Well, that’s what it sometimes feels like to the church mice who are in Bristol next week. At Weston-super-Mare (is it as exotic as it sounds? We’re about to find out, never having been before). Then also at Trinity College, and finally at Earth Abbey. But staying with some great friends, so even if the places aren’t as we imagine them the company will be good. They have a great wine cellar as well, so one Lent regime might have to be relaxed just a little bit. But then, nobody ever did fast on feasts and high days, did they …
Archive for February, 2009
Today is the first day of Lent, a period of reflection and assessment that lasts until Easter – six weeks of it in all. As you would expect from church mice, this will also involve giving up one or two things in order to be reminded of the purpose of this important point in the church calendar.
For us this year, the reflection will also be tinged with more than just a little bit of excitement. One of John’s roles is as co-chair of the Mission Theology Advisory Group, which is a joint enterprise between the Church of England and the Global Mission Network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. You might imagine that a group with such a high-sounding title would not exactly be engaging the popular imagination. In which case, you would be completely wrong. Last year the group produced this resource, Sense making Faith, which explores Christian faith through the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste – with the addition of a sixth one, imagination. Many of you have already visited the website of the book. But there’s more, because six senses and six weeks of Lent have made it a perfect fit for a BBC series that will accompany listeners to both national and local radio through this traditional Christian festival. How cool is that? The six major programmes run on national radio every Sunday in Lent, with additional themes each day also on national radio as well as input from local radio stations around the country. And a fantastic website with additional materials and reflections, plus a dedicated blog to which one of the church mice will be making a contribution. Go here for the full details and also to explore the resources provided for each week. And no matter where you are in the world, you will be able to hear the programmes via the website: just click on the links there and that will take you to the BBC website to hear the programmes.
One of our students at Fuller Seminary is doing a project on Facebook, for the course on Theology and Culture. If you are on Facebook and you want to take part in his research, go here.
If the title of this post strikes an unexpected note, then prepare to be surprised. Mark Driscoll is hitting the headlines for apparently claiming that “Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand, and the willingness to make someone bleed.’ He continues, ‘that is a guy I can worship…I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” According to those who have researched this story, this is a typical expression of an emerging form of neo-Calvinism, which makes you feel wretched and powerless and macho and powerful all at the same time, and in the process somehow changes your life. Maybe it does. But it seems pretty hard to square with some uncompromising Bible teachings in such easy-to-find places as the Ten Commandments, not to mention Matthew 5:21-26, 38-48 or even the crucifixion narratives, which on the face of it seem to offer an entirely different picture of Jesus.
For an interesting reflection on all this, go here.
You might not imagine that it would take a lot of research to establish that people whose only friendships are made through social networking sites are likely to suffer from a lack of real face to face friendships, but you may be surprised to learn that a serious researcher has decided that too much time spent on the likes of Facebook might lead to mental illness, dementia, and a whole lot more. He doesn’t mention blogs, though, so we’re OK for now. Of course, that’s no guarantee that we aren’t mad, bad, or demented already
We found the full story here, but it’s showing up in a lot of other places. Unfortunately you need to be a subscriber to see the complete article in its original context.
Those of you who have met and listened to us in seminars on spirituality will at least have heard the name of Andrew Newberg and his research into brain patterns and spiritual experience. Some of you might even have wondered if we make it all up, and one or two of you have even said so! So the sceptics (and others, hopefully) will be fascinated by the main feature in this week’s Time magazine, which not only reports on all this but extends the conversation by asking (among other things) about the spirituality of social networking sites. And the good news seems to be that, even (or maybe especially) in uncertain times, having a spiritual connection is good for your health. But then, you all knew that, didn’t you.
After our experiences at the hands of a bunch of angry ministers a couple of weeks ago, this past week has been the exact opposite. So there is some justice in the world, after all
On Tuesday, we led a whole day of prayer at International Christian College in Glasgow, when students and staff met together to – well, explore prayer. The invitation asked us to help them discover new ways to pray, and the principal (Tony Sargent) assured us in advance that they were open to anything prayerful – and they really were! Among modes too numerous to mention, we prayed with paint, with nails, with fabrics, with music, in solitude and silence, with traditional liturgies – and, yes, one or two words. Session 1 took us to prayer on holy ground, nurturing our personal spirituality; session 2 invited us to explore prayer as vision, as some went on a city walk while others checked out the papers; and session 3 focused on prayer as community building. We knew we’d put a huge amount of energy into our preparations for the day, but we were still taken aback by the warmth of the response. Everybody absolutely loved it. Considering that the entire spectrum of theological and ecclesiastical opinions from conservative Reformed to edgy Charismatic must be represented among the staff, quite apart from the students, we felt pretty pleased about that. One person greeted us at the start of the day with ‘All this touchy-feely stuff freaks me out’ – and by the end of the day was giving Olive a big hug and saying something like ‘This experience has changed my life’. Which for us made the whole thing worthwhile. We’ve always aspired to be all things to all people, and this day reminded us again that when we look at God rather than ourselves, then a whole lot of other things are less important than we sometimes make them seem to be.
And why did we title this post ‘sensory overload’? Well, just over a year ago we led a service at Fuller Seminary on the theme of harvest/Feast of Tabernacles and, not surprisingly given the ritual of what happened in Bible times, we wanted to do things with a lot of water. We did – and if you search for it you can find a record of the event at the i-tunes shop. But not before we’d been assured that the good folks of California could only deal with one sense at a time, and if we followed the rabbis (who not only poured out large quantities of water but also danced all night and juggled with flaming torches) – then that would be ‘sensory overload’. So it was natural that in the context of this week we would recall the person who coined that phrase, not least because he was a Presbyterian, and of course ICC in Glasgow is right in the heart of the only fully Presbyterian country in the world. And some people think that God has no sense of humour! And in case you’re wondering, the community of Fuller Seminary also loved that particular service.
A recent report on church attendance in the UK highlighted the fact that, apparently, the decline has stopped and more people are going to church more often – and to churches of all types, not just trendy ones that try and make themselves user friendly. It even found its way onto the fashion pages of a tabloid newspaper this week.
Check this out. Not sure what we think of it: is praying for the right dress the same as praying for a parking space? And should we be doing either? Not according to an article in this month’s Expository Times, which suggests that in the early church (ie New Testament period) such prayers would have been regarded as sub-Christian, only adopted by pagans. We’ll blog more about that article another day, but this Daily Mail feature was too interesting to miss. Its real importance might be more in the fact that it appeared at all – and that in itself must tell us something about the spiritual search of our culture. Maybe we are starting to ‘do God’ in UK civic life, in spite of what some politicians tell us!
A friend gave us these two church mice this week. As you can see, one of them is praying while the other one is reading (possibly a Bible, but who knows?). We had fun deciding which one is which. You can decide for yourself.
But it also gave us a chance to reflect on why we called this blog 2 church mice. When we first started it, another blogger described it as ‘twee’ which Webster’s dictionary defines as ‘dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint’, though we suspect that the person who said that was probably working on a different definition. Still, if that’s the worst thing anyone says about us we can live with it. It’s certainly better than being defined by some of the less attractive qualities of mice, which can be dirty things, making a mess and creating a nuisance – though we’ve probably done a bit of that in our time.
If truth be told, we were probably inspired by a throwback to the sort of pictures of mice you find in the writings of Beatrix Potter. Lovable characters, who you would almost want to cuddle up to on a cold night. The sort also described in Robert Burns’s famous poem, To a Mouse, which starts with the line ‘Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie’. That certainly describes us pretty well. We have never found it easy to know how to deal with the sort of aggressive people who seem all too often to be found in churches, and our natural tendency in the face of argument and complaint is just to sneak back into the mousehole until the noise has died down. That can be an advantage (it has saved us from saying things many things that we might have regretted later), but it can also work against you as other people often take advantage. Still, that is who we are – temperamentally shy, believe it or not (both of us), and certainly with no capacity to project ourselves onto centre stage as being God’s gift.
Mice operate on the edges, and that is definitely us, generally preferring to be beneath the radar, happy with our own company, though enjoying wider community when it is open and nurturing.
As well as getting the mice statues, we’ve been talking a lot about this in relation to another project we’re working on right now: an A-Z of church life. We’ll probably be a bit challenged by the time we get to the end of the alphabet, but we decided early on that A could only stand for one thing: attitude. We’ve come across more than our fair share of angry people this last week or two, all of them church leaders. Attitude is surely going to determine so much, from how we do our theology, to whether we can ever be effective in mission (for who, in the midst of an angry world, would want to sign up with yet more angry people?). Church people sometimes justify aggression by appealing to the story about Jesus throwing money changers out of the temple – without realizing that the only people Jesus ever got really angry with were self-opinionated religious leaders who spent their lives putting other people right!