Tag Archives: Lent

Easter

I am posting this after sundown (UK time) as the final Lent post, but also as an Easter one.  I have enjoyed and benefited from doing this so much that I am going to continue when I return from leave!

Lesley and I recently watched a film where two bereaved single parents fell in love by first becoming friends, and we agreed that this is the best way for it to happen (we may be biased as that was how it was for us).  We had earlier watched another film where the woman said that he wasn’t her type at all, but they had fallen in love anyway.  Today many people seem to use apps for dating, and the assumption seems to be that you have a list of all the things that you want in a partner, and ignore those who don’t fit.

If you want to be happy, the best bet is not to focus on being happy, but to do other things.

Increasingly businesses are looking at “leading indicators” rather than “lagging indicators”.  When Lesley and I checked into a Travelodge we got chatting and were told that the company had stopped measuring room occupancy and started measuring room and hot water availability as well as other measures.  One measure tells us what we did – the other helps us improve.

I have heard one person complain that when they tell dates what they are looking for, the dates start trying to be that person!  What might a leading indicator for dating be?  Perhaps instead of only dating those who match a predetermined set of criteria it would be better to meet a wide variety of people (OK, I know that isn’t easy), not dating but just meeting, and see who you click with.  Marriage is a compromise, and if you only date people who meet all your criteria when things change and push comes to shove as a couple there is no experience of compromise.

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

This quote came to mind as it suggests to me focusing on the wrong things.
So what has this to do with Easter?
With God the same can be true.  When we look hard straight ahead we can miss what is in our peripheral vision.  What are leading and what are lagging indicators?  Services attended, or prayers said are surely lagging indicators.  If we live our lives aware of what is happening around us, looking for signs of resurrection in the every day, of the hope born from despair (I don’t endorse all of the views here, but it is a great example of hope born from despair), perhaps we might just see the risen Christ in action in the world, and then find ourselves drawn to worship and prayer in thanksgiving more often.
Happy Easter
Alan

Atonement

At some point I intended to blog on atonement, and here I am on Good Friday – so that seems very appropriate.

In church many will have heard that “Jesus died for our sins”, or “to save us from our sins” – but how does this work?  There are a number of different theories of the atonement.  Some churches will hold strongly to one theory, to the extent of raising it to a condition of belonging, but the Church of England does not endorse any one to the exclusion of the others.

If you recall, I believe that we cannot speak about matters of religion except by metaphor – we are trying to explain someones inexplicable experience, which they have written down as best they can – so I believe that our job is to extract the things that are of value from each of the different theories, whilst rejecting the unhelpful.

So, looking at each of the theories:

Moral Influence

Ransom Theory

Recapitulation

Satisfaction

Penal Substitution

Governmental

Scapegoating

Each has bits that I find helpful, but each also has bits that I find unhelpful.  As an example, with Penal Substitution, I find the idea that God has to kill someone, and chooses his son unhelpful – I do not believe that a loving God has to kill anyone.  However, remembering the Trinity – which makes Jesus=God (poor phraseology, I know) – then I find it helpful to think of us deserving punishment, but God stepping in and taking it for us.

We are trying to describe something indescribable, and different people have used different explanations – but we should not take them and stretch them farther than they will go.  Taking the best bits from all of them gives us a fuller picture – but we still don’t have the whole picture!

Alan

…not my will but yours be done…

Many will know the phrase with which I have titled this post.  But what do you think it means?

It is a nice phrase, which I have used frequently, but what do we mean by it?  Looking at it in context, what is God’s will in this situation?  Do we think that the choice Jesus is facing is between walking away, or facing the arrest trial and crucifixion – where that is God’s will?  Or is God’s will letting ourselves go into an unknown future?

In her commentary on the Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister writes:

The question, of course, is how do we recognize the Will of God? How do we tell the will of God from our own? How do we know when to resist the tide and confront the opposition and when to embrace the pain and accept the bitterness because “God wills it for us.” The answer lies in the fact that the Jesus who said “I have come not to do my own will but the will of the One who sent me” is also the Jesus who prayed in Gethsemane, “Let this chalice pass from me:” The will of God for us is what remains of a situation after we try without stint and pray without ceasing to change it.

If we think that the will of God is Jesus arrest, trial and crucifixion, where is free will?

And yet, sometimes a parent knows what is good for a child, even though for the child it may not seem so at the time.  Joan Chittister again:

It is not supportive to take away a person’s heart medicine simply because they do not like the taste of it. It is not supportive to fail to set a broken leg simply because the setting will be painful. It is not supportive to deny people the right and the environment to think a situation through, to recommit themselves, to gain perspective, to work things out without dividing the community over them.

But again, this ignores free will.

For me, free will lies in being open to hear what God might be saying in a situation, and listening and following – not necessarily knowing where it will lead, but trusting that wherever it leads, God will be with me there.

Joan Chittister once more time:

We are not the last word, the final answer, the clearest insight into anything. We have one word among many to contribute to the mosaic of life, one answer of many answers, one insight out of multiple perspectives. Humility lies in learning to listen to the words, directions and insights of the one who is a voice of Christ for me now.

Alan

The Power of Touch

Last night at our Lenten meditation Hannah gave us a handful of coins as we thought about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, and I found myself more moved by this than I expected.  It set me thinking about the place of touch/physical actions in prayer and worship.

Within some kinds of church/worship people will kneel, genuflect, cross themselves, and bow at particular points of the service; within others they will raise their hands while singing.  Neuro Linguistic Programming, whilst scientifically discredited, has a technique which might explain this.  Anchoring allows emotion states to be tied to physical actions.  The idea is that if you feel an emotional state and carry out a physical action a few times, then in future carrying out the physical action can create the emotional state.  This seems plausible, as it is very reminiscent of Pavlov’s Dog (a well loved joke runs: “knock, knock”, “who’s there”, “Pavlov”).

There are also a number of learning styles, which suggest that people have different ways of learning; one of these suggests that some people learn or take in information kinaesthetically.

Church is very often based upon hearing or seeing, less so on touching (although for some who live alone the Peace is the only time in the week that they might touch another human being), perhaps it is time to bring more touching or movement into worship.

Like this?

Alan

Ethics – a worked example

When discussing ethics, someone remembered a soap or a film they had seen where a married man was having an affair with a single woman, and the single woman claimed that she was doing nothing wrong.  So where do we go?

Rules

As a religious person the Bible might be thought to help here, but the definition of adultery in the Bible is of a married person having sex with someone else, so no offence there.

In criminal law adultery was a crime until 1857, but is no longer so.

Thus it is difficult to find an externally defined rule to say that it is wrong.

Consequences

There are all sorts of possible consequences, from regret on the part of the participants to possible divorce, but it is difficult to find a clear cut consequence that would be accepted by the participants, as if there were then perhaps they would not continue.

This was the point at which our group ran out of time, and that left me feeling dissatisfied – surely this cannot be right?

It would be possible to argue that society has an interest in this, as if this behaviour were commonplace and caused the breakdown of relationships then society would suffer, but if the behaviour didn’t cause the breakdown of relationship…

Values

This is the point at which the turtles come into play again!  What are the underlying values of the people involved?

Most religions, and many other people would subscribe to the “Golden Rule” as something beneath the turtles, but not everyone would.

Even for someone subscribing to the Golden Rule there is a get out, as if you wouldn’t mind your spouse having sex with someone else then …

But if you don’t subscribe to the Golden Rule, but instead see your desires as more important than others…

Implications

So, is this ethical behaviour or not?  Do we allow individuals to determine their own ethics from their own values?  Or do we as society insist on an ethic beyond individual belief?

I suspect that this is a cause of conflict between generations, as stereotypically older generations would believe that there is some societal norm to which people should adhere, whereas younger generations believe that each person can choose their own norm.

However, it will come back to values.  My values might mean that I don’t like it, but others values will say that it is OK – and there is nothing externally to say that my values are right, or better.

(This is not a defence of the behaviour – rather an investigation into how it might be evaluated ethically).

Alan

Palm Sunday

Whilst I was giving yesterdays sermon, based around this, into my head popped the thought that this was exactly the kind of stunt that Chris Morris or Armando Iannucci might have set up, and that it could be read as a spoof rather than a prophetic act.  Since then I have been thinking about this more, and have reached the conclusion that:

  • whilst they (or a first century equivalent) could have done, the Romans were far less tolerant of satire than 20th Century rulers (in this country), and they would have had a lot to lose.
  • it was perhaps more the action of a Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.

Following the latter thought, the procession becomes a prophetic action, which Jesus knows will lead to trouble (to put it mildly), but which he is called to do.

Phew – I worried myself there for a moment!

Alan

Powerlessness

This morning I nicked bits of this for the sermon, but what really caught my eye was the contrast between the powerful Roman presence, and the powerless preacher on a donkey.

When I was writing about Theodicy I touched on Process Theology as a possible resolution to the problem.  I have since done some reading on the subject, and my current understanding is that in many ways Process Theology is designed to overcome the problems of Theodicy!

Whilst there is a deep logic underlying Process Theology, which I haven’t yet grasped, the two main facets that I have grasped are:

  1. God cannot intervene physically
  2. God is not outside time – even though he does know everything that has happened to date.

Today I am going to focus on the first.

Process Theology states that God cannot intervene physically, but instead can only influence others to act in the way that God would prefer.

The underlying assumption is that each event is affected by previous events and in turn affects future events, but that this is not deterministic.  In each moment each event has choice in what it does, and God can intervene by influencing these choices – but it is only influence and not compulsion.  Also, an event can be at any level – so the choice of an electron is an event that God can influence; a human turning left or right is an event God can influence.  However, God’s influence is not sufficient to force His desired outcome.

This then allows some interesting by products as miracles can happen – it just requires an unlikely number of choices to go in the right direction, all at the same time – but as the infinite monkeys show, there are a lot of events!

The application of this is that if God only acts through us, then we are called to listen for God’s call, God’s influence, and take heed of it and do something!

Process Theology is fairly modern, stemming from the work of Alfred North Whitehead, but Teresa of Avila seems to have got at least part of the way there a few hundred years earlier!

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Alan

Ethics

There is a debate about whether Ethics/Morals require Christianity or not.  Richard Holloway in Godless Morality suggested not, but I want to argue that there is a place for faith.

In simplified terms there are three ways of making ethical decisions:

Values

The person making the judgement holds particular values, and determines what is ethical from their values.  The question is, where do those values come from?  For many people (not just those holding a religious faith) the values will come from a religious background, either from upbringing, or the fact that British Society has been formed from Judaeo Christian values.

I am a mathematician by training, and in mathematics you always have axioms:

axiom: a proposition that is not actually proved or demonstrated, but is considered to be self-evident and universally accepted as a starting point for deducing and inferring other truths and theorems, without any need of proof

In ethics I believe that there are also axioms – the beliefs that you hold without being able to prove them.  What is beneath the last turtle!

For me, all ethics are value based, as if you choose Rules, then you have used something to make the decision to do so; if you use Consequences you need to have a means to evaluate different outcomes.

Whilst it is true that you do not need religion to arrive at values I believe that many people (including the non religious) do so; again, whilst you can arrive at “good” values (however that is judged, and we are on circular ground here) without religion you can also arrive at “bad” values.  An interesting question is whether “good” values can lead to bad ethics; I think that this is possible, but don’t have time to work it through today!

Rules

There are a set of rules, like laws, which you follow.  However, the question is where those rules come from.  Some people will argue that the Bible, or other religious texts, give us clear laws that we should follow.  However, for those without a faith, this does not seem reasonable in all cases.  Also, for some with faith, particularly those for whom the Bible is not always clear, this is also a problem.  For example, there are “clear Biblical rules” on lending money at interest which very few people follow; also, for many years slavery was thought to be a Biblical rule.

Consequences

Here, the behaviour is judged on the outcome, rather than by a rule, but again the question is how do you judge the outcomes?

This approach can lead to Situation Ethics, where in similar, but different, circumstances different decisions can be though ethical because of the difference.

Giles Fraser tells that he used to lecture new Majors; the Armed Forces Act (2006) is so long that the chances of a soldier under fire being able to remember the appropriate sections is negligible; the chances of a soldier under fire being able to work out, let alone evaluate, the consequences of their action are also negligible; that only leaves values.  He then points out how regiments have developed Regimental values over the years, and how this contributes to the ethical behaviour of the armed forces.

Alan

Anglo Catholicism

As with Evangelicalism, Anglo Catholicism comes in a variety of flavours.  When the Church of England was created from the Roman Catholic Church it self described as Reformed and Catholic.  Whilst Evangelicalism focuses more on the Reformed side of the equation, so Anglo Catholicism focuses more on the Catholic side.

As an outsider, Anglo Catholicism appears to focus more on worship than on theology, with very strict rules on what is and isn’t “proper”.  Value is given to what the other historic churches (Roman Catholic and Orthodox) believe, and in moving in step with them.

Sacraments are seen as more important than in other strands of Christianity, as they are seen as the means of salvation.  This leads to the importance of valid sacraments, which leads to concern over the nature of priests and bishops.  However, not all Anglo Catholics reach the same conclusions on these matters.

Forward in Faith is one Anglo Catholic organisation, opposed to the ordination of women.

Affirming Catholicism is another, although in favour of women’s ordination.

The Society of Catholic Priests is another group in favour of women’s ordination.

If you have followed the links, like me, you may have been frustrated to find that there is little explanation of what is believed, beyond:

We are committed to the catholic faith as the Church of England received it, and to proclaiming it afresh in this generation.

Anglo Catholics focus more on tradition, but I have struggled to find much explanation of this, unlike among evangelical organisations.

Alan

Evangelicalism

To someone outside the fold one of the problems with Evangelicalism is that there are so many varieties!  Conservative Evangelicalism, Charismatic Evangelicalism, and Open Evangelicalism.

Whilst studying I can across the Bebbington Quadrilateral as a definition of Evangelicalism, although there is criticism of it.

Fulcrum are a UK based Open Evangelical organisation and this is how they define the Evangelical Centre.  There are also groups like Reform who would hold a more conservative position and New Wine, a more Charismatic one.

I hope I have done justice to the descriptions.

Alan