library. He’s a fantastic writer with many clever ideas and stories to tell. One of his greatest talents in my opinion is his ability to have fun with words, to play around with them. For example in one of his books he picks up on London Underground tube station names and speculates what it would be like if we took them literally. Just who is the Baron from Baron’s Court, and what is his court like anyway? Who or what is the knight of Knightsbridge and so on. Brilliant! Trigger Warnings, his new book, is full of such playfulness. In one of the stories he speculates on if you can have inventors, whether you could you have uninventors too? The main character is such a figure and the story tells about how he set out to uninvent all the inventions that have made the world a worse place since he was born (of course it’s foolishness to change the past before you were born, as Back to the Future warned us, all sorts of crazy family implications may occur). You know we were told that there’d be flying cars by now? Well, there were, but he uninvented them – the skies got just too congested. It’s just as if they’d never been!

This got me wondering, what would you uninvent if you could do so? What inventions or fashions do you think have made the world a worse place – serious or flippant, I’d love to know!

An alternative take on this story would be to ask not what you would uninvent but what you would undo. Are there things you’ve seen or heard you wish you hadn’t? Are there things you’ve said or done that you wish you could undo? I’m sure the answer for all of us would be yes despite protestations otherwise, we all have regrets, for all of us there are ‘if onlys’. Of course our regrets have a role in making us the people we are as we work through the consequences; to go back and undo the past would change us and others and maybe not always for the best. Adversary breeds courage, suffering character, and reflection on our wrongs and frailties can make us humble and perhaps a bit more gracious (perhaps taking liberty with Rom. 5:3-4 but I think it’s fair). Like the pearl, sometimes we need trouble to bring out the beauty in us. I think add much as it sounds a wonderful idea, being an undoer sounds far too dangerous to me! My vision and understanding is far too narrow.

Maybe this is where God’s wisdom shines. As Romans tells us, he uses all situations for the good of the believer (Rom. 8:28) – could this also include times when bring suffering on ourselves and others as will as when others are the cause? He forgives and forgets (PS. 103:7-12), whilst leaving us to face and grow through the consequences of our actions under the guidance of his Spirit.

Church Newsletter Article, 17.05.15