Monthly Archives: November 2012

Fujifilm X-Pro 1

This is a good camera. I’m enjoying using it. I’ve had to send it back twice for repair: once when the virtual horizon was not working properly and once when the hot shoe came off. OK – you could moan about this but what impressed me about FujiFilm was the speed in which they dealt with the problems. There was no quibble. Their aftersales service is outstanding.

The one quibble I do have is that they are making a special offer to give away a free lens when you buy the camera. That is a fantastic offer except for people like me who have already bought lenses!!! That’s not looking after existing customers all that well is it?

 

 

Tropical poncho weather

So wet today I took the dog for a walk wearing my tropical poncho…last worn in Borneo!

Funny old job this…

What a privilege this job is. I call it a job because that’s probably what I’d say if someone asked me “…and what do you do?” Answer? “I’m a priest in  the Church of England.” Yet ‘job’ hardly begins to cover it. In “theology-speak” there is much talk of vocation – a calling – and rightly so. That calling is from God and is tried and tested by others; it is authorised by the church. This vocation opens doors into people’s lives in ways that most others never see: a conversation to tell someone that their loved one has just died was today’s experience.  Not many will have the privilege or responsibility of breaking such shattering news – and I’m guessing that most people would not want to do it either!

Certainly within rural communities there is still a role to be played by someone who has a vocation – even if it is being asked to step up to the plate to break bad news. But it also finds expression in events such as Remembrance Sunday where there is an expectation that you can speak for and on behalf of the community. The church still has a powerful connexion and there is much affection even if only a remnant make it into church each Sunday.

That’s what makes it a funny old job: being there for people when the chips are down. What a privilege. Funny old job – being a fool for Christ and in weakness offering others comfort and strength to carry on.

Tell me the old, old story…really?

Is it a bird, is it a plane?…

A Men’s Breakfast in the West Dartmoor Mission Community seems an unlikely place to start a reflection about narrative but I can think of no better example of narrative theology in action month by month. After a hearty, full English breakfast a speaker tells us their story in ten minutes. It is a story, not based on theological axioms or rigid dogma, but rather it is a re-telling of how God’s story and their story have interacted in their lives. It is powerful; it is compelling and people listen because the power of the story is enough without reams of explanation or dissection of the truth that the story reveals. If you tried to reduce it to a logical, rational explanation, it would lose all its power. It’s a bit like deconstructing a joke. You can pull it apart and explain why we find the punch line funny but in doing so you actually ruin the joke. It’s no longer funny. In the same way, most people would struggle to draw a bird in flight or explain what a bird looks like so as to accurately convey what has been experienced, but if you see one you know what you have seen. It is a bird. It needs no further explanation; it has been experienced; it has been understood. Isn’t that how narrative works?  You may have missed that it is a “lesser-spotted thing-a-me what’s-it” but does that really matter? The important point is that you recognise it for what it is.

For those of us for whom logic and explanation have been our stock in trade for years this can be frustrating but it can also be very releasing. All attempts to put God in a box are doomed to fail. Why? Because God defies complete definition. We are only privy to some of God’s story – and that should be enough for us – so we have to acknowledge there will always be gaps in our understanding of God’s story. Whole paragraphs, if not entire chapters, will remain unresolved matters, loose ends not capable of resolution. Yet, and this is not an anti-intellectual rant, there is plenty of the story available to us to be able to move forward with confidence without needing to dissect or nuance every other word that leads us down so many blind alleys of no interest to anyone who inhabits the real world outside the inward facing cloisters of churchy things. The potential problem with such a nit-picking approach to God is that one can lose the bigger picture and get lost in endless unfathomable detail.

Is it a cow or a cowpat?…

As Christians we believe God tells us a story: that story is God’s self-revelation. It can be glimpsed in creation, is made plain in God’s Word, and of course ultimately and most clearly finds expression in Christ and by the stirring of the Holy Spirit is accessible to us. God speaks – what a momentous statement that is – and if we believe that to be something of importance one wonders why no one listens? I naively wonder why, if God speaks to us in Christ the Good News of God’s never failing love, not everyone flocks to hear the story. The still small voice seems to have been reduced to an imperceptible whisper these days. The silence isn’t a good one. It feels uncomfortable. (And when I use the term “us” I mean God’s Word to the world of which the church is a sub-set rather than the sum and centre of everything as I often remind myself that ‘God so loved the world’ rather than ‘so loved the church’ (John 3.16))

What has gone so wrong that hardly anyone wants to hear a good news story? If I had the answer to that I would be on the way to turning people back to Christ far more successfully than I have been able to do so in my life to date. I also acknowledge that better people than I have wrestled with this issue and if there was an easy answer we would surely be doing it. But I offer some clues…

Here’s a very short story told by Rt. Rev. Dr. Gideon G. Githiga, PhD Bishop of Thika, Kenya at the Exeter Diocesan Clergy Conference in 2012:

“If you feed the cow properly you get milk”.

In its original context Bishop Gideon’s story related to the people of the Thika Diocese’s extraordinary ability to fund the building of a new cathedral even though they are materially very poor. He contrasted that with the paucity of financial provision facing the church in England, and most particularly, within the Diocese of Exeter, where by comparison our pockets bulge with money.

Bishop Gideon then elaborated on this to explain if you are not getting milk from the cow, then we cannot be feeding it properly. It proved to be an insightful observation; a damning indictment; and a prophetic word.

In terms of the reception of God’s story by our generation if one accepts that there is nothing wrong with the cow (if the cow represents God in the story then that must be true, but if the cow represents the church we should be calling the vet urgently) then it must be the way the cow is being fed that is preventing the milk from flowing. In other words, it may be that we have forgotten how to tell the story of God’s love in a way that resonates with this generation and that is why there is no milk – but there is still plenty of manure…

The Good News of God’s initiative in sending Christ is a story to be proclaimed afresh to each generation and one that we are privileged to share. It is a story that defies all attempts to neatly package, to tie up all the loose ends, to corner the market on all the angles (sorry if that is a mixed metaphor). It is illusive, tantalising yet life-changing. It finds expression once a month at a men’s breakfast in a pub on the edge of Dartmoor with a small group of men meeting to hear how God’s story has intersected with their stories. It is often a story marked with struggle, doubt, and times of anxiety but also times of great joy. It is a story about life in all its fullness; it is a story that resonates because people can recognise the bird or cow that is described: People can see the transforming power of Christ in people’s lives even if it is not neatly wrapped and multi-media packaged. It is by hearing these little stories that people can access the big story. It doesn’t seem to work the other way around and that may give us a clue to a possible way forward.