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Your Certificate of Vocation May 8, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Life, Theological Reflection.
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Vocation is not a career: it is a life surrendered to God - Martyn Percy, 29/4/2012 (pdf, A4 landscape; 1.2MB)

Vocation is not a career: it is a life surrendered to God – Martyn Percy, 29/4/2012

As heard on BBC Radio 4, Sunday Worship for Vocations Sunday, 29th April 2012, from Ripon College, Cuddesdon: Called Together (transcript differs slightly from the broadcast programme, but captures the essence).

Reboot and Restore: Resurrection in Progress April 9, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Lent & Easter, Theological Reflection.
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RESURRECTION: it’s the very core of the Christian faith, the belief — reaffirmed by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his Easter sermon yesterday — that Jesus came back to life. Not that he recovered from a near-death experience, as some have attempted to claim, nor that someone else such as Judas Iscariot was crucified instead, as some Muslims have claimed, but that Jesus himself died, was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day.

Nor is this a throwaway belief, an added extra for addled minds: it’s the essence, the kernel, the central tenet without which the entire edifice falls apart to become nothing more than a pick & mix set of Cameronesque common-decency values that “people of any faith, or no faith, can also share in, and admire” as outlined in our beloved Prime Minister’s Easter Message. Not that there’s anything wrong with such values, of course, but without the resurrection they’re values without power that those with power can ignore as they please, which is, of course, precisely what Mr Cameron does as he cites Jesus — “Do to others as you would have them do to you” — then presses on with his welfare and health service reforms regardless of their impact on those at the bottom of the social ladder, trampled underfoot by those eagerly clambering to get to the top as they live out that twisted version of Jesus’ words — Do unto others before they do unto you — that seems to resonate so much more with so much government policy in practice.

Enough of Mr Cameron and his ilk, however. For me, this Easter weekend, belief in the resurrection has taken on a whole new significance as I’ve been forced to think about what a reboot means:

Reboot and restore: my ankle

Reboot and restore: my left ankle

Every morning, I have to reboot my left ankle, literally, strapping this contraption in place to hold it together to give the broken bone a chance to restore itself whilst still allowing me to get about on it. The medics say it’s going to take at least six weeks, then I go back for an X-ray and reassessment and hopefully — hopefully — get to ditch the boot and the crutches.

But with Jesus we’re not talking about a slow recovery, nor even a rapid one: we’re talking death, total shutdown and complete reboot into a whole new way of being human: new bioware configuration, complete mindware rewrite-and-restore and a brand new Resurrection-OS install that takes him to another level of existence. He doesn’t come back as a ghost or a disembodied spirit or even as an undead zombie but as a living, breathing, eating, drinking human being throwing beach parties for his disciples, upgraded. Here’s how I expressed it recently in another post:

[Jesus] dies and — the ultimate coup — suckers Satan into doing the dirty work of killing him: God’s biggest ever fart, right in Satan’s face, and Satan doesn’t even realise until it’s just too damned late. Once again, God does what Satan can’t: he dies, and he dies horribly with all the wrath, agony and hatred of humanity poured into his soul, into his very self. Satan, the one who hates humanity, delivers the death blow that finally nails God into the human story with no way out — and nails the lid onto his own coffin, for ever. The deceiver, deceived; the usurper, usurped; and whilst Satan throws a party in his fantasy world where he thinks God is no more, Jesus throws a party in the underworld, kicks down the gates of hell, breaks the chains, heals the wounds and sets every captive free — then returns, reboots his wreck of a body with a brand new Resurrection-OS, and throws a beach party for his confused disciples.

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything. The old dividing line between spiritual and physical, between heaven and earth, becomes nothing but a line in the sand, washed away by the tide: everything becomes sacred, gender distinctions are wiped away, the first become last, the last become first and in God’s new creation there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor. Jesus becomes the point at which creation begins and the anchor holding it in place.

It’s hard, very hard, to get your head around that when you’re on the outside looking in, when you’ve got friends and family battling all sorts of illnesses, mental and physical; when you see nations tearing themselves and their neighbours apart in bloody warfare, missile launches, terrorist atrocities, roadside bombs and security cordons; when you see natural disasters, earthquakes, avalanches, famine, fire and floods; when you see road and rail accidents, ships sinking, aircraft crashing and senseless shootings, bigotry, hatred, inequality, injustice, unfair trade, sweatshops and slave labour, child abuse, adult abuse, sickness and disease raging out of control… the list goes on and on… and even the church, the very community that should know better, just as wartorn and divided as the world around it…

But when you’re on the inside looking out, then it’s another story. You’ve still got the same problems, the same fears as you face the same world; you break and bleed just as easily as the next person; but inside you, you’ve got this kernel planted: the complete package downloaded. You won’t find it with a surgeon’s scalpel anymore than you’ll find a software download on a computer with a screwdriver. In the Bible, it’s called the Holy Spirit: God’s guarantee, the down payment, the deposit; and at times it’s like a fire in your bones, like lightning in your veins, an explosion in your heart waiting to happen; other times, it’s a quiet presence, a calm in the storm, a voice that whispers; and sometimes it’s an ache, a void, a gutting absence. But you know, you know that no matter how shitty it gets out there, no matter how much shittier it gets inside or outside, when the shutdown comes — and it will — there’s a reboot waiting.

That, my friends, is what the resurrection is about: death defeated in a transformation that puts every science fiction writer’s dreams of nanotech upgrades into the shade. Why? Because it’s already happened. And because it’s available, gratis, to anyone who wants it. Which brings me full circle back round to the Archbishop’s sermon:

How do we know that it is true? Not by some final knock-down would-be scientific proof, but by the way it works in us through the long story of a whole life and the longer story of the life of the community that believes it. We learn and assimilate its truth by the risk of living it; to those on the edge of it, looking respectfully and wistfully at what it might offer, we can only say, ‘you’ll learn nothing more by looking; at some point you have to decide whether you want to try to live with it and in it.’

Or as the people who run the national lottery say, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Only in this lottery, every ticket’s a winner.

That is what gives those values summarised in that statement of Jesus their power: when you’ve got the full download, when you know there’s a reboot waiting, you don’t need to trample everyone else underfoot to get to the top. You can give yourself away and you can give yourself away and you can give yourself away.

And I’m not talking about dying and going to heaven or any of that wishy washy nonsense. I’m talking about God’s kingdom come, here on earth, living it now: do to others as you’d have them do to you. Get the download and join the revolution.

If you dare.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: Reflections and Refractions April 6, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Lent & Easter, Poetry.
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LORD OF LIFE, Lord of Light, Lord Christ:
You who washed your disciples’ feet,
stooping so tenderly —
setting aside your outer garment,
taking up a towel,
washing away the dirt,
the grime…

Stepping
so tenderly
amongst the fragments of shattered lives,
picking up the pieces
and wondering why…

Why? The eternal question.
Why did you bother?
Why did you come?
Why did you die?

We take the scriptures and hammer them
home. like. nails.
into unresisting flesh:
God hates fags:
God HATES fags:
HATES fags;
and God hangs,
suspended,
crucified by hate.

My God, my God, why?

The blood flows freely into famished ground,
life poured out
like water…

and fags go free:
Grace:
God,
whose radical action changes everything.
Time. stands. still.
Infinity unfurled,
love explodes:
new creation:
acceptance,
welcome.

May we, like you, set aside our outer garments,
our self-righteousness,
our convictions of others’ sins,
and take up that towel instead,
drying the tears
of those desolate years…

We look back,
amazed,
into betrayal’s gaze:
a kiss,
a sword,
a healing touch
and a riven side.

Truly this man was the Son of God.

Beyond Postmodernity: are we post-Church? February 12, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church.
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ARE WE POST-CHURCH? That’s one of the questions posed by my bookselling friend Richard Greatrex as he reflects further on his recent blog post, The Word: Written on the heart or wiped from the screen?, in which he explores some of the social implications of the rise of the ebook alongside questions of Christian orthodoxy:

But finally, in concentrating on post-modernity I may well have missed a crucial question, which it seems still remains unanswered – are we post-Church? Could it be that the work of the Church is done? That its role in God’s unfolding plan has come to an end? That where the Church has become a monolith, a global brand with a corporate hymn sheet, it has negated its own usefulness? Could it be that post-modernity is not one of the tools for the destruction of a broad-sweep Christian orthodoxy but a hammer to break open the institutionalisation of the Gospel? Might it not be, that in a world which seems dominated by both globalization and individualization in equal measure, Christianity will not survive in unwieldy ecclesiastical vessels but in millions and millions of tiny virtual and physical base communities each refracting the Faith through the prism of their special interests? If this is in any way the case then the role of the internet and all other forms of mass globalized communication will be very interesting. It could be that the internet will give each and every expression of faith the space to become a competing voice in a never-ending babble. Or it might be that it will draw all these many disparate elements together, stitching them into the web of a composite new over-arching orthodoxy.

What do you think? Has Richard hit the nail on the head with these questions? Given the church’s seeming reluctance to take issues of equality on board in the ongoing resistance of some to women bishops and the refusal of the House of Bishops to recognise gay relationships as a valid expression of human sexuality, has the time come to call it a day for the institutionalised church and start afresh?

Comments here are welcome, but I’d love to see the conversation continue over at Richard’s place too — so head on over there today, read the full post, and join in…

Welcome… everyone October 7, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Life Issues.
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16 comments

Originally posted back on May 14th, I thought I’d bring this post back to the top since it’s attracted some interesting comments recently. Please feel free to join in and let me know what you think: is the Bible “the Word of God” as Jonathan believes? If it is, do “we” — does anyone — have a responsibility to “submit” to it, as Jonathan contends?

In either case, what does the phrase “the Word of God” mean, and what would the process of “submitting” to it involve? Is God a tyrant in the sky who issued a series of once-for-all dictats from above but who, for reasons best known to Godself, stopped issuing them 2,000 years ago and now we just have to go along with them, no questions asked?

Over to you, my splendid friends…

–Original Post–

Believe Out Loud: the ad Sojo wouldn’t run

Helping Jesus Get Started March 14, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity.
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9 comments

From Jesus and the Interpreter: A modern-day christian helps Jesus get started. Watch and weep…

What is Church? A Calendar of Events or a Community of Disciples? How do we get it right? February 24, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Theological Reflection.
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5 comments

Refreshing thinking from Fresh Expressions:

… but how do we rise to the challenge? I’m updating our church website at www.henlowchurch.org.uk and www.langfordchurch.org.uk (mirrored domains for two parishes in a united benefice to ensure that each church gets its own but can’t get away from the other!).

All suggestions welcome on how to avoid the Calendar-of-Events syndrome appreciated, please…

Feeling the Call October 1, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Watching and Waiting.
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A FRIEND told me she thinks she may be feeling the call to Anglican ministry. Being the bravehearted type, she asked me what I thought she should write to her vicar about it. Always ready to help a friend in need, I suggested:

Dear Vicar,

I think God has finally lost the plot and I’m hoping you’ll agree.

You see, I think God may be calling me to Anglican ministry. I mean, how bloody stupid is that? WTF does God think she’s doing, calling ME?? Is she bonkers? I know she called you but that was when she’d overdosed on coffee or something, wasn’t it?

So can you do me a favour, please, and pray about this until SHE CHANGES HER FRIGGIN’ MIND!! I know God changes her mind sometimes coz she changed her mind about destroying Nineveh, and asking me to be a vicar, well don’t you think that’s a bit worse than destroying Nineveh? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get swallowed by a FREAKIN’ WHALE than to become a vicar?

Lots of love,

Your No. 1 fan,

Lizzie

My theory is simple: the best test of a vocation is to run away from it. If you end up getting swallowed by a whale and puked up on a beach not far from where you were running away from, you can be 99% certain God was calling you. OK, so you end up with seaweed in your hair, you stink of rotting fish and your skin’s maybe a bit rough from the stomach acid, but that just adds to the authenticity when you get there. I mean, if you’re going to preach hellfire & damnation, you might as well look the part, and that’s what vicaring’s all about, isn’t it? Why else do they all wear those fancy frocks if it’s not to hide the whale stains and holes in their socks?

But for some reason she didn’t send it. Can’t work out why. What do you reckon?

PS: If you’re feeling called by God and would rather avoid the being-swallowed-by-a-whale-and-puked-up-on-a-beach routine, these sermons might help you find your way…

Let there be Emma! September 1, 2010

Posted by Emma Jayne in Christianity, Life, Theological Reflection.
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OK, I know it’s kinda rash — but I like living dangerously and as much as anything I wanted to keep an eye on what these people are peddling to their younglings: the idea of thousands of teenagers all reading the Bible together sounds kinda scary — and awesome if it works. So I subscribed to the Soul Survivor Bible in One Year blog. Here’s Andy Croft getting carried away by the idea:

Today’s the day it all kicks off and I’m annoyed already. Doesn’t bode well really, does it? Here’s a happy clappy excerpt from Day 1, 1st September: Genesis, Matthew, Psalms, talking about Genesis 1.1 – 2.17:

This passage shows us God designed us the way we are. You’re not a mistake. God said let there be light, and there was light. He said let there be Andy and there was Andy, let there be Emma and there was Emma. Just as God looks at creation and thinks it’s good so too he looks at you and thinks you’re pretty great. We can enjoy his pleasure over us… in the same way we enjoy it when our parents or mates tell us we’re great.

Let there be Emma! Well yes, amen to that; love the affirmation of my being a gay Christian woman: not quite what I’d expected from the Evangelical frontline. Thanks guys. But really? Seriously? God designed us the way we are?? Forgive me if I fall about laughing, because that’s one God with a seriously warped sense of humour at best, if not an outright monster at worst.

So… God  designed us the way we are… God designed us to be susceptible to all kinds of sicknesses and diseases … which God also designed. God designed us with minds that fall apart under stress or trauma. God designed us to go mental at the flick of an invisible inner switch. God designed us to be tasty snacks for crocodiles, mosquitoes and piranhas … which God also designed. God designed us for life on a planet that’s ultimately gonna disappear in an amazing starburst as dear old Sol goes nova a few million years down the line… which we’re ruining in the meantime with our supposedly God-given talents to uproot and destroy, to the point where it’s likely to be uninhabitable long before that amazing starburst….

Yeah, right. Some God.

Wrong, wrong, wrong: #fail. And puh-leeese don’t give me mythology about “the Fall” and “sin” taking down the whole of creation by way of explanation, though I suppose we’ll get that within the next few days *sigh*

Sorry guys, but the universe does not hinge upon the human race. The claim that our mythical Adam & Eve rebelling against God in the Garden of Eden led to the corruption of the entire cosmos is simply breathtaking in its arrogance — like the belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth, only a billion times worse. You have only to open your eyes and look out at the vastness of the universe to begin to realise how puny and insignificant the human race is. We are specks of dust bouncing around on a bigger speck of dust in orbit around another speck of dust, albeit a hot one.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us like bloggers on WordPress, only on a much vaster, incomprehensible level. WordPress is a platform, with themes and widgets and all sorts of lovely-jubbly add-ons, with free hosting for the faithful here at WordPress.com and a standalone version for those who want to go it alone via WordPress.org. And we are invited to perform upon this platform. WordPress sets us free to blog as we will: they provide the platform; we provide the content … and somewhere out there, our readers join the dots and we become an amazing community in our social media matrix.

There are good bloggers and bad bloggers and there are every kind of blogger inbetween. There’s facebook and twitter and youtube and the list grows on and on. Platforms designed for us to dance on.

That’s God, my friends: the Ultimate Platform. Let’s dance!!

Giant Teapots and Other Atheist Myths June 23, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Theological Reflection.
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8 comments

TeapotToday, I am in a whimsical frame of mind. Inner woman and outer man have settled their differences and are no longer fighting one another: instead, we are amused.

We are amused by the atheists getting uppity over our review of Geoffrey Berg’s Six Ways of Atheism — twice over, in fact, as we are quoted at length by The Freethinker in Barmy Baptist resorts to sarcasm in dismissing new atheist book. It’s all highly entertaining.

What has me puzzled (there’s only one of me really, despite the voices in my head), though, is why the current crop of atheists are getting themselves so wound up over something that they say doesn’t exist. I’m not about to argue the toss on that one, though: as I’ve said before, God doesn’t exist: get over it.

I can understand Christians getting enthusiastic, especially when they’re new to the faith: I remember my own teenage years, out there with the best of them (or the worst, depending on your point of view), making like your friendly neighbourhood preacher, on fire for Jesus because I thought Jesus was the answer to the world’s woes. As it happens, I still believe that, but I’m no longer interested in converting people to my point of view: winning new disciples is Jesus’ job, not mine — my job is to be a disciple.

We Get to Carry Each Other

We Get to Carry Each Other

And that’s half the problem, isn’t it? If you’ll forgive me referring to Greg Garrett’s new book again, We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel according to U2 (WJK, 9780664232177, £11.99, due for UK release August 2009), I think Garrett has got it spot on here:

… for far too many Christians, belief in God seems to lead only to an attempt to make other people believe in God—so that they can make other people believe in God.

Dawkins is right: the God Christianity all too often offers the world is nothing more than a giant teapot in orbit around the earth. Me, I took the lid off the teapot and it was empty.

More tea, vicar?

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