Stages of Faith

Following my post on Theodicy I have started to read more about Process Theology.  I have only just started, and there will no doubt be another post when I have read a bit more, but it sparked me into thinking about stages of faith.

There are a number of different theories, although they all have in common that one stage is not better than another, and that we spiral round, rather than following them in a linear fashion.  At theological college I was taught Fowler, when doing a DMin my training incumbent was taught Hagberg-Guelich (or more complicated), and since Brian McLaren has written Naked Spirituality.

What all have in common is that there comes a time in faith when it all goes to pot!  This has, in the past, been referred to as the Dark night of the Soul.  Richard Rohr has a very simple two stage model, where the two stages are separated by some kind of trauma – something that we would not choose to go through, but which helps to form us for the next stage.

At a recent parish vision day (not ours) we were told that the missing generation is the 35-60s.  The under 35s have faith, although they are not necessarily attending Anglican churches.  This made me think, as our two growing congregations are both predominantly in those age ranges, and I briefly discussed it with the Local Mission Advisor who was running the day.  His question was what are you doing to attract those people?

A number of past conversations Lesley and I have had came to mind – we have wondered how with integrity we could draw in people with an early stage faith when it is not where we are.

We have wondered whether we should be fishing in the pool of those in the crisis point in other churches and perhaps forming alliances – although that has come to nothing.  Instead we have started wondering whether people are treading the stages of faith outside the church, in their day to day lives.  We have also wondered whether from about 35 the kinds of crises that cause people to reevaluate their lives occur, and faith is seen as a possible answer.  For example, in many companies if you haven’t made it by 40 you aren’t going to; as children grow older you realise that they aren’t going to fulfil you in a way that you thought they might before they were born, or when they were young; your parents might start to get ill and need more support or die; redundancy might happen, causing questions of meaning and security; health issues can occur at any time, but I suspect that by 40 most people will know a friend who has had cancer or died from disease.

People that age have been round the block enough times that the simple answers of the early stages of faith do not satisfy, but might it be that a church which acknowledges that things aren’t simple, that allows people to have doubts, that walks with them through the messiness might be attractive?

This is not an answer, but a question!

This video of Yvette Flunder shows a movement through the stages of faith, although without dwelling on the crisis point.

Alan

What makes for good Worship?

In the Rule of Benedict he writes:

Should monastics make a mistake in a psalm, responsory, refrain or reading, they must make satisfaction there before all. If they do not use this occasion to humble themselves, they will be subjected to more severe punishment for failing to correct by humility the wrong committed through negligence.

but recently I have been reflecting on whether I think this is right.

Is the worship of God to be restricted to the able, with others expected to watch and listen, or are all God’s people to be involved?  Is it a performance which must be made perfect, or a participation?

Two of our congregations tend more towards the latter, and it was interesting that after a recent, particularly disastrous service (as in things going wrong), a new family with young children said that it encouraged them to come along, as if it were more perfect they would worry that their children would disturb it.  They have now become regulars!

What does it say to those who don’t read well if the people at the front all do?

In a more informal society, does the formality and perfection stop some people engaging with God?

Perhaps the key is:

the wrong committed through negligence

if people are doing the best they can surely that is good enough?

I am not suggesting that there is not a place for the well rehearsed, well executed worship, but I am suggesting that there is also a place for something else.  What do you think?

Alan

Prayer (part 3)

The thing about prayer is that it is so many things.  There are so many ways of praying, and some of them will resonate with us, and some won’t.  I would always encourage people to pray the way they can, not the way they can’t.

Many memories of school (hands together eyes closed) or church (someone at the front reading from the book) give us an idea of what prayer is, but a very incomplete one.  So today I am going to list various sorts of prayer with links to resources.

ACTS

When praying the acronym ACTS can be used
A  adoration
C  confession
T  Thanksgiving
S  Supplication

TSP (teaspoon)

T  thank you
S  sorry
P  please

These two approaches cover similar elements with different words.

  • Adoration – recognising God’s kingship and honouring it.
  • Confession – acknowledging the ways in which we have fallen short of God’s desire for our lives.
  • Thanksgiving – searching out and recognising the good things that have happened to us (I know several people who as part of their prayer routine recall 15 good things that have happened that day – 15 so that it takes effort)
  • Supplication – asking God for things – either for ourselves or for others

Within supplication there are Arrow Prayers, intercessions (the name often used in church services), cycles of prayer, where lists are kept.

Prayer is also a way of listening to God to seek God’s will.  There are may techniques for this:

Resources

The key is to find something that fits your circumstances and personality – if you try something out and it doesn’t work, then try something else – don’t assume that you can’t pray.

Alan

 

Thoughts on Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday is the day on which the Church of England mixes together Mothering Sunday and Mothers Day.  Many churches will have services welcoming families and providing posies for the children to give to their mothers.

But… there is something about the day which I find awkward.  It isn’t just that reality doesn’t match up to the sainthood conferred on mothers, at least by secular society, if not the church; nor that it is not a day for celebration for all mothers – those who have lost children through death, adoption, or social services determining that they weren’t fit mothers; nor that not all children wish to celebrate their mothers, as not all children have good memories of their mothers.

It is all of these, but in addition there is a sense in which we are being invited to deny reality.  All mothers are going to let their children down – it is only God who can be relied on in all circumstances – I am not suggesting that it is calculated or malicious, but no person is perfect, and people who think they have a perfect mother haven’t yet learnt to break away and see them as people, rather than as plaster saints.

The church should be encouraging and helping everyone to become the best people that they can be, and that includes having a true understanding of themselves and their relationships.  How can we do this if we help maintain the myths of the perfect mother?

Alan

Prayer (Part 2)

Does prayer work?

In this post I am going to look at intercessory prayer – asking God for something (usually for others).

It rather depends what you mean by work – and what happens if it doesn’t “work”.

Almost all Christians will have had experience of an apparent failure of God to answer prayer.  I wonder how many children haven’t received x for a birthday or Christmas, or adults someone not receiving the healing that has been prayed for.

In the Church of England’s guidelines on the healing ministry, “A Time to Heal“, it is recognised that healing is different from “cure”; it even goes so far as to say that sometimes death can be healing.

In prayer we are aligning ourselves with God’s will, but all too often unanswered prayers are prayers which are not answered the way we want, rather than the way God wants.  When we or loved ones are ill it is ever so tempting to pray for a cure – but is that God’s will?  Instead, I find myself praying that God’s will be done.  It perhaps prevents me having to question why my prayer wasn’t answered, but it also perhaps helps me to come to terms with whatever is happening – which is an answer, but not the one that I might have been looking for.

Alan

Prayer (part 1)

I think that prayer will need several posts – so I will start today with a few stories!

One of our retired clergy tells the story of how, when doing an infant school assembly he asked the children what they thought prayer was.  One little boy put his hand up and said: “when God talks to us in our head”.  My colleague was blown away.

Then there is the time a journalist asked Mother Teresa about prayer

Journalist: “Mother Teresa, you believe in God so I guess you must pray regularly.”
Mother Teresa: “Yes, of course.”
Journalist : “And what do you ask God when you pray?”
Mother Teresa : “When I pray, I ask nothing”
Journalist: “But what do you do then?”
Mother Teresa: “I listen”
Journalist: “And what does God say to you?”
Mother Teresa: “Nothing. He listens too.”

There was a long silence, with the interviewer seeming a bit confused and not knowing what to ask next.

Finally Mother Teresa breaks the silence by saying, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.”

Metropolitan Anthony writes in School for Prayer about how as a young priest he visited an old woman and when she asked him how to pray he didn’t know what to do, but told her to knit (this is the very short version, the longer version can be found here [pdf]).

Martin Luther is famous for commenting, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” We must learn to see prayer as the most powerful and efficient use of your time.

I have been told a story about someone who started a new job, and found above their desk a sign that said: “Prayer changes things”.  They didn’t feel comfortable with this, but weren’t sure what to do, so left it for a while as they pondered.  Eventually they got out a pen and changed the sign to say: “Prayer changes me, I change things”.

When reflecting upon his wife’s cancer, Bishop Jack Spong once said that a god who would help his wife only because of his own popularity was a god not worth worshipping.

Make of these what you will!

Alan

Theodicy

Today is perhaps a day to tackle Theodicy.  Put simply, Theodicy attempts to answer the question:

If God is all powerful, all knowing and good, why does evil exist in the world?

Logically, this statement can be countered in a number of ways:

  • There is no God
  • God is not all powerful, all knowing and good
  • Evil does not exist

There is no God

This is one of the arguments used by those who wish to deny God.  As I am not one of those I shall say no more here.

God is not all powerful, all knowing and good

Traditional theology would claim that God is all of these, but Process Theology says:

God is not omnipotent in the sense of being coercive

I am not sure that I really understand Process Theology (yet), so I shall largely pass this by, however, if you accept the arguments of Process Theology, the problem of evil goes away as God is not all powerful.

This argument can also be countered by claiming that God could prevent evil, but chooses not to and there are several arguments in this space.

God wishes us to have free will to choose to believe or not, and if there were no evil we would have no choice but to believe.  However, with free will comes the ability to do evil. This still leaves the question of where evil comes from, and what about natural evil, like earthquakes.

 

Evil does not exist

Again there are a number of different arguments in this space.

The Moore shift turns the argument on its head and says that because God is all powerful, all knowing and good then evil cannot exist.  However, it makes no attempt to explain how to reconcile this with our observation.

That which we see as evil is not in fact evil.  This might seem counter intuitive, but the argument is that as some pain, for example, leads to childbirth, so some evil leads to moral improvement.  This approach sees life as a Vale of Soulmaking.  The question for this approach is whether all of the great evil we see in the word is necessary for our betterment.

There is also the argument that in attempting to rectify one evil a greater evil is created, in other words, that this is the best of all possible worlds.  For example, try to imagine a world in which there was no suffering or evil.  There would be no need to do anything as you would always be protected.  Voltaire attacked this idea in Candide.  Again, I find this difficult to believe – that there is not one small change that we can make to this world which would not make it, in some way, better.

Conclusion

For me Process Theology perhaps holds the best answer to the question, with perhaps the Moore shift coming second, but the others do not hold water.  So I am left with something that I don’t (yet) understand) and something which doesn’t attempt to explain!

What I do know is that many people who are suffering pain or evil find comfort in the God who suffered on the cross, rather than finding it a time in which they reject God – Job being perhaps the best known example.

Alan

 

Is the Bible the Word of God?

This series began when two members of the congregations shared their faith, and challenged some “doctrines” that weren’t doctrines – in particular, one said that they didn’t think the Bible was the “Word of God” as they didn’t think it was literally true!

Where to start?

There is certainly a strand of Christian thought that would see Jesus as the Word of God (coming from John 1), although this does not necessarily negate the role of the Bible.

When it comes to the Bible I believe that we all approach it with our own assumptions and no one treats it literally literally!  Whilst there are fundamentalists who will say that they accept the Bible literally a couple of examples will show otherwise:

When Lesley was debating homosexuality with someone of a much more fundamentalist viewpoint she was told that:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

so she asked whether this meant she should be a lesbian!  The Bible was written in a patriarchal society to men – if you want to accept it literally …

I was debating the role of women in church and was quoted:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.

I responded with:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

only to be told that his quote was true for all time, and mine was culturally conditioned.

When training the first lecture we had was about how we interpreted the Bible, and asked us to place ourselves on a spectrum from:

  • God uses human writings – despite their errors, failings and limitations
  • God dictates scriptures – they are without error, failing or limitation

One of the questions that I am sometimes challenged with is “do you believe in absolute truth” (the implication being that the challenger does, and knows what it is, and I don’t).  I do believe in absolute truth, I just don’t believe that we can know what it is in this life.

For me, the Bible is humanity’s attempt to write down their experience of God using their imperfect knowledge and their imperfect language.  For me, the challenge is to try to get behind what has been written down, and back to the original experience – which would have been mediated through society at the time.  The next challenge is to work out what that experience looks like in today’s society.  This leads to a very different approach to those who believe that the exact words of the Bible are true for all time.

Alan

St George’s Car Park

You may have noticed that we now have a permit system in place in St George’s car park. This is because for many years the car park has been used by people with no connection to the church and this has caused immense problems both for the church and for those who hire the hall. Groups have suffered from reducing membership because when members come to the group they find they can’t park. Other groups have chosen to move to other halls, with an obvious financial implication. The final straw was when a hearse couldn’t get into the car park because of the number of cars in there, most of which did not belong to mourners.

In terms of the church car park, church and hall users must always be our priority and so those who attend groups will be given permits as required. This should ensure that they can now park more easily. In addition to this, we are offering the car park free of charge to those who are dropping off or collecting children from Badshot Lea School during specific hours in term time.

Our current parking arrangements, while not perfect, are necessary to meet the needs of those who use the church. In line with other organisations within Badshot Lea we need access to and control of our car park. Consideration has been given to suggestions that people pay for permits and remove their cars from the car park for large funerals, parties, services and events. However, this feels unworkable from an administration point of view as the hall is booked by several groups every day, each user having different requirements, also there are also many one-off bookings. The church is run by volunteers who work immensely hard and so we don’t want to burden them with extra work.

 

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is probably the most misunderstood of the Trinity.  Jesus describes the Holy Spirit thus:

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

and the role is believed to be:

inspiring believers and allowing for them to interpret all the sacred scripture

However, there is also a belief in the Holy Spirit that he/she (not it)

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is God the Holy Spirit taking up permanent residence in our lives

the implication of which is that part of us becomes part of the Trinity!

Different denominations put greater or lesser emphases on the power of the Spirit, with Pentecostalism believing that the Spirit gives the power of healing.

The Holy Spirit is represented in many ways, but often as wind/breath, flame or a dove.

More controversially, some are starting to see Wisdom (Sophia) as appearing in the Wisdom literature, as being the Holy Spirit.

Alan