Monday, November 26, 2007

Family life

Last night we were celebrating the church's 144th birthday at our cafe church with balloons, party food and much laughter and sharing of good memories - the oldest participant had been baptised in 1941. It was a great evening.

This morning we learned that a friend and former member of our church had been killed in a car accident last night. He belonged on the church's timeline - something we drew up last night - as he and his wife had worshipped and shared their lives with us for many years.

We feel his death because he is family just as we celebrate because we are family. And God holds us in his arms whether we are laughing or crying. And we're grateful beyond words for that.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cherry Ghost and 2 Clement

Took a break from church and studies to go to to see Cheery ghost at Koko on Friday evening. It was a good night.

I'd never been to Koko before. It started life as the Camden Theatre built by Ellen Terry in 1900 - at the time the largest theatre in London. Now it's a club and gig venue with a really great atmosphere.

Cherry Ghost emerged as our favourite band on our summer holiday in France this year, Simon Aldred's bitter-sweet take on life, love and politics wrapped up in great hooks and singable tunes proved to be ideal touring music.

Live he was equally irresistible, mixing songs from the album - Thirst for Romance - with new ones and keeping up a banter between songs that was affable and amusing. For some reason the last time he played London, the Evening Standard described the gig as gloomy. It just goes to show you should believe what you read in the papers!

Yesterday I sorted things in my study - mainly to get papers and books in suitable piles for my studies. I discovered a very interesting-looking paper by David Horrell on leadership in the early church and read a fascinating introduction to 2 Clement (which was neither a letter nor was it by Clement - apart from that it's well-named!) where the author argued that the work - a homily or sermon from the mid-second century - was calling its audience - probably Christians in Rome - at a time of relative peace and calm to pull up their moral socks not so much by more prayer and fasting, but by being more generous. The author says: 'Almsgiving is a good thing, as is repentance of sin. Fasting is better than prayer but almsgiving is better than both.' In other words, part of his message is that piety is ok but the Christian life is meant to change things for people.

The preacher talks a lot about Christ's fleshly existence - no doubt to counter the effects of that strong strand of second century teaching that suggested that the flesh was evil and that Jesus as God's Son couldn't have sullied himself with it - but uses it to stress the importance not just of doctrinal purity, but of what we Christians do in and with our bodies.

The simple message is that we need to live together in honesty and integrity. Obviously a good message for second century Rome - but a pretty good one for us too.

As Cherry Ghost sings on People help the People: 'People help the people/and if your homesick, give me your hand and i'll hold it/People help the people/and nothing will drag you down/oh and if i had a brain/oh and if I had a brain/i'd be cold as a stone and rich as the fool/that turned all those good hearts away...'

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Getting to grips with the Apostolic Fathers

I've finally begun to do some serious reading for my MA assignment on the language of leadership in the later New testament and the immediate post-New Testament writings, often known as the Apostolic Fathers.

I'm discovering all sorts of things I don't know, such as 'what constitutes the later New Testament?' since, depending on one's view of authorship and dating, any of the books in the collection could be later than others. This normally wouldn't matter but if one is tracing the development of leadership structures and language through the first century, it's fairly important to have a view about which order your sources arrived in.

When we get to the Apostolic Fathers, this issue becomes even more pressing. Did 1 Clement predate the Didache? Do Ignatius and Clement agree on how churches should be led? Do any of these sources really argue for a single authoritative bishop in each town or city or are later generations of Episcopalians just reading their preferences into the sources?

It's all absolutely fascinating. One thing I am discovering is just how little I know about the post-New Testament world.

In the midst of this, we're making plans for Christmas - surprisingly smooth so far - and looking forward to welcoming Nick Lear for our anniversary morning service on Sunday (in the evening, we're having a party with balloons, games, party food and lots of fun - so if you're passing drop in).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rob Frost

I was really sorry to hear of the death of Rob Frost yesterday. A full account of his life and tributes can be found at

I didn't know Rob well but when I was editing Christianity he was generous with his time and his thoughts for which I was really grateful. He always struck me as someone driven with a passion to share Jesus, a heart for the Kingdom and a desire to work with anyone similarly motivated whatever their denominational background or way of doing things.

He invited me to Easter People to talk about the new magazine and had me on his Premier Radio show a couple of time to talk about both the magazine and the first edition of Struggling to Belong.

He was an inspirational figure and his death leaves a big hole. My prayers are with his family.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Going deep with God

I've been preparing material on Matthew 6 for preaching and home groups over the past couple of days. It's amazing - I suppose I shouldn't be surprised - but no matter how familiar texts like the sermon on the mount are, they always have a freshness, almost a strangeness when you come to preach and teach on them again.

We're in a series on the teaching sections - the so-called discourses - of Matthew, having started with the final 5 verses of the gospel where Jesus tells us to make disciples and teach them all that he's commanded. Matthew clearly thought the teaching sections were important because that's why he constructed his gospel the way he did.

I think it's quite likely that the gospel was used in some way as a discipleship manual for Matthew's circle of churches and probably quite quickly much further afield as people got wind of its existence. I'm not much persuaded that he wrote for a tiny community, still less that it's mainly a polemic against other takes on the story of Jesus, especially Paul's.

It seems to me that it's an open-hearted, pastorally-guided account of the life of the Christ with the aim of helping disciples grow and fulfil their calling to make other disciples through their lifestyle and conversation.

That being said, the sermon on the mount becomes an essential guide to the revolution Jesus invites us to be part of. And Matthew 6 is the essential guide to the spirituality of that revolution.

What struck me as I read it to preach it was the refrain about reward and still more strikingly the introduction that describes giving, praying and fasting as 'acts of righteousness'. We'd call them acts of devotion or spirituality. Jesus calls them acts of righteousness. He probably has in mind a contrast between his followers and the scribes and pharisees (who he spoken of in relation to this in 5:20).

But what's all this about rewards (6:1b, 4, 6, 18). Jesus can't be saying that our salvation is a reward for our piety because he's made it clear in the beatitudes that membership of the Kingdom community is a gift from God. The reward seems to be that as we give, pray and fast in the way Jesus outlines, we get closer to God, nearer to his heart that aches for our world, more drawn into his Kingdom and his revolution.

I was thinking of this when I met someone who's very serious about their devotional life which combines elements of Buddhist and Christian practice (with a emphasis on the former). As I spoke with this person I found myself marvelling at two things - the depth and seriousness of their practice (it cost them dearly in terms of time and commitment) and why I don't it replicated in many Christians.

We can be very casual about our piety, our devotional lives. Evangelicals in particular are prone to be spontaneous activists who don't have much time for reflection, let alone meditation. We tend to think that extempore praying is so much better than using set prayers and liturgies and hence we tend to repeat ourselves a bit and use God's name as a form of punctuation.

I wonder if this is why Jesus calls our piety 'acts of righteousness': he wants to stress how serious and essential it is that we go deep in these areas because without depth with God in secret our lives in the world be very shallow.

Rediscovering Kafka

One of my favourite places in Prague is the Franz Kafka museum. We stumbled across it last time we visited and went back last week with friends.

It's a fabulously weird and very contemporary museum that seeks to capture the spirit as well as the story of Kafka's life. It draws you in through a series of well-crafted exhibits and installations using video and animation, water and filing cabinets (the latter in the most creative and intriguing way I've ever seen in a museum!)

Suffice it to say that visiting this time persuaded me to get a biography of the great and enigmatic writer and start re-reading the novels. It seems to me that he is still as contemporary as he was when I first read him as a teenager.