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Fr Simon Rundell published
one of the best idea for Pentecost on his blog whilst I was on holiday. I found myself in a bar in Rhodes looking up popcorn machines on eBay. When the day of Pentecost had arrived, we were gathered in Holy Nativity Church with the scouts and a load of visitors when there was the sound of a violent air powered popcorn machine and the pop of corn all over the altar.
I hate watching videos of myself. If you want to see it done well, check out Simon doing it himself. He didn’t accuse the first followers of being small and round!
Filed under: Alt. Worship/ Emerging Church, Alternative Worship, Church, Church of England, Faith, Holy Spirit, Sermon, Theology, UK, Video, Worship, Worship Ideas, Worship Resources, youtube | Tagged: Christianity, christians, church, Fr Simon Rundell, Pentecost, Popcorn, Sermon, UK, Worship Idea | Leave a Comment »
Robb asked me to contribute to his blog because a lot of his recent writings about identy are the culmination of years of conversations we have had together.
I remember as a teenager starting to read ‘The Imitation of Christ’ by the Christian mystic Thomas á Kempis, and giving up after about 4 pages due to feeling completely disheartened – no way could I ever live up to this ideal! I probably should have learned more about the mystics first before starting to read it, but that’s a whole other subject… In both my personal experience and in my professional work as a clinical psychologist, I have found that many Christians have highly unrealistic expectations of themselves, which has a significant impact on their sense of self and on their emotional wellbeing and functioning. This seems particularly so in some churches or Christian families where it is unacceptable to be sinful in any way, or where even the briefest unkind or unpleasant thought is ‘as bad as committing the sin itself’ (based on a complete misunderstanding of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21ff).
During my training I came across ‘Self-Discrepancy Theory’ (Higgins,1987), which came to mind again during my discussions with Robb and got me thinking about identity and these struggles faced by myself and many other Christians. The theory proposes that we have a number of distinct domains within our identity, including the ‘Actual Self’ (how I view myself now), the ‘Ideal Self’ (how I hope to be), and the ‘Ought Self’ (how I should be, according to my sense of duty, obligation and responsibility). The theory also suggests we have a domain for each of these Selves from the standpoint of a significant other (e.g., how I believe my mother actually sees me, or how I believe my husband ideally wants me to be – no comments Robb!!).
The theory goes on to suggest that the greater the difference, or discrepancy, between an Actual self-state and an Ideal or Ought self-state, the more likely the development of negative emotional states, including low self esteem, shame and guilt, depression and anxiety.
So what does this mean for Christians? The difficulty is for many of us, especially those like myself who are ‘cradle Christians’, is that we are taught from a very young age that our Ideal Self is Christ himself. And with this self-state representation, who would not have a huge discrepancy between their sense of self as they are, and the self that they believe they should be? And even more troubling, what are our beliefs about how our fellow Christians perceive both our Actual Selves and our Ideal/Ought Selves? No wonder many Christians become guilty, anxious and depressed.
But what does it really mean to imitate Christ, or to have him as a representation of an Ideal self? I can’t believe that it means I should strive to be a Jewish male itinerant rabbi! Nor do I believe I should be striving for perfection – I constantly see the serious psychological consequences of such attempts in my therapy room. This may be a question better left to the theologians than for a simple psychologist like myself, but I am drawn to the narrative of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane – a moment where He too experienced anguish and uncertainty, and questioned God’s call. It is in this, and many other recorded moments of intimacy, genuineness and authenticity that we might see how we too could discover God’s call on our own lives.
Furthermore, perhaps some of the key areas for psychological therapy for depression or anxiety, based on Self-Discrepancy Theory, may also guide our thinking:
1. Identifying and challenging any unhelpful representations within Actual Self;
2. Developing acceptance and self-compassion;
3. Exploring Ideal and Ought Selves, and developing new and more realistic/helpful future-self representations. This is particularly important where there have been significant life changes due to trauma, loss, illness, etc.
If we can start to be more realistic and authentic about who we really are, develop both acceptance and self-compassion about the things we can’t change or feel less positive about (or worry that others feel less positive about), and have a more realistic and helpful sense of who God is calling us to be, maybe we can stop feeling so guilty, anxious and depressed, and start living ‘life in all its fullness’ instead.
Filed under: Christianity, Church, Church of England, CofE, Faith, God, Identity, Jesus, Pastoral, Pastoral Care, Psychology, Religion, Society, Theology | Tagged: Christianity, identity, Jesus, Mental Health, Psychology | 7 Comments »
Part three of my musings on identity.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10
I am not a cradle Christian. I’ve been a follower of the way for a little over 15 years since I arrived at university. In those first days at university I made a lot of friends who listened to heavy metal, wore black and drank beer. One of the other things I discovered about a considerable number of them was that they went to church. Come Sunday evening at 6pm (we were all students) they would all pile into church before going to the pub.
This led to some pretty interesting conversations about personal identity. As a nonchurchy Metalhead, I asked the same sorts of questions I outlined in my last blog post: “But you can’t be a Christian because you are a goth”. Christians were supposed to be nice, mild mannered, middle class people with shiny shoes; more Harold Bishop than Ozzy Osbourne. The evidence I discovered at university was to the contrary: goths, metalheads, hippies and freaks, my friends, were Christians and welcomed within their communities. And my Christian journey began. I could have life and have it abundantly.
As I began my journey as a disciple there was a discrepancy between the description of Christianity as I was told it and the practice. “Jesus came for the whole of humanity” is a claim to which most Christians will assent. The reality is that most local churches have a pervading culture within them. The nonconformist church that I attended at university had a distinctive culture, sadly one that I was unable to be part of. For men to fit in to this culture of fifteen years ago, brown shoes, blue jeans and a checked shirt tucked in at the waist and tied off with a brown belt were the order of the day. “I have come that you may have a middle class smart casual life in all its abundance”. The same was true of the Christian Union that met 200 yards from our student flat. To ‘progress in leadership’ you must fit yourself into the cultural mould. Despite being a short walk from a Christian community we soon disappeared from the meetings.
This isn’t really about the specific places I’ve been but the places that we currently shape through our interactions week in, week out. The same types of culture still exist in most churches as people seek out other like minded people. There is a pervading culture that is seen to be the “way to get on” in a church; if it were not so, there would be no jokes about vicars driving Vauxhall Astras with wives in Laura Ashley dresses to be made. For some this culture is the black shiny shoes and suit akin to Fr Ted and for others it is the rugged smart casual of Pastor Mark.
Yesterday I said that it is a difficult task to stand before the world and say that Jesus is God. This is especially true when you begin that journey and set your first foot upon the path. It is a journey that usually comes with a steep learning curve; sixty-six books of ancient wisdom guide us towards the transcendent as we peer through a glass dimly. It is hard enough to make sense of the way God wants us to live our lives without the added complication of the way a pervading church culture wants us to “fit in”.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
- 1 Corinthians 12
What does it mean for Jesus to bring life that you may have it abundantly? I don’t believe he meant for you to become a nice middle class clone. He came that you may have your life abundantly, not someone else’s! This means that you are to be the best version of you that you can be. The version of you that God made you to be! You are called to be the authentic version of you.
The all knowing God knows who you are. There is no pretending to be the guy with the acoustic guitar who stands at the front. Don’t go and buy a Laura Ashley dress because it will make you a better Christian! Go and be the very best version of you that there can be! Be the person God originally called to His path, and keep following the way! Sadly that does mean changing. It does mean growing. It means leaving behind the things you do that are not of God and taking up things that are. But that is going to be much more rewarding than giving up things that are not of a particular church’s culture and taking up things that “fit in”.
What is God asking of us as a church? To be an authentic people following in the path of Jesus: Grans and grandads; parents and children; men and women; goths, chavs, punks, jocks, hipsters; the whole plethora of society living together and following in his footsteps. God calls us to be the wonderfully diverse body of Christ.
Ruth and I have some close friends who are in their seventies. We’ve been friends now for more than a decade. We play cards together, eat dinner together, drink wine together, pray together and talk about our spiritual journeys together. Culturally we have very little in common and yet through our friendship and our faith we have so much in common. We are companions on the road. We share our spiritual journey with one another. To Ruth and I they are spiritual grandparents; “Elders” if you like. They have been walking this path for many years longer than we have. They bring great insight having lived through many more experiences than us; sometimes about the hardships and sometimes about the joys. There is something both comforting and challenging for instance about a couple who will tell you they have been married 47 years and it hasn’t always been easy. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ, holding each other on the road as we form diverse communities together.
Ruth has just informed me that she has something to add so you can expect a blog from her later. She’s a psychologist so it will probably be from a slightly different perspective than me. Tomorrow I’m going to look at different Christian identities. I have a Venn diagram or two to share.
Filed under: Alternative Culture, Christianity, Church, Church of England, CofE, Community, Culture, Emergence, Emerging Church, Faith, God, Goth, Goths, Identity, Jesus, Religion, Society, Subculture, Theology, UK | Tagged: Culture, church, identity, subculture, christians, Jesus | 8 Comments »
When I was younger there was a church I used to walk past every day in the center of town. It was called St Thomas’ Church. And as a small boy what an impressive place it was. There were huge vertical lines that were accentuated by the spacing of ornately carved pillars. Each window consisted of intricately cut coloured glass creating beautifully illustrated scenes from the bible. In one window there was ‘The Good Samaritan’ placing the beaten and robbed man upon the back of his donkey. He was then shown taking the man to be looked after. Then little gold coins were depicted as little yellow discs of glass being handed over to the innkeeper for his trouble. In another window there was the last supper. A simple shared meal between friends that symbolized the relationship God has with the world. There was this huge table at which people were invited to come and share the Passover. Jesus sat with his disciples as he welcomed them to come and eat with the God-man. St Thomas’ was an impressive place. It was a spectacular place. When the summer sun shone through the windows and the incense was wafting between the pillars it created a dazzling sight as streaks of reds and blues and greens danced through the air.
Anybody who was anybody would be found there on a Sunday morning. The Mayor would be there two rows from the front. Behind him would sit the headmaster in the next pew. Everyone was highly polished and neatly trimmed. Partings were always worn and suits were neatly pressed. Sunday best was the order of the day. All of the people from the town we lived in who had any kind of status could be found there. Everyone was ‘just so’. As you looked around the congregation each Sunday morning you could see lots of white faces and nuclear families. Mum and dad would bring the two point four children through the big oak doors each week. In this congregation everyone was the “right type of person”. There was no one in this place who could really be called “poor”. Over the years plenty of people had come in and quickly gone back out because they soon realized that they weren’t the “right type of person”. Here at St Thomas’, people in need were out of the question. People with the wrong kind of accent need not apply. If you are going to grace a pew, make sure your surname isn’t Unpronounceableovic. Heaven forbid you would have a different coloured skin!
There was one family who attended for many years. Mum and dad and 2.4 children happily coming to church each Sunday. Dad had a good job and a company car. Mum stayed at home and looked after the children. The cracks started to appear when dad was made redundant. Gone was the company car. Then one thing led to another and their marriage broke down. It is hard work going to church when you find out that after ten years you are no longer the “right kind of people”. Suddenly mum was taking the 2.4 children to St Thomas’ by herself. No one said anything directly to her but she could tell. There were conversations that would suddenly stop whenever she approached. There were cups of tea passed to her with a knowing smile. After a couple of weeks the energy it required to get the kids out of bed, dressed and ready for church was just not there. The small nuclear family stopped being the “right sort of people” each Sunday morning. As you might imagine, St Thomas’ did not receive many new members. Its members simply grew older.
Years later as an adult I learned that St Thomas’ Church had closed. There just weren’t enough of the “right type” of people. They just didn’t exist, I guess. One time I went back to that town and there I was passing beside the familiar gothic architecture and the ornately carved pillars. St Thomas’ church building was still standing only now it was a restaurant. Oddly given the history of the previous occupants of the building it was a curry house called the Indian Cottage. I walked in through those massive gothic doors and where there had once been pews, now there were tables, waiters, and people eating dinner. Candles were lit at each table and people were eagerly tearing naan breads and pouring fresh glasses of wine. The familiar hubbub of community meals was all around as the sound of glass upon glass clanking together and laughter filled the building. As I looked down the nave of the ancient gothic church to where the altar had once sat underneath the image of the last supper, now there were tables.
A young waiter came over to us and asked if we’d like a table for two. My wife and I exchanged a glance as I responded to his question with a simple “yes please”. We were escorted to a table at the back of the restaurant where the sanctuary had once been. The young man took our coats and pulled out a chair for my wife to sit at. He asked if we would like to order drinks and I asked for a bottle of the house white. As he went to get our drinks I began to unfold my serviette and turned to my wife. As I pulled myself closer to her over the table with said with a hushed tone “Now, I guess everybody is finally welcome to eat at this table”.
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There is an inherent inner tension that consumes many followers of the way. So many feel the conviction in their beliefs about Jesus but are unsure of how to articulate them to a quizzical world. Surely there must be an easy way to justify our deeply held beliefs? It must be possible to reduce the Christian faith into a suitably strong concentrated form that we can keep in the cupboard like stock cubes. Everyone is looking for something beefy that they can easily unwrap when they need it.
Here Tom Wright subtly reframes the questions people are keen to ask.
Instead of the formulaic reductionism that people seek, Wright frames “the gospel” in the context of something much bigger; the whole story. He sets the life of the Christian within the ongoing narrative of God’s interaction with humanity focussing on the person of Jesus Christ. Can you live with the unending quest for that illusive superficial “cure all”? The easily unwrapped gospel flavouring? Or would you rather focus on something much deeper and richer?
Filed under: Apologetics, Christianity, Church, Church of England, CofE, Evangelism, Faith, Jesus, Missio Dei, Mission, Narrative, Religion, The Bible, Theological Musings, Theology, Video | Leave a Comment »
Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with the Canon Missioner of our diocese discussing the ways in which we develop missional communities. With our involvement in Alt:worship over the past 15 years and having arrived in a new community 3 months ago, Ruth and I have been reflecting on the difference between putting on a ‘show’ and authentic emerging communities and worshippers.
This info-graphic appeared all over Facebook yesterday afternoon as though God decided to taunt me for over complicating my thinking.
Here’s something original that I’ve written. It isn’t meant to be read, it is meant to be orated by someone with a strong Yorkshire accent – Me. If all goes to plan, I will be doing that very thing at this moment in time in church. Hope you like it.
It was the end of one of the most bizarre weeks I’ve ever had. I have seen some strange things in my lifetime but some things make you stop and take notice. I mean yesterday was one of the…
Hang on, I should really start at the beginning of all this and let you see for your self what I mean. My name is Matthias. Not many people know what my name is. Not many people speak with me for long enough to ask. If they do take time over it they usually speak at me rather than to me. You see my job is mainly to do exactly as I’m told, when I’m told. If that doesn’t happen I’m in big trouble. My job is to work up at the big house. The work isn’t too bad as long as I keep at it and don’t slack off. I have to start early in the morning and usually have to work late into the evening but I enjoy my work. It is my job to ensure the smooth running of the house. The master is a fair man and I make sure that his house is clean. He has things to do and I ensure that the family are well fed. They call me a slave but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Mostly I work in the house and make sure everything runs smoothly. Well that is how it has been until recently.
Things all changed when the master came and told me that he had just announced the engagement of his daughter. He was not acting like himself, he seemed so happy. He spent a great deal of time talking to me that afternoon and not just the usual instructions. He even asked about my family. It was the first time and the last time he has ever shown any interest in my life.
He was so keen to show the rest of the town just how much he could spend on his daughters wedding. After all a hefty dowry was being paid and he wanted to show them all that she was worth it. His plans were grand but it all rested on me to make them happen on the day. Obviously there are others up at the house who helped with the onerous task but the organisation was down to me.
Of course the closer to the event the worse it has been. I have spent most of the last week fetching and carrying. I’ve only managed to catch a couple of hours sleep – I’m so tired. I had to make sure that everything was ready and the wedding would go off without a hitch. Of course the last few days have been nearly unbearable. As the day has drawn nearer people have been getting more and more stressed and began barking orders at me.
“Matthias go get the tables.”
“Matthias, where are the guests going to stay?”
“Matthias, what is happening with the food?”
“Matthias, GO AND GET THE TABLES!”
I had to bite my tongue just to get through it but finally we made it to the wedding without a falling out.
And when it arrived it was such a good day. Everyone was wearing their best clothes and behaving as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Everyone was really enjoying themselves. Some would say that they were possibly enjoying themselves a little too much. It is always the same once someone gets married. The band strike up and people start to drink the wine. They dance o the music and they have some wine. The food is served and they have some wine… People like to enjoy the occasion and let their hair down. Some may say that some of them enjoyed themselves a little too much but who am I to judge. I’m probably just bitter because I didn’t get to join in. What I heard all day was
“Matthias, show the guests in”
“Matthias, bring out the food.”
“Matthias, clear that up.”
The work of a slave is never done, there is always something that needs fetching, carrying, cooking or cleaning.
As the evening progressed everything was looking fantastic. The wine kept flowing and everyone kept laughing and dancing. It was good to see that all of the hard work I had put in was going to pay off. The event was going off without a hitch which was a good job as it was my neck on the block if anything went wrong. And how it was going to go wrong!
As the evening wore on there was a problem that is even now still a mystery to me. I had made most of the preparations for this and I bought the wine. I had strict instructions to buy enough for two hundred guests to have as much as they want and that is what I did. It wasn’t the best of wines but it was by no means the worst either. You wouldn’t give it to the emperor if he came round for dinner but lets face it, he wouldn’t be coming. I know that I told them to bring enough! Here we were half way through the evening and we were running out. If I am honest with you I was about to find somewhere to hide. This was about to be the most embarrassing moment for the master, running out of wine on this day when he was so proud. No-one would forget the wedding they went to that ran out of wine. I was so sure but what if I was so tired I made a mistake? I knew that he would punish me either way as all he would care about is that he told me to sort it.
As all this is racing through my head there was a bit of a commotion in the corner of the room. I’m not quite sure what happened as I was observing from a little way away so this will be a little sketchy. I didn’t really know who these people were but I recognised some of them. I think they were from Nazareth which is a few hours walk away and it isn’t the sort of journey you make every day. Suddenly the man and woman start being quite curt with each other. It is all in hushed tones but you can tell from the way they are looking at each other that she is being quite insistent.
With all this going on at the same time as the crisis I am having over the wine I was a little panicked to say the least. Being summoned over to this furore was an added complication that I didn’t need. I walk up there expecting harsh words to be spoken to me in front of everyone. At the least I was expecting the master at any minute to publicly shame me for my mistake so that he can save face with his guests. The funny thing is it didn’t happen. The woman just tells me to do whatever this other guy says.
I was astounded to say the least. His instructions were the strangest thing I’ve seen. He says to me “fill the jars with water”. I’ve never been of the most religious persuasion but it didn’t seem to be the most appropriate time to be worrying about ritual purity. I tried to explain this to him but he was quite insistent that I do it. I got help from the others and we kept our heads down. It took us half an hour to do it too. Somehow we managed to get 180 gallons of water from the well and into the room without disturbing everyone. We used every bucket we could find and filled those great stone jars to the top.
So we let the guy know that we had done it and informed him that he could perform his ‘ablutions’ but he just stayed where he was. He instructed me to take some of the water from the jars and give it to the chief steward. I started to protest that he was enjoying the day but this guy was insistent that I should take the water for him. Not only that he intended that I gave it to him as a drink. I’d never heard anything like it before. I already knew that I was in trouble with the master so I decided to do as this guy said as I had nothing to lose. I crossed the room to the cold stone jars and took a drought. Again crossing the room I presented it to the chief steward. At this point there was a large commotion as you would expect. It took me a moment to realise what had happened. Instead of being chastised for my stupidity by the chief steward he was shouting across the room at the bridegroom. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
We were stunned. No-one knew what had happened apart from the group from Nazareth and the servants who helped to collect the water with me. We had to check it for ourselves to make sure. Back across the room to the stone jars and sure enough, filled to the brim with wine! Everyone was sat enjoying themselves as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. The day continues without a hitch and the master is saved from being shamed in front of the whole town. For my part, I am saved from being punished for my mistake. And all because of this young guy from Nazareth.
If I was in your shoes I too would be cynically thinking that it was a trick. I have seen some charlatans over the years and this sounds pretty far-fetched. Recently we have had lots of people in the streets performing ‘miraculous deeds’ and trying to take your money. I know that we filled those jars with water from the well. He didn’t ask for anything or make a big show out of what he had done here that evening. He didn’t even go and touch the jars so most guests were oblivious to what he has done. I still don’t really know who he is. He is just some guy from Nazareth.
And after the party has ended and the excited feeling seeing something so miraculous abates it is back to normal. There is clearing up to do, a house to run and a master to serve…
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For the first six weeks of my new role in North Halifax I’ve sounded a bit like a cracked record. As we celebrate the incarnation, we’ve been talking about the incarnate God who steps into the world to bring transformation. The words of Mary in the Magnificat set out the stall for a kingdom where the least in society are held up. At the main celebrations of Christmas I shared Howard Thurman’s poem calling the gathered people to putting their faith in action.
Little did I know that in the coming days I would be amazed to discover that a member of our community was awarded an MBE for just that, a lifetime of work for the good of the community. Archbishop Rowan’s last New Years message is dedicated to encouraging people to “join this silent conspiracy of generous dedication”. This is the work of the local church, a faith in action bringing transformation to the lives of the people we live amongst.
In 2012 we have had a year where the media have been writing their own narrative of The Church (TM) and it is not a story I recognise in the reality of our lives. We need to continue to faithfully tell our story of God who cares so much about the lives of the least that He inspires us to action in the communities we live in.