Possible Pastoral Responses…hee hee

Possible Pastoral Responses…hee hee

A humously perceptive post from Stephen Cherry here. The book that has been linked in at the end if this post is also a very good resource.

We all get it.  Some of us look for it. Some of us long for it. Many of us hate it. None of us know what to say when we hear it: ‘This is your busy time, vicar.’

So – what should we say? Here are eight ideas to try.

  • Do you think I would be talking to you if I was busy’. Pro: Cathartic – could be a bit of stress-buster. Con: tbh it is a bit rude.
  • Inane laughter or wan smile.  Pro: easier than thinking of something to say. Con: Reinforces dozy vicar stereotype.
  • ‘Well there is rather a lot to do actually, but how are you?’ Pro: First bit is true. Con. Second bit now sounds disingenuous.
  • ‘No I don’t do busy. But I do have quite a full life at the moment’. Pro:   Honest and puzzling. Con: Just a tad too pompous.
  • Burst into tears. Pro: Cathartic and turns the pastoral tables.  Con: Risky –  they might not care.
  • ‘What do you think I do the rest of the year! I’ll tell you about busy’. Pro: Might make them think about the rest of the year. Con: No it won’t.
  • ‘Hey, the schools are closed, and no one is having meetings. I am doing the pastoral thing – and that’s why I’m talking to you just now so let’s move on to something worth talking about. How’s that knee of yours.’ Pro: It started well. Con: It ended badly.
  • ‘Nope, I’m not busy… ‘ and let them pick up the thread.  Pro: Countercultural and prophetic. Con: Suggests you really have no higher purpose than listening and stuff (Hang on, is this a con?)

Now there must be better answers than those…. If you are not too busy, please share.

For more on busyness and vicaring checkout my book  http://www.sacristy.co.uk/books/ministry-resources/beyond-busyness-time-wisdom-ministry

With thanks to ‘garybirchall1, @sadgrovem and @robertlawance for the tweets that inspired this blog. Glad you were not too busy to tweet today.

 

 

 

 

 

FOLLOWING JESUS

FOLLOWING JESUS

The first thing and the last thing that Jesus said to Peter was the same—“Follow me!” The first occasion was when Peter and his brother were casting a net into the Galilean Lake. Jesus passed by and called out, “Follow me, and I will teach you to fish for men” (Mk. 1: 16-18). Peter quickly responded and became a follower of Jesus.

 

Throughout the preaching tours of Jesus in Palestine, Peter continued to follow. In the fishing villages, on the mountains, in the desert, by the lake—he followed and he listened. Many months later, on the night that Jesus was betrayed, Peter even declared that he would follow Jesus to prison and to death (Lk. 22:33), though as Luke makes clear, due to his fear Peter only followed at a distance (Lk. 22:54). On that same night, he eventually denied that he even knew Jesus (Lk. 22:55-62).

“Follow me!”

After Jesus had risen from the dead, he left Peter with the same command as at the beginning, “Follow me!” Peter had questioned the Lord about the future of another of the disciples, but Jesus simply said to him, “What is that to you? You must follow me!” (Jn. 21:19-22).

 

Finally, in later life, Peter wrote to a group of churches with this admonition: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pe. 2:21).

 

So, then, what does it mean to follow Jesus? Obviously, it cannot mean for us exactly the same thing that it meant to the rural people of Galilee who had Jesus physically in their midst. The call to follow Jesus must mean more than travelling around the countryside while listening to Jesus preach, for as Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, Christ left us an example that we should follow in his steps, and it is apparent that he was talking about a way of life rather than a geographical route.

 

And so we begin with the word “disciple”. The followers of Jesus were called his disciples, and the term refers to someone who is a learner or a student. One who follows Jesus is always learning more about him, learning not only in the sense of intellectual awareness, but even more importantly, in the sense of learning to live according to the pattern which Jesus taught. This is why John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus walked” (1 Jn. 2:6).

 

In the gospels, Jesus made the call to discipleship central in his teachings. He knew that at the very core of human nature was selfishness, pride, and the desire for power. So, he taught that to follow him, one must say “no” to him or herself (Lk. 9:23-24). Those who wished to follow Jesus but still retain other loyalties could not do so (Lk. 9:57-62). In fact, even family loyalties must be sacrificed, if necessary, in order to follow Jesus (Lk. 14:25-27). The cost of discipleship is the willingness to give up everything for Jesus (Lk. 14:28-33). It is the acceptance of Jesus’ radical claims about himself, and the submission of our lives to him as the Lord of life.

jesus feet

The call to follow Jesus is an intense daily challenge. This is why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must … take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). This brings ethics to bear:  In every circumstance in life, to follow Jesus means that you ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” When making decisions, when confronting clients, when socializing with friends, when addressing those in need—all these circumstances are to be controlled by the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” Sometimes, perhaps often, the answer will be acutely uncomfortable, because it will deeply conflict with our own wishes.

 

To a wealthy young man who claimed to have kept the ten commandments from his youth, Jesus said, “Go, sell everything you own and give it away. Then come and follow me” (Mk. 10:21). Sadly, the young man turned away. His love of wealth prevented him from following Jesus. The refusal to follow Jesus can be for many reasons. For the crowds in Galilee, it was the scandal of Jesus’ claims about himself (Jn. 6:53-66). For the Jewish leaders, it was a deep loyalty to their traditional religion (Jn. 9:13, 16, 24-29). For Judas, it was disillusionment (Mt. 26:14-16, 20-25). For yet others, it was a field or a purchase or a marriage (Lk. 14:16-24).

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he always seems to ask us to give up that thing which is most likely to draw us away from him. As someone once said, “The things that I do not understand about the sayings of Jesus are not what disturb me. What disturb me are the things that I understand all too well!”

“The things that I do not understand about the sayings of Jesus are not what disturb me. What disturb me are the things that I understand all too well!”

One might well ask with Peter, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Mt. 19:27). But Jesus replied, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life” (Lk. 18:29-30).

Something should also be said about the importance of knowing the stories of Jesus.

The accounts of the teachings and actions of Jesus were the primary preaching material for the earliest Christians. While they did not have the advantage of a printed Bible, as we do today, the public reading of the gospels and the retelling of the stories of Jesus were eagerly received. Today, Christians can become familiar with the life of Jesus both by hearing and by reading, and it cannot be over-emphasised that they must learn more about Jesus.  To claim to follow Jesus without any familiarity concerning his life and words is to lapse into an ambivalent subjectivism.

 

It would be impossible here to enumerate all of the teachings of Jesus. Nevertheless, the essence of the life to which Jesus called us can be sketched in. Jesus himself said that upon two commandments hung the entire law and prophets of the Old Testament: to love God with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind—and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Lk. 10:25-27). Who is one’s neighbour? It is anyone with a need (Lk. 10:29-37). Jesus was concerned about things such as forgiving people of their offenses (Mt. 6:14-15; 18:21-35) and loving those who did not love in return (Mt. 5:43-48). The sum of the life of Jesus has been aptly encapsulated by one person who said that Jesus simply “found wounds and healed them.” He was the “man for others.” He called his followers to servanthood (Jn. 13:1-17), not to power (Mt. 20:20-28). One of his final sayings on the cross was a prayer for the forgiveness of his executioners, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34); and not merely his immediate executioners, but humanity as executioners. 

Were_You_There

Source: Wikipedia

The 1899 classic ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” made famous by many, including Johnny Cash, implies, rightly, a whole human race experience, if only we will see that.  This is similarly captured in the film, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ by Mel Gibson, who filmed the nails being hammered into the hands/wrists of Jesus by his own hand!  So, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” is not only an immediate prayer of Jesus, but a cosmic expression of soteriological plenum.  It is worth remembering that Jesus only says what the Father tells him to say; and by sheer Trinitarian logic, the Father answers the prayers of Jesus.  Thus, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” is the prayer of the Human Christ that finds its fulfilment in the Cosmic Christ:  How can it be anything else?  “Behold, I am making all things new!”  I’m pretty sure I know what “all” means.

Jesus simply “found wounds and healed them.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The call to discipleship is a gracious call, but it is also a costly call. As Bonhoeffer said, “It is costly because it costs a [person] his life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life.”

So to you and me, just as to Peter and Andrew and James and John; and Tony and Bill and Sue and Margaret and Ann and John and Steve and Judith and Bonnie and Andrew and Abigail and Tania and Roger and Richard and Laura and Michael and Julie, Jesus says, “Follow me! Follow me and I will make you…”

He will (re)make you!

As St Ambrose said, “Truly a mighty remedy, that not only removed the scar of an old wound, but even cut the root and source of passion. O Faith, richer than all treasure-houses; O excellent remedy, healing our wounds and sins!”

Dodman Cross

A Palestinian’s Plea to the British Prime Minister

A Palestinian’s Plea to the British Prime Minister

Palestinian theologian and pastor the Rev Alex Awad has been mentioned on this blog before.  I met him once a few years ago and he signed a book for me he had written that recounted the terrible events of the 1948 al-nakba through the lens of his own family…the book is a fantastic resource for a way in to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict’.

Alex has written an open letter to the British Prime Minister Theresa May and I am taking the liberty to post it here:

The Honorable Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom:
 
I am a Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem in 1946 during the British Mandate over Palestine. During the first Arab-Israeli war in May 1948 I was two years old. My father, a civilian, was shot and killed in crossfire between the Zionist Haganah militias and the Jordanian army, leaving my mother to care for seven children. The oldest of my siblings was eleven and the youngest six months old. Soon after the death of my father, our neighborhood was taken over by the Israelis and we fled, becoming refugees. As I grew up, I began to ask questions about why my father was killed, what caused the Israel/Palestine conflict and what triggered all the suffering of millions of Palestinians and Jews in the last 100 years.
 
In time, I learned about the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine. I discovered that in 1917, the British Foreign Secretary sent a letter, later called the Balfour Declaration, to Lord Rothschild and Zionist leaders, promising to support the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. After WWI, against the objections of my people, the British government colonized Palestine and made it possible for the Zionist movement to take over our homeland.
 
Your Honor, there is no way that your country can undo the tragic history of the last 100 years. All the wealth of Great Britain can’t compensate me and my fellow compatriots for the death, injury, loss of land and enormous suffering that came upon us and continue to bring pain to us due to the Balfour Declaration and other oppressive policies of your predecessors. I look back to the past only to remind you of the grave injustices that my people and I have endured, due partly to the United Kingdom’s past policies. I seek no apologies and no compensations. And as a Palestinian Christian, I offer you and the British people total pardon.
 
As I look to the future, I believe that your government can help to end to the Israel/Palestine conflict and bury the memory of the Balfour Declaration, and I call on you to have the courage and determination to do so.
 
Britain was among the first in creating this tragic conflict but shouldn’t be the last in taking positive steps to resolve it.
 
This year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, your government can help Israelis and Palestinians begin to find the path to a just and genuine reconciliation.
Let 2017 be the year that Britain conducts its policy for Israel and Palestine independently of the influence and dictates of the United States.
 
A first step would be for Britain to recognize an independent Palestinian State in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Once your government takes this courageous act, many reluctant European countries would be encouraged to follow suit. Already 138 countries including the Holy See recognize Palestinian statehood.
 
Your contribution to ending the Israel/Palestine conflict would not only save Israeli and Palestinian lives but could also usher in an era of peace and help to end bloody conflicts and acts of violence elsewhere in the Middle East and throughout the world.
 
Prime Minister, let Great Britain lead the way to peace under your brave and wise guidance.
 
Sincerely,
 
Rev. Dr. Alex Awad
Author, pastor, and retired missionary of the United Methodist Church
 
Alex Awad was born in Palestine and served there for decades as a missionary of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Awad was the pastor of an international congregation at East Jerusalem Baptist Church, served as Professor, Dean of Students and Director of the Shepherd Society at Bethlehem Bible College, and is the author of two books: Palestinian Memories: The Story of a Palestinian Mother and Her People and Through the Eyes of the Victims: The Story of The Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

In a really well written article in Themelios by Uche Anizor that draws together various ecclesiological strands of Colin Gunton’s thought from multiple sources, we see some really practical outworkings of what the church is and should be and will be in the light of a robust doctrine of the Trinity.  Anizor writes, “Gunton’s relentless attempt to root the nature and calling of the church in the being and action of the triune God opens up a way for a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common, while offering a potentially more fruitful starting point for ecumenical dialogue regarding the nature of the church.”

“a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common.”

We all know things could and should be better; some are disillusioned to the point of desertion; others remain but function in a spiritual wilderness akin to the effects of Ritalin; whilst yet many more recognise a “concrete and realistic perspective” is the only way to live in reality and eschew fantasy.

Thus Anizor opens with these words,

“Conflict in relationships is often rooted in inappropriate or unmet expectations. This commonplace wisdom regarding everyday relationships is no less true of one’s relationship to the church. Our conduct and feelings toward the church are governed largely by our expectations of what the church should be. These expectations, furthermore, are rooted in our understanding of the church’s nature. Ministers who weekly find themselves disappointed with the failings of their congregations would do well to attend to their understanding of what the church is. Laypeople who find themselves regularly frustrated with their community’s shortcomings are advised to do likewise. Disappointment (among other negative feelings) often flows from unrealistic expectations, which sometimes betray an unbalanced view of the church. Therefore, a healthy understanding of the nature of the church is of utmost practical import. Is the church the kingdom? If not, what is it? In what ways, if at all, is the church (and actual churches) a sign of the new Jerusalem? How can we theologically describe this imperfect reality we call the “church”? Colin Gunton provides one helpful response.”

The way forward is offered positively thus,

“First, we examine three related areas that contribute to a fuller understanding of the trinitarian heart of his ecclesiology: (1) the ontology of the church, (2) the place of pneumatology, and (3) the role of a proper Christology.  Then we provide a constructive appraisal. The hope here is that Gunton’s contribution might help free pastors, teachers, and congregants to live and serve in the church with a love and compassion rooted in realistic expectations of what the church is and will be.”

The essay really weaves a fantastic theological tapestry integrating the Pneumatological, Christological and Ecclesiological threads.  We need to know who this God is before we build on ecclesial foundations.  That is why I enjoyed the comments right at the end just before the conclusion, aimed at those pastors and lay people who are tempted to disillusionment at the ontology of the Church:

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“The same frantic steeplechase toward nothing”

I found these Thomas Merton excerpts on a tatty piece of paper the other day, and thought they belonged here:

“The problem is to learn how to renounce resentment without selling out to the organization people who want everyone to accept absurdity and moral anarchy in a spirit of uplift and willing complicity.”

“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios.”

“If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we became content? We would no longer need their new product.”

“The basic inner moral contradiction of our age is that, though we talk and dream about freedom…though we fight wars over it, our civilization is strictly servile. I do not use this term contemptuously, but in its original sense of ‘pragmatic,’ oriented exclusively to the useful, making use of means for material ends. The progress of technological culture has in fact been a progress in servility, that is in techniques of using material resources, mechanical inventions, etc., in order to get things done. This has, however, two grave disadvantages. First, the notion of the gratuitous and the liberal (the end in itself) has been lost. Hence we have made ourselves incapable of that happiness which transcends servility and simply rejoices in being for its own sake. Such ’liberality’ is in fact completely foreign to the technological mentality as we have it now (though not necessarily foreign to it in essence). Second, and inseparable from this, we have in practice developed a completely servile concept of man. Our professed ideals may still pay lip service to the dignity of the person, but without a sense of being and a respect for being, there can be no real appreciation of the person. We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.”

“The monastic life is in a certain sense scandalous. The monk is precisely a man who has no specific task. He is liberated from the routines and servitudes of organized human activity in order to be free. Free for what? Free to see, free to praise, free to understand, free to love. This ideal is easy to describe, much more difficult to realize…The monk is not defined by his task, his usefulness. In a certain sense he is supposed to be ‘useless’ because his mission is not to do this or that job but to be a man of God. He does not live in order to exercise a specific function: his business is life itself. This means that monasticism aims at the cultivation of a certain quality of life, a level of awareness, a depth of consciousness, an area of transcendence and of adoration which are not usually possible in an active secular existence…The monk seeks to be free from what William Faulkner called ‘the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing’ which is the essence of ‘worldliness’ everywhere.”

The Pocket Thomas Merton, ed. Robert Inchausti (Boston & London: New Seeds, 2015).

Rainbow

Exegete of the Eternal

In yet another excellent sermon published in ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’ (ed. Jason Goroncy), P. T. Forsyth skillfully exposes, by force of logic, the poverty of ignorance in understanding Christian things in general, and specifically in this section of the sermon, Creeds in particular.  He calls these contemporary interpreters of Christian things people of “narrow mind” and “narrow soul”.

By contrast, the Christian teacher, the “preacher-scholar” is an “exegete of the eternal” and that includes history, culture and so on, but especially the scriptures and the creeds.  So many people, many of them Christians, are so quick to dismiss things they don’t understand, that (quoting Ernest Renan) he writes, “We begin examining before we have appropriated enough to fit us to examine.  Very few people have acquired the right to disbelieve in Christianity.”

People dismiss great historic institutions like the creeds out of ignorance and even novelty for things that are new (as is supposed).  But, argues Forsyth, “Our creeds are at once old and new.  It is not abolition the need but reinterpretation.  Many people don’t bother to understand, arguing instead for such deceptively slippery concepts as the “simple directness” of plain speaking, as though it were the only “mode of spiritual expression.”  He writes, “Plainness of speech is not worth the price if it costs squatness of thought and baldness of vision.”

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