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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

There are two sides to every story

because of this, about the Sun only wanting to back winners (allegedly), it's time we heard this again

That's going to be nearly 30 years old by next May. Strange how so much still resonates today (except of course it's lottery and t**s rather than bingo).

Monday, 28 September 2009

Girl there's a better life ...

Inspired by an old college friend's post over at Holy Brit, I went online recently and bought the DVD of City of Ember. My kids loved it and it also appealed to me.

Not just because it's a Walden media film, but mostly because it belongs in that particularly helpful film genre of post-apocalyptic fantasy. I think this is a helpful kind of film because it engenders thought about the following (in no particular order); the end of the world (which you can take theologically, ecologically, politically or all three), how to escape from captivity and helplessness, themes of redemption, the rediscovery of ancient wisdom, the possibility that there is another way of living or another world in which we can live .... you can see where I'm going with this.

City of Ember doesn't have a particularly strong plot (there are a couple of holes which I attributed to post production cutting) but for me a great element of the story was the contrast between the kids who decided to try to escape a doomed underground city, and the people who preferred to stand around singing on "the great day of singing", trusting that "the builders will return".

I'm not saying we earn our salvation, I'm just saying there is more to life and faith than standing round singing; we have to (in the words of John Ortberg) get out of the boat. Stebbing church have been having a little go at this recently. When the photos are in I will post about that too.

But back to post-apocalyptic films. I guess City of Ember is to "the Matrix" (if you need me to link that, where have you been?) what Monopoly Junior is to the real thing; same theme, but simpler plot, shorter and easier to play (and obviously fewer automatic weapons). There are tons of films that effectively tell the same story; struggling survivors (with a variant, Utopian fallacy), post apocalypse, minority rebel, escape, bring deliverance. It is a story of salvation, but not all the films are as overtly Messianic in imagery as The Matrix.

Here's a little selection for you to compare and contrast

Logan's Run
The Island
The Matrix

Perhaps you can add to this list.

If I was feeling pious I guess I could say there is a fascination for this kind of stuff because subconsciously we all want to escape, we all want to be saved. Actually the appeal has as much if not more to do with the actors and actresses (I think it is possible that Logan's Run was the inspiration for Kenny Everett's line "and then all my clothes fall off...") and rip roaring action/fight sequences.

I first got interested in this genre at school, studying O-level English literature. If I were to say to you, EM Forster, you'd probably be thinking of a Merchant Ivory film with Helena Bonham Carter in it (too many to link to ). Yet in 1909 Forster wrote The Machine Stops (that's the full text, you can get a summary here). To my mind this short story is the daddy of this kind of narrative. If you ever worry about the Internet having too much influence over us, you'll enjoy Forster's scarily prophetic plot. If they made it into a film today it'd be panned as far too derivative of any of the above!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

X factor Christianity - Sermon for 20th September at Stebbing

The focus of today's readings (Proverbs 31, 10-31 and Mark 9 30-37) is that God lifts up the humble and brings down the proud. Once again I am endebted to the work of CT Samuel on Rootsontheweb.com.

I was intrigued by our discussions at homegroup on Tuesday – and by the way you’re not too late to join a group if you would like to – about doing something extraordinary for God. Many of us feel quite incapable to following in the footsteps of a missionary, or going to work in a hostile country. But those things are only extraordinary for the people who do them; God’s extraordinary for you and me is something that he is calling us to. It’s not a competition. That’s why I like watching the X factor at this stage in the series when they are still giving anyone of however little ability the chance to get on stage, on TV, and do their thing. That is extraordinary, even if they don’t get through to the next round; they’ve still done more than me and sung or danced on national TV. It’s not a competition, and so efven if you feel you can’t or don’t do anything extraordinary for God, on reflection you may realise that something you consider to be normal – like praying every day for someone, or like listening to someone who needs to be heard – are actually extraodrianry, but just quietly so.

Wisdom plays a big part in that kind of faith. In our Old Testament reading from Proverbs 31.10-31 the capable woman demonstrates how she incorporates a Divine Wisdom into practical everyday life. Here is a truly astonishing presentation of woman by a patriarchal society! Only the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament portrays such a high view of any woman. Fittingly the good woman here is described in verse 3 and verse 29 in the same way as Ruth (Ruth 3.11). The term used means virtuous, noble, or admirable. It is an expression that elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible refers to power and strength. The Book of Proverbs had given warnings about the dangers of loose women in chapters 1 to 9 so this provides a fitting contrast, going back to the initial image of God's Wisdom personified as a woman.

Could this reflect an increased importance for women after Jews returned from the exile? God's people were no longer a powerful state under a strong male ruler. It was no longer the world of a David or Solomon with many wives, whom they treated as property. The Jews were now a monogamous religious society in which much of their religious observance would depend on the contribution of women to each household. Eating the right food in the right way, and being appropriately dressed would be the responsibility of women. Surely in the difficult circumstances of exile it had been the capabilities and ingenuity of faithful women that had enabled the people to retain their identity as Jews. Now husbands might take their seat with the elders, but it was the women who kept the household running. It was women who translated the theory of what it meant to be a Jew into faithful observance. So God did something quietly extraordinary during the exile in turning his people from a patriarchal to a much more egalitarian society.

The strong woman is a fountain of life and stability for her household. She goes beyond being defined as wife or mother. This housewife is the embodiment of divine wisdom and is the ideal for all human beings. She is free, capable, wise and loving, and the person who holds her entire household together. It is a rural extended family with servants, providing a host of opportunities for her to exercise her management skills. The rich and detailed description of her qualities goes far beyond advice about how to find a suitable wife.

Our Gospel from Mark 9.30-37 continues in some ways around the same kind of theme as last week. First off, we get to think some more about how Jesus, who was of one mind with God, needed to ask his friends “what were you arguing about on the road?” Here it is clear that he knew the answer that they did not want to give, because he answers their question – “who was the greatest” in the teaching that follows. Of course the answer is the same – it’s not a competition, but if you want to win, you must lose. Thus Jesus applies his now it seems regular teaching about his coming passion and death into the lives of his followers.

There is another rebuke here from Jesus like the one Peter got last week. This time it is dealt with in the gentlest way possible. Time is running short, and Jesus leads by example. He must have been aware of infighting among the Disciples about who was the greatest. It clearly wasn't an isolated incident: all the gospels refer to it, and this rivalry even continued at the Last Supper (Luke 22.24). By placing a child among them Jesus taught them that those who wished to be the greatest of all should seek to be the least and servant of all.

They clearly remembered their embarrassment at being asked by Jesus what they had been arguing about, instinctively recognising that they had been behaving badly. Jesus is quite radical in his assertion that greatness is to be found not in self-exaltation but in self-humiliation, not in seeking to be greater but in seeking to be less. Jesus of course embodies this in his own crucifixion and death; a point alluded to in the text itself (cf. Mark 9.31). It makes the point that God values humility and identifies himself with the least and the lowest.

I want to end by making three direct applications of this passage to our life as a church today.

The first one has been a long time coming but we are now in a position to begin preparing primary school age children for communion before confirmation; I will be liaising with Andy and Vicky to ensure that only the appropriate children attend the course of preparation, and we will sometime in the future hold a special service at which we will welcome them to Christ’s table in his name.

The second one applies to the listeners who will be commissioned at the end of today’s service. Listening is not a very high profile ministry, and so it doesn’t appear to be extraordinary, compared to say going to Bible College or working for Tear Fund in The Sudan. However, these listeners have responded to a call from God, they have been trained to listen and in that listening they will exercise a ministry among us and beyond the walls of church. You might not even notice it happening, but it will be there, in fact it already is there.

Following on from that I want to say a few more words about next week’s fete and harvest festival. We are going to be a small part of the village celebrations; it is not a competition to be the snazziest stall or the best thing there; we just want to make connections, to bring the message of the gospel to our community, and to offer people the chance to be prayed for. That is a bit of a scary thing; yet God is calling us to get out of our boat and walk with him; we can ask him now to anoint us afresh for the task, with his Holy Spirit.

Would you please stand.

Monday, 14 September 2009

In the name of the [grand] Father ...

I saw this and thought of Phil, who often reflects (though not always theologically) on Manchester Utd.

h/t Off the post, and a h/t to Phil for drawing my attention to them, although this act in itself is having a serioulsy detrimental effect on my work rate in the parish (only joking Archdeacon).

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Saturday, 5 September 2009

got my mojo working

I loved that expression I read at Get out of Jail free recently - about losing one's blogging mojo. I think that may have happened to me a bit recently. Strange, it's usually hard to get me to shut up! I've still been reading though, as most others seem to be in free flow at the moment what with Greenbelt, new Bible translations, diving footballers etc (Too lazy to link, just browse the blogroll on the left)
Possibly it's because this is a busy time of year for most of us, what with back to school, home groups and church meetings getting back into gear, etc, and so my mind has been a bit full.

On top of which I was ill last weekend - had to miss Sunday at the last minute which was in some senses a downer as I hate being ill, and haven't ever missed a Sunday through illness in 11 years of this gig, but in other ways it was reassuring and encouraging that so many people in our benefice, both licensed and "normal" can just step in and take over at one day's notice.

Momentous event today as our household grew to 5 with the return of our former foster daughter Tabitha (known as Tabz) to our home. She has moved in to get herself sorted and employed and road-legal. The kids think it's great that their big sister has moved in. They think it's for ever (3000 years said daughter S at supper) but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Someday (with her permission) I might tell you about how Tabz came to be living with us, and maybe even why she stopped living with us if I'm feeling particularly in need of catharsis.