Thursday, January 31, 2008

Detatchment...

Today I had three things that I wanted to offer as a thought in WBC's daily prayers - none really connected for me in isolation - while I could have got away with it I knew that they weren't going to hit the mark. Twenty minutes to go - on the school run - the penny dropped, there was a connection between all three.

Today I had three things that I wanted to offer as a thought in WBC's daily prayers - none really connected for me in isolation - while I could have got away with it I knew that they weren't going to hit the mark. Twenty minutes to go - on the school run - the penny dropped, there was a connection between all three.

Ringma talks of 'learning the gentle art of letting go' or 'renunciation' as :

'a form of detachment that breaks the power of the immediate, the pressing and the dominating realities of our lives, which frees us for a re-engagement. This re-engagement is always new and different because our empty hands have been filled with God's new things' (2003:130)
When I read this several weeks ago it made me consider what is it that we hold on? What is it that we need to let go? Where are our hands clenched firmly in resistance rather than open in surrender?

More recently I Ringma gave me this to think over:

we are called to transcend our familiar world. And in this we need to learn the art of detachment .... through detachment, one moves to emptiness, and in the emptiness one is found by God to see and experience life more truly from God's perspective. Detachment never begins in certainty, but only in faith. It starts in darkness, but leads to the hidden God who makes his way known." (2003:135)

But we like the familiar, but could it be that in the familiar we crowd out God? Could it be that the gentle art of letting go could be that of moving beyond that which is familiar?

Time magazine in September 2007 ran a fascinating article on Mother Teresa and her agony. Not her agony for the poor, not her agony for the marginalised, not her agony for the dying, the abused, the down trodden - her agony revealed in secret letters was that this remarkable woman of God spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God. 50 years!! Around the same time as receiving the Nobel Peace Prize she writes to a friend ...


"Jesus has a very special love for you ... as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, - listen and do not hear - the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me - that I let Him have a free hand."

She should have got herself along to Roots, or Spring Harvest; New Wine; Stonleigh - an annual worship fix would have sorted her out; someone should have sent her a CD or something!! Perhaps she knew detachment as the gentle art of letting go and that 'to pray is to acknowledge mystery. '


Ringma, C. (2003). Seek the Silences with Thomas Merton. Regent College Publishing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Elements of Incarnation...

Incarnate kicked off today at WBC; I managed to get to the first session with Stuart Murray Williams and thoroughly enjoyed his paper 'How is Jesus the focus of incarnational living?'

In no particular order SMW outlined what he termed elements of incarnation.


  • Living locally, rather than engaging from a safe distance
  • Participating in the community, rather than remaining aloof from it
  • Affirming and valuing all we can in the local culture
  • Being self aware and sensitive to our own assumptions and prejudices
  • Believing that God is already at work in the community and discovering how to join in.
  • Concentrating on relationships rather than programmes
  • Interpreting mission as ‘go to them’ rather than ‘come to us’
  • Operation from the grass roots rather than from positions of power
  • Embodying the gospel through small groups that infiltrate society
  • Doing things with rather than for the community
  • Communicating the gospel in contextual language and images
  • Communicating the gospel through deeds as well as words
  • Understanding faith and discipleship as whole-life activities
  • Rejecting sacred/secular dualism and refusing to see church as a separate sphere
  • Not knowing in advance what our ministry will lead to
  • Regarding mission as two-way, so that we learn as we teach
  • Not extracting converts from their culture but equipping them to live within it as followers of Jesus
  • Operating as ‘salt’ and ‘leaven’ in the community
  • Working for cultural transformation from the inside rather than the outside

Friday, January 25, 2008

Golden Compass...

I've never been that convinced that conditioning young impressionable minds to believe out of fear of the fire and brimstone of a medieval eschatology is the way to encourage our children to be part of God's plan of putting the world to rights...
I went with a couple of good friends to see the infamous Golden Compass; my inbox still full of warnings from well intentioned people suggesting that it would be a route to atheism. The problem of course being that these people - no doubt never having been to see the film or read the books - fit the bill of Church that quite obviously so appalled Pullman when he wrote his clever allegory. A Church that dictates faith constructs through fear and entrenchment.

The allegory was there to be seen - the abuse of education of children by the church. I've never been convinced that telling our kids 'that they really ought to be friends with Jesus because if they don't they'll go to hell' is the way to introduce them to the beauty of kingdom living. I've never been that convinced that telling our kids 'that if they live by the rules they will have an eternity with God and that they should remember always to say sorry to God just in case they get run over' - is the way to introduce them to what it is to be truly at peace with themselves and with God. I've never been that convinced that conditioning young impressionable minds to believe out of fear of the fire and brimstone of a medieval eschatology is the way to encourage our children to be part of God's plan of putting the world to rights; or to show our children what it is to be fully human; or to show what it is to challenge inequity, to stand for those that have no-one, to love in Jesus' way - but we all know that it happens.

It's a shame that the church through history has given so much material to feed Pullman's allegory.

The dogmatic dictatorship called the Magisterium threatens to dominate the world through refusing thoughts of potential; refusing questioning minds that enquire or think of what could be; conditioning thoughts and opinions to what can be managed. I watched the film wondering how Philip Pullman and Richard Dawkins might teach their children; grand children about faith; how restrained they might be to allow engagement with a narrative that they might find repulsive; how open they might be to openly teach about questions of belief and God.

I watched the film enthralled, intrigued totally oblivious to the drama that was unfolding behind me - two people walked out eventually after much apparent muttering and exasperation - the final straw? A reference to the impending 'battle for freewill' - I guess they couldn't see Pullman's criticism as something that should challenge the church to think deeply at how it is perceived; I guess that they couldn't see fundamentalist atheism is just as bad!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fragmentation... 1/3

...officers were sent into areas of brokenness not to work the area over with the expectation of establishing a structured all singing and dancing church, but to love and serve the area...

Several years ago and in the arrogance of a fast disappearing youth I emailed the Territorial Leader of TSA and asked what was TSA's strategy for inner city and communities of deprivation. It went something along the lines that nothing has really intentionally replaced the 'Goodwill' centre system, where officers were sent into areas of brokenness not to work the area over with the expectation of establishing a structured all singing and dancing church, but to love and serve the area. The inner cities of the UK were littered with such centres all working close with established Salvation Army corps. Somehow the 'Goodwill' lost it's focus; centres were closed as TSA seemingly retreated from inner city Britain.

I got a gracious answer and was asked to be part of an initial discussion regarding the establishment of what was to be called 'The Strategic Framework'. Unfortunately, but predictably, the 'The Strategic Framework' was regarded with suspicion and was misunderstood which made it easy to shelve.The nearest, I think, TSA got to a beginning of a strategy for the inner city was lost.

The strength of the document was not given the recognition it deserved; one particular section written by a friend it captured something of what I was looking for as an Officer making sense of inner city ministry. Four areas of fragmentation were identified and explored, Bauman in essence, the right questions were asked which still seem appropriate now.
  • Fragmented Lives
  • Fragmented Families
  • Fragmented Community and Society
Fragmented Lives

The polarisation of our society means that some people live in poverty and struggle to find the basic necessities. The pressure on some individuals means that they seek escape through routes such as alcohol, drugs and gambling that ultimately prove futile and can cause their lives to fragment. The secular assumptions that underpin many of our society’s institutions mean that many people find it difficult to locate support in their search for spiritual wholeness.

(Strategic Framework UKT (2002)

Opportunities exist in….
  • How can we expand community services that support those living on a tight budget, for example, lunch clubs and charity shops?
  • How can we tackle exclusion when we provide services for those at the margins of society for example services to substance abusers, the homeless and prisoners?
  • How can we better support people seeking answers to spiritual questions?
(Strategic Framework UKT (2002)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

BBC's The Passion...

I've just been sent a press release regarding a BBC series to run during Holy Week 2008. The Passion is a dramatic re-telling of the last days of Jesus not a sign of Mel Gibson in sight!

The cast includes Cold Feet star James Nesbitt as Pilate and EastEnders actor Paul Nicholls as Judas Iscariot. The part of Jesus is played by the relatively unknown Joseph Mawle. The series starts on Palm Sunday 16th March.


More details here.

No doubt rejesus will be worth a visit when it starts.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Brueggemann's daydreams....

Brueggemann in Hope for the World asks us to imagine:
  • A congregation with a limited-scope but deeply embraced mission, not needing to be God's sole agent in the neighbourhood.

  • A congregation with a clear gospel, but open to allies, not needing to be a lone presence in the community.

  • A congregation saturated with Easter-rooted hope, offering an alternative to communities of fear, anger, and greed , an alternative given in vulnerability and generosity. (2007:11)

Can you catch that dream?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Review and Evaluation...

It has been a little blog lite recently, mainly due to not much disposible time. It is Review and Evaluation time at college. Which means a fair bit of reading. In theory I should dread these quarterly reviews but I can't help be inspired by the journey of cadets and their openess.

I'm fast realising that these reviews are a discipline of significance and not just an institutional exercise for the sake of it; an exercise worth maintaining periodically. I like the framework that the Questions of Examen offer in seeking to help us explore balance in our lives.

Ignatian Questions of Examen...
  • Acknowledge sad or painful feelings and hear how God is speaking to us through them.
  • Overcome a pessimistic outlook by encouraging us notice the good in each day.
  • Tell the truth about who we truly are and what we need, rather than who we think we should be.
  • Become aware of seemingly insignificant moments that ultimately can give direction for our lives.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Faith Development: Von Hügel... 2/3

Continuing with my notes from Gerard Hughes' God of Surprises with regard to von Hügel's approach to faith development. The first part is here

Adolescence /Critical

If 'Infancy' is where we absorb information, the stage described next by von Hügel as 'Adolescence' is where we make sense of what we know in our context through questioning. This stage is also described as the 'critical' stage as a growing awareness; the search for meaning; search for direction is worked out and contributes to a stage of faith characterised by criticising and theorising. The security blanket of simple and literal answers meeting basic needs of faith no longer makes sense within a desire to discover and integrate faith within every day life.

This can be an uncomfortable transition, as to question and to dig deeper into understanding God feels disloyal and guilt can prevent any wider exploration of God's narrative. However, to not foster such questioning has a danger of leaving a faith infantile in both belief and practice. A compartmentalised approach to God helps contribute to an understanding of religion that is considered to be a private and harmless eccentricity of a minority.

Remembering that it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing these stages as successive and to forget each stage contains elements of each other - in isolation the 'critical' stage can contribute to a cold rationalism, where faith is engaged with intellectually but is spiritually barren.

I suspect that it is at this point that most people that leave church because proof text teaching is not scratching where they are itching. Struggling to make sense, feeling isolation, guilt or a cocktail of each, exiting church is the easiest way of coping.... shame!


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Faith Development: Von Hügel... 1/3

Friday, January 11, 2008

Embrace and Exclusion...

The spirit of embrace creates communities of embrace - places where the power of the exclusion system has been broken and from where divine energies of embrace can flow, forging rich identities that include the other...

I'm beginning to feel myself at Faith House, largely that now I don't feel a visitor, a guest or an observer anymore; largely because the regulars are slowly not seeing me as a visitor, guest or an observer anymore - I am there for the long haul.

It was good - just before Christmas - to have Paul ask me my name ... "Gordon .... right I wont forget that now you seem to be here every week..."; it was good this week to have Tyronne abusing me because I support Chelsea; it was good this week to laugh with Bob* as I took the names..

"So Bob what's you name...?"

"umm Bob..!"

"How'd you spell that?"

"umm Bob...!"

After a while he realises I'm mucking about and smiles with what are definitely not designer teeth. Something very simple happens at Faith House, there is a lot of humour and leg pulling through which something profound happens. Men usually excluded are not only included but are actively embraced - and that makes Bob's smile symbolic and beautiful.

I'm wanting to explore a little of the theology of Miroslav Volf this year and I've just finished the impressive looking Volf, J., & Volf, M. (1997). A Spacious Heart: Essays on Identity and Belonging . a great book in that there are only two chapters!

I like what he has to say about the concept of Embrace and Exclusion. Embrace that corresponds to that of Salvation and Exclusion that he sees and connects with sin. I'm hoping to follow this theme with him. I'm hoping to follow this theme further while at Faith House and where else God places me. Volf picks up on what I feel...

"The spirit of embrace creates communities of embrace - places where the power of the exclusion system has been broken and from where divine energies of embrace can flow, forging rich identities that include the other..." (1997:60)

Let's not fall into the trap of thinking that we are so good embracing these poor men on the margins of society. Let's not fall into the trap of allowing mission engagement to be patronising. This week at Faith House I felt accepted because through simple goodbye's I know these men -some in desperate situations - are actually beginning to embrace me

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*Bob - is his real name a pseudonym here would have not had the same impact; in any case there are some people like Patrick that deserve to be made known ... Bob is almost there!!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

From mouths of babes...


I get home from my Monday evening trip to Faith House to discover that our laptop has given up; not only that, the entire HD seems to have been wiped in an effort to rectify the lost cause that has been our laptop.

Kate - exasperated declares "well that is that then - it is well and truely finished..."

7 year old Eryn delighted says "oh goodie .... now we can have an Apple...!"
I have always said we should listen to the the wisdom of our children...!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Faith Development: Von Hügel... 1/3

We have been preparing a session on Faith Development; Kate explicitly went with Fowler, I implicitly used von Hügel's The Mystical Element in Religion - thanks to Gerard Hughes' God of Surprises. Basically von Hügel in two volumes looks at three stages.
  • Infancy - where we absorb information;
  • Adolescence - where we make sense of what we know in our context through questioning and
  • Adulthood - where we have a growing awareness of an inner consciousness relating to God who is incommunicable and mysterious.

It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing these stages as successive stages to pass through; however each contains elements of each other. It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing this as a neat and simple explanation, or to dismiss it for exactly the same reason. What this, Fowler and others offer - with recognised faults - is a helpful support to help understand ourselves as we seek to 'know' the depth, width and height of God.

Infancy/Institutional:

Also known as Institutional this stage is characterised by absorption of facts; an introduction to the great stories of faith and is an important stage on which to build and formulate questions of discovery. Religious infantalism is a real danger, where an individual remains passive in faith development, wanting to remain safe and secure with simple answers that meet basic needs of faith. Approach to scripture and theology is very literal and any questioning of God or faith is seen as disloyal and results in an entrenched approach to theology and faith. In isolation Infancy can result in a state of Christian neurosis as questions and thinking for oneself is a deep source of guilt. For adults religion is kept exactly as it was when they were children and is maintained as a theological security blanket.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Books 2007...

Books I have read this year...

A Kempis,T. Imitation of Christ
Wright, N.T. (2006). Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. SanFrancisco: HarperSanFrancisco
Wright, N.T. (1996). Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2).
Rolheiser, R. (1998). Seeking Spirituality. London: Hodder & Stoughton Religious. (Twld).
Russell, M. (2006). Thread Of Grace. Black Swan (Twld).
Crowder, D., Kimball, D., & Morgenthaler, S. (2004). Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations
Goldsmith, M. (2001). Matthew and Mission: The Gospel Through Jewish Eyes
Hornby, N. (2005). A Long Way Down.
Jamison, C. (2006). Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life.
Tiplady, R. (2002). Postmission: World Mission by a Postmodern Generation.
Plummer, R. (2006). Paul's Understanding of the Church's Mission: Did the Apostle Paul Expect the Early Christian Communities to Evangelize?
Moore, T. (2002). Continental Drifter.
Elton, B. (2000). Inconceivable.
Kerr, P. (1994). A Philosophical Investigation.
Niffenegger, A. (2005). The Time Traveler's Wife.
Peterson, E. (1993). The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction
Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion
Wright, N.T. (2006) Evil And the Justice of God
Claiborne, S. (2006) The Irresistible Revolution: Living As an Ordinary Radical
Barnes. J (2005) Arthur & George
Wright, N.T (2003) The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God)
Hughes, G.W. (1998) God of Compassion
Jones, T. (2005)The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life
Yaconelli, M. (2006) Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence
Miller, D (2003) Blue like Jazz - Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
Neuhaus, R.J.. 1992. Theological Education and Moral Formation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Magdalen, M (1990) A Spiritual Check-up
Nelson A.E(2002)Spirituality and Leadership
Havergal, F. R(1912) Kept for the Master's Use
Durback, R(1997)Seeds of Hope: a Henri Nouwen Reader
Sweet, L(2002)SoulSalsa:17 Surprising Steps to Godly Living in the 21st Century
Sansom,C. J.(2006)Winter in Madrid
Ringma,C. (2004)Wash the Feet of the World with Mother Teresa

Top reads
Miller, D (2003) Blue like Jazz - Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
Jamison, C. (2006). Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life.
Wright, N.T. (2006). Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. SanFrancisco: HarperSanFrancisco
Jones, T. (2005)The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life
Russell, M. (2006). Thread Of Grace. Black Swan (Twld).

Best Novel
Niffenegger, A. (2005). The Time Traveler's Wife.