Category Archives: Christianity

One Bible – Two Testaments

I’m part of a group called Bible School which meets in the home of the person who runs it on Thursday evenings. We study the Bible in the sense of looking at the background, origins and usage of it, and in the past I gather the group has also spent time wrestling with doctrinal issues.

Yesterday evening we had an interesting discussion on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and were asked to consider the theological relationship (as opposed to the sociological or historical) between the two. After some further reflection, I’ve come to a few conclusions I thought I’d air to see what others think.

One of my personal bugbears is the way some people seem to look at the Old Testament and be able to ‘see Jesus’ all over the place. Now, I’m NOT saying that this is impossible or an illegitimate practice. If God is Trinitarian then this has always been the case as the divine nature is eternal and unchanging, and, as Michael Ramsey put it, God is Christlike and there is no un-Christlike-ness within God at all. Consequently, it is not surprising if reflections by the people of Israel about the nature of God have a Christ-like character, if you will, and that profound resonances with the Gospel narratives can be found within the Old Testament. This is, I suppose, the beginnings of a doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, though I would not wish to go as far as postulating the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture as there is clearly a journey being made by the people of God (in Israel in the OT and Paul and others in the NT) in terms of their understanding of the divine nature. For a couple of examples, note the gradual move from a tribal understanding of God to a more universal conception following exile in Babylon and also the changing understanding of the consequences of sin down the generations (re the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ healing of the blind man where the disciples ask about the origin of the man’s blindness).

Having said that, I want also to highlight three potential pitfalls:

1)  The OT has an integrity of its own which can get lost if we ‘Christianise’ it too readily. Canonical criticism (reading a passage in the light of the whole of Scripture) is a sound hermeneutical technique (Walter Moberly is, I gather, a principle advocate) but we need also to consider the historical and literary critical questions in order to form a rounded picture. Some texts such as the early chapters of Genesis to pick a common example suffer from being ripped from their original context and re-interpreted to suit Christianity, both in terms of their riches being lost and difficult questions being side-stepped.

2) It is tempting to use the Old Testament simply as a proof-text for Christianity. We search through the Bible for texts which appear to point to Christ (or at least can be read that way) and disregard the rest. We then fail to appreciate the OT at all. Moreover, this approach ignores the possibility that just as the NT authors drew heavily on the OT and no doubt came to understand it in the light of Christ, seeing prophecy fulfilled (see the Road to Emmaus story), maybe they came to understand Christ in the light of OT and recast the stories of Jesus’ life in the style of these narratives. I understand that the practice is called Midrash and was common in Jesus’ time – the Gospels are not journalistic accounts as we know them today (which does not mean they are ‘fiction ‘ devoid of historical content) but are narratives told  by people steeped in a particular culture and shaped by a national history and expectation (even Luke, a gentile author, draws heavily on the OT). 

3) We can come to Scripture with a particular doctrinal position already established and search for evidence to back it up. For instance, I’ve had discussions with Christians about penal substitutionary atonement who have focused on Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant. (It’s true that there are remarkable similarities between the Cross and the OT text, but Second Isaiah has a history of its own and ultimately we are not sure to whom the author was referring. Whilst my point about the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes into play here, I think, we must not forget the very Jewish origins of the text, of exile in Babylon and the hope of deliverance from the God of the Exodus. Both readings are useful and insightful.) While again I do not think it is illegitimate to see how well doctrines measure up to Scripture (in fact I believe it is vital so as to maintain the proper balance between Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience, in which, at least for Anglicans, Scripture is the final authority – in that sense we believe in sola scriptura), I think we need to be doing solid exegesis and not trying to force the Bible to fit pre-conceived views, and this is arguably harder with the OT than the NT, simply because of the time-gap between its authorship and now, and the comparative lack of knowledge of it in Christian circles.

So, at the end of all of that, I want to affirm the continuity between the OT and NT but want to stress

1) we need to let the OT speak for itself and take it seriously without ‘Christianising’ it;

2) there is a radical discontinuity with the resurrection of Christ, which is simultaneously the completion of the old and the beginning of the new creation, to paraphrase NT Wright’s Easter sermon from a couple of years ago. We are not bound to the entirety of the OT world-view and new possibilities are open. I believe it’s no accident that Mary Magdalene saw the risen Jesus and mistook him for the gardener…

Update on life

I haven’t been able to blog since the move (no landline yet and internet at work is severely restricted) so while I’m at a friend’s house, here’s an update on life.

I successfully made the move to MK just over three weeks ago now. My house is lovely and I’m just about sorted now; just awaiting the arrival of my new sofa in a fortnight, and need to buy one or two more small bits of furniture. It’s been good on the whole to have my own place, but also quite lonely sometimes to come home after work to an empty house. I think I’m getting used to that, but do find it hard, especially as TractorGirl and I, with all that her life has involved recently, haven’t seen each other for a while. I do miss her loads.

Work has been going well. My first couple of days were a bit dull until my computer log-on got sorted out, but soon after, things got quite busy. Along with my boss, I am taking over a load of mathematical modelling work from someone who is leaving for a job with less of a daily commute, and so my first three weeks have been the handover period and trying to get to grips with where things currently stand. It’s been a little daunting to say the least, but I now have more of an idea what’s going on. It’s a nice place to work; I’ve had one or two jokes made about my ties, but all light-hearted (and it’s nice to stand out in an office dominated by men in open-neck shirts in various dull pastel shades…) and think that given time, I’ll fit in well. Quite out of the blue, the other day I was offered a job in Durham (a little too late, alas) but I’m pretty sure I’ll stay put.

Milton Keynes itself is an odd place. I live about a twenty-five minute walk from work along the redways (which are quite confusing when one is not used to them) but there are no local shops in the village, so getting food in involves wandering into town. I’ve joined an amateur drama group, an astronomy club, found a bible study and hopefully some LGBT stuff to fill my time, and am using the weekends when I don’t get to see TractorGirl to explore the region around MK. So far, this has involved trips to London (and a wonderful concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields) and Bath (for a GCN gathering), and in a month’s time I’m off to Brighton for some shopping

Finding a church has been rather harder going. I went to my local parish church and it was like Monty Python-meets-Alpha! It was without a doubt the oddest place I’ve tried in a while. The parishioners I’ve spoken to are friendly enough, but after a comedy moment (involving jumping back and shrieking) when, after a discussion over tea with Mrs Vicar, I decided I needed to be honest, with where the conversation had gone, about my sexuality (I swear some people think lesbianism is a disease they can catch!) I think it might not be the easiest place to settle. Besides, I can’t be doing with being bombarded with over-simplistic evangelical cliches and vapid songs. Christ the Cornerstone in the centre of MK seems a better bet, so I will have to get used to getting up slightly earlier on a Sunday.

Overall, my first few weeks of ‘real adulthood’ have gone well, but been hard in various ways (I haven’t mentioned the whole trouble I’ve had getting a bank account (a condition of employment) because it makes my blood boil). I miss TractorGirl, but am beginning to settle in.

Greenbelt!!!

Tomorrow, I am off to Greenbelt with TractorGirl and family. It’ll be hard to top last year, given that’s where TG and I got together, but I’m nevertheless really looking forward to it all. In other news, I move to MK in a week-and-a-half and start work a couple of days after. I’m excited, nervous and going to miss TG loads. Greenbelt is therefore a chance to enjoy her company and hang out with friends before real life kicks in again. Hopefully, the weather will be better than predicted!

See you all next week!

On preaching and space

Having spent an interesting hour or so trying to figure out if the University thinks I am student of either the undergraduate or postgraduate variety, or indeed even a student at all (don’t ask – it’s one of those complicated aspects of my life at the moment!), I decided to check out some blogs I used to read regularly but have stopped doing since life got busy.

When I did so, I came across this post by Ben Myers about preaching. The gist of it seemed to be that ‘perfect’ sermons or homilies don’t really leave much room for God to act, and that preaching is by nature an act of vulnerability as without the Holy Spirit, no amount of brilliant exegesis or homiletics can enable people to hear God speak. This got me thinking about a seminar I attended recently where the chaplain of St John’s College, Kate Bruce, talked about the use of the imagination in preaching.

I take it as axiomatic that a sermon is not a prepared script, but actually consists of a particular person speaking in a particular place and at a particular time to a particular group of people. In other words, a sermon is an event (which maybe begs the question of why I’ve posted my sermons on here… ) rather than just the words on a page. The obvious corollary is that the sermon is a two-way process. The congregation have work to do as well as the preacher, and active listening and engagement is required, otherwise the whole thing is pointless.

Thinking about the sermons I’ve heard over the years, the ones that stick in my head have all been those where I have been given the chance to use my imagination. As an example, one of the canons of Durham Cathedral once discussed whether God really has a ‘treasure map’ for our lives and we have to make the right choices at the right points or else miss out on being the people we could be – a wrong turn being fatal. I’ve found myself coming back to this idea over the past few months when pondering the future.

What was good about the sermon, it seems to me, was this creation of imaginative space, in which one was given guidance as to how to make use of the new possibility opening up, but nevertheless left to figure out how to make best use of it for oneself. I think of it a bit like being taught some basic dance moves and given a studio, but it being entirely up to me to put the dance together (or indeed, just to go with the flow of the music and see what happens, which I think is a bit like the idea about the missio dei understanding of what mission is – God in Christ is at work through the Spirit and we’re invited to join in).

This process, it strikes me, requires taking a risk. Risk on behalf of the listener, because stepping out into an imaginative space means one might be changed by the experience, which incidentally I think is the biggest reason we hide from God, because life to the full involves a disregarding of worldly security blankets and this is a painful process (I know for one that I find it very hard to let go and trust God – Luke 12:22-31 is very sobering). Risk to the preacher, because this imaginative space can only ever really be a place of transformation, of new life, if the Holy Spirit is at work there, and we can never force this to happen.

I think this is what Myers is getting at – as preachers, we need to be prepared to take the risk of failing, of all our endeavours falling flat, because it’s only when we are prepared to be vulnerable that God can have room to speak. This isn’t an excuse to be lazy and never prepare, nor does it mean that we should not give our best, but it does remind us that putting God in the ‘box’ of a neatly packaged, perfectly delivered sermon risks stifling the divine creativity longing to turn our mortal words into a vehicle through which the life and love of the Kingdom can become that bit more visible. It also made me think – is being complimented on a sermon a good thing?

In summary, when preaching, try to let go of ego and give people space to imagine, to dream, and for God to create, renew, transform.

What do you think?

Living in a black hole?

A scientist on a research project hijacks a spaceship which he prepares to enter a black hole, with the expectation that exiting out the other side will take him into a whole new universe. Sounds like science fiction? Well, it was the basic plot of a rather poor movie from the 1970s with the stunningly original title ‘The Black Hole‘, but if a recent paper in the Physical Review, one of the most prestigious journals,  is right, it might not be so mad after all…  

The gist of the paper is described in an article in this week’s New Scientist. According to Nikodem J. Popławski of Indiana University, it is possible that our universe exists inside a black hole, or that by passing through a black hole in our universe, we could enter a whole new world. This apparently bizarre concept requires some explanation:  

It’s hard to underestimate the impact Einstein had on the way we view the world. Working in mid-seventeenth century Cambridge (ironically at Trinity College when he was a Unitarian), Sir Isaac Newton formulated his theory of gravity that stood as the best explanation for nearly three-hundred years till a lowly clerk in the Swiss Patent Office changed everything. The results of this change of dominant theory ranged from the gradual shift in physics (as new ideas often take time to gain credibility, and this really was a revolution) to the impact on theology and philosophy, in which it arguably contributed to the collapse of the Enlightenment world-view that relied heavily on Newton’s mechanistic, clock-work view of the universe for its origins in the thought of the English Deists such as John Locke.  

Newton’s view of the world was essentially a common-sense one. The universe could be modelled by taking time as an absolute, independent quantity and having the usual three spatial dimensions we experience every day. When Einstein formulated his theories of relativity, he took it to be axiomatic that the speed of light was constant in a vacuum and that the laws of physics are the same in every inertial frame (for which read frame of reference, or point of view if you will). One consequence of this is that time is no longer an absolute, but rather is bound up with space and affected by the motion of particles and the presence of massive objects such as stars. That’s why physicists talk about ‘space-time’.  

Now, one perhaps surprising thing to note is that Newton could never pin down was what gravity actually is. He could model its results (and his theory is still a very useful approximation to Einstein’s) yet couldn’t define it. Einstein, faced with the same problem, conceptualised it as being a result of the shape of space-time. In other words, in general relativity (GR),  gravity is geometry. The classic example of this is nicely illustrated in this video.  

A black hole is the result of the gravitational collapse of a massive star – we’re talking something like thirty times the mass of the Sun. When this occurs, the fabric of space-time is severely distorted. In the heart of  a black hole, there is understood, in classical GR, to be a singularity, which is a point where all the laws of physics break down and of infinite density and space-time curvature (which is very bad, as infinities in equations cause no end of bother!). This singularity is surrounded by an event horizon. This marks the point at which even light, the fastest thing there is, cannot escape the gravitational pull upon it. If you go pass that point, you’re stuck in the inevitable path towards destruction at the singularity. In a black hole, no-one outside can hear (or see) you scream…  

Another key object we need to know about here is properly called an Einstein-Rosen bridge (but is commonly known as a wormhole) which is sort of like a tunnel that connects two different regions of space-time, allowing fast travel between them. The problem is the stability of these ‘tubes’; they are liable to collapse upon being entered by matter. This gets us into the wonderful world of quantum theory and negative energy (which is not supposed to be allowed, but might be after all…), and means that such structures are at most theoretical as yet. However, for the sake of the argument, let’s suppose that somehow or other, they exist.  

Now, there are different regions of space-time with differing properties either side of an Einstein-Rosen bridge or a singularity in a black hole. This means that passing through into the interior of a black hole or going through an Einstein-Rosen bridge (if it were possible) would result in us emerging into a different universe or part of the universe. Popławski’s paper suggests that, with a slight modification of classical GR, it could be that “observed astrophysical black holes may be Einstein–Rosen bridges, each with a new universe inside that formed simultaneously with the black hole. Accordingly, our own Universe may be the interior of a black hole existing inside another universe”.  

Crazy, but the maths seems to make sense (I knew there had to be advantages to doing this PhD stuff!). The problem of how to get through a wormhole still remains, alas, but it could be the substance (pardon the pun) for some new sci-fi…  

In terms of the implications for science, I reckon that if true, this research renders problematic the idea of a ‘theory of everything’ as the limits on our ability to travel between universes are such that we would only have very partial knowledge of the way the network of universes operates. We can only talk about our visible universe.  

Cosmic inflation

 

In that sense, it’s a bit like inflationary theory, which predicts a period of rapid expansion shortly after the Big Bang in which quantum fluctuations result in different parts of the universe having different values for the fundamental constants, such as the speed of light, the charge on the electron and so on. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, before the fundamental particles, quarks, electrons and so on, have formed we are dependent on the murky and random world of quantum mechanics. One key rule here is the Uncertainty Principle of Heisenberg, which states that we cannot know the position of a particle and its velocity simultaneously with complete accuracy. The more we know about one, the less we can know about the other. This has implications for the vacuum of energy that would be present at that early stage of the universe, in that it would cause fluctuations in that field (as zero is too precise a value for it to take) that result in areas with different values of fundamental constants. As the universe expands, we end up with discrete regions, our visible universe being just one of many. This limits our ability to speak about the universe as a whole, as we can only know anything about our little portion. 

Now, I’ve explored some of the theological implications in my talk on physics and Christianity of current physics thinking, and think the questions raised by the inflationary model apply here. Moreover, in what sense can we speak of the cosmic implications of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? Does it only apply to our visible universe, or what? I don’t know the answer to this and will, when I get the time, do some reading around what others think, but it’s a fascinating question.

The Big Society?

I came across an article by Aditya Chakrabortty on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free‘ pages today about choice in public services and David Cameron’s idea about the ‘Big Society’. It’s about the idea that there needs to be as much choice as possible in public services. For example, parents will be encouraged to start their own schools and more schools will be given ‘academy’ status, which means, as far as I understand it, that private money will be involved and businesses, universities etc will be encouraged to run them.

This article talks about how, if presented with too much choice, people struggle to make any consistant and coherent decisions. Conducted by Columbia Business School, it echoes something I imagine we’ve all encountered. How do you choose between twenty different types of tomato ketchup, exactly?

It seems to me that to understand this, one has to take a brief glance back through European history in the last three-hundred years or so. The governing idea of the Enlightenment, especially when combined with industrialisation, was progress. Through science and the development of new technology, humanity could solve all its own problems, or so the mantra went. The march of progress was inevitable, and human beings would keep getting more and more civilised. The first world war blew that out of the water, but to some extent the mindset has persisted. Bonhoeffer spoke about ‘man come of age’, and even theology got caught up in the idea that we could dispense with revelation and figure it (in this case, God) all out by use of reason, which still persists in some liberal theological circles.

Arguably, postmodernism is a reaction against this by taking the ideas to the other extreme. Instead of an overarching universal narrative, we now are told that all meta-narratives (big stories) are power claims and that actually, each person’s perspective is equally valid due to the absence of a framework in which to evaluate truth claims. In other words, I can have ‘my truth’, you yours, and no-one can tell either of us which is the better or that they are wrong. As such, we are free to pick and choose those ideas which are helpful to us at a given time. Now, not all of this is bad (though surely claiming there are not meta-narratives is to construct a meta-narrative?) but while the idolatry of ‘progress’ has faded, ‘choice’ has taken its place. One hears ‘choice’ spoke of as inherently a good thing, which makes sense in a consumerist framework, but this is pushed as far as to say that denial or restriction of choice is inherently bad. In other words, choice now has ‘moral value’.

Why am I bothered by this? Well, on the one hand, I fear that relentless pursuit of  a choice-orientated model in public services could have three major consequences:

  • It could re-introduce the ‘internal market’ created by the Major government in the 1990s which was such a disaster;
  • It could create bewildering choice, as the above article suggests;
  • It could create more opportunities for middle-class folks with the resources to do things like start their own schools, but create further societal division as the poorest are left behind. Some communities just couldn’t do these things even if they wanted to, and it could make it even harder for someone from my background (from a council estate, parents on benefits or in low-paid work) to escape. I fear more choice equals less social mobility.

You may want to come back at me on these, especially the latter. There is a balance to be struck between the role of the state or voluntary organisations and the role of the communities themselves. Ann Morisy’s wonderful book ‘Journeying Out’  has a lot to say about this. However, both the modernist mantra of ‘progress’ and the postmodern mantra of ‘choice’ both seem to forget a fundamental fact about human beings – we are limited. Frances Young has this to say:

Human beings look for success, fulfilment, for valuation in terms of the contribution a person makes. But value is not something achieved, or even inherent. It is something given, something accorded to something or someone valued by someone else – the worth and dignity of each person is given by God. In community, we make real that dignity and worth by valuing each other, but the grounds on which any and every person has value is God’s decision to put his name there (to borrow a phrase from Ezekiel).  Above all the incarnation bears witness to the presence of God in the midst of the ‘limit’ to which all human life tends. In God-forsakenness, in the absence of God, is supremely and paradoxically the presence of God, and the terminology of kingship is subverted when the story is told of a king who plays the part of a servant, is marginalised, rejected, stigmatised, judicially murdered. The cross stands over against the false optimism of modernity and the assertions of post-modernity.

The fact is, we need to accept and embrace our limited nature and that unlimited choice is just as much of a myth as relentless progress. Being human involves engaging with limits, boundaries, in a creative way. For example, following a vocation will always involve a degree of sacrifice – if I am ordained and in full-time ministry, I can’t continue my old career; if I want to write an essay in a night I can’t go to the cinema as well.

Mr Cameron is a committed Christian. Maybe if this was taken more seriously in government, we could concentrate on creating excellent public services in a given area rather than a hundred-and-one bewildering options that disenfranchise those most in need of a help-up by the state – the poorest, most vulnerable and those with least choice.

Further to that, the church could learn a lesson too. The parish system of the Church of England is not perfect, but it means that, at least theoretically, there is a church there for any English person if they need it. While people may still shop around, that parish provision is vital, and I think Grace Davie is right in noting that people turn to it in transitional times, at crisis points, for a reason. How does this fit with Mission-Shaped Church and its ‘network’ approach? I don’t know, but it does show that mixed economy needs to be taken seriously. More thoughts on that when I’ve written my essay for the mission module of my theology course…

Time for a re-think?

I spent the weekend on retreat with a group from GCN at Buckfast Abbey, which is near Totnes in Devon. It’s only the third GCN event I’d been to, and I was nervous that I would be stuck spending my weekend with deeply irritating camp blokes or people all too like some folks I’ve known in Durham who aren’t very comfortable with their sexuality and act like jerks to hide the fact. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong about it!

The first evening we had a lovely meal, much wine and a talk about 1 Peter from the priest leading the weekend. On the Saturday, TractorGirl and I led a session looking at the prologue to St John’s Gospel in the morning. As a couple of people requested it, I’ve added the text of my talks. We had a nice lunch at the Abbey’s cafe, which does extremely tasty-but-bad-for-you puddings. In the afternoon, one of our members talked about his experience of the ex-gay movement and we had a good discussion about being gay in the church. That evening saw us decant to the pub for a lovely meal (or at least it was when my food finally got there!) and I spent the Sunday morning chilling while TractorGirl went to mass.

For the most part, the weekend gave me much-needed space to relax, to catch up with people (though some all too briefly – methinks some travel might be in order) and make new friends. It did me good to get out of Durham for a while, and I got to spend some quality time with TractorGirl which I really appreciated and was lovely.

So far, so good. However, God was also doing his thing of unsettling things. One of the people on the retreat was an Anglican priest and after hearing me preach, told me he thinks I am a natural preacher, teacher and pastor and that in his belief, I am called to some sort of ministry within the church. This wasn’t the first time someone has told me that – it has happened several times after preaching and when getting to know people in the church – but what scared me a bit was his certainty.

Now, since I left the ordination process in Durham Diocese, for what I think was a sensible and principled reason, I’ve been doing a certain amount of re-assessment of my faith and place within the church. I had initially concluded that Anglican ordained ministry was not for me and that I would be better giving up altogether or looking at switching denominations. However, in the last couple of months, I’ve been wrestling with all of this and the jolt over the weekend confirms my initial thoughts:

  • Within my remaining time in Durham, I would like to keep worshipping at the Methodist Church that has become ‘church family’ and who have loved and accepted me unconditionally. The Cathedral is lovely and I will still go there sometimes, but I’ve had enough.
  • Joint Anglican-Methodist membership is something I would like to do purely for its own sake, because it does express my journey and theological roots. However, I don’t think I’d pursue local preaching unless after the move I end up in a Methodist church. First and foremost, I am an Anglican. The Church of England, despite its many faults, is my home and I love it very much. I feel deep down that it’s where God wants me to be, and after all, it won’t change if everyone who struggles in it flees.
  • Leaving the process hasn’t lessened my desire to serve God in the church as well as the world of work. I don’t think full-time parish ministry is for me, but NSM or reader training do appeal, and I need to stop running away and look at them.

In short, the conclusion I’ve come to is that God doesn’t seem to want to give up on me in ministry in the church of some form. The task now is to discern the right expression for that. This means dealing once again with the thorny issue of sexuality and after the weekend and sharing my story and, far more interestingly, hearing from others, I just about feel in a position to do that. I will have to get better at ‘playing the game’, but I think stepping back for a while and talking to so many encouraging people has helped me see how that might work.

I think, through all the ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ of the last few weeks, what has emerged through much prayer, thought, wrestling and tears, is a sense of the need to step out, take risks and use my gifts to serve God. I can’t really talk about the other part of my life where the need to take a leap of faith and just live with the uncertainties has become apparent and I hope I’m responding appropriately, but in both cases, I’ve realised that I can either carry on running away, or take the risk of love. It’s very scary, but I honestly believe I’m doing the right thing in both cases.

There’s a clip from one of the best films of all time, in my humble opinion, ‘Good Will Hunting’, about taking risks. I couldn’t find the specific clip I wanted, but the end of this illustrates my point about safety nets and the need to risk getting hurt to find love:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAF8zRUdp18&feature=related[/youtube]

It’s what I do!

I see there is much discussion about who will be the next person to take up the now-infamous See of Southwark, following the retirement of Dr Tom Butler, who I met with my banana after a rather bizarre lecture on science and faith. These rows about homosexuality in the Church of England make me very sad. Jeffrey John (pray for him – it cannot be easy being a political football. I ‘ve met him briefly and he seemed lovely) is celibate but in a committed, loving relationship. Why should gay people have to be lonely and miserable, Mr Sugdon? It makes me glad I am not in the ordination process, if even abiding by the rules of  ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ is not enough for some people, but living a lie and the subsequent damage to one’s mental health is perfectly fine. Sigh! I don’t want to get on my soapbox today, mostly because I feel slightly fragile and need a hug, not a row, but it has done me a great deal of good to be honest about my sexual orientation, both to myself and those I care about, and being with TractorGirl makes me feel alive, whole, complete in a way that being with a man, however lovely, could never do. Being told this is wrong hurts – it feels to me like this life in all its fullness that Jesus talked about…

Anyway, on a lighter note, the weekend was somewhat interesting, as TractorGirl’s post explains. I was actually really glad to be able to be there for both TG and Third Party, and hope it goes some way to demonstrating to the latter that I do care and am going to be a trustworthy and reliable presence in her life, and not there to take mum away. I’ve found the ‘compartmentalisation’ very hard, because I really do care about TP, and want to build a good relationship, so I hope this can be the start of that 🙂

Grey night of the soul

There has been a lot of change in my life of late. In the last few months:

  • I have submitted my PhD and am waiting for the viva (and working hard to prepare, honest!)
  • I have left the C of E ordination process (which I’m pleased about)
  • I’ve done some serious re-thinking of career plans
  • I could well have joint Anglican-Methodist membership soon

On top of that, I don’t know what I’ll be doing, where I’ll be (in particular in relation to TractorGirl) and maybe how I’ll put food on the table (though that is almost certainly me panicking) in a few weeks’ time.

All this and a conversation today with a friend on a similar topic has got me thinking. Where is God in all of this change? I suppose because I’d been thinking about ordination for so long (and still feel a deep sense of call, though am glad to be out of the process) it’s shaped how I see and understand my faith. Now that’s not on the agenda, how do I tell my story, and what is God doing? I must admit as well to a deep sense of boredom with a lot of church stuff, which feels increasingly pointless, and a degree of apathy about prayer. When you’ve prayed for guidance, made a real effort to listen to God, prayed about and discussed it through with others who’ve encouraged you to follow a given path, you think you have some idea of what God wants. The failure of that has left me wondering just what my faith is about and the point of prayer.

It taps into a major theological issue I really struggle with anyway – in what sense can we speak of God’s action in the world? To hear some people talk, God micro-manages their lives. I can see that it can be comforting to believe that God is in charge, and I’m not knocking anyone who has a really deep sense of that, but I can’t help but ask about the problems God seems incapable of resolving. On the other hand, belief in a distant God who just stands back (like the Deism of Locke, for instance, or the only sort of ‘God’ Dawkins can deal with) is just not the Christian God. A solid doctrine of creation tells us that God is moment by moment creating, sustaining and redeeming the world, so that if his attention lapsed for a moment, there wouldn’t be a creation. Moreover, God’s desire for that creation is to have life in all its fullness, which is why he sent Jesus. Grace is a constant reaching out to what is not God in love to draw it into the life, the very heart, of the Trinity (think Rublev’s ikon) which is made possible through salvation history culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

I know the various answers such as the free-will defence and the need for the creation to be free and open to risk in order to have any integrity. I like Rowan Williams‘ idea of a sort of ‘membrane’ between us and God that can be thinned out by prayer, a holy life, a combination of events, so something new can break through. I’d use this sort of reasoning to reconcile the resurrection with science – a deeper level of reality, of truth (indeed truth his very self) has broken through. But, however satisfying such explanations might be intellectually, they don’t cut it emotionally. I know some (one person in particular) would find it hard to accept that more than rationality is needed, but we are inherently emotional beings (indeed, there is evidence that without emotions, we find it nigh on impossible to put decisions into action – such is the case with some folks with brain damage) and if God takes all we are seriously, the emotions matter to him as well as our ideas.

Last night, at the Cathedral, I went to a service for the Venerable Bede’s saint day, and found the sermon very moving. It’s the most down-to-earth thing I’ve heard for ages, and I wanted to give the preacher a big hug. God felt present in that service in such a powerful way. I can’t say I’m experiencing a sort of dark night of the soul, because God is there, but nor can I say that last night is the norm and keeping faith feels like a real effort, though I’d never abandon it because I really do believe Christ is risen. That’s why I’d call it a ‘grey night’ of the soul; I need a re-think about what is at the heart of my faith. Applying for jobs has shown me that use of my gifts to serve others has to be at the heart of career choices, but the rest is all a bit vague…

All change, please!

Two big changes recently. The first one relates to the new government, about which you’d have needed to be living in a deep hole under Barrow-in-Furness not to have heard about. The second may have been noticed by Church geeks like me – Bishop Tom Wright is to become a professor at St Andrew’s. Having spent the day writing job application letters, I do not have the energy for serious comment, so here’s some irreverent comment instead:

The footage of David Cameron with Nick Clegg was been really quite amusing. If they didn’t have this party-political-coordinated-ties thing going on at the moment it’d be hard to tell them apart! I gather that already some grumpy old right-wing Tories and more left-wing Guardian-reading Lib Dems are having a moan. My bet is it’ll last about six months before falling apart after a blazing row about something trivial that is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I for one am not keen on cross-party love-ins. It’s enough to make you wretch… Wonder what Mr Wesley would have thought: “No con-dem-nation now I dread…” I have rejoined the Labour Party.

Bishop Tom’s departure made the Church of England newspaper, and so did the comment of one blogger, whom I assume is in Durham diocese, that Tom should be congratulated on his amazing ministry, as not everyone could run a diocese from the American lecture circuit and the departure lounges of international airports. Maybe he should get a prize before he takes up his ‘do nothing’ chair. I think a droopy mitre might be appropriate, though I’m open to suggestions…