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Advent service – Laying down our idols.

Introducing themes from radical theology in the advent service.

As people came into the building the entrance to the chapel was blocked with a sign asking people to wait. We usually go through into the chapel to start the service but there was preparation to do first. I asked everyone to write their name on a sandwich bag in preparation for the service. I disrupted the normal order of doing things to get people thinking about the traditional themes of Advent – waiting and preparation before starting the main service. Once everyone had settled down the following was read from Isaiah 40:3

“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Followed by

“Unlike Mary we have already been impregnated by all manner of things and there is little room for God”

This was taken from a transformance art event described by Katharine Moody in her book Radical Theology and Emerging Christianity (I assume it’s from an Ikon event but I’m not sure).

We watched this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_-9cGDiON0) of Peter Rollins speaking about the sacred object.

I then spoke:

“As we heard at the beginning unlike Mary we are already impregnated, leaving little room for God. Our lives are full of sacred objects – idols – gods; those things that have promised satisfaction and completeness but oppress us in their inability to fulfil their promise. Let us, as in the verse from Isaiah, prepare a way for the Lord.”

At this point I asked people to consider the sacred items that they had with them – the items that they believed would bring happiness and fulfillment and to put them in the sandwich bag they had written their name on. Once people had chosen which item(s) they wanted to put in I bought out a bin and asked them to empty themselves of their idols by placing them in the bin (with an assurance that nothing was going to happen to them). Once I had collected them all I asked how it felt to have given up the sacred objects and let people speak.

“As Peter outlined in the video it isn’t just material items that become idols in our lives it can be relationships, career, fame, starting a family or perhaps even belief in an interventionist God. Whether or not these sacred objects are in themselves good they cannot provide completeness and satisfaction any more than the apple from the forbidden tree. Like Lent, a season in which we can experience the death of our gods, Advent is a season within which to empty ourselves of our gods in preparation as we wait to see what is birthed in their place at Christmas.

In the laying down of our idols may we find that love and community in the embracing of the complexity, depth, difficulties, and beauty of life be birthed in their place.”

I asked people to consider the idols in their lives that they can lay down during advent whilst returning the items to their owners – playing Flaws by Bastille as this touches on themes from the service.

 

 

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I don’t want to live to be 100

My dissertation looks at the manipulation of identity by the capitalist system, exploiting anxiety to make a profit and the narratives that are used to do this. I explore, in one section, the infantalisation of society – how we act and aim to look younger, buying into the kidult market. The narrative that we are told is that to be young is to have value and mean something. For Paul Tillich we hold the inescapable anxiety of meaninglessness and one result of this is the anxiety of death. Our tastes, therefore, are manipulated into being more infantile, for instance the increasing average age of video games players or the 50% of visitors to Disney Land who are childless adults. We try our best to hold onto our youth and retain our value. Once we are unable to maintain the narrative of still being young purely trough the products that we buy we are then encouraged to buy age defying creams and cosmetic procedures to attempt to hide the outward signs of our ageing. To get old is to approach death, which causes us great anxiety and so we cling on to our youth for as long as possible.

The human race has invested much time and money into lengthening life through science, medicine, and better quality of life. The expected life span increases constantly, therefore each generation can expect to live longer than their parents. Slowly but surely we are learning to defy death for longer and longer periods of time. This morning on Radio 4’s Saturday Live Sian Williams interviewed 100 year old Violet Coleman as it’s now expected that girls born today can be expected to live to 100. Violet was a wonderful woman who still had much life in her. Afterwards they read a text from a viewer saying that he didn’t think that the generation being born would live longer due to the growing levels of obesity and that the trend of increasing life expectancy will be altered. Rev’d Richard Coles referred to these as “life shortening habits” that we seem to have taken on as a society. This got me thinking, through our anxiety of death we have been trying to lengthen our time on earth and delay it as long as possible, however, we are now confronted with the reality of achieving this aim and experiencing lengthened life; perhaps the thought of living to these great ages, now that is has become a reality, causes greater anxiety than the thought of death therefore we are taking on new habits that will shorten our life expectancy. If getting old causes meaningless then why would we want to lengthen the experience? The anxiety of death is wrapped up in the greater anxiety of meaninglessness and so, ironically, by extending our lives we are actually extending our experience of death as we wait longer and longer for it to take us. Eternal life (at least life experienced as eternal before death) is actually a scarier thought than dying itself. As Richard Coles pointed out on the show “death gives life meaning” and by destroying death we risk removing the meaning of life itself.

Finding God where he shouldn’t be.

I’ve come to realise that I really love finding God where (some say) he shouldn’t be. I wonder, sometimes, if he is easier to spot there than where we expect him to be, easier to discern what is God and what is present due to out expectation of finding God in a certain place.

In John 4 Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. A Jew shouldn’t have been there, mixing with a Samaritan and, especially, not alone with a woman of such disrepute in her own community – having to collect water during the hottest part of the day to avoid meeting other people there. Yet here is God, in flesh, where many would say God shouldn’t be, ministering to a woman the majority of Jews would have rejected.

Mark 2 records “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Again we find God where other’s say God shouldn’t be – questioned by the Pharisees as to why he eats with “tax collectors and sinners”.

At Jesus’ death on the cross the temple veil rips in two – no longer is God constrained to the Sanctum Sanctorum (most holy place of the temple, sectioned off with a veil) but exists among the people, sending the Spirit at pentecost. There is no longer a special sacred space, the spirit is present, spreading through the whole earth bringing the sacred with it – even where some would say it shouldn’t be.

When St Paul travels to Athens in Acts he finds many idols and alters to different gods but one, in particular, takes his interest – the Alter to the Unknown God. Paul speaks to the people and says you may not know whom it is that you worship at this altar but I do and I will tell you about that God. God was already there, where God shouldn’t be, working among the people of Athens, they didn’t know God and yet they built God an alter. Similarly at his meeting with the Samaritan woman Jesus tells her “You Samaritans worship what you do not know;we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Again God was already there, the Samaritans just didn’t know it. This can be called prevenient grace, God at work in places and people who may not even acknowledge the existence of God.

I spent the other weekend at Bloodstock festival, helping to run the welfare tent through The Order of the Black Sheep. A Heavy Metal festival is quite an interesting place for a Christian to be  – surrounded by Christian symbology and ritual, but most of it inverted and used in an attempt to be sacrilegious. There is no pretending that (in general) the Heavy Metal community are pro christian, many outwardly reject it. And yet walking around I found a sense of God being present and even at work through unsuspecting people. For instance, the act I was most looking forward to seeing was Machine Head, a band clearly critical of Christianity and wider belief in God and yet I find their song Darkness Within to be really powerfully spiritual, it has helped me through a more difficult patch in my faith. There is a great honesty to the song. God,  preveniently, working through people. Who knows whether that grace will ever by convened, but God was there at a Heavy Metal festival and I was able to worship, in the middle of a crowd of metal fans, to a song that has helped me spiritually.

Likewise, in working with the LGBT community through “I’m Sorry a Different Kind of Christian Presence“, I have been able to find and see God in places and in people that many may say he shouldn’t be. If the above was one of my more powerful spiritual moments this summer the other was joining Life at the Centre  for a service on site at Nottingham Pride.

In meeting many non Christian LGBT people at Pride events, it is not possible to deny that the image of God is within them. Greg Boyd provided a great response for this on Twitter in July.

If you are unable to find God somewhere, in a place that some, or even you, may say he shouldn’t be – try looking just that little bit harder. Perhaps, sometimes, we are too busy spotting the things that are not of God to notice the things that are. Once we have we are able to join God in what God is already doing.

The first will be last: Narrative, power and the Gospel.

Having done some more reading ready for my dissertation I have some thoughts to build on my post Story Crime from a few weeks ago.

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes “Psychologists should bethink themselves before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to DISCHARGE its strength—life itself is WILL TO POWER; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent RESULTS thereof.” Through this we have a window on why we may tell ourselves these narratives. It is not self preservation in itself that leads us to build our own protective narratives but “the will to power” – our ambition, the want to achieve and reach the highest possible position within life. Our narratives help us to continue to strive for this, convincing ourselves that we are good people, the right person for whatever it is that we are striving for and to smooth over our mistakes – anything that will contradict our will to power. Our hope is that our narratives will be externalised and that others will be on board with our take on what has happened, able to see that we are the right people to succeed in our will to power. So we build our narratives in order to continue to strive for first position.

In Matthew 19 Jesus says “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” And so, perhaps, to be considered great within God’s kingdom we have to lay down our will to power, to transcend our narratives and experience who we really are, as broken people.

In his recent work Peter Rollins asserts that true freedom is not the freedom to the pursuit of happiness but, rather, the freedom from the pursuit of happiness. In Philippians St Paul writes “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

And so once again we come to Jesus’ claim that the truth will set you free.

Darkness Within – Machine Head

Whilst listening to Machine Head’s latest album this one caught my attention. I find something spiritual within it. It speaks of wrestling with pain and suffering, and doubt; trying to make sense of it. Knowing what I’ve been interested by, reading and thinking about over the last year or so I suppose it’s no great surprise that this song interests me.

Here in this darkess that I lay,
Depression heavy in it’s weigh,
And how my body aches to leave,
To sing it’s final eulogy.
My sons I love you evermore,
And though the road beckons once more,
I see the damage that I’ve done,
And search for redemption.
But I am just a broken man,
Whose soul cries out to understand,
How the madness shatters me,
Upon the stage on bended knee,
I scream aloud at skies above,
That answer mute bereft in love,
I struggle not to fall from grace,
I sing the hyms of my disgrace.We build Cathedrals to our pain,
Establish monuments to attain,
Freedom from all of the scars and the sins,
Lest we drown in the darkness within.Mysteries forgotten chords,
I strum in vain to please the lord,
But he has never answered me,
And faith has waned eternaly.
In empty men who pass along,
The woes of all religions wrong,
Now the shadowed veil it falls,
Heed the Clarion call.
So pray to music,
Build a shrine,
Worship in these desperate times
Fill your heart with every note,
Cherish it and cast afloat.
Cause God is in these clef and tone,
Salvation is found alone,
Haunted by it’s melody,
Music, it will set you free.(Let it set you free)We build Cathedrals to our pain,
Establish monuments to attain,
Freedom from all of the scars and the sins,
Lest we drown in the darkness within.

MUSIC MY SAVIOR,
SAVE ME,
MUSIC MY SAVIOR,
SAVE ME,
MUSIC MY SAVIOR,
SAVE ME,
MUSIC MY SAVIOR,
SAVE ME

We build Cathedrals to our pain,
Establish monuments to attain,
Freedom from all of the scars and the sins,
Lest we drown in the darkness within.We build Cathedrals to our pain,
Establish monuments to attain,
Freedom from all of the scars and the sins,
Lest we drown in the darkness within.
[ Lyrics from:
http://www.lyricsfreak.com/m/machine+head/darkness+within_20978641.html ]

Finding the people of peace & wiping the dust from our feet.

 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.  Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.  Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’  But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town”

Last Saturday I, along with others, went to Sheffield Pride under the name “I’m Sorry: A Different Kind of Christian Presence” with the aim of showing love to a community, perhaps, more used to a presence of condemnation and even hate from Christians. You can find out more about us and what we did at our website here. I, obviously, knew that it would be considered controversial by some and that we may face issues somewhere along the line. I didn’t, however, particularly expect it to happen so quickly or to come from people that we knew – I was naive. To cut a long story short I have been able to read this week that I am a cancer spreading through the church and lost a friend – all because I wanted to go show love to people. It has been a week that has taught me a lot about finding people of peace and removing the dust from my feet.

The people of peace have definitely been the LGBT community at Sheffield Pride, we took our message of peace and it was returned to us. We had a great day, some great conversations and we were accepted and thanked for being there & our message. We were not welcomed by some Christians. To the point of the loss of long held friendships. It came as a complete surprise to me having hardly engaged in any of the debate that had broken out. My only real crime* was to state how saddened I was by the things that I was able to read about myself and later point out my anger over some more things that were being said about us; untrue accusations being made about close friends and the term “unchristian” being branded about – just the kind of thing likely to upset me. There was no return of peace there. There is no point dwelling on these things. We did what we did, we believe we did the right thing and what has happened as a result is unfortunate. It wasn’t done in order to cause trouble but to show love.  What I realised was that it was time to wipe the dust from my feet. I think that Jesus told the disciples to do this in order for them to be able to move on to the next town in search of their people of peace. Not everyone is going to welcome us but this isn’t something to take personally and in, literally or metaphorically, wiping the dust from our feet we are able to put this behind us and get on with the task in hand. To show peace and love to those who do welcome us and to build the Kingdom of God on Earth, as it is in Heaven.

Disclaimer:
This isn’t meant as an attack on anyone or to fan the flames of disagreement (this is unlikely now that certain people have removed me from social networking). It is just meant to be a lesson and an example of finding our people of peace & dusting ourselves down when we don’t. Just because we do not find someone to be a person of peace to us personally does not mean that they are not person of peace to someone else.

*For the purpose of complete transparency I did point out to someone else that they seemed unable to take what they gave out on Facebook having complained about negative comments that they had received on their own postings. I had no further engagement in any debate other then as laid out in this post.

St Paul on Equality

A friend shared this on Facebook. As I looked from left to right and came to rest on human and I couldn’t help but think “yeah that’s it”. The only identity that matters is that of being a human being and we should treat one another as so. We should be blind to these other identities that allow us to treat one another differently and purely see the human, the person, in front of us to treat all as equals. As I thought about our identity being reduced to same thing for everyone, I thought of  Paul writing in Galatians:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

For Paul the Kingdom of God is about loosing these differences that divide us, that separate us from one another. As we bring and become the kingdom these identities are no longer important, we are able to be one in Christ. As we become a person of the kingdom of God we no longer see these worldly identities when dealing with people we see a brother, a sister, someone who matters and whom God loves.

If there is neither male nor female then how can there be a male or a female minister/priest/bishop there can only be a minister/priest/bishop whom God has called, their gender is immaterial. When we no longer see male or female but purely people to be loved how can there be right and wrong relationships, surely there are just relationships between human beings that love one another.

I am not saying that our identities as people are not important and shouldn’t be respected – because they are and should be. But I am saying that as we meet and interact with people if we are being Godly we only see a person whom God loves standing in front of us and not their worldly identities.