Monthly Archives: July 2012

Because if the Christ is …

Because if the Christ is an archetype of the Self, when we pray to Christ we are still only talking to ourselves! But if the Self is an archetype of the Christ, when we pray to Christ, we are connected with the Word of God, which set the whole universe up!

As you know, we are in a period of ‘sanctioned experiment’. Part of this experiment is to try to help the members of the congregation to take up their parts in the Eucharist more fully. This also involves helping them to move closer together (that is part of the reason we have taken out some pews), and to be a little less shy in singing and participating. This is also why we have the Taizé song at the beginning too.

The problem then arises, that if this is an important thing to do, it means taking more time from the beginning of the service. In order to keep the Eucharist to a reasonable length, we have to find ways of saving time elsewhere. There are five places where this might be possible. (1) Shorter sermons (I’m aware of this and working on it, within the bounds of the other need to offer you some ‘meat’ on Sundays and not just as I have often heard it said ‘Just say a ‘few words on the Gospel, Father’). (2) We are working on shortening the intercessions (again with the proviso that there is enough time for us really to be God’s priestly people, praying for the World here). (3) We are using shorter forms of the Great Prayer of thanksgiving where possible (4) I have suggested singing four verses of each hymn only and (5) Shorter versions of the creed.

The suggestion about four verses of the hymn did not meet with general approval when it was suggested, and has not been adopted. But I have had some comments about the change to the creed. So let me say at the outset that II have no particular case to make about one form of the creed or other. I am happy to use any ‘authorised form’ as it appears in the ‘Common Worship’ Book, as I ‘signed up’ to do at my institution.

But the thing that I would like to reflect on is the attachment to the Nicene creed. I mention this because for many other parts of the Eucharist we have alternatives, especially the great prayer of Thanksgiving, or the intercessions, or the invitation to confession (and confession itself) which are accepted as part of how we ‘ring the changes’ within the given framework of the Eucharist.

Within my mind I picture these options as an array of possibilities at any given moment. It may seem strange at first, but the choice of words for the creed is another part of this set of options.

The other thing that surprises me about some responses to the creed is that normally, I have heard the opposite!! In over 30 years of being a priest, the most common response to the Nicene Creed that I have heard is ‘Why do we have to have that thing. I don’t understand at all why they have this ‘God from God, light from light stuff! What does it mean to say ‘Begotten not made?’ Some people blithely say ‘I believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church’, and then go off to another congregation when this one does something they don’t like. So much for catholicity (inclusiveness)!’

So there are some things to say about the Nicene creed. First, if we are going to use it, then this must be accompanied b y the understanding that this longer form will make the Eucharist go longer.

Second, it is not legitimate to want to go back to the Nicene creed simply because it is a liturgical security blanket: ‘It is what we are used to’. In a period of ‘sanctioned experiment’ or adventure, we agree to leave behind our security for a moment, in order to have an adventure. What is more, the creed ought to function more than another part of the ‘what we are used to apparatus’.
It is also important to say that the Nicene creed is kept in regular use on a Sunday as part of our possible range of texts. Here is why. The Salvation Army and the Quakers for their own reasons do not have sacraments. When questioned, the Salvation Army representatives say ‘Well the whole of life is a sacrament’ I reply, ‘This is like saying ‘it should be everyone’s job all the time’. Unless it is somebody’s job, some of the time, it ends up being nobody’s job any of the time. The same is true for sacraments. Unless some one somewhere is keeping specific sacraments, then the idea of what a sacrament is will be lost. So it will not be possible to say ‘the whole of life is a sacrament’. It’s like asking the fish to describe water. What’s water, says the fish?. It is only by comparison (when the fish is taken out of water) that a consciousness of what kind of a world surrounds us is possible.

So the use of other authorised forms of creed is only useful against the background of one or two comprehensive statements.

You recall that when I wrote about the Eucharist as a ‘bed time story’ or a ‘football game’, the distinction I was making was between something that comforts us before we go to bed, and something that is ‘at stake’: what happens to us when we fall into the hands of the living God! What this period of sanctioned experiment is designed to do is to safeguard and keep the power of the Eucharist to bring us into the presence of the living God: to help us to look and feel more like the Body of Christ in the power of the Spirit. It is not legitimate to keep a form of the creed that sends us to sleep, rather than one that wakes us up to what it is we might be prepared to die for.

Here is a true story about why I think it is important that we keep and use the Nicene creed from time to time.

I was participating in a seminar on ‘Faith Development’. The teacher had, for the duration of the semester invited a Jungian Analyst to participate as a co-teacher for this course. One of the big ideas in Jungian thought is that of ‘Archetype’. An archetype is a ‘..model of people, behaviour or personality. Jung suggested that these models are innate, universal and hereditary. Archetypes are unlearned and act to organize how we experience certain things.’ OK. So the Jungian at one point, speaking about Jesus says ‘Well the ‘Christ’ is an archetype of the ‘Self’. I was shocked. I said ‘Surely the ‘Self’ is an archetype of  ‘The Christ’? She replied ‘Does it matter?’ I replied ‘It does. Because if the Christ is an archetype of the Self, when we pray to Christ we are still only talking to ourselves! But if the Self is an archetype of the Christ, when we pray to Christ, we are connected with the Word of God, which set the whole universe up! “ That’s why for my money we need the Nicene creed!

So although there are a number of possible legitimate creeds that we can say, the Nicene creed is a foundation document that we really need. My story tells you why this is so for me.
Here is a challenge for you: The Nicene creed was also written to guard and keep something very special in the life of the whole Church (Church Catholic). What was it? Specifically, What is it about the Nicene creed that is important for you?

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Being a faithful Christia…

Being a faithful Christian today involves a willingness to listen to culture and to (accept) what is good and to challenge what (is not of God)…can only be achieved through an openness to innovation and experimentation, and encouragement of local creativity and a readiness to reflect critically at each stage of the process – a process which is…never ending.

Bishop Graham Cray has written an article in the Magazine of the Royal School of Church music which has stimulated my thought. I thought I would share it, and with you. The headline of the article is ‘Making Contact with today’s Culture’

Bishop Cray  talks about the significant part that music plays in Worship, and the way in which music can, as he says ‘function simultaneously as an identity marker which must be respected and as a ‘no entry’ sign which cries out for reconciliation through Christ.’

In encouraging local Churches to ‘listen to their culture’ he quotes Leslie Newbigen who says “The character of the local church will not be determined primarily by the character, tastes, dispositions of its members, but by those of the society in which and for which it lives – seen in the light of God’s redemptive purpose revealed in Jesus Christ for all men “(sic).

Here is where I start to have problems. At the very least, I would like to turn the sentence around and say ‘The character of the local church will be determined neither by the tastes of and dispositions of its members nor the society in which it lives, but by the Christ who is Lord and in whose likeness we are striving to be formed.”
This means that neither the Church, nor society have any reality or value apart from Christ. So our music needs to reflect our engagement with Christ.

How then does this work? Well, our engagement with Christ has in the Eucharist many dimensions. There is ‘gathering’ and there is challenge and there is comfort and celebration. Our music ought to contain elements of all of these.

Second, our music ought to reflect the way in which all the people present want to express all these elements of worship before God. It is not enough just to want to sing comfortable hymns. It is not enough simply to stick to the hymns that we were brought up with (another form of comfort). It is not enough to take on, uncritically, forms of music that are ‘new’ without asking how these forms of ‘newness’ serve the whole Christ.

But I am convinced that worship is not what we offer to the people who come, from up the front, but that what we all do, for God: including our music.

That is why we have made some changes to the music, and the arrangement of the Eucharist. It is a regular enough comment from visitors, that the experience of being in the ‘body’ of the congregation feels a bit dead. We needed to take some steps to give more responsibility for taking their part to members of the whole body. This involves asking them to sing more, and to spend some time before church’ gathering’ ourselves together.  The reaction from most of the people I have asked is that the Sunday Eucharist feels as though it has been dusted off and is ‘fresher’. Good. This is a part of realising, ‘on the ground’, as it were the prayer that we pray at the beginning ‘that we may worthily (not passively or sloppily) magnify your holy name’.

So that deals with the way in which we as Christians engage with Christ, and let that engagement find expression in lively Eucharists which communicate our passion for God.

But there remains the group of people whom we are hoping to attract. We will all be dead soon. We need to find others who will also want to engage with Christ, and offer their worship, as a result of their engagement, with us all. This might be different from what we are used to, but on the principle that worship is what we all offer to God, we are bound to receive their offerings as much as our own.

The difficult question is this: to becmoe a Christian, involves a transition for them. How is this transition made, and how do we help them?

Clearly something has to happen to ‘peel people’ off their old sense of life, so that they are open to a new sense of life in Christ. This can happen in a number of ways that do not involve music or worship. Our care for them in distress may be a good form of witness to Christ. Our social concern through the putting on of forums or the running of groups for refugees (all of which are being thought about) are ways that people can take the first steps on their journey of following Christ, with us. Then, as they come to learn about the Eucharist, and what is important to us, they can take some of that on board, and then make their contribution in worship, and to the music. I can see no problem in principle with ‘rap’ intercessions if we had a good ‘rapper’ who wanted to intercede! I would love it if some of our younger members could offer their contribution to the music, but it has not happened yet. The ‘Sunday Larks’ experiment sounded like a very good thing, and it is a shame that this ministry has stopped for want of someone to lead it.

So that is one way that people can be helped to make the transition into discipleship of Jesus.

But it remains true that the Church building and what we do on a Sunday morning is our front door. You know how, that as soon as you enter some one’s house and see how husband and wife and family are with one another, you get an idea of what kind of a family it is. The same is true of us. If we do not send signals to new comers that we welcome them, and that we are committed to being a community that is prepared to engage with something of Christ that they recognise, then they will leave.

This is the value of Hill Song. It sends a message via its ‘front door’ that young people will find something that they recognise when they come through that door. It may be ‘baby food’ for Christians, but it is at least food.

This is where I agree with Bishop Cray. Sunday Eucharist is not all front door. It is an invitation to engage with Christ at our deepest. But it is also front door and if we don’t pay attention to that character of worship in some way, we will simply attract people who like worship the way it has been and this number is declining. As one member of the Zürich congregation said ‘The job of the older members of the congregation is to offer their financial resources, in order to let the next generation have their go.’

For me then the basis of both congregational life, and our mission is the same: engagement with Christ. As the 1990 York statement of the Anglican Church says ‘A willingness to listen to culture and to (accept) what is good and to challenge what (is not of God)…can only be achieved through an openness to innovation and experimentation, and encouragement of local creativity and a readiness to reflect critically at each stage of the process – a process which is…never ending. That is what we are doing. That is our ‘programme’. Who will come on board?

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Being Good, success, Shame and God’s Presence

Mary is not ‘blessed’ but in danger of being stoned because she is pregnant and not married. Joseph, because of this shame, wants to ‘send her away’ privately. But God’s ‘presence’ does not want to ‘shame’ her. Instead, God says ‘Joseph, do not be afraid of what is happening to Mary. It may look shameful, but in this I am at work! ‘

Recently I have had a conversation with a person who thinks that God must hate them. ‘No! You say! God doesn’t hate any one.’ Well that’s easy for you to say! Because there is, deep in our selves, a logic that we get from our parents, and then project onto God. The logic is ‘Be a good girl (or boy) or Mummy won’t love you any more.’

This logic is a necessary part of the socialness of humanity. We need to be in some ways ‘good’ (fitting in, controlling our behaviour) in order to be able to live together at all. So we expect that ‘being good’ will bring rewards. Most of the time it does. We learn to build into our sense of who we are that we are ‘good’.

There are some people who can never seem to find the way to be ‘blessed’ by society, so they can not identify with being ‘good’ so they end up identifying with being ‘bad’. That ‘bad’ group gives them a blessing by doing ‘bad’ things and so we get juvenile delinquents. Mostly, having a girlfriend who is pregnant and a grandmother who ‘likes them’ helps most delinquents to ‘grow out’ of being bad.  But not all.

So the logic of life is an ‘If…then’ clause. ‘If I am good I will be successful.’ This is proof that God loves me.

Some churches use this logic as their main ‘gospel.’ They say ‘God wants to bless you. If you are rich, this is a sign that you have been blessed. This is the sign that you are ‘good.’ ‘

The other psychological state that goes with this logic is that of ‘shame’. Shame comes when being ‘not good’ is made public or exposed. When I am shamed, I say ‘I am not fit for polite company. I will absent myself.   I will go away by myself so that I will not be exposed any further.’

So there is the logic. If I am ‘good’ then ‘good’ things will happen to me. If ‘bad’ things happen to me I must be ‘bad’, so I need to go away.

I experience this most when it comes to my prayer life. Sometimes when I am feeling ‘ashamed’ because ‘I am bad’ I hide away from God. Instead of getting up to say my prayers singing Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven, loved and free’, I actually stay in bed saying ‘I hide away from my Lord, because I am ashamed.’

And they tell us that the story of Adam and Eve is not true! Ha! I hear the sound of the Lord walking in the Chapel and God says ‘Paul, where are you? And I say ‘I am hiding!’  Sometimes I stay away too because I am angry at God. Instead of hiding, I punish God by removing myself from God’s presence. I say ‘Well, God, the logic is not working is it? I am doing my best. I am ‘being good’ and what do I get? Trouble and strife! This is not fair God! And its your fault! Well suffer! I am not coming into your presence!’

I have often wondered why I place such an emphasis on keeping the lamps burning in the Church. Now it comes to me. These lamps are lamps of ‘presence’. They speak, twenty-four hours a day, ‘God is always here when bidden or unbidden. There is no time or place when, no matter how you feel or what you do God will not be ‘present’. These lamps are a sacrament of that other sacrament, the Eucharist, because both speak of the ‘presence’ of God. I may come closer or further away, but these lamps are the ‘rock’ of God’s gentle enquiring presence asking ‘Where are you? What are you up to. Speak to me.’ Jesus called the disciples in Mark’s gospel ‘…to be with (present to) him’.

But it is worth asking ‘What kind of ‘presence’ is God’s presence? Is it the same as that of our parents who expect us to be ‘good’. Is it the kind of presence that expects us to be ‘naked and ashamed’ such that we have to sew the fig leaves of pride together to protect ourselves and ‘go away’?

Last Sunday I had lunch with some friends of Robyn’s from Geneva. We were talking about the job and my career in the Church. I said ‘Well I have never been any where really successful. Most of the places I have been to have been struggling. The Church has not rewarded me much.’ Do you see the logic at work. I was expressing my dissonance. I was really saying ‘I have tried to be ‘good’ but ‘mother’ church has not ‘blessed me’.

But the person who was visiting offered another kind of ‘presence’. She said ‘Well, that sounds like the kind of person you are. You need the ‘hard jobs’. You might be bored if you were ‘successful.’ How about that! Here was a ‘presence’ that challenged the ‘success’ logic.

This is what the ‘presence’ of God is like, I think, when I really get down to it. It is hard for me to live out all the time, because my history has been one of really loving God, but at the same time, being called a ‘problem child.’ This lives just below the surface.

But I can’t stop thinking about Mary at Christmastime. She is being ‘good’ and saying ‘Yes’ to God. But look what happens to her!! She is found to be in a very shameful situation. She is not ‘blessed’ but in danger of being stoned because she is pregnant and not married. Joseph, because of this shame, wants to ‘send her away’ privately. But God’s ‘presence’ does not want to ‘shame’ her. Instead, God says ‘Joseph, do not be afraid of what is happening to Mary. It may look shameful, but in this I am at work! ‘
Jesus is subject to the shame and indignity of Crucifixion for his passion for God, and Mary is again present. She is one of the few people who have not run away from the shame. I am reminded of the hymn ‘O Love that will not let me go!’ This is God’s presence. God will not let me go, even when I want to go! And the other verse runs ‘O cross that liftest up my head, I do not ask to fly from thee.’ God’s presence is so loving that it ‘lifts up our head’ at the moment when we are ‘naked and ashamed’. Again, it is no wonder that Jesus is called ‘The second Adam’ and Mary ‘the second Eve.’ Wherever I may be in relation to God, the lamps of God’s loving, ‘head-lifting-up’ presence are always lit! Oh that I could live in that presence!

This week I have been going into the Church and singing ‘We love the place O God, wherin thine honour dwells the joy of thine abode all earthly joy excells.’ It is a schmalzy kind of hymn, but expresses what it means to enter into the ‘presence’ of God.

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