Wednesday, February 28, 2007

panentheism in action

So - without wanting to sound like an obsessed super-fan - I have been completely blown away by the Van Morrison DVD that Pip bought me for Valentine's Day...particularly by the first couple of minutes!
As the gig starts, and even before Van takes the stage, the band start playing and it builds and it builds, into the most intense, mystical, beautiful, soundscape. And that's before the first song has even started. It's so intense the first time I watched it I started giggling.
A couple of days later I sat down to pray and all I could hear in my head was this amazing music. And I found myself saying to myself, "stop thinking about Van Morrison and start thinking about God", and as quick as flash I heard the Spirit say to me something like - 'what you are responding to in that music, the thing that makes your heart and spirit soar, is God. what you are encountering is God - that is why it has the effect on you that it has'.

Now of course I am not saying that Van Morrison is God, but neither am I merely saying that beautiful, creative music is a reflection of the creativity of God (though that is undoubtedly true - and I have said it/preached it a thousand times).

I am trying to say something much deeper than that - something about actually encountering God in things - which the religious philosophers call panentheism. This is not to be confused with pantheism - which says that everything IS God. Panentheism says that God is IN all things but not synonymous with all things. Wikipedia's definition is here if you're interested.

So what I'm saying is that sometimes when we encounter beauty we are somehow encountering God himself not just a reflection of the beauty or creativity of God. I know some of you reading this will be saying "um, yeah, of course" - but for me, even though I thought I knew this - and maybe I did on a conceptual level - I think this was the first time it really hit home.

child o mine

Our friend and fellow hOMEie Melody came over the day and took some photos of Lily-Anna. She's very talented. This one is my favourite but there are some other good ones here for those who like to coo.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Tanzania Responses

A very helpful response to the Primates meeting by Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, Primate of the American Episcopal church, can be found here. I like the grace and balance of this woman. I think she is wise and we should listen to her.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

ash wednesday

Great hOME service for Ash Wednesday last night. Some of us had to go home and sleep it off as you can see from the picture above!

We've done the whole imposition of ashes thing for the last three years but last night it seemed to be particularly powerful for me.
When Andy, who was standing next to me, 'ashed' me and said the traditional words over me - "remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return" - I found it very moving. Those words can seem quite depressing but last night they were words of real freedom for me.
In a world where there is enormous pressure to make something of ourselves, to be significant...where we so often have over-inflated ideas about our own importance - there is tremendous freedom to be found in being reminded that we are but dust and to dust we shall return.
It's all radically okay - as Richard Rohr reminds us. We are not the saviour of the world, it doesn't all depend on us, and our lives are not more important or more significant than anyone else's.
For me - to be reminded of that - particularly having just returned from a Diocesan thing where there was a certain expectation for us to paint a pretty picture of what we're doing and in a sense justify our existence - was enormously liberating.

Kinda takes the pressure off don't you think?

Monday, February 19, 2007

can we get a witness?

"..the church's credibility is being increasingly undermined in a world that is looking for strong witness from its international religious leaders".

It comes to something when you read something like that on the front page of today's Times.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

one I love from the one I love

So it was Valentine's day the other day. I tried to be romantic - the dozen red roses went down well - after all, Pip's been through a hell of a lot on our behalf recently!
In return Pip bought me a Van Morrison live DVD. It's his first official DVD release (if you don't count his appearance in the awesome Scorcese 1976 concert film 'The Last Waltz').

What's fantastic about this is that it's from his 'golden' era - when he was at the absolute top of his game. Most Van fans would say this was between about 1974 and 1980. It's a double DVD set - both from the Montreux festival - one set from 1974 and one from 1980. I've only watched the 1980 set so far but it is absolutely red hot. His band are amazing and the sound quality is superb.

Anyone who knows me well knows that Van is probably my all time favourite artist.
In fact I used to have a 'Van Morrison' test when it came to women! If a girl didn't like Van Morrison I reckoned that said a lot about the kind of person she was and the chances were we weren't going to make it. I'm happy to say that Pip passed the test with flying colours. Before we were even going out with each other she got us a couple of tickets to go and see him. That would have been about 1998.

And, yesterday, I managed to get a couple of returns for his sold-out Oxford show this April a couple of weeks before my birthday. It'll be the 5th time I've seen him. He's way past his best now - he's old and even more grumpy and never performs without his dark glasses and old bluesman style hat. And he never talks to the audience. But he's still a living legend if you ask me.

update: it occurred to me that some of you may have been persuaded by my glowing praise to check Van Morrison out. And perhaps you need a pointer as to where to begin. In my opinion 'Into the Music' (1979) is his finest album (side 2 particularly) but you may also want to check out the classic 'Astral Weeks' (1968) when he was probably at his most mystical. Or there's 'Moondance' (1970) which was the first Van album I bought and contains some classic tracks. And there all cheap these days too! Enjoy.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Book plug & a word on the use of Liturgy

One of the things I am most thankful for in terms of my spiritual formation over the last 5 years is the discovery of liturgy - both the liturgy of our gathered times (for those of us in hOME this means our weekly Eucharist) and also the daily rhythm of fixed hour prayer throughout the week.

For those of us who have grown up in the evangelical world it kinda feels like there was a big family argument before we were born and we grew up being told that our great uncle was a really bad man and we shouldn't have anything to do with him. Then as we got older we found out for ourselves that actually he wasn't a bad man at all, in fact he had a lot of wisdom.

Man, am I glad we are learning to be post-protestant!

Anyway, there are loads of great resources out there. The hOME Chapter has midday prayer as part of it's Rule of Life, and each member of Chapter receives the Church of England's slimline 'Time to Pray' which is helpful. I also find Phyllis Tickle's 3 volume set (above) - The Divine Hours - to be fantastic (the Prayers for Springtime volume has just started at the beginning of Feb). She has 4 forms of prayer for each day - Morning, Midday, Vespers, and Compline. And what's really great is that all the text is printed out in each form so there's no flipping from one page to another.

Vaux in London have also started an online resource for the sharing of new liturgy . It's called The Open Office. Check it out.

And for those of you who've never seen the appeal or benefit of liturgy I would say this: it takes time...time to get used to it, time to allow the rhythm of it to seep into your bones, time to get past feeling like it's just reading words off a page. Like some of the most exquisite things - it can be an acquired taste. But 4000+ years of Judaeo-Christian practice can't be wrong surely?

I always found it intriguing that some really low church, charismatic, house-church types, who bemoaned the use of liturgy (some of them left our little church largely because of it) because it apparently wasn't spontaneous enough would quite happily sing the same songs, with the same set words, week after week. Never did understand that!

Friday, February 16, 2007

another anglican political blog post!

This blog is not known for it's comments on the political machinations of the Anglican church - but all of that's about to change...well at least for today. And I might even throw in a bit of theology too!
The Primates meeting - i.e. the global gathering of the leaders/archbishops of each province - has been going on the last few days in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania (on the left is a pic of Rowan - our beloved archbish and Peter Akinola - archbishop of Nigeria and one of the leading conservative voices in global anglicanism).
As you might have expected, the big topic of conversation was 'the gay issue' - and particularly whether or not the American church should get kicked out of the anglican communion for not towing the party line.

Now - my thought it this: why can't we just simply agree to disagree on this subject? Why do we have to do the typical protestant thing and walk away from each other if we don't agree? Monty Python fans out there will remember the famous scene - "splitters!" - from the Life of Brian which seems relevant at this point (an excerpt from the script is about a third of the way down this page if you need to refresh your memory!).

Some people in the anglican communion want to give full blessing to homosexuals - including same sex blessings and ordination of gay priests/bishops. Some don't. Why can't we agree to differ and preserve our unity?

I think the answer lies in the difference between first order and second order issues. If, for instance, you don't think this is a first order issue, you can probably find it within yourself to say, 'ok - we see this one differently, but let's keep the main thing the main thing and get on with the job'.

If, however, you do see it as a first order issue - alongside things like the divinity of Christ, the doctrine of the trinity etc., you will probably want to say something like 'it's impossible for us to maintain our unity because the whole basis of our unity is threatened'.

For the conservatives, it seems that it's not so much a case of the issue itself - i.e. is it 'ok to be gay' - that makes it a first order issue, it has more to do with what the issue reveals about how we handle scripture that is at stake i.e. 'the bible says quite clearly that it is not ok to be gay so those of you who say that it is do not give the bible it's proper authoritative place and therefore we have no basis for unity'.

But - to these conservatives (Akinola et al) who are pushing for a split - I would ask: are we sure that it's that simple? I mean, doesn't our progressive hermeneutic on issues like the bible's position on slavery or the place of women open up the possibility (I'm just saying possibility) that a similarly progressive hermeneutic on homosexuality is a possibility?

That, for me, firmly places the issue in the second order category, rather than the first, and enables me to adopt an 'it's possible to agree to disagree' position which also enables us to preserve our common bond.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

you say potato, I say phrase doesn't really work in text form does it?!

Anyway, just wanted to have a little rant about the use of certain phrases I'm hearing more and more around the church - particularly the Church of England - at the moment.

The first one, is 'biblical orthodoxy'. As in: 'those of us who are committed to biblical orthodoxy' etc. etc. Ok, right, so what you're saying is that some people are going out of their way to be biblically heretical? No - what you mean, is something along the lines of 'those who are committed to interpreting the bible like we do'.

Is it possible - just an outside chance maybe - that people who have different views to us when it comes to theology and biblical interpretation, hold those views out of fidelity to Christ? i.e. they love God and they're trying to be faithful. Why do we just assume that we love God more and take the bible more seriously and are more faithful than those who disagree with us.

The second phrase that's getting up my nose at the moment is 'gospel ministry'. As in, 'we want our church to be known for it's gospel ministry'. Really this phrase is code used by conservatives meaning that they do a lot of expository preaching in their services. So, are those of us who don't have a 45 minute expository sermon each week on one of the vowels in a verse from one of Paul's epistles, not engaged in 'gospel ministry'?

Is it possible - just an outside chance maybe - that people not in conservative evangelical churches are also concerned to announce the gospel of God's love and desire for restoration for the whole of his creation?

ok - rant over! Maybe I should stop reading the Church Times!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Wolfgang's Vault

If, like me, you happen to be a fan of 70's music (Dylan, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Neil Young etc.) when you discover Wolfgang's Vault you will feel like you've been locked in the proverbial sweet shop. It is the most amazing collection of live recordings - mostly from that era - imaginable.
The story goes that legendary concert promoter Bill Graham, (definitely not to be confused with Billy Graham!) made live recordings off the mixing desk of many of the concerts at his venues (such as the Filmore East in New York, the Filmore West and Winterland (venue of the Last Waltz) in San Francisco, all in all some of the most important concerts in rock history).
After a long legal wrangle over the rights of these recordings they are now available to stream for free from a very high quality site. It's called Wolfgang's Vault because Bill Graham's original name was Wolfgang Grajonca.
Anyway, I've just listened to an amazing Van Morrison set from New York in 1978 while I've been working this afternoon. Get on over there and register for free if you too feel like someone born at the wrong time!

Into Great Silence

I've been waiting for the opportunity to see this film - which looks more like a 2 and a half hour meditation on the monastic life to me....(no soundtrack, no voiceover) - and I was half thinking that I might need to go down to London to see it. But I'm pleased to say that there is now going to be a one-off screening in Oxford on Sunday March 11th at 3.30pm at the Phoenix. I'm hoping a load of us from hOME will go together.
See the trailer here. It looks stunning.

time to start blogging again!

it's been a long time I know, but I know you'll understand. We've been slowly settling into family life and it's great - highly recommended (although don't quote me on that at 4am!). They say that it takes a community to raise a child and we've been really blessed by our little community here - with people bringing meals round and that sort of thing.
More domestic updates to come no doubt.