Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Holey Bibles

In God's Politics: Why the American Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it Jim Wallis refers to a very special edition of the Bible owned by one of his friends. It's a Bible without any references to the poor, or to God's heart for the oppressed, or to establish justice for the lowly and the lonely. Why? Because his friend painstakingly cut out all these 'offensive scriptures' to prove a point about the way we read our bibles selectively - instead of a Holy Bible we have a Holey Bible!
I know how often I can be guilty of reading the text through my own particular preconditioned lens. So recently I've been really trying to read the Bible less. Instead I've been trying to let the Bible read me. It can be very revealing! Whatever tradition, belief or background you come from you should give it a try. Let your imagination wander through the pages. Interact with the characters. Enter their dilemmas. Share their struggles. Respond to their words. See whether the Holy Spirit leads you along the scenic route or whether you end up amongst the poor, the lost and the broken. I have a hunch it will be the latter of the two.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The Doubt Catcher


I went for a coffee and a chat yesterday with a new buddy, a tutor at one of Manchester's theological colleges. Calling him a buddy might be stretching the truth a bit as this was only the third time we'd met - but the aim of the chat was to get to know each other better, so buddy will do I think. Right off the bat it was clear that we had a fair bit in common and seemed to share similar perspectives on faith, church, leadership, mission and stuff like that. But the revelation that ultimately made me feel a real connection with this guy was when he described a period during his own undergraduate studies in theology when his faith underwent real trial. He described the experience by conjuring an image which I've done my best to capture for you above - let me explain...
There are questions and issues that are strictly out of bounds in most self-respecting evangelical churches. Major themes deftly avoided or cleverly camouflaged range from the Genesis account of creation through to the unlikely dates and authors of various books of the bible, internal scriptural conflicts, dubious Old Testament morality and a whole lot in between! Put simply, if you are curious child, and naughty enough to sneak open that dusty old door with the 'Keep Out' sign, you may be in for the fright of your life. Like me, my buddy had been cocky enough to open that door and step inside. Also like me he'd found that once inside the creeping darkness and loneliness can quickly chill the soul. The language he used was of doubt-laden questions multiplying at an alarming rate until their presence became completely overwhelming. At this point I could really empathise as I recalled my own feelings of claustrophobia when unable to cope with a headful of questions far too big for me. He went on to describe how, in a very pragmatic sort of way, he'd slowly but surely begun to capture these questions one by one in jars, rather like the BFG catches dreams. Eventually, over the course of more than a year, he had them safely shelved. With the air fresh to breathe again he could now examine the infinate varieties one by one, at his own pace. There's always the danger of course that when he reopens a jar the specimen may have died, which is always a terrible shame, because doubts can be really fun as pets - it's only when they're wild they're a nightmare.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Style vs Substance

Book Review: Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens
I'll be honest - a few pages into this book I wasn't enjoying it. Having got used to the often understated approach of emerging church type books I found Neil Cole's gung-ho writing style quite annoying. However, as the book's proposition sounded interesting I perservered and I'm extremely glad I did. There's some superb material in this book, for instance the Simple Church model it proposes, an obvious incarnational DNA, the voice of real experience, and lots of very quoteable one-liners. Here's a few of my faves:
"We need to lower the bar on how church is done and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple."
"A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving to preserve their faith."
"There is a vast dfference between delegated authority and distributed authority... Authority is distributed to each person to accomplish all God has for the person, without needeing layers of intermediaries to pass that authority down. One's cover is found in his or her position in Christ, not in human positions above in the chain of command"
In summary then, this book is manna from heaven for anyone braving the desert sands that lie beyond church-as-we-know-it in hope of eventually entering a more fruitful future.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fighting the Fear

...continued from 'Flickering Faith'.

In my last post I drew a comparison between the flickering lighbulb in my kitchen and the flickering of my faith, which started quite unexpectedly about 8 years ago. I use the flickering light image because at an emotional level I've found that my faith doesn't seem to work like a dimmer switch, it doesn't just fade away and then fade back again. It's either there or it isn't - and frustratingly, like the lightbulb in my ceiling, I have no control over it and can't seem to fix it. Or so it seemed in the early stages of this difficult season of my life. Looking back I can see that it wasn't actually that I couldn't have control, I'd just never developed the 'psychological muscles' required to control the primal fear that accompanied the doubts in my mind. Perhaps I need to employ a metaphor here to explain myself more clearly...
Imagine you're travelling in a plane - a private jet! There's just you on board, and the pilot of course. You're enjoying the view, the sunshine, the curve of the earth, generally chilling and taking it easy. Then it starts to get dark. And then it gets turbulent. And the turbulence throws open the cabin door. From your seat you can see inside and to your horror you discover that there's no pilot after all, the plane has been on autopilot. In that split second lighting flashes, there's a deafening sound and the plane plunges into darkness. You panic. You're paralysed as utter terror overwhelms you. The plane starts to lurch and lunge wildly. After what feels like a lifetime you find yourself stumbling around, reaching towards the cabin door. Somehow you manage to find the pilot's seat and you haul yourself in. As your hands grab the controls your arms are almost wrenched out of their sockets - the strength required to gain any sense of stability is more than you've ever needed to call on. Is total oblivion the only certain scenario? How soon will it come? How long can you fight it?
And that, in a nutshell, is what I had to learn to do with my fears of God's non-existence (and the related and more pointed fear - my own eventual non-existence). I needed to learn to fight it, even though at the start I was totally unequal to the task. be continued.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Flickering Faith

B&W light

We moved out of our flat last weekend and so we're currently shacked up with Grace's mum and dad. Living in the city centre was great but one of the things I won't miss is the flickering spotlight in the ceiling of our old kitchen. After a few years of happily providing light it developed a will of it's own. Sometimes I'd click the switch and it would come on obediently in perfect syncronisation with it's three other siblings. But more often than not it would decide to stay unlit, or it would briefly say hello then turn itself off again. Then back on. For a minute or two. Then off again. I took the thing apart several times but couldn't seem to do anything to fix it.
When I was blogging recently about Britney I divulged some personal details about struggles I've had in my faith journey over the last few years. One of my mystery guests asked to know more about this aspect of my life. The flickering light image came to mind as I considered how I might respond. I'll probably need to post on this theme quite a few times from different perspectives to fully describe what's been going on over the last few years but flickering lights seems like a good place to start.
Some people talk about having a childlike faith (not childish faith) and I really envy that. I've even aspired to it, tried to possess it, but it's proven too illusive. My faith is complicated, it's a compound of ideas, experiences and longings. About eight years ago it switched itself off for the first time, very briefly, for about ten minutes, right in the middle of a time of worship. I remember it vividly - I fell to my knees like someone had punched me in the stomach. Fortunatley it was a fairly expressive worship time and the people around me must've just thought I was enjoying a Holy Spirit moment. I wasn't. I was experiencing a waking nightmare. My head was spinning through space and my heart felt overwhelmed with the nothingness of everything. From deep inside my psyche I remembered and relived the fear I felt one night as a child when the hallucinations of a really high fever had washed over me. That fear is familiar to me now. It walks proudly like a truth as it proclaims with empirical efficiency: There is no God. be continued.

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