I've been spending some time reading quite a bit of an emerging blog I'd not come across before. I know, I've been black-listed by many of you now.. ;-)
Mark Berry has graciously let me comment there, and one of the things that came up in conversation is my disdain for the emerging approach to theology, which will come as no surprise to regular readers.
I said that I found much of it incoherent and that if you couldn't explain theolgy to my dad, it was just elitist bobbins. Let me explain that a little, lest you think I am an anti-intellectual book-burner.
I believe it is entirely right and proper to go to seminary and learn deep and important theology. But if you could not, upon leaving seminary, explain those concepts to my father, were he a member of your congregation, then what on earth good would it do to have your head stuffed full of incomprehensible blobble?
Scholarship, in and of itself, right down to 'I've-written-a-bookism' has no higher claim to understand the things of God than my grandmother who prayed everyday for my father's soul.
I've explained a solid concept like salvation to my father before now. He has, so far, rejected it. If I were to start talking to him about journeys and paradigm shifts, he'd think I was now not only 'religious' but also 'out-of-my-gourd-mad'. He attended our wedding at our old church, which was, by any stretch of the imagination, a fairly good example of an emerging church. He thought it was a cult, bless him.
I have great, great respect for those of my brothers and sisters who have and are studying theology. I believe they are vital to the continued health of the church as a whole. But the deepest of theology only requires a good communicator to unlock it to a different mind - else I fear you have created a new gnosticism of 'hidden' knowledge for the few.
I've been spending some time reading quite a bit of an emerging blog I'd not come across before. I know, I've been black-listed by many of you now.. ;-)
I've been pondering prayer since reading Dan's last post on Pyro about it. One thing that has become a very familiar phrase is 'the power of prayer'. Now, most people use the phrase to mean 'things happen when we pray', which is true. After praying, I've seen people turn to Christ, I've been given strength to carry on, I've seen provision given that was desperately needed.
But it is important to remember that there's nothing intrinsic in prayer that brings these things about. Prayer isn't a magic formula or spell that focuses mystical energy towards a goal - it's a tacit acknowledgement of dependence of the only One who has the power to effect anything at all.
Now, this post is not an attempt to address all of the many issues surrounding prayer, it's just a rabbit trail of thoughts sparked off by a few things in the past weeks.
So, I got to thinking about a recent prayer meeting I attended. One such meeting was some time ago, when I still had full use of my legs. It was held in the NEC in Birmingham, and was called Trumpet Call. There have been a number since, and I've not returned. I have been tempted to a few times, thinking that maybe I should give it another chance - after all, it was a prayer meeting, and how troublesome can that be?
But the more I think about it, the more I read, and just my own experience of prayer makes me very reticient to be in that arena again. For a start, a lot of the thinking behind it seems to view prayer almost like weight on a set of scales - if we accumulate enough on our side, it'll tip to our favour.
This is not to say I disparage the notion of prayer being a vital part of our faith life - or even that I discount the wisdom of corporate prayer. But there is a sort of numbers mentality that can give the impression of God as someone who is reluctant to act unless He has lots of people shouting at Him at once.
The other thing was one of the prayers stuck in my mind - a bare word in amongst a litany of wickedness that the speaker was 'praying against'. You would no doubt be in agreement that the things he was praying about were indeed great evils - as was I. Rape, oppression, murder, theft, injustice etc. Awful things. And then, just at the end came..
Now, I'm not going to be the one to stand up and say that no evil has ever come of Capitalism. But to lump it with a great list of horrors was a tad excessive. Sorry, but if we're going to start praying against economic systems we disagree with, expect unity to fall by the wayside pretty quick.
There I stood in the middle of that auditorium feeling like one of Frank Perretti's scarier creations. Here I was in this gathering of believers... a capitalist, dark and eeevil amongst them.
Then there was the moving to all points of the compass and shouting things at Satan. I was a bit lost by this point, and fairly sure I wouldn't be staying for the evening.
My general feeling at the time, and what has kept me from returning, was the sense of it being a bit of a pantomime, and for all the theatricals, there wasn't an awful lot of prayer going on. I would still love to go to an all-day prayer meeting for my country. But I fear my understanding of what prayer is, and what many of my Christian brethren in the UK believe it to be, are so far different as to make it utterly pointless for me to join in.
I was a bit of a contradictory child. Growing up in the late seventies amd eighties, I enjoyed fairly standard english kid things.
I loved Playschool, and my particular favourite was Humpty, also pictured here.
Later on, I was rather a big Doctor Who fan. While my husband has the distinction of being of the Tom Baker era, I am content to remember my Doctor, Peter Davison, complete with cricket whites. We won't mention the current Doctor in case I get into trouble.
I did have barely spoken of desires to be one of the really pretty girls at school, the ones with lovely long hair and pretty dresses, but hey, you can't climb trees and fight the Cybermen in a ballgown, can you?..
Mind you, they all managed to do French Elastic skipping and I was lucky if I got to join in, and that requires quite a bit of fancy footwork to say the least
One year, I began to covet a BMX. I had in mind something like this -
And my parents decided to get me this -
I'm ashamed to say I made no attempt to be noble and cried my eyes out that entire Christmas. The shame of riding the 'Happy Shopper' was almost too great to be borne. My Dad did eventually strip it down and spray-paint it flourescent yellow about 5 years later, but it didn't fool anyone.
Of course, the silly thing is, I'd love it now. I've always wanted to be an old-fashioned traditional girl, but, looking back, whenever I got the chance, I hated it. Oh well.
O Jesus, full of truth and grace,
more full of grace than I of sin,
yet once again I seek thy face;
Open Thine arms and take me in,
And freely my backslidings heal
And love the faithless sinner still.
Thou knowest the way to bring me back,
My fallen spirit to restore;
O for thy truth and mercy's sake
Forgive and bid me sin no more;
The ruins of my soul repair
And make my heart a house of prayer.
O give me, Lord, the tender heart
That trembles at the approach of sin;
A godly fear of sin impart,
Implant and root it deep within,
That I may dread Thy gracious power
And never dare to offend Thee more.
It's reasonably common to find those who are part of the so-called 'emerging church' or 'fresh expressions' to disavow the title 'emergent'. There's a few varying reasons for this, but I have to say that I think it's a wise move.
Mainly because I think it's the kiss of death. You have to worry, as a cutting edge type, when your 'movement' has a whole edition of the BBC's Songs of Praise dedicated to you. If you're trying to go against the grain and be anti-establishment, being on Songs of Praise is like the Sex Pistols doing the Royal Variety Performance.
In fact, I can quite see why there is even reticence to be called a 'movement'. For a start, when you're trying to move away from institutions, it's most unhelpful to be homogenized into a proto-institution.
But the other thing is this. One of the most valuable things about the 'fresh expressions' is the commitment to properly reaching out into communities and touching the lives of those no-one else wants.
The pseudo-mystical gubbins, you can keep, but the challenge to go and serve the prostitutes, homeless and elderly shut-ins? That's nothing less than the normal Christian life.
There's some wonderful work happening (and, scratch the surface, and there always was) and it's good to be constantly reminded of the fact that Christianity is a faith that reaches out in love.
It is too easy to become lacklustre in our orthopraxy, it is too easy to be going through the motions of church attendance and think that we're doing ok. It's not a new problem either - you can read things from centuries ago that exhort believers to re-ignite their cold hearts and rekindle a passion for those lost souls that walk around us, zombie-like, all day long.
Thinking outside of the box and touching the untouchables, challenging injustice, and letting our faith touch every bit of our lives? These things have always been part of the Christian faith, there's nothing fresh about these expressions at all.
I know I have some readers who, perhaps reluctantly, I don't know, identify with the emerging church. There are some fantastic projects out there that make a real difference to lives, and that is a good thing. I commend all my readers to be living out your faith in ways that touch the margins of society, and please, do investigate some of these outreaches that fly under the banner of emerging church - there is much to learn there.
But if you are one of my emergent readers, carry on resisting the label. I can't imagine anything more deadening to a vital part of Christian life - that of real, honest-to-goodness service - than being hived off into a movement, which will, one day, become unfashionable and old-hat.
Guarding a church after the Pope's remarks.
Some Indian Muslims burnt an effigy of the world's Roman Catholic leader who quoted remarks which linked Islam to violence.
Yes, of course. That's the way to convince everyone you're a peaceful bunch. Demand a man apologize for condemning violence in the name of God.
I heard a motivational christian author say something that he obviously thought was really profound. The interviewer was smiling and nodding as though it was.
"You'd never be thirsty if you've never tasted water"
No, Mr Profound Author. You'd be dead.
Well, right after looking at the place of music in a church service, I decided to look at the place of emotion in the life of a believer.
I've been reading the recent exchanges between Dan Phillips and Adrian Warnock with interest, and the same sort of thing keeps cropping up again and again. Instead of looking at the specifics of charismatic giftings, the conversation seems to repeatedly focus on 'emotional experiences'.
The cessationist tends to feel that the charismatic puts far too much stock in emotional experiences, and the charismatic believes that the cessationist position, of neccessity, precludes emotional experience, and that, if one does allow for emotional experience, one is actually a closet charismatic.
Now, aside from the fact that, to be honest, I think this direction is off-topic, I'm a little perturbed by the assumptions being made about a cessationist's inner life.
As a cessationist, I thought it worth underlining again that I am an emotional being, and that by not embracing the charismatic giftings, I haven't had a lobotomy. I am often given to using superlatives to try and convey the heights of emotion that carry me away when I think about the grace of God. In the past few months particularly, I have had many moments of profound awareness of the Lord's presence in my life, bearing me up in the depths of physical pain and sadness.
In times when I have not suffered, I have sat down in prayer and meditation on His glory, and I have been moved to tears. In times when I have been talking to my regular Jehovah's Witness callers, I have prayed for help and I know I have been freshly filled with the Holy Spirit as I spoke.
I believe that the Lord speaks to us by the Holy Spirit, by the means of His word, and I do not beat down every hint of emotion that arises as I pray.
But neither do I gauge my spiritual state, the approval of God, or the presence of God truly with me, by my emotions - ever. We walk by faith, not sight - that is we do not have to rely on our senses or 'felt presences'. We are not mystics.
The pursuit of emotional experience is misguided folly, if I may be so bold. Pursue the Lord in faith whole-heartedly, and it may well be, and most likely will be, that your emotions are touched by the depth of what He shows you. But you will be no closer to the Lord at these times than those mornings when you faithfully pray and feel nothing but the soreness in your knees and the need to fish out a jumper.
And those times when emotions are strong will not make you a charismatic.
Right-o, time for some opinionated spiel. What's a blog for if not for that, eh? I've been thinking about worship. I have also been worshipping, which is a sensible place to be.
The topic of worship always seems to be a bit of a firestarter, whereever I see it addressed. It appears to be something everyone opines on, even if they are quite clearly nominal church-attenders who just like Choral music.
It's very popular to remind believers nowadays that worship is a lifestyle, and it's not at all inappropriate. But I think it's symptomatic of a treatment of church music that has really lost proportionality.
One of the presenters of 'youth' programming on the GOD channel frequently uses a term that sets my teeth on edge whenever he uses it - 'Musi-ssionary'. He has this quaint notion of young people wandering out into the World's system, penning tunes which perhaps, obliquely reference God, and that somehow, by not smoking joints with the other bands they are supporting on tour, the unbelievers will be driven to ask about the gospel.
It's frustrating to even have to point out that this is utter piffle. It's all very well to stroke ones goatee and say that music speaks to people in a different way to words, but it's entirely irrelevant to the preaching of the gospel. Food 'speaks' to people in a different way to words, but you're not going to see conversions just because you've opened a cafe.
Now, granted, the things we sing in church are very important, but not because church music, or music by Christians has any special fairy dust sprinkled on it that sets it apart.
Songs worthy of being sung as part of worship to our Lord are reverent songs with lyrics that draw our minds into the adoration of who God is and what He has done. Others have covered the particulars of that in more detail than I'm going to go into here.
My purpose is to try and point out the place of music in our worship services. Notice I said 'songs worthy of being sung as part of worship'. It is something that needs to be highlighted again and again, but we do not only worship with our singing when we are in a gathering of Christian believers.
The recent emphasis in many churches on 'a lifestyle of worship' is in danger of being far too broad. We do indeed, as Christian believers filled with the Holy Spirit, need to worship with our whole lives, but we also need to acknowledge there are times when we gather together - special times that are set apart for the worship of our God.
My feeling is that in many modern styles of gathering there is a great danger of it being mere lip service to say that worship is a lifestyle, not just 'the singing'. The greater part of many services are taken up with a prolonged block of singing. Most often these times are openly called 'a time of worship'.
But this is nonsense. When we gather together to hear the Word, to pray corporately, to sing the praises of God, these things as a whole constitute our worship - our set aside time.
Perhaps it is losing sight of this that has led to so many believers being biblically illiterate and ill-educated in their faith. If you believe that 'worship' is singing, then it neccessarily downgrades the preaching. But to hear and appreciate the Word of God expounded from the pulpit should be a worshipful act on our part, as much as singing words that also reference the things we are hearing taught to us.
I personally feel this truth is much clearer in a style of service termed 'hymn sandwich', because there is less temptation to separate the parts of the whole service. To be honest, my children also thrive on it, because it keeps their attention.
Whichever kind of service you will be part of this weekend, or whichever time in the week you meet, have a reverent attitude throughout the gathering - from the time you enter the meeting, until you leave, even as you fellowship with your brothers and sisters. Many, many people in the world do not have the luxury of being able to meet freely to worship, and some have to meet in such secrecy that singing corporately has to be laid aside because of the noise.
Yet they still worship, in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ - because that's the only way you can.
You might be wondering exactly what is giving me so much trouble currently. Well, it's one of the joys of the fall, to be honest. Child-bearing, which, like everything else, was originally going to be so much easier, has been made inordinately difficult for me by the presence of sin and imperfection in this world.
I have a condition which essentially means my pelvis is slowly coming apart as my pregnancy progresses. Now, if that makes you wince a bit, then I think you've got the right idea. It's dreadfully painful, and this time, given the severity of it, will probably mean a nice comfy wheelchair. There's no guarantee that it will come right again after the baby is born, and indeed, it only left last time when I stopped nursing.
There's very little I can do for the pain, aside from opiate-based pills, but I can make sure that I don't exacerbate the situation by doing starjumps or the vacuuming.
All of which makes for a trying time for everyone. Pregnancy, in this house, is a massive challenge for everyone, because my husband finds himself doing the ironing, and pretty much everything else, and my little girls can't have as many stand-up cuddles from their mama as they normally would. My temptation is always to get despondent and self-pitying, looking at the state of the house, and how I can't go for walks with the girls and so on.
But, as hard as it is, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives, and I'm sure that there are some positives I haven't even considered, and maybe won't know for years to come.
My children have already developed the healthy form of self-reliance. My five year old makes breakfast for her two year old sister, and then gets her dressed. They can both follow simple directions when it's time to clear up, or replenish the nappy-changing bag. They can clear a table, and they understand that cuddles are just as good when they are sitting down on the sofa, if not better, because they last longer.
They see daily answers to prayer, and they know how vital it is to rely on God not just for daily bread, but even for the ability to move into the kitchen and slice it. They understand that making a baby is a big, important job, and that Mama needs to be helped in it.
They understand that being a family is so much more than being from the same gene-pool, and living in the same house - it's a co-operative effort to live out the plans that God has for us.
We heard the new baby's heartbeat for the first time today, racing away. It was a tangible reminder that the things we are sacrificing are incomparable to the worth of a whole human being - a new person being made inside me. I'm struggling everyday with pain that's not too unlike the sound of nails drawn down a chalk-board, and it will only get worse before it gets better.
But I am grateful, because it's driving me to my knees, and the foot of the cross, and One who suffered infinitely more for the sake of people.
One of the things that strikes me when I read the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) is how clear it is that he did come in contact with Christians, but either they were a rather strange variety, or he just didn't understand the teachings. I imagine it was probably a bit of both.
This hadith in particular illustrates what I mean.
God is more joyful at the repentance of someone when he turns to Him in repentance than one of you would be if he were riding his camel in the wilderness, and it runs away from him, carrying his food and drink, so that he loses all hope of getting it back. He comes to a tree and lies down in its shade (awaiting death), for he has lost all hope of finding his camel. Then, while he is in that state (of desperation), suddenly it is there before him! So he seizes its halter and cries out from the depth of his joy: "Oh God, You are my servant and I am Your Lord!" His mistake comes from the intensity of his joy.
(narrated in Saheeh Muslim #2747 and Saheeh Al-Bukhari #6309)
Now, reading that, it seems clear to me that Muhammad had at least heard the parable of the lost sheep, and the lost coin.
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found [it], he layeth [it] on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together [his] friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find [it]? And when she hath found [it], she calleth [her] friends and [her] neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
It seems fairly clear that there is at the very least, a passing connection between these tales. And yet, it also seems fairly clear that Muhammad completely misunderstood so much about these parables.
He understood the basic idea of the loss of something valuable, and the notion of great joy at the recovery of that valuable thing. But note the very different behaviour of the main protagonists in the tales. In the parables of our Lord, both the shepherd and the woman diligently seek that which is lost. In Muhammad's story, the camel owner gives up hope and prepares to die.
I think this is a very good illustration of the heart of the difference between our faiths. The hadith shows us a humanity that can come back to God of its own accord. It also shows us, crucially, I believe, a passive God who doesn't make more effort than is strictly neccessary to seek out what is lost, and is also prepared to give up.
The lost coin, and the lost sheep, by great contrast, show us a humanity that needs to be rescued, and a God who is willing, able and faithful to find that which is lost.
The difference in character is remarkable. Of course, I'm wondering if the last section loses something in translation. In the biblical stories, the shepherd and the woman call together their friends to rejoice, in a perfectly understandable illustration of celebration.
In Muhammads tale, the camel-owner makes a wild malapropism that is supposed to illustrate the intensity of his joy. I found it rather puzzling, to say the least.
I know that I am truly grateful to know a Lord who has tender affection for me, who sought me out in my lostness and rescued me, and who rejoices in that rescue.
I've just noticed in my blog stats that I'm on the blogroll of The Daily Pundit. I confess, I'd never come across the blog before, but I did find it rather diverting on a brief read-through. One thing I did notice that made me smile, however, is the particular place I hold on said blogroll.
Although there is a section for 'Women bloggers', my musings are placed on the section 'UK Right blogs'. Now, don't read this wrong - some of the links I have achieved put me in a section of 'lady bloggers', and I have no objection to that whatsoever.
But it does make one happy when one sees that one's views primarily are what has earned the link. I am happy to be a woman, and it is certainly a topic I am not shy about blogging on. But I talk about a lot of things that I hope would sound sensible coming from a man, too.
I was also amused that I am pegged as a 'Right' blog. Not because it isn't true, but it's always enlightening to see how others view you. I know that my 'Englishness' appears to be a popular reason for reading the blog.
Perhaps it is a contradiction to the rest of this post, but I've always been a little disappointed that I really don't get that many links from womens blogs. I read quite a few homemaking and motherhood blogs, and I've often thought that I'd like to write a blog like that. But when it comes to writing an actual blog-post, the only things that I get that overwhelming itch to type furiously about tend to be rather more polemical than recipes and gardening tips. Perhaps this is why I don't get pegged very much in the 'womens blogs' despite being so very pink.
Anyway, if you do link to me, thankyou very much. I am enjoying blogging enormously at the moment, spending as much time as I do in a rather static way. Thankyou mostly for reading and commenting, though. These are the things that make this whole business so much fun.