A Library of Life – the 1970s

IMG_0966‘The mystery of the future can no longer feed on ignorance’

(John V Taylor, The Go-between God)

As with other recently retired ministers I have had to reduce the size of my library. Its books have mapped the course of both my ministry and my spirituality. In some cases it has been a sad parting.

Following an invitation from Andy Goodliff to reflect on my ministry (see here), I have selected two books from each decade of my ministry which have meant a lot to me (read about my books of the 1960s here).

The two I have chosen for the 1970s, covering my first five years as a minister, started my journey to the discovery that spirituality must be rooted in compassion and justice. Without both it is ‘mere spirituality’. They are:

The Go-Between God

Bob Morgan was the local vicar in Ely, Cardiff. He got the local ministers reading Taylor’s book, published in 1972. It was the time of ‘charismatic renewal’ when many churches experiencing the gifts of the Spirit. It was a period of instability, vitality and new voices demanding to be heard. Taylor offered a measured and re-assuring commentary.

‘I am not looking for a recovery of exotic supernaturalism, but an extension of the range of our empirical enquiry’

For Taylor, the Holy Spirit was the energy in all matter and could not be reduced to certain religious experiences. His calm, thoughtful scrutiny became a model for my own preaching from Scripture. In this early book there was a breadth of reference to science, art and music, which always characterised his style. It introduced me to a way of reading the Bible which went beyond the meaning of its words or understanding its context. The Bible provides a pathway of different landscapes. It is most helpful when we do not get lost in its detail too often. He was not afraid to add his own experiences and those of others to support the ideas that he proposed. The book ends with a story which has become famous. It describes the deep compassion shown by one woman to another in which Taylor sees the true of the Spirit and a profound insight into the nature of God. He also connects it to the importance of prayer for others which he regards as part of the outreach of the Church.

It is the embrace of God, his kiss of life. That is the embrace of his mission and of our intercession. The Holy Spirit is as close, unobtrusive and irresistibly strong’

Taylor died in 2001. But his first book had started me on a path which would be shaped further by my other choice from this decade.

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The Berlin House of One

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There will be no survival of our globe without a global ethic:

There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the nations.

There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue and cooperation

Among religions and civilisations.

Hans Kung, Dissident Roman Catholic Theologian

Willi Gude was a deacon in the Baptist Church in Great Missenden in the 1970s. He didn’t come from Buckinghamshire. He had been a German prisoner of war in England during the Second World War and stayed on to marry a local girl, Evelyn. They never had children and are both buried in the Baptist graveyard in the village.

Their relationship had been a brave step by both of them. They did not have an easy time in their early years together. Willi was a gentle soul and would talk of his regret that he was never allowed to become a bell-ringer at the local parish church because of his nationality. He came eventually to the Baptist church where he spoke up for any chance for Christians to work together.

He used to speak of his home church to which he had never returned because it was in East Germany. It had a special building specially designed so that both Lutherans and Roman Catholics could worship.

I thought of Willi as plans for the Berlin House of One have emerged. I am not sure what he would have made of such place where Jew, Christian and Muslim had their own space in one building but I think he would have approved of the vision. His wartime experience had enlarged his heart and widened his horizons – helped along by a Buckinghamshire girl who was a cook for at the big house up on the hill.

 

There are only two pathways away from conflict. One sows the seeds of the next conflict by half-hearted reconciliation. The other strikes out in an impossibly hopeful new direction and has the courage to not look back. The latter was Willi’s pathway. And may the blessing of Willi Gude be on the efforts of the rabbi, imam and pastor both within and beyond Berlin’s House of One.

Image: Getty Images via BBCOnline

The re-birth of non-conformity

birds-of-a-featherIt all began with a conversation about Colm Tóibín’s novella/play – The Testament of Mary – about Mary after the death of her son (see posts here and here). The Testament of Mary involves a reconsideration of the traditional theological interpretation of what the Bible and the Church has made of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

We decided that non-conformist churches should be comfortable with the sort of radical re-interpretation of scripture because of their bias toward non-conformity. After all non-conformity traces its origins back to the Reformation which opened the way for a different approach to the contents of scripture. And, while a r/Reformation – of any sort – may be erratic, in the end it must be comprehensive. It must touch all possible elements of what is being reformed.

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A Library of Life – the 1960s

IMG_0966I have retired from a pastoral ministry and slimmed down my library. Most of it is now scattered to various places in this country and beyond. A recent questionnaire from Andy Goodliff asked me which book had influenced my ministry most. I found it an impossible question to answer. But I could think of a couple of influential books (limited for the time being to explicitly theological texts) for each decade of my ministry. It has proved to be an intriguing exercise and so I thought I would write a series of posts explaining which books I choose and why.

In the mid 1960s I moved to Oxford to study theology and prepare to be a Baptist minister. It was a time of great adjustment from a settled Christian background into a period of change for my values and convictions. The focus of my church had been on the need for conversion to Christ. It was shock to discover that was not the end of the story. My choice of books describes this, at times tortured journey to a different understanding of what being a follower of Jesus meant. Indeed much of my Christian journey has been about changing insights into Jesus and who he is. They were both published in 1962 and both tell a similar story of Christian engagement with the slums of New York. They are

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A strategic move

Pentecost Sunday is not only about ‘tongues of fire’ it is also a time to see the work of the Spirit in the world.

Pentecost-by-Lawrence-OP-flickr-225x300‘It is expedient that I go away’ John 16:7

Expedient: strategy, convenient, advantageous, in one’s own interest, useful, beneficial, pragmatic, politic, wise, sensible. A temporary expedient = method, stratagem, scheme, manoeuvre, device, ploy. (Oxford Thesaurus)

It seemed a strange translation at first. I didn’t link the Spirit with expediency. It sounds manipulative. It suggests an action that is not transparent. But there it was in the AV and used in the Book of Common Prayer for a Sunday reading shortly before Pentecost.

Undoubtedly the meaning of words change and contemporary bibles translate John 16:7 differently. But the word ‘expedient’ stayed with me. Is it still a helpful translation?

Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death. They are grieving. They cannot imagine life without his physical presence. He tells them it is not only inevitable but necessary. Without his absence the Comforter cannot be present.

The Comforter will have a greater reach than Jesus. He will engage with the whole world. He will provide the disciples with a universal perspective. He will issue three forensic tools.

  • Sin – the capacity to discern what is against the purpose of God
  • Righteousness – the ability to create God-given relationship
  • Judgement – the conviction that actions have consequences

These are the companions of Truth; with them we can be led into all truth. They are given to the disciple church. They must first convict the church of its own lack of integrity and then guide the gathered community of Christ into truth in all its completeness found in all places and circumstances.

There is no division in truth. Its shape may be scientific, psychological, economic, political, artistic and theological. The Spirit is the conductor who makes a harmony of them all.

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Today is his name day

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‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known’.

Paul of Tarsus

Today has been given the name of a friend who died this time last year. My diary has other such name-days now. They are growing in number. It is just a time of life I’m passing through I suppose. Today as we walked the two of us, dog and friend, we remembered him. He liked dogs and talked to his dog too.

But what am I doing? What does this remembering add up to? It gives me some sort of comfort. But it’s troubling too. It can feel a bit wallowing. Immersion in sentiment someone told me. All you’re doing is immersing yourself in sentiment. Was she being cruel or realistic?

I was troubled last night when the BBC reporter ended his piece about Stephen Sutton’s funeral with the standard words of comfort to the effect that ‘he will live on in the memories of his friends and family’. And yes, he will. Stephen was an extraordinary young man. He was ready to accept that life is not just the number of years we may have. It was more than the money raised. It was his courage and his articulate defiance that we admired and remember. I hope I will have some of that when I need it. The people closest to him will remember him. He will never leave their life. Just like my friend has not left mine.

But is that it?

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