At the intersection between scones, nudity and theology…

And then, as we were serving tea and scones in the dining room, my brother David, in a heavenly voice, said without recourse to any current or prior conversation:

“I think that the problem with nudity, the reason it seems offensive, is not so much the sight of genitals (which are hardly what you’d call offensive), but because clothes help to designate our place in society.

Public nudity is in this sense highly a/anti-social, kind of like a denial of normal social codes because there is no place for it except in the brief intermediary space of the changing room. It isn’t the imagined threat of another’s sexuality that offends, but their taking up of a position outside of considerations of status or social context.

We need to be able to place people, and clothes go a long way to helping with that. Since we rely on social codes all the time to function, someone stepping outside of them is equivalent to having two fingers stuck up at the bulk of humanity. Personally, I don’t care if people want to go around naked, and I actually like swimming nude, but doing it in public seems a pointless and immature thing to insist upon, like growing ridiculously long fingernails or not washing – you’re free to do it, but what kind of freedom is that?

Also, just to add a theological note on this (which, naturally is by far the most offensive thing anyone can possibly do!), the animal skin clothing that God made for Adam and Eve in the bible was not particularly about making sure we covered our naughty bits up to satisfy a strangely schizoid deity’s need for modesty. It was meant to be read allegorically as a sign that our attempts to hide our shame (a consequence of the knowledge of good and evil) are inadequate, and so God replaced our fig leaves with something he provided for us. The twist in the story is that, in Christ, he is himself the lamb-skin that protects us.

But anyway…”

But anyway indeed.  More tea?

A Bit About Abelard (c. 1132-1138)

A Bit About Abelard (c. 1132-1138)

I have recently been enjoying The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (c.1132 – 1138) by Peter Abelard and Heloise with a translation and introduction by Betty Radice and M. T. Clanchy.  And this has caused me to theologically investigate what is a very interesting Medieval man and his theology, a poor token offering of which is offered below (that’s my attempt at being humble):

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Peter Abelard was a highly gifted intellectual.  He outshone his fellow French pupils and tutors alike during the High Middle Ages, being also a supreme master logician.  One of his pupils was a young woman named Heloise, who was, arguably, more gifted than he.  The short story is that they fell in love (or fell in lust?), had a secret affair that was then exposed, leading to a strange story of marriage, revenge (castration – ouch!), love and ministry.

I have been reading from the Penguin Classics series by updated by M. T. Clanchy from the work of Betty Radice’s own work of the 1970s, featuring the letters of Abelard and Heloise (including his really fascinating autobiographical account – worth the book alone – Historia Calamitatum) plus other bits, such as letters between Peter the Venerable and Heloise, two hymns by Abelard and extracts from the Lost Love Letters. Another of Clanchy’s books opens with: ‘Peter Abelard, now forgotten, was once the most famous man in the world.’  Well that may be what it is, but it is not what all it is.

The Lives of Abelard and Heloise

Peter Abelard was born c.1092 at Le Pallet, near Nantes, the eldest son of a minor noble Breton family. His father wanted his son to have a career in the military as he did, but Abelard pursued life as an academic, and a gifted one at that. Abelard excelled at the art of dialectic, and during this early part of his life he “began to travel about in several provinces disputing, like a true peripatetic philosopher, wherever I had heard there was a keen interest in the art of dialectic.”  One gets the impression he rather enjoyed being the know-it-all, but I suppose to many (including himself), he did!

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Thinking About Theology

It’s always helpful to have working definitions of theology interacting with each other, rather than one, flat, bland and bloodless offering; a few definitions are floating around this blog somewhere or other!  Michael Jenson has got a great little book out called ‘How To Write a Theology Essay‘ designed to help new theological students write good essays.

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His chapter titles suggest a keen focus on practicalities, such as ‘How not to lose heart before you start’, ‘What is a theology essay’ and ‘Types of argument for your essay’, among many other great short chapters.

I like his question:  ‘What is Theology in any case?’ and his response:

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Diamonds and Rats: For all we know!

Diamonds and Rats: For all we know!

Is there a connection between the biggest diamond ever, and the small Laotian rock rat?

Without wishing in any way to stereotype, is it true that most/many/some women would love to own a large diamond (is that really true?….help me out here!).  Anyway, part of the English Crown Jewels is made from a 530-carat Star of Africa, cut from a 3100-carat gem.  For a long time it was thought to be the biggest diamond ever.

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Then in February 2005, what happened?  News broke of a discovery of “the diamond of all diamonds”.  This dazzler was given the romantic name:  BPM 37093. Phwooaaar!

It was bigger than all the other known diamonds put together.  You won’t believe me if I tell you it is bigger than the moon (I hardly believe myself)!

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It measures 2500 miles across and weighs a staggering 10 billion, trillion, trillion carats (1 followed by 34 zeros).  The Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics said, “you would need a jewellers magnifying glass the size of the sun just to grade this diamond.”

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We Ten Went

We Ten Went

A year later reflecting on the mission trip to Cambodia.

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Alert:  Random thoughts coming up!

I am amazed at the missional mindset of so many people at church.  The willingness to either go or, if not go, then support those who go in prayer and financial generosity.

The link with Cambodia came through a tenuous family link with an Australian church.  We piggy-backed their magnificent endeavour over the years to support the church in Cambodia and see the Church be a blessing to the people of Cambodia.

photoThe friendship strength of the two teams that straddled the globe was quite something (although, I would have loved to have been there a few extra weeks to see what psych/ego dramas played out – but that’s a speculative unknown!

I loved the team we were part of, and the country we were in.  It has left an indelible(?) mark on my heart and mind, and I’m sure I speak for the team!

The reflection of our brief time there is a continuation of our physical time there.  There is a gospel-logic to going, and there is a gospel logic to processing and thinking about what happened there!

transformIt was a busy time; a chalenging time; a hot time; a thoughtful time; an unusual time; a playful time; a significant time.  The time was right, to talk with who we talked with, to preach to who we preached to; to give to who we gave to; to bless and be blessed by those all around; to live and learn another people and place; to pray and share and witness and eat and laugh.  We did it all and more.

The tuk-tuk’s were great fun, especially in a team of so many, chugging along throught the streets and traffic – sweet.

But the pepper.  Oh, the pepper, the Cambodian pepper:  Sell everything you have and buy some Cambodian pepper – if you like your pepper, you will love this pepper.  Sometimes I have a dinner with my pepper – it is the fragrance of heaven and the taste of the Kingdom!

(There is Cambodian pepper in Heaven – of that be assured)!

killing-fieldBut the pain, oh the pain.  Cambodia is a young country, robbed of its heritage, history and all that is in the past.  If Jesus can pray as he’s being nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing!” We can only surmise that the madness of Pol Pot was another evil manifestation of what a particular human being did not know what he was doing…did he know?  Probably….but so did the Roman soldiers.  They knew they were nailing Jesus to the cross, but they didn’t know what they were doing on a cosmic soteriological level…..how could they?  They were just following orders!  But Pol Pot and the apocalypse he unleashed of the evil hoardes was quite something!  To stand in the Killing Fields and read, watch, walk and feel, breathe, smell, think!  That is agony enough, but it isn’t enough; it is never enough!

The Church in Cambodia:  young, energetic, hopeful, faithful, fruitful.  Lord, bring it to completion.

with-transformHidden pain, despair, degradation, women, men and children, lost to the demonic world of prostitution, but not lost to the love of God, never!  Mercy will triumph over judgment because mercy does triumph over judgment….always……forever…..!

Lord, just say the word, and we/they will be healed….

 

 

 

 

 

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Talking proper-like about Jesus Christ

faceofchristBelow are some “grammatical rules” for talking about Jesus Christ, from Ben Myers Faith and Theology blog (too good not to re-post).  He writes, “I’m sure I’ve missed some important points, but here are the twelve rules I came up with. Each is a negation followed by an affirmation”:

1. Not to speak of Christ in any way that sidelines his human experience. Jesus Christ is truly human.

2. Not to speak of Jesus in any way that sidelines the divine depth beneath his human experience. Jesus Christ is truly God.

3. Not to divide Christ’s divinity and humanity, or to give the impression that he sometimes functions as God and sometimes as a human. Jesus Christ is divine and human in one person.

4. Not to give the impression that Christ’s divinity is fully contained within his humanity, or that his divinity is limited by his human experience. The human nature of Jesus is assumed by the person of the eternal Word.

5. Not to divide redemption from creation, or to give the impression that Christ invades a world that is alien to him. Human beings were created after the pattern of the same eternal Image that has become incarnate in Jesus.
6. Not to divide Christ’s person and work, or to give the impression that Christ is merely the instrument by which God achieves salvation. Salvation is a person: Jesus Christ.
7. Not to divide Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, or to give the impression that he achieves salvation at just one moment of his career. The total life-journey of Jesus Christ – from his birth, to his ministry of teaching and healing, to his death and resurrection – is the saving event.
8. Not to speak of Christ’s death as a mere preliminary stage on the way to resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Priest whose death abolishes the power of sin and death. He is the humble God.
9. Not to speak of Christ’s resurrection as a mere reversal of his death. Jesus Christ is the King whose resurrection exalts and glorifies human nature. He is the deified human.

10. Not to speak of Christ in any way that implies that he is absent, or to give the impression that the church’s task is to make Christ present. Jesus Christ is the Prophet who reveals himself. He is present always and everywhere as the divine-human light of the world.

11. Not to divide Christ from Israel’s history, or to give the impression that the New Testament abolishes the Old. As Prophet, Priest and King, Jesus Christ is the surpassing fulfilment of Israel’s messianic hopes.

12. Not to speak of Christ as if he were relevant only to some people in some cultures and circumstances. Jesus Christ is present to all people, in all times and places, as their divine-human Prophet, Priest and King. The church trusts and proclaims, but never possesses, this Messiah.

 

The amazing picture above, called Face of Christ is by Tracy Hatton, and is currently on loan to the wonderful retreat centre Mary and Martha at Sheldon, South Devon, and located in the tiny chapel on the grounds.

The one below was taken by me a while ago and is posted here to lament the end of summer and the beginning of the Dark Ages of Months….

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The mirth of believers

The mirth of believers

We live in a broken world, with astonishing levels of violence, rivalry and scapegoating.  And only a fraction of it makes the news.

But one of the most counter-intuitive resistances human beings can do, and should do, is to laugh.  Laughter is what makes us human, and since we are all made in God’s image, as Sydney Harris says, “God cannot be solemn, or he would not have blessed us with the incalculable gift of laughter.”

The New Testament does not have one single account of Jesus laughing.  But it would be a mistake to think he never did.  Jesus was most gloriously free and always unashamedly himself.  He wore no religious masks.  Laughter is not less than holy, but an actual fact of it.

I can’t read the story  of the seemingly rude encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in which Jesus refers to her as a dog – as anything but Jesus humourously teasing out of her a response that is a product of true faith, faith that sees.  I suspect he even had a wry smile on his face as he did so, and so did the spiritually astute woman (Mark 7:24).

Sometimes our churches can be communities that are reduced.  Places of simmered down spiritualities.  Dour, serious, pious!

Maybe we’ve thought that to permit laughter is to allow victory to the devil.  Some people get very serious when they get religion.  That’s a shame.  Maybe they think laughter represents weakness, corruption and foolishness of the flesh.

I think one of the holiest sounds in our churches, or anywhere, is laughter.

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