Showing posts from February, 2013

I will rejoice in the Lord

It's a beautiful day. Blue skies. No wind. Slight bite of winter still in the air. It is a day when it is easy to praise God as you go for a morning walk in the park. It even makes a journey to work a little less depressing. 
But it brought to mind a passage in Eugene Peterson's "The Contemplative Pastor." (Yes, I'm back there again.) It is probably my least favourite part of the book, where he does a miniature hagiography of Annie Dillard, the American author who has written much on the spirituality revealed in nature and the problem of pain.  But in this section Peterson, drawing on Dillard's writings, says: 'It is child's play to "appreciate nature" when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. Something far more strenuous is involved when we face and deal with the cruelty and terror that creation also deals out in spades.' Previously he makes reference to the 10% of living creatures that are parasites, which Dillard calls "t…

I'm Back - With another Lazy Saturday Supplement

After announcing my groundrules for Lent (ie. keeping it positive) things have gone a bit quiet here on the VM blog, prompting one way to suggest that I was finding it difficult to maintain a positive demeanour...  But no... the problem has been that in the run up to my sabbatical I had so many meetings and so much admin to do (it felt like I was having to do 10 week's work in 10 days) that I had neither time nor energy left to devote to the blog... But I've still been reading lots, and so here is a link-dump of the pieces that have caught my eye over the past 10 days or so... I've tried to weed out the pieces that are now out of date in this ridiculously fast-paced world, and those that don't fit my "keep it positive" criterion (on that basis I am keeping two in cold storage for a few weeks!)
Given that I am exhausted trying to get ready for sabbatical, and have spent a ridiculous amount of time since getting off sitting around in what some call "loung…

The Theatre of God's Glory

In my re-reading of Peterson's "The Contemplative Pastor" recently I have been struck by his comparison of poet and pastor, which in turn has encouraged me to go back to reading some of my favourite poets. I'm currently reading some of Seamus Heaney's early stuff, drawn from his experiences growing up in rural Ulster. I suppose it registers with me because it is reminiscent of some of the stories my Dad used to tell about growing up around Cookstown, not too far from where Heaney haled from. However, the more I read Heaney, the more I'm depressed at my own juvenile-esque attempts at poetry...
That said, I recognise in Heaney another theme that Peterson focuses on in "The Contemplative Pastor", that of the natural world as "The theater (sic) of God's glory." This was a phrase of John Calvin, but, as Peterson points out, Calvin may have recognised the natural world as such a theatre, but he never seems to have sat down to enjoy the show..…

Discerning the Desert Flower

Whilst reading a book written by and for women coping with cancer, yesterday I came across a quote by Brother Roger of Taize who reputedly said:
"When desertions, doubts, discouragements and the silences of God seem to cover everything, will you discern the desert flower?"
That seemed to be a pretty good theme for Lent this year.
During Lent last year I took up a discipline of positivity, in contrast to my usual grouchiness - see yesterday's post for example... and I've decided to do the same this year, using yesterday's post as my psychological "pancake Tuesday" using up the negativity lying around in my larder. The idea is to once again have a Lent which isn't about giving things up, but offering uplifting thoughts... I'll even be using that as a criterion for any Saturday link-dumps... So if you are looking for cynicism, (self) righteous indignation and pure unadulterated anger, you may look elsewhere for a while at least...
We'll see if …

Pancake Tuesday and the Methodist Machine

Today is Pancake Tuesday, one of my son Ciaran's favourite days in the year, when we make pancakes together for the rest of the family. It is our wee tradition, underpinned by the wider tradition of the church. But I don't think we will be using the Heath Robinson device in this picture.
However it did remind me of the passage in "The Contemplative Pastor" where Peterson in his exploration of the "recovery" of the "forgotten heart" of pastoral ministry, that is "the cure of souls", refers to the protestant reformation saying:
"The Reformers recovered the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. The gospel proclamation, fresh and personal and direct, through the centuries had become an immense, lumbering Rube Goldberg mechanism; elaborately contrived ecclesiastical gears, pulleys and levers rumbled and creaked importantly but ended up doing something completely trivial." Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson were doing similar th…

Leadership and Discipleship

For years I have argued that there is a fundamental psychological and indeed spiritual difference between leading worship and preaching that often becomes blurred in the one-man-band (and its' usually a man) ministry practised in most western protestant churches...
If we use Kierkegaard's parable of worship as theatre, a worship leader should not, as is often be the case, the lead performer in the drama (a point which many would be rock-star contemporary worship leaders could do with learning), but are merely prompters to the main actors, the congregation, performing for an audience of one... God himself. But something different is happening with preaching as historically understood... the orientation of the "drama" changes... the preacher becomes the mouthpiece of God... I'm not being arrogant here... the theory goes that by the power of the Holy Spirit, the reading of scripture and its exposition allows us to hear God's mind... Sometimes that may be cleare…

Big Block of Cheese Day

Devotees of the "West Wing", that fantasy based loosely on the inner workings of the White House, will be well aware of the "Big Block of  Cheese Day" supposedly inspired by an event in the Presidency of Andrew Jackson. President Bartlett's Chief of Staff Leo McGarry introduces it as follows; 'President Andrew Jackson, in the main foyer of his White House, had a big block of cheese. The block of cheese was huge--over two tons. And it was there for any and all who might be hungry. Jackson wanted the White House to belong to the people, so from time to time, he opened his doors to those who wished an audience. It is in the spirit of Andrew Jackson that I, from time to time, ask senior staff to have face-to-face meetings with those people representing organizations who have a difficult time getting our attention. I know the more jaded among you see this as something rather beneath you. But I assure you that listening to the voices of passionate Americans is ben…

Saturday/Sunday Supplement

This is a veritable landfill site of linkdumps this morning... Read them all and you could be still sitting here tomorrow. So I'll just group them under appropriate (?) headings and keep my comments to the minimum:

In the week that has seen England and Wales make the first legislative steps towards the recognition of same-sex marriage there have been a number of stories that have caught my eye... An article by Alice Arnold on her relationship with TV sports presenter Clare Balding, and why the term "marriage" is important to them... A piece by Michael Bird, prompted by an "ex-gay" conversion story and the response to it, asking how those who advocate "Queer Theology" (an unhelpful term I believe), relate to those who call themselves "ex-gays"... In response to the same story Scot McKnight points to some research that suggests that such conversions are not only real but produce statistically significant cha…

The Scent of Lemons

I was sent this book specifically to review after I responded to a post/tweet on facebook/twitter (can’t remember which) at a time when I was seriously thinking about the role of social media in society in general and my life and ministry specifically. It is a relatively short book written in bite-sized blog-like chunks, or, given the subject matter, perhaps that should be byte-sized chunks. Despite its brevity, it packs in a lot of scholarship and reflection, indeed at times it reads like a literary link-dump, citing other larger works that have a more specific focus, but it builds a good case for how all communications technology, including contemporary social media, are not simply neutral tools, but serve to shape individuals’ neurological function and human society in general for good or ill. It is not a luddite rejection of technological development and its often unintended social effects, but rather, is a measured appraisal by someone who uses these tools, but is seeking to hel…

Top Albums

Currently, for some reason I haven't yet discovered, BBC Radio 2 are doing a "Top Albums" season... That and the recent "most influential albums meme" on facebook, (on which I got a decidedly awful 7 out of 100 - clearly proving that the list was wonky) prompted me to look at my musical back-catalogue... So, in good old internet meme fashion I put my music player on shuffle to see what 10 albums (not counting greatest hits/compilation albums) floated to the top of the murky pool... They turned out to be:  1) Reload - by Tom Jones (the old welsh geezer's re-invention of himself with a little help from some young talent)  2) Traces - by Karine Polwart (her most recent album, raved about at length on this blog)  3) War of the Worlds - by Jeff Wayne (the original, not the recent digital blasphemy)  4) American Idiot - by Green Day (probably the only album in this list that my No1 son would deem to be cool)  5) Unplugged - by Eric Clapton (as if to illustrate m…

Les Miserables... A Sung Through Theology for Today

I posted the most of this yesterday on the Flixster site which posts via facebook, so apologies to those who seem to be experiencing deja vu... However, I suppose that's how I felt watching Les Miserables on Saturday night.
Despite my love of theatre I have never yet seen the stage show, and the book has taken up a substantial section of shelf space for decades without being read (I now have it on my kindle as well, just incase I have a free 3 weeks on a train some time). But because various bits of the plot have been used as sermon illustrations for years, and a few of the songs have become standards on various "songs from the shows" events I have been involved in, I knew most of the plot before entering the cinema to see it...  Did I enjoy it? Well, as I said to someone yesterday morning at church, after mulling it over for a night, "enjoy" is a word that wouldn't really come into my comments about it. There have been a lot of begrudging, and funnily dis…

A Psalm for Sunday

Haven't posted one of these for a while, but here's the responsive call to worship we are using in tonight's service of communion and prayer for healing:
Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the broken-hearted He binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars in the heavens: he calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. The Lord sustains the humble And casts the wicked to the ground. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God. Praise the Lord. from Psalms 147:1-7

What!? It can't possibly be time for the Saturday Supplement Again

Most of the pieces that have caught my eye this week follow on from some of the pieces I pointed to last week... First and foremost being ye olde flags issue... 9 weeks and counting... It must be serious in that even Seamus Heaney, has said something, despite his self-enforced rule of "whatever you say, say nothing." He argues that the whole thing was unnecessary and badly handled, but I would be wary, as some have done of taking from his words much succour for the unionist/loyalist cause, without also hearing his critique of the Unionist "caste" system. One of the pieces on this subject I highlighted last week came from a former youth worker at the East Belfast Mission, while this week one of the best was by the Director of EBM's Skainos project Glenn Jordan, on Crookedshore where he points to this as possibly the end of a political era and, perhaps the emergence of a new one with new voices and emphases. Meanwhile Jude Hill, UTV reporter and the driving for…

Communication and Communion

My life is measured out in words... words typed on a computer keyboard... words spoken from a pulpit or stage or over the airwaves... words arranged in huge blocks of prose or shaped into carefully crafted poetry... words thrown across a room like weapons... and words read from a page or screen.
Recently I've been reading some of the wise words of Eugene Peterson in "The Contemplative Pastor" and they have sparked off a veritable torrent of words in my mind on this blog... I've already written, among other things, on the role of parable not only in communicating ideas but stimulating communion. Peterson himself, where he is writing of the creative word of God says: "Not all words create. Some merely communicate. They explain, report, describe, manage, inform, regulate. We live in an age obsessed with communication. Communication is good but a minor good. Knowing about things never has seemed to improve our lives a great deal. The pastoral task with words in not c…