What happened to Christmas?

I live in a multi ethnic community, where people belong to many different religions. Recently there was an event to mark the start of Eid , Davila and very soon Hanukah. All these religious festivals are openly talked about in my son’s school and celebrated but you can’t find celebrations for Christmas anywhere? On a local poster all the above religious festivals are mentioned but not Christmas – Santa is on it and words like winter festivities or festival of lights, but Christmas is never mentioned. In my son’s school they are going to do play about a baby – but as yet the word ‘Christ’ has not been mentioned.

You can tell by now that I am a little pissed off about this. Who is against Christmas? I don’t think the other religious faiths are? So who is it – is it big business or people who are trying to be politically correct – why is Christmas so offensive? Is it because it has ‘Christ’ in the title? I don’t know. Any ideas….??

When will the leaves fall?

My family and some friends annually celebrate ‘Leaf day’ – where we mark the leaves falling, recognise the passing of another summer and prepare ourselves for winter. This is one of the rituals that we seek to keep to remind and reconnect us to the rhythm of our year and seasons. We do this with games for the kids in the leaves, eating and doing something crafty and a meditation for the adults about the joys of letting go and the beautiful lessons and colours that death can reveal to us.

But here in Nottingham the leaves are not falling (some are, but not in great quantities) …. So we wait and we hope that the leaves will fall before the season of Advent begins.

Red and White

Great post from Tony on red and white poppies. Whilst I would support the families of those through buying a red poppy I would usually wear white in the hope of dialogue. When I was 17 at the local college this caused a real issue with the pre services course (those training for army etc but to young to enter) who didn’t hang around long enough for me to explain that I had supported the poppy appeal and ended up with me getting 7 bells knocked out of me, so I found the comment from David Cockburn who wears both a good idea, and maybe give more chance of dialogue.

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Being Authentic

The discussion and threads on James last post is great. The discussion has moved towards questions around what it means to be/live/ an authentic christ like life.

I wonder if it possible to look at what this means for us. We have touched on issues of honesty, non dualist approachs, open relationships…. What would be the top three phrases, statements or questions that you would see as core. Or if you like – what would a rule of life look like to you/us that was centred on trying to live more christ like?

From the discussion so far I am leaning towards

The need to embrace our shadow, be open with others to understand ourselves lessen how far this shadow is cast, and to love and serve christ in the moment.

Does Pastor Ted need to meet Father Ted?

I am writing about the latest high profile evangelical to be caught with his pants down, a powerful American with links to the White house. Pastor Ted was actively preaching against gay marriage while apparently indulging in gay sex with a male prostitute.

How many times have we witnessed Christians from this tradition struggle to practice what they preach? How many times do they have to live with double standards? Why? Are the standards to high? Perhaps the person just has weak morals and values? Or perhaps the theology is wrong?

Now we all make mistakes – in fact the making of mistakes is one of the best ways of learning. But are we allowed to make mistakes in some theological power houses?

I wonder if the deep rooted theological position of dualism is to blame for this. This position understands things in terms of – black and white; right and wrong,; secular and sacred; in and out; sinner and righteous; saved and unsaved; good and bad etc. This root leaves little space for flaws, mistakes and embracing your shadow. This type of theology encourages a split personality and a lack of authenticity and intimacy. Dualism gives little space for personal development and leaves the individual with little self-awareness and an inability to face the real difficult issues that reside in who we are.

Is the Emerging Church going far enough?

Mark commented on his blog about our recent discussions on church he used these two fantastic quotes which I thought were worth a mention. The quotes also tie into some thinking about the Church on the Edge project we are working on. One the big questions I have is around what are the non negotiables of church, and the sacraments. I always wonder how much is added and think Bonhoeffer is spot on with the Sermon on the mount as the core.

Bonhoeffer wrote,

The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount.

…and Br Samuel SSF wrote,

The renewal of both the Church and Society will come through the re-emergence of forms of Christian community that are homes of generous hospitality, places of challenging reconciliation and centres of attentiveness to the living God

I have been thinking a lot about the sacraments and the work we are doing with young people on Church on the Edge. I raised questions around the sacraments at a recent session I did for the Baptist College on Emerging Church and got this really helpful response from Ernest Lucas

I was particularly struck by your suggestion that tattooing might be an appropriate replacement for baptism for some young people today. You said that those involved with ‘emerging church’ have a right to ask difficult questions, and I fully agree with that. You also said that in seeking answers you sought to combine imagination, tradition and Scripture. I want to make some comments from the basis of tradition and Scripture.

Your suggestion about tattooing seemed to be based on the assumption that baptism is primarily a ‘rite of passage’. I accept it is that, but that is only a secondary aspect of it. I think that, on Scriptural grounds, the traditional view that it is primarily a ‘sacrament’ and ‘sign’ is correct. As a sacrament it is the use of a physical element which God has appointed and promised to be a means of blessing. As something that is a ‘given’ from God I don’t think we are free to replace it by whatever we like and then expect God to fall in with our wishes and use it as a means a blessing. That does not mean that the physical form of it can never be changed. However, this is where the ‘sign’ aspect comes in. As a sign it says something important about what God has done, and is doing, for us and in us. What it says is connected to the physical form. Baptism, in Scripture, says at least three things.

· It speaks of a moral cleansing (1 Peter 3:21).

· It speaks of a dying to one way of life and rising to a new life (Romans 6), and this imagery, expressed by going under water and coming out of it (however that is done), is linked to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

· It speaks of joining the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).

If there is a physical action other than baptism which could convey these three meanings to a group of people today, then I’d be open to it being used instead of baptism. I don’t see how tattooing can convey either of the first two meanings above. I suppose that if it was done under general anaesthetic it could convey the second! In fact, it seems to me that water baptism is a good cross-cultural symbol for conveying these three meanings, which needs little explanation. Where explanation is needed is in linking it with Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’ll come back to this point later.

You suggested that baptism was a common ‘rite of passage’ in the first century and so it was easy for Christians to adopt it. I am not sure that this is true. Ritual washings were certainly common, especially within Judaism. However, the significance of baptism as death to an old way of life and entry into a new one was, I think, a Christian innovation. I think it only appears with this significance in mystery cults and Gnostic sects in post-Christian times and is borrowed from the Christian use. I may be wrong about this because I am by no means an expert with regard to these religions. Jewish proselyte baptism was primarily a ritual washing. Jews regarded Gentiles and Gentile territory as ritually unclean. So, when a Jew returned from travelling abroad, when they got to border of the ‘ Holy Land’ they would shake the dust of the Gentile lands from their clothes and have a ritual bath. Proselyte baptism was just such a cleansing prior to (for males) circumcision.

Circumcision itself is an interesting case study. It was a ‘rite of passage’ among the Semitic peoples of the ancient Near East. It was undergone by adolescent males and was linked with preparation for marriage. When the Hebrews started to use it for eight-day-old babies it lost this ‘rite of passage’ significance. An important aspect of a rite of passage is the ‘psychological journey’ undergone by the person in undergoing the rite. This cannot apply to a very young baby. The link with marriage preparation was also lost. Circumcision for the Hebrews became solely a sign of the covenant with Yahweh, and so of membership of the covenant people. In so far as baptism replaces circumcision this underlines that it is not primarily a rite of passage but a sign of the new covenant.

I am more open to the sharing of crisps and coke as a form of ‘communion’. The sharing of bread and wine in the Communion Service conveys at least two meanings.

· That through Christ God provides us with spiritual nourishment (John 6).

· The remembering of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us and the appropriating of its benefits (1 Cor. 11).

Bread and wine were staple food and drink in Jesus’ culture. I suppose crisps and coke may be staples for some young people – but on their own they are not truly ‘nourishment’! Jesus might have used bread and water if ‘nourishment’ was the only message to be conveyed. However, the red wine is evocative of his blood shed in sacrificial death. Also, of course, Jesus did not use just any bread and wine, he used the bread and wine of the Passover meal, which spoke to Jews of freedom from slavery which involved a sacrificial death.

Any stable food and a red drink is capable of conveying the meaning of the Communion Service. However, it can only do this fully if it is done in the context of retelling the story of the Passover and of the Last Supper. It is striking that when the first Christians took the gospel to the Gentiles, for whom the Passover was not part of their heritage, they did not ‘ditch’ this aspect of it, but taught the story to the Gentiles.

Just as there are aspects of ‘modernism’ that are inimical to Christian faith, so there are aspects of ‘post-modernism’ that are inimical to it too. An obvious one is the rejection of ‘meta-narratives’. Christians cannot dispense with the meta-narrative of God’s story of salvation history: creation-fall-Israel-Jesus-the church-consummation. Unless the ‘emerging church’ teaches this story and enables people to make it their own and live by it, it will not be authentically Christian. It seems to me that the sacraments of communion of baptism are prime means of introducing people to this story and enabling them to appropriate it. If, to some extent, the form of these sacraments is ‘counter cultural’ I don’t see that as necessarily a stumbling block. Getting to grips with them might be what is needed to stimulate people to use their imagination to enter into the story, and so begin to make it their own.

One thing I find interesting is the difference between baptism and communion and rembemer the resistance to coke and crisps ten years ago. At the moment I am just asking the questions so would like some help with the following.
-If are going to truely journey with young people in the light of the sermon on the mount, and practice love and genuine mutual relationships, how do we negotaite issues like the sacrements?
-Luther cut the sacrements down from 7 to 3 by looking at Tradition and Scripture are there further impliactions for the sacrements if we bring culture into that critical framework?
-Is this part of the root of the subculutral weakness of church, and will the emerging church emerge if we do not grapple more fully with the sacrements

-Any others you wish to add??

The Essence of What I Love and the Essence of What I Hate… About Church

Recent posts by James and Richard have really got me thinking – for a couple of minutes! 🙂

What I love about church (and I’m talking about what I think of as church, which isn’t necessarily what I turn up to on a Sunday) are the intimate relationships and the dream of intimate relationships. The idea of having honesty, love, concern, responsibility in a set of relationships. Thinking about these things makes me believe that life as a disciple is possible.

What I hate about church (and I do mean hate!) are the formal shortcuts that lead to relationships that lack the above qualities. I believe that the presence of organisation tempts us to formalise our relationships and encourages us to think that we can treat each other with less grace, it tempts us to think that we don’t have failings, tempts us to look for specks in eyes when we have logs in our own. Formalisation makes us forget our humanity and the centrality of close relationships. We look at the world and see how it operates and we think that we can run the business of church like that, instead of recognising that church isn’t a business, it is people, people who need love, people who need to give love. It’s not what we do, it’s the way that we do it – sometimes we think that the ends justifies the means, that the business is more important than the love.

Longing to belong

Following on from Richard’s ’ thread, I haven’t attended a traditional church in a committed way for the last 10 years and I have often asked myself what I miss from not going. My answer to this is the group experience , being part of a social network which I have struggled to find since leaving. I am aware that many people join social clubs and create social networks that can often give some of the same benefits but I suppose I long for some spiritual connection. Since that time I have been part of many starter things but have all failed for various reasons and I know that in some ways I have been the problem leaving me to do much soul searching and self-reflection.

Hidden within the longing to be part of a group is that I have a need to belong. Belonging to me is a sense of ‘being known and knowing others’ in an authentic way. I sensed this to some degree in the traditional church and especially with the vitality of meeting with people of difference especially the broken. I also felt that many in the church could not accept difference or be authentic and vulnerable – therefore I was unable to get to know them.

My journey has taken me to a place of stepping out of the church framework that I have found difficult and painful provoking some fundamental and raw questions about faith, gospel, church, salvation, sin, love, grace etc. Part of me longs to go back to those days, but I know I can never return, but I know and long to be part of a community of people who want to explore humanity in a real and loving way.

The closest I have got to this dream, has been in the Counselling and Psychotherapy community. It has given me a place to be me myself without judgement, a place to explore my flaws without condemnation and a place to learn to listen to others with empathy without the need to provide the answers or try and fix them.

I suppose that old U2 song is still very relevant for me, “I still havn’t found what I’m looking for� but the journey has taught me so much and taken me into areas of my own pain that I would never have explored without this experience and I feel I am a better person because of it. But I still long to be part of an authentic community, I long to explore faith in humanity, and ultimately I still long to belong.