Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Gospel According to Myers-Briggs

The insights of Myers-Briggs into how human personalities fundamentally differ in quite interesting ways, has radical implications for preaching.

Below is a scanned-in section of a Myers-Briggs inspired commentary on the Gospel reading for Pentecost (John 15:26-7 & 16:4b-15). As someone who has been preaching for a fair few years it is humbling to think how what I consider to be a good sermon may mean nothing at all to someone else...!

What follows is taken from Exploring Mark's Gospel, An Aid for Readers and Preachers Using Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary, by L. J. Francis & P. Atkins (pp. 224-7).


Context

At the supper table immediately prior to his betrayal, Jesus promised his disciples that, after he is taken away from them he will send to them the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. The promise was fulfilled on Pentecost Sunday.

Sensing

Sometimes a good picture can say so much more than a whole book full of words. On that first Pentecost Sunday, the church was given a profound picture concerning the nature of God the Holy Spirit The Holy Spirit came to those eleven disciples like a mighty rushing wind. Forget the words, and for now just live for the picture.

The Spirit came like a mighty rushing wind, and the wind is right here. Open your eyes and look for the wind. At first you see nothing. Then you remember how you see the wind blow the washing on the line, how the clothes hanging there are brought to life. You remember how you see the wind pick up sheets of paper and blow them along the street. In the same way, you can see the effects of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people.

The Spirit came like a mighty rushing wind, and the wind is right here. Stretch out your hands and touch the wind. At first you feel nothing. Then you remember how you feel the wind blow you along the promenade on a blustery day, transforming your whole experience. You remember how the wind blows sailing boats through the sea and tugs the child's kite into the sky. In the same way, you can feel the effects of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people.

The Spirit came like a mighty rushing wind, and the wind is right here. Prick up your ears and listen to the wind. At first you hear nothing. Then you remember how you hear the wind rustle through the trees and give voice to the voiceless branches. You remember how you hear the wind slams doors shut and rattles the dustbin lids. In the same way, you can hear the effects of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people.

Sometimes a good picture can say so much more than a whole book full of words. Forget the words, and for now just live the picture.

Intuition

Sometimes a good image can stimulate the imagination and spark ideas so much better than a whole book full of words. On that first Pentecost Sunday the church was given a profound image concerning the nature of God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came to those chosen disciples like tongues of fire. Now what ideas does that image start running in your mind?

Imagine the ancient world without the discovery of fire, for fire gives light in the darkness. Without fire, when the sun goes down, the world is left in darkness. Does not the Holy Spirit bring light into our lives? Then pray that this fire may illuminate the whole world!
Imagine the ancient world without the discovery of fire, for fire brings warmth in the coldness. Without fire, when the snow falls and the ice sits thick on the lake, the world is left shivering in the cold. Does not the Holy Spirit bring warmth into our hearts? Then pray that this fire may warm the hearts of all people!

Imagine the ancient world without the discovery of fire, for fire cooks our food and kills unwelcome bacteria. Without fire, bread cannot be baked, fish cannot be grilled, vegetables cannot be transformed. Does not the Holy Spirit feed our souls with the food of immortality? Then pray that this fire may feed the spiritual quest of all nations!

Imagine the ancient world without the discovery of fire, for fire refines the metals from the rich deposits in the earth. Without fire gold and silver cannot be fashioned into artefacts of beauty; iron and bronze cannot be forged into objects of utility. Does not the Holy Spirit refine the base metal of our lives for the greater glory of God Then pray that this refiners' fire may transform the human race!

The Holy Spirit came to those chosen disciples like tongues of fire. Now what ideas does that image start running in your mind?

Feeling

Jesus offered his disciples many different images through which they could explore their experience of God the Holy Spirit. The image of the Paraclete is one of the most encouraging and enheartening. Sometimes translated as 'Advocate', the word Paraclete means literally 'the one who is called to stand alongside'.

Ever since that first Pentecost Sunday, Christian men and women have been very conscious of God the Holy Spirit being called alongside them as Paraclete in their time of need. Listen to the accounts of the early disciples in the Acts of the Apostles. Remember how, when they were in prison, the Paraclete came to stand alongside them. Remember how, when they were on trial for their faith, the Paraclete came to put words into their mouths. Remember how, when they were martyred, the Paraclete brought them comfort.

Ever since that first Pentecost Sunday, Christian men and women have been very conscious of God the Holy Spirit being called alongside them as Paraclete in their time of need. Listen to the accounts of Christian disciples across the world today. Hear how, when followers of Jesus are imprisoned for their faith, the Paraclete still comes to stand alongside them. Hear how, when they are on trial for their faith, the Paraclete still puts words into their mouths. Hear how, when they face death for the sake of their faith, the Paraclete still brings them comfort.

Ever since that first Pentecost Sunday, Christian men and women have been very conscious of God the Holy Spirit being called alongside them as Paraclete in their time of need. Listen to the accounts of Christian disciples in your own congregation. Hear how, when followers of Jesus are under stress and fatigue, they become aware of the Paraclete called to stand alongside them. Hear how, when they are sick and in great pain, they become aware of the Paraclete called to stand alongside them. Hear how, when they face the hour of death, they become aware of the Paraclete called to stand alongside them.

The image of the Holy Spirit as Paraclete is both encouraging and enheartening.

Thinking

Jesus offered his disciples many different images through which they could express their understanding of God the Holy Spirit. The image of the Spirit of truth is one of the most challenging and controversial.

Throughout the ages, from that very first Pentecost Sunday, the church of Christ has been committed to truth. The danger is that we sometimes imagine that we have got it right from the very beginning, that all truth has been established and communicated in the past. But listen carefully to the words of scripture.

Listen carefully to Jesus' promise to his disciples. Jesus said, 'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.' The verb 'guide' is of extreme interest and great significance. It seems unlikely, therefore, that the Spirit of truth plans to reveal or to present all the answers complete and final for human acceptance. A guide may show the way, but nonetheless still expects us to make the journey of discovery for ourselves. It is worth taking the verb very seriously.

Listen carefully to Jesus' promise to the disciples. Jesus said, 'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.' The future tense 'will' is of extreme interest and great significance. It seems unlikely, therefore, that the Spirit of truth intended to have retired from the appointed task as guide shortly after the first Pentecost Sunday. A guide who remains active in the church is day by day leading the people of God to grasp new insights and new truths of the kingdom. It is worth taking the tense seriously.

Listen carefully to Jesus' promise to his disciples. Jesus said, 'When the Spirit of truth comes 'he will guide you into all the truth.' The qualifier 'all' is of extreme interest and great significance. The church continues to struggle with issues of huge significance, issues of doctrine, issues of practice and issues of morality. On many of these issues, is it not arrogance and foolishness to claim that our view of the truth is complete? Our guide remains with us as the quest for all truth goes on. It is worth taking the qualifier seriously.

The image of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth is one of the most challenging and controversial.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Prayer and Personality

ISITEJ
ISIFEJ
INIFEJ
INITEJ
InspectorProtectorCounselorMastermind
ISETIP
ISEFIP
INEFIP
INETIP
CrafterComposerHealerArchitect
ESETIP
ESEFIP
ENEFIP
ENETIP
PromoterPerformerChampionInventor
ESITEJ
ESIFEJ
ENIFEJ
ENITEJ
SupervisorProviderTeacherField Marshal


After chatting with Lou tonight I was inspired to go search for useful stuff on the web which deals with Myers-Briggs typology and prayer preferences.

This is a lovely site with practical examples of how different people do prayer.

Sometimes MBTI can be as refreshing (and unnerving) as looking in a mirror - at other times it can be constricting and unhelpful. Personally I find my INFJ (or possibly P) to fit pretty well and to help me realize why life is so frustrating... (Though there can be a bit of fruit-cakery as here!)

For a while we have been talking in the Chaplaincy about offering a Myers-Briggs and prayer workshop. Maybe there would be enough interest to put one on, or do one in collaboration....?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

(Crucifixion) RED


I don't often like Damien Hirst, but his front cover for yesterday's (Independent) RED was very clever and played - as he has done before - with Christian imagery (see his Luke here). (Product) RED is, by the way, a brainwave of Bono to get corporate capitalism involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa - companies donate some of the profits from their (Product) RED branded products: mobile phones, shoes, clothes etc.

On the front page of the paper, various symbols form a cross-shape: the skull, tablets and needle tell the AIDS story and the fight against it. Combined with them are the clasped hands in prayer and the dove with the leaf in its mouth: a nod both to the Ark story in Genesis 8 (v.11), but also to U2's song Beautiful Day).

There is, then, death and enslavement to tortuous routines of treatment; there is an allusion to the destruction of the world by flood/disease; but there is also prayer and hope...

Putting the skull at the base of the cross is a nice trick - it picks up the placing of Adam's skull at the foot of Christ's cross in Orthodox Icons - a way to make the story of the cross relate to every(wo)man.

Placing the Bible reference at the top is also very perceptive. When Christ was crucified a titulus (a charge-sheet) was placed above his head ("this is the King of the Jews"). The titulus here is from Genesis 1:27: "God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God they were created: male and female God created them".

In other words the image means (to me) that ordinary Africans, God's children and bearing God's image, are being crucified by the AIDS pandemic. We are invited to feel as outraged at this scandal as at the murder of the Innocent One. The death of millions of people with AIDS is a scandal since AIDS is, as the footnote at the bottom of the page puts it, "a preventable, treatable disease".

The bottom line would seem to be: just as Pilate washed his hands of Christ's death - do we wealthy Westeners do the same of Africa's? Indeed we wash our hands daily of it - it is no longer even news to us: "no news today".

This is a fascinating take on how Christ's crucifixion relates to the present day for Hirst. In the corner the figures "4.80N0" appear, i.e. "[This picture is] for Bono". Hirst's choice of religious imagery presumably picks up his understanding of what drives Bono (his faith).

It shows therefore one way of interpreting the Cross, emphasizing the way folk with AIDS suffer as Christ did. In doing this Hirst also implicitly gives Africans's lives the same value as Christ's life - and it points to his yearning for their resurrection, just as Christ has already experienced his.

I tip my hat to Hirst, and salute Bono's brave move out of church halls and student campaigning into the high street...

Booboo

This is so funny I almost wet myself. (Be sure to watch the video clip!).

With thanks to Maggi Dawn.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Saving Power


For theological geeks (ok, like me) who are interested in atonement theologies - and for those who are surprised at the plural theologies, Peter Schmiechen's Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church looks fascinating.

What seems especially useful is how the writer links theology to ecclesiology:
what does that belief achieve and mean in that place?

From the Church Times review:
"He brings this out as he explores the cultural reasons why some theories have appealed to particular groups in particular ages; and he also examines some of the present divides between conservatives and liberals, and how these might be healed by a better understanding of the limits of their respective interpretations." (The whole review is here)

Contents:

PART ONE: THEORIES OF ATONEMENT

CHRIST DIED FOR US
1 - Sacrifice, The Letter to the Hebrews
2 - Justification by Grace, Martin Luther
3 - Substitution, Charles Hodge

LIBERATION FROM SIN, DEATH, AND DEMONIC POWERS
4 - Liberation, Irenaeus and Twentieth-Century Liberation Theology

THE PURPOSES OF GOD
5 - The Renewal of the Creation, Athanasius
6 - The Restoration of the Creation, Anselm
7 - Christ the Goal of Creation, Friedrich Schleiermacher

RECONCILIATION
8 - Christ the Way to the Knowledge of God, H. Richard Niebuhr
9 - Christ the Reconciler, I Corinthians 1 & 2
10 - The Wondrous Love of God, Peter Abelard, John Wesley, and Jurgen Moltmann

PART TWO: CONCLUSION
11 - Jesus Christ the Saving Power of God
12 - Christ and the Church

Publisher's info here, including a free view of the introductory chapter.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Kingdom of God: "a pungent shrub with takeover properties".

Doing Godly Play again with some kids at church. We told the parable of the mustard seed. Great fun - I'll blog some of their responses soon. Bizarrely it is one of the more disturbing parables...

'What is the Kingdom of God like?' asks someone.
'Well', says Jesus, 'it's like someone planting a tiny mustard seed, it grows, becomes a tree and birds make nests in it...'
(see the technical version here - it's in all three synoptics, and Thomas)

Not particularly profound is it? Surely harmless?

Oddly enough it would have been originally slightly unsettling. The mustard seed is an ungainly shrub that few people in their right mind would ever really want to encourage. It takes up valuable farming land and spreads like wild-fire.

The Mishnah forbade it to be be planted in anyone's garden (which, in Luke, is precisely where Jesus says it is planted). Although it can be used for seasoning, it can be poisonous in large quantities to livestock, and its relative white mustard can be toxic to the touch.

Nor is it a large plant - it only grows to a paltry 1.5m. Can this be the Kingdom?!

Commentators note that the references to the size of the plant and to birds nesting link up with several Old Testament metaphors for great kingdoms.

Funk writes, "The mustard seed is an unlikely figure of speech for God's domain in Jesus' original parable. His listeners would probably have expected God's domain to be compared to something great, not something small and insignificant."

Behind the image he notes the traditional picture of the mighty cedar of Lebanon as a metaphor for a towering empire (Ezek 17:22-23) and the apocalyptic tree of Daniel 4:12, 20-22. In Daniel, the crown of the tree reaches to heaven and its branches cover the earth; under it dwell the beasts of the field and in its branches nest the birds of the sky.

Jesus' implication is that his father's kingdom is not like a mighty cedar, or an oak, it is a deliberately counter-imperial image. There is no oppression or over bearing authority in God's realm.
Another writer, Crossan, picturesquely puts it thus: "The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed... It is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like: not like the mighty cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses. If you could control it."

(Quotes taken from this useful source).

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What Kind of Food Are You?

With thanks to Jem:

You Are French Food

Snobby yet ubiquitous.
People act like they understand you more than they actually do.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

New Chaplaincy Books

Here's a fascinating reflection on the comparison between the Qur'an and Christ:

"The word of God in Islam is the Qur'an; in Christianity it is Christ. The vehicle of divine revelation in Christianity is the Blessed Virgin; in Islam it is he soul of the Prophet. The Prophet must be illiterate for the same reason that the Virgin Mary must be pure. The human vehicle of a divine message must be pure and unconscious. The divine word can be written only on the clean and unwritten sheet of human receptivity. If the word is in the form of a book, then this purity is symbolized by the illiteracy of the person who is chosen to make this word known among people. Both (the illiteracy of the Prophet and the virginity of Mary) symbolize a deep aspect of this mystery of revelation".

The writer is a Muslim, quoted in Understanding the Qur'an, by Anton Wessels. This book was a bestseller in Holland, presumably in the light of the murder of Pim Fortuyn and the national soul-searching and desire to understand Islam that followed it. It should be on the shelves of the Chaplaincy library, soon, along with the following other new purchases. (What follows is a copy of my weekly email).

In anticipation of the Da Vinci Code film, we have two books that take an accessible but not overly dogmatic view of Dan Brown's money-spinner. They are both very easy to peek into without getting bogged down. They give answers to curious questions such as, who were the Gnostics? did Constantine really put the Bible together? and who was this Mary Magdalene?

Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code, A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine, by Bart D. Ehrman

and

The Real History Behind the Da Vinci Code, by Sharan Newman (written with some help by a Professor of History from Reading!).

If by the end of term you are feeling completely burnt out, we have a new edition of The Good Retreat Guide which includes contact details of every kind of monastery, meditation centre, Creation Spirituality house etc. etc., you could possibly want to get you back on your feet (and how to do a retreat if you've never done one before).

If you've never looked into how a gospel 'works' or how they came about, and you want to find a safe place somewhere between complete skepticism and fundamentalism then Adrian Graffy's easy to read Trustworthy and True, the Gospels beyond 2000 might be for you.

Or, as is often the case, you've never been taught how to pray (or have only been taught one way which doesn't work for you) then John Pritchard's superb and simple How to Pray, A Practical Handbook has 25 different prayer styles (including using music, the arts, scripture, silence, Celtic, Franciscan and other styles - and also how to keep a prayer life fresh and how to pray in difficult situations).

Finally we now have the complete set of Brian McLaren's works. Brian is an American Evangelical who is thinking through his faith in extremely interesting (and for some, challenging) ways.

The subtitle of his A Generous Orthodoxy, Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mythical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian, should speak for itself!

We also have now the full set of his A New Kind of Christian series which does theology through narrative (think Sophie's World meets twenty-first century imaginative Christianity, covering science and faith and the thorny topic of hell).

Friday, May 05, 2006

Faithful Art: Trinity II


My fellow Chaplain, Sabine, and I paid a visit to Sue Batchelor this morning to look at some of her art work with a view to hanging some pictures in the Chaplaincy.
I've loved Sue's work since I first saw it hanging in St John and St Stephen's Church (seeing it was a great reason to stay - how many churches these days value the visual arts?).

This work is entitled Trinity II. There's a strange mixture of shared pain - the interpenetration of the red/blue drops between the Crucified Son and the Father (who 'lifts up' the Son - perhaps a play, as in John's Gospel, upon the dual sense of the 'lifting up' crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus). Then there's also joy - not just the wind-blown allusions in the surmounting figure of the Spirit (a hint too of those pesky minute mustard seeds that Jesus tells us are a parable of the Kingdom) but also the way the picture even looks like a figure on a slide...

Some of her work is available on blank cards here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

All Christians are Atheists

Michael Buckley begins his monumental study of the Origins of Atheism with the simple (but often overlooked) assertion that atheism is 'parasitic' upon theism:

an inquiry into the origins of atheism must trace the intellectual process from god affirmed to god denied. The content of one constitutes the content and explanation of the other... Atheism is necessarily dependent upon theism for its vocabulary, its meanings, and its embodiments (p. 17).

Atheism is thus not a single phenomenon - it takes its meaning from the form of theism denied.

All Christians are therefore atheists: they deny certain gods. For example, as followers of the Way of Christ the Resurrected Victim, all gods of power without compassion are denied ultimate existence.

(This might well mean, for instance in a political working out of this, that Christians would reject ascribing worth to [i.e. 'worshipping'] nuclear weapons, a form of exercising warfare that inevitably cannot distinguish combantants from civilians).

Atheism is therefore central to Christian theology. Thinking about God not only involves saying 'yes' to some things that the concept 'God' might cover, but also 'no' to other things.

To put it flippantly, on meeting an atheist a Christian should well be able to respond, 'me, too! Which gods don't you believe in?'.

Or, less flippantly, the Christian may well learn from the atheist. For the Christian might - in respectful dialogue - discover that some things which s/he considered true about God may actually turn out to be morally abhorrent or intellectually confused.

Ironically, in that case, the atheist becomes a channel for divine revelation, an other 'Mary' through whom the Word, yet again, takes flesh...

For Peter - hope you find this.

Swift

The swifts winnow the air.
It is pleasant at the end of the day
To watch them. I have shut the mind
On fools. The 'phone's frenzy
Is over. There is only the swifts'
Restlessness in the sky
And their shrill squealing.
Sometimes they glide,
Or rip the silk of the wind
In passing. Unseen ribbons
Are trailing upon the air.
There is no solving the problem
They pose, that had millions of years
Behind it, when the first thinker
Looked at them.
Sometimes they meet
In the high air; what is engendered
At contact? I am learning to bring
Only my wonder to the contemplation
Of the geometry of the dark wings.

R.S. Thomas


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