Monday, December 24, 2007

All ready for Christmas

It was my dad's funeral last Thursday - which went as well as these things can. It was good to have the family all together to remember and say goodbye to him in style. we laughed and cried and shared memories - some well known family-wide stories, others known only to one member of the family or another.

We were able to give thanks for a long life (92), well lived; to be grateful that in later years he found faith becoming real to him again and bringing him enormous comfort and strength following mum's death.

So we've had a lot of catching up to do to be ready for Christmas: sermon preparation for Sunday evening and tomorrow morning, present and food shopping, getting internet greetings sent to those who live a long way away.

That's all done and the rest of the family's all here for seasonal fun and festivities.

So, it remains for me to wish my one or two readers a very happy Christmas and a fabulous, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding 2008.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas reading

It's unusual for good Christian books to published in the run up to Christmas (some irony there?!)

Today I took delivery of Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope (SPCK £12.95). This is a semi-academic book - based on lectures in various places, including the 2005 Didsbury lectures - looking at what Christians hope for. As with everything Wright writes, it looks essential reading.

Michael J Gorman's Reading Paul (Cascade books - though being published by Paternoster in the Spring of 2008) is an introduction to the apostle by one of the most creative and stimulating Pauline scholars I've encountered of late. His Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross is a fabulous book, brimming with fresh insight into familiar texts as well offering a rich overview of Paul's spirituality. This new book is an introduction to Paul's gospel written for pastors and undergraduate students and looks really good.

Rob Warner's Reinventing English Evangelicalism 1966-2001 (paternoster - Studies in Evangelical History and Thought) is a revised version of his PhD written under Andrew Walker. Those of us caught up in the roller coaster ride of the past 25 years - with Spring Harvest and Toronto, restorationism and the rise and rise of the Evangelical Alliance in the 1980s - will find a companion to their memories here that helps us makes sense of our lives. I've only dipped into it, but already I put it alongside Pete Ward's Growing Up Evangelical as essential for any understanding of our lives, if, like me, you were converted into free church evangelicalism in the 1970s.

Each of these would be a great gift to a reader you know or even yourself (because you always ought to buy yourself something for Christmas - then at least there'll be one thing you'll actually want under the Christmas tree!)

Reading and coping

Registered this week as a reader at the British Library and the wonderful Dr Williams's library so that I have access to tomes and journals for my research. The British library is such a spacious and civilised place and the signing process was fabulously efficient. I haven't actually ventured into a reading room yet - can't rush these things.

I picked up a very helpful looking book by Ritva H Williams - someone I'd not come across before but who seems to have close contact with the Context Group of New Testament scholars. It's called Stewards, Prophets, Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the early church. It builds on her PhD on Ignatius and suggests there was greater diversity in leadership in the mid-second century than many scholars assume. In particular, she links emerging leadership roles to the social context and especially the household context of early Christian gatherings. It looks very interesting and I'm looking forward to getting into it.

Sadly, my father died last Sunday which, though expected as he'd been declining over recent weeks, was still a shock that leaves me feeling listless, disconected and profoundly sad. It means that I haven't been able to concentrate brilliantly well, as well as having a lot of work to do sorting out his affairs.

But God is good. Over the past few months dad had been reading his Bible, talking with the chaplain in the residential home where he lived and praying. Maybe he was ready to go. The funeral is next week.

It's a stark reminder that leadership in the church in any generation is not about titles and social structures but about people connecting with one another and being able to connect with God through Jesus Christ. There is always a danger when we immerse ourselves in close study of the texts and the history that we forget that. After all, Paul and Clement, Peter and Ignatius didn't know they were providing grist to the researchers mill; they thought they were helping people encounter the risen Jesus and offering ways those folk could learn and find support as they lived their new faith in a not-so-friendly environment.

I'll keep you posted on the Williams book - if anyone's read it and has views, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Relaunching our housing project

Received my copy of Michael Holmes' The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (third edition) yesterday. What a beautiful book. Stunningly laid out and printed, wonderfully bound so that it lies flat when open - even on p4-5.

It is, of course, showing up the total inadequacy of my Greek!

Still I am continuing to find getting into these writings fascinating.

It's been pretty busy leading up to a reception today we hosted to promote our housing advice centre called iPad. About 45 people crammed into the space we use for offering this service to hear the assistant director of housing explaining the need for it and me outlining what we do - which is basically to offer hospitality and welcome to those struggling in some way with their life as a tenant and to major on helping them to sort out their budgeting and household management skills. It's not rocket science but a lot find it helpful. We also have people praying regularly for clients and workers alike.

Among the questions we were asked by a Bromley Housing department employee was this one: 'do you pray with the clients or for them while they are in the room?' No, I said; we send an email with prayer needs to our regular prayer partners. OK, she said, it's just that I had a client in serious arrears on her rent because of spending too much money on alcohol. So I suggested she went to church. She did. They prayed for her and it turned her life around. I recommend you do it too!

Not quite the response I was expecting!

I've got my first carol service of the season tomorrow - then Christmas will really have started! (good grief - and it's only 6 December!)