Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Government incompetence #3,491: motorcycle tests

In their infinite wisdom, the government decided to change how motorcycle testing was carried out. Partly this was in response to EU legislation, which mandates a particular test needing to be carried out at 31mph (because of course the EU runs on kph). So part of the test - supposed to represent urban conditions - requires the trainee motorcyclist to break the law in order to pass. I kid you not.

Turns out that MPs agree that it's a shambles.

I'm one of the people affected - to take my practical test (two parts) I'd have to do an hour and a half's journey to Bury St Edmunds just to get started. Under the previous regime I'd only have to do the twenty minutes into Colchester - and the Colchester training sites all seem to have shut down. Good old government - more bureaucracy, less jobs, less happiness all around. Nice one.

I think that - along with thousands of other people - I'm going to stick to my L plates for some time to come.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I'm not a fan of Obama but...


...even I think that this cartoon is bonkers. Whatever the problems with Obama's health programme (and there are many, mainly to do with the pandering to corporations) it is nothing like the Cuban system - and all the worse for it. No sane person could prefer the US system to the Cuban, surely?!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

TV/ Movie notes

I'm really getting out of the habit of these.
Duplicity 3.5/5 Entertaining and a good ending
Push 3/5 So-so
Seven Pounds 4/5 Very interesting and well done, not sure it's at all orthodox though.
Now for the trashy ones:
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans 3/5
Friday 13th (remake) 4/5 Better than the original
Lesbian Vampire Killers: 2/5 utter drivel

Also watching at the moment:
Torchwood (season 2) - gets better and better, particularly liked the memory episode
Caprica - excellent, really engages with the themes of identity
Lost - is managing to raise my hopes that it will achieve a better resolution than BSG
24 - average
Fringe - Walter Bishop is a genius character, but the programme as a whole has lost its way

I've also been a very naughty boy. Let's just say I now have the capacity to play Bioshock 2, but not on my PC....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Enjoying the choir

I realise that I never posted this last May, but as it has had quite a wide circulation in Mersea I don't think there's an issue with putting it up (despite what subsequently happened).

It's long, so click 'full post' for text.

For the meeting on May 10 at 3pm in the Church Hall

To: members of Worship Committee and Choir
CC: other members of PCC and ministry team who are welcome to attend

Dear friends,

Enjoying the choir

“Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly.” (Ps 147)

I have been praying and reflecting much about the choir in recent weeks, partly as a result of the on-going conversations about Evensong in the Worship Committee, but also in the light of our worship through this last Holy Week and Easter Sunday. I would like with this paper to set out some of my thoughts as preparation for a wide discussion on May 10. Although ____ is unable to be with us on May 10 he and I have scheduled a separate meeting between us a few days before.

Why sing in worship?
I want to begin by going back to the fundamentals, partly because it is good to do so every so often, to remind ourselves of why we are doing things, but also because it will clarify what we agree on and what we disagree on. In other words, the question to begin with is: why have a choir at all? It seems to me that there are several important reasons why it is good to have a choir:

1. As I believe I may have mentioned before, the Church Fathers believed that to sing a prayer was to pray twice. This was simply because singing involves the whole body; it isn't purely a mental act. It is therefore appropriate to sing in Christian worship because we worship the Word made flesh - we are called to worship with our bodies. Singing a prayer is therefore a more fully Christian form of worship than simply saying.
2. A choir can function in a way that enables the wider congregation to sing themselves, either by supporting the wider congregation in what they are singing or by expressing something on their behalf.
3. Some elements of worship are best sung by specialists - this has always been the case, as can be seen by the practice of Temple worship in Old Testament times, and by looking at the Psalms.
4. The corollary of this is that some people have the vocation from God to be such specialists - God has called them to offer up their particular talents in this form, and without the possibility of that expression they are prevented from being fully human. (I spoke about this in my sermon on Maundy Thursday.)
5. Ultimately, the point about singing in worship is that this is what the angels do, and the purpose of our singing in worship is to share with the singing of the angels. I believe that sometimes we achieve that.

In other words, if we accept that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, singing is an essential part of this.

The musical mountain
So what are my concerns? They can be summed up by the word joy. I don't believe that we are enjoying the choir in the way that we are called to, either choristers or congregation. More specifically I am concerned about i) the workload being placed upon the choir; ii) the choice of music; and iii) the relationship between the choir and the wider congregation. These are the principal themes that I would like to discuss on May 10 and what I would most like to glean from the choir is a sense of whether I am perceiving the situation accurately.

I must confess to being heartbroken by the Good Friday liturgy this year (not an inappropriate experience for the day, admittedly). With the benefit of hindsight I can see that it was a mistake to include the Tallis litany in the service. This is not because of any inherent fault in the Tallis, it is because it a) destroyed any sense of musical unity in the service; b) was far too long and dislocated the liturgy; but especially c) meant that the Fauré was not rehearsed to the extent that it needed to be. I tried to explain my reaction to [my wife], and the best analogy that I could come up with was an artistic one: imagine that someone had taken Seurat's 'Grand Jatte' and blended in a portrait of a man on one side of the canvas - except that the man was painted in the style of Rembrandt.

If we think of our musical offerings as being like a mountain, what I am wanting to pursue is a mountain that is both broader at its base and which reaches higher in its attainment of excellence. I would like the mountain to be one that is visible from a long way away, and which draws pilgrims to it as a place of worship, where people of all diverse sorts can find a spiritual home and come closer to God.

The height of the mountain
So the first aspect I would like to raise for discussion is about the workload on the choir. My worry is that one possible best is becoming the enemy of the good; in other words, I feel that the choir needs to concentrate on doing fewer pieces at a higher level of excellence. I have raised these concerns before but they have become more acute over time, and, indeed, they have become not just concerns about the effect upon our worship but also, to some extent, a pastoral and spiritual concern about the choristers. If it is true (as I would insist IS true) that some people have a vocation to sing in worship, that does not mean that there are no limits to that vocation; the singing needs to be pursued in balance with the wider needs of worship, and I believe it would give greater joy to choir and congregation if there were fewer choral pieces but that those pieces came closer to sharing in the heavenly chorus. Essentially, in order for the singing to be properly worship, rather than simply a performance, the piece needs to be known well enough by each choir member, and the choir as a whole needs to be comfortable enough with each other and with the piece, to be able to sing it so confidently that the whole congregation - including the choir! - are able to worship through it.

The breadth of the mountain
The Fauré is a good example of the standard of music that I would want to deploy in our worship, and I have no doubt that, given sufficient rehearsal time, we have the capacity to do such pieces justice. However, I am not persuaded that every choral occasion needs to aim so high and, for two reasons, I think that the choir needs to add more 'lollipops' to the repertoire (to use _____'s felicitous phrasing). By 'lollipops' I mean material which is more accessible for both choir and congregation, and this includes material which is more contemporary and vernacular. This does not at all equate to 'dumbing down', which for me is rather a red herring. The point is that there are different forms and styles of music and worshipful excellence can be sought and attained in each of them. Whilst I am sure the heavenly choir is most often to be found singing some of Mozart's compositions I would also like to believe that they sing gospel choruses and even - on rare occasions! - rock anthems like U2's 'Magnificent'.

More than this, however, is the point that seeking a higher musical standard is, in the end, only one part of the purpose of the choir. Most important, for me, is that there is joy - joy in the singing and joy in the hearing. This joy is something that can be heard by the congregation and it is contagious, and so the first reason for wanting to include more lollipops is simply because they are in themselves enjoyable. In addition to this, the second reason for having more lollipops is that it will enable the choir to renew itself over time. If someone is experiencing a sense of vocation towards singing, we have a duty to ensure that such a vocation is nurtured and encouraged. If there is a varied repertoire, both thematically and in terms of the difficulty of the music, such a person is more likely to be able to find their feet, and be encouraged, and be allowed to discover the joy that comes with singing in worship.

Choir and congregation
Whilst it is true, as I said above, that the choir can serve to support a congregation in their singing there are times when the opposite can happen, and a choir can in fact undermine congregational participation in the worship. I believe that this has happened, particularly in our normal 11am Sung Eucharists. I see this principally as a physical phenomenon - there is a great distance between the choir and congregation, and this is having consequences for our worship. Whilst this has been exacerbated by the re-ordering of the sanctuary area I don't believe that this is the fundamental cause as the issue was present even before there was any re-ordering. To address this I would like to experiment with relocating the choir to the back of the church for normal 11am services (not for the major feasts like Easter, and exactly where to we need to discuss). As well as physically uniting the choir with the congregation, which I believe will help the congregation themselves to sing, this will also emphasise the table as the central element in the service, which I think will help us to keep a proper spiritual focus.

What to do with the evening pattern?
"The theology of Anglican Evensong is not that everyone is expected to do it but that, particularly in cathedrals, a practiced song will be offered to God because God is worth the time and the effort and the money for this practiced song to be given." (John Bell)

Which brings me to the question of our Sunday evening pattern. This has been a vexed question for some time, and in the Worship Committee we have been discussing it explicitly for at least eighteen months - which was when I first circulated a discussion paper setting out the options. Option one I called the 'variety pack' approach, which involved a different style of service on each Sunday of the month; option two was a 'twin track' approach, which envisaged a 5pm BCP Evensong every week, and a 6.30pm Common Worship service of different sorts. After that initial discussion we agreed to run with the variety pack approach, not least because it was emphasised to me that the choir did not wish to come out for an earlier service on Sunday afternoons. I have been encouraged by what has happened with the Sunday evening services since we have made the changes, and the Songs of Praise and Learning Suppers appear to have been successful in attracting a wider congregation and offering an enjoyable form of worship. However, the question has now been raised as to whether we could revert to a 'twin track' approach, and have a BCP Evensong every Sunday night at 5pm.

I think that there are arguments on both sides here. In favour of having a 5pm Evensong every week are that it would be consistent; worshippers would know what was going on reliably; it would preserve that particular form of worship; it might function to plant a 'new congregation' which I see as desirable in principle. On the other hand it will involve a greater strain on the resources of the church community (ministers, readers, welcomers etc); it would mean that the contribution of the choir to the 6.30pm slot is minimised if not rendered entirely absent; and, most of all, it runs the risk of collapsing, thereby meaning that this form of worship ceases in Mersea.

The more I have reflected on this question, the more I have come to believe that the initial decision of the worship committee and PCC was the right one, and that we should stick to the 'variety pack' approach for Sunday Evening worship. More than this, in the light of what I have said above, I believe that the BCP Evensong slot should be restricted to the first Sunday of the month, and be 'cathedral' style, ie the choir alone sing introit, psalm, mag, nunc and anthem. At least one advantage of restricting this to one Sunday a month is that it will give sufficient time to rehearse each item. It may seem paradoxical, but I believe that restricting choral Evensong to one Sunday a month is more likely to preserve that pattern of worship as a living entity for the long term.

For the other Sundays I see week 2 as being Songs of Praise for the foreseeable future and week 4 as being a Learning Supper. This leaves week 3, and the occasional week 5, plus any occasions when there is no Learning Supper or Songs of Praise, to be determined. I would see this slot as in itself more variable. In the normal course of events I think we have room for it to be a communion service. It has been on my mind for some time that regular Sunday Evening worshippers don't presently have access to the Eucharist, and this needs to change, and so I would see this slot as normally being a Common Worship service (along the lines of the 11am) but it could occasionally be a BCP communion. In addition I think we need to revisit the question of a Common Worship Evensong. This has been tried, but the balance didn't work, and so we need to look again at the reasons for that failure and see if we can do better. Finally I see this slot as occasionally being used for special one-off services, eg a formal healing service.

This means that the Sunday Evening pattern would become: Week 1 Full Choral Evensong; Week 2 Songs of Praise; Week 3 Sung Holy Communion; Week 4 Learning Supper - with variations over time.

The style of the choir
One thing that I would wish to emphasise is that restricting the BCP Evensong to one Sunday a month does NOT mean that the choir is only deployed once a month. There is no reason why there should not be a choral contribution to every Sunday evening service, and I would expect that, in order to achieve what needs to be achieved in the monthly choral Evensong, the choir will need to rehearse that material for each of the several Sundays prior to the service. However, for the choir to be involved directly in the new services, it would necessitate the choir itself becoming more than the formal/ robed/ processional institution that we have at the moment. The essential thing about the choir is what I began with, that it shares in the joy of singing praise to God; in contrast to Victorian children, the perfect choir is heard but not seen. This can be done in various different ways, and one theme that I would like to discuss further with the choir on May 10 is how to explore different styles of being a choir, so that the church body as a whole can enjoy the choir more widely. To make this specific I would like to invite the choir to join in with the Learning Supper at the end of July by singing, as an anthem, Swiggum's 'How can I keep from singing'.

Festivals
Finally, I would like to say something about our festivals, not least because we have just reached the summit of the Christian year. I see the most important opportunities for the choir - ie those occasions when the choir has to most actively seek the angelic heights - as being the great feasts, especially the Midnight Mass and the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter morning). In particular, the most important service of the year is the Easter dawn service - and this service is crying out for a choral contribution. If the choir is to be itself in offering up enjoyable praise to God then it has to make this service a priority. To that end two requests: at next year's Good Friday service, please could we have the Allegri Miserere (which is at the top of my own personal musical mountain), and for the dawn service, please could we have John Tavener's 'Alleluia (As one who has slept)'.

I look forward to our discussion on Sunday.

Who needs a pastor?

Via 'The Work of the People', an interesting blog discovered today via Banksyboy.

"Alongside those inventions, church planting and missions were also delegated to similar structures, separated from local congregations. The local community of faith did not own the missional and mercy activities anymore, which became the job of separate agents, financed and supplied by the church, in order to have the work done.

Now, milked as a cow and free from the concerns with the world immediately around it, what was left inside of the church? Self-sufficiency and maintenance. As a world in itself, the church became concerned more and more with non-tangible issues, hyper-spirituality, how to teach people to escape to heaven, or how to wait for Jesus at a secure station,

Sunday schooling our people for the sake of the keeping of them as religious consumers, the same who were being schooled during the week for the sake of a society of consumers, singing in choirs and worship teams, fighting over small issues, and splitting, splitting, and more splitting. The most frequent and subsequent temptation after having all that was this: seeking prestige in society more than the humble service that comes as a response to the God who has forgiven us.

In order to manage such a scenario, a professional version of a community leader has to be trained and created through seminaries and courses. The majority of those presenting themselves for the task have felt called to serve people, and in a godly and humble way, they have given their lives to be used by the Lord, even sometimes to the point of being burned out by demands. Demands that are not a consequence of their call, but a outcome of a life committed to programs run by structured institutions.

In a sense, the Christian church in the modern era - mostly the protestant, evangelical and pentecostal churches - have become organizations that emulate those existent [so-called “secular”] organizations in the capitalist society...."


Brilliant stuff, and very timely.



Gun law

Very disturbing article here about an incident in the US where a robber is killed by the person he was trying to rob. I don't have a problem with i) a man being armed or even (in theory) ii) shooting in self-defense, especially if in a home (or something like a home). I do have a problem with the robber being shot twice from behind when he was trying to run away. That just seems like murder to me.

NB South Carolina's 'castle doctrine' seems like an echo of Exodus 22.2: "If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gently amused

Doing some research on ministry thoughts (long post coming) and discovered this little gem from July 2007:

"I was told a few days ago that there is a group of people in the parish who welcomed my arrival but who are now eager for me to be gone."

I had forgotten that. Makes me realise that many of the tensions which erupted into the open last year had been a long time coming.

The Lord being my helper, I'm going to be here for some time yet.

Not(e) perfect

"My personal taste is such that when I hear a choir who are note ‘perfect’, all in exact time with each other, voices blending as one, then I may as well be listening to a machine. I feel that the heart and soul have been removed. I like to hear the humanity of a choir shine through, with all its human imperfections and mistakes. I’d rather hear guts and passion than note perfection. My philosophy is that we use music as a vehicle for the soul, and are not here to serve the music regardless."

Nazir-Ali channels MacIntyre

"I am conscious that if present trends continue, we need another strategy... [as] in the last Dark Age, when Christian communities preserved the Gospel learning, and a kind of humanism, so that there were lights in the darkness. I think it would be wise for the churches also to build strong moral and spiritual communities that can survive and flourish in the darkness, and indeed attract other people to themselves. That's the way I have begun to think."
I happen to agree completely with that. It's why I'm going to be emphasising St Benedict over the coming year...

Monday, March 22, 2010

SUMO

Talking to a friend yesterday who explained SUMO to me - it stands for 'Shut Up, Move On' - in other words, don't get stuck in a place of pain. (In Christian terms, I think it could be phrased as 'come down off your cross'.)

One of the best things about the Sandman sequence was the presentation of hell as somewhere that people chose their forms of punishment. One of many deep truths that Gaiman managed to capture.

Stephen Cottrell to be the new Bishop of Chelmsford

Official announcement is here.

"Almighty and everlasting God, who alone workest great marvels, send down upon our bishops and curates, and all congregations committed to their charge, the healthful spirit of thy grace; and that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honour of our advocate and mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen."


His wikipedia page has some things of interest.

H/T to Phil Ritchie via Twitter.

Update: Dave Walker has some info from the Oxford website:
"Bishop Stephen said: “I was born and brought up in Essex, and it is still the place I think of as home. Now I have been invited to return to this large, diverse and richly varied diocese to serve as your bishop. It is an immense privilege.

“What sustains me in ministry is the joy and beauty of the Gospel. I want us to be a Church that is gospel-centred, servant-hearted and mission-focused. I am hungry for us to be a Church that connects with every person and every community.

“I am excited by the prospect of getting to know and working alongside the parishes and communities of East London and Essex that make up this great diocese. I look forward to working with new colleagues and making new friends. Building upon the work of those who have gone before us in the faith, together we can do something beautiful for God in the communities we have been called to serve.

“For me coming to Essex and East London feels like coming home. However this is not the end of the journey. We must set our sights on the glory of God and on his son Jesus Christ and on the needs of the world - this is the path we will travel together.”

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, said: “Bishop Stephen has had a highly effective ministry as Bishop of Reading. He has been widely loved and admired for his bold evangelism, obvious prayerfulness and inspired communication and will be hugely missed.

“We knew we’d lose him and are very grateful for the time we have had. Chelmsford will find itself led with imagination, courage and sense of fun. We wish Stephen and his family much joy.”

The Bishop of Bradwell, the Rt Revd Dr Laurie Green, added: “We are delighted that Bishop Stephen Cottrell is to become the new Diocesan Bishop of Chelmsford. Bishop Stephen is an exceptional man, whose abiding concern is that we all catch that glimpse of the wonder of God which can change our lives.

“He is man of prayer who has a shrewd eye for the important issues of the day. His books are always challenging and delightful, and he will bring new insights about how we should respond to God’s love and justice amidst the world’s challenges. He is family man of great warmth and charm, and we look forward to learning from him and working with him here in Essex and East London.”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

TBTM20100320


The trouble with statistics.
An interesting interview with John Milbank.
The Economist on climage change: "The doubters are right that uncertainties are rife in climate science. They are wrong when they present that as a reason for inaction."

Does the priest have to be pure? (part one)

Given all the fuss about abuse by Roman Catholic clergy (justified fuss, certainly) I thought it would be of interest to describe in some detail an ancient church controversy, which has some relevance. At the beginning of the fourth century AD, under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, there was a severe crackdown upon the Christian church. Some members of the church, including some priests and bishops, handed over copies of the sacred Scriptures to the imperial authorities. These people were called traditores – from the Latin for handing over. From this expression derives our own words traitor and tradition.

A few years later, Constantine became the Roman Emperor and, famously, he allowed Christianity to be celebrated publicly. At this point, a quarrel broke out within the church. What should happen to those priests and bishops who were traditores? The majority view was that those people who had collaborated with the authorities should be forgiven, and allowed to continue their ministry. Some one hundred years later, this was the view that St Augustine fought for, and he developed the theology to explain why. In sum, the validity of our sacraments – of baptism and holy communion – do not depend upon the moral state of the priest who is in charge of them. The president at communion is not expected to be an example of moral perfection; he or she is assumed to be a sinner, along with every other baptised member of the church. If the sacraments are celebrated properly, in accordance with the right teaching of the church, then they achieve what Jesus intended them to achieve. In other words the holiness at issue is the holiness of Jesus, not the holiness of the priest.

However, there was a distinct minority view which ended up being called Donatism, named after Donatus, who was consecrated as an alternative Bishop of Carthage. This group did not forgive the traditores for what they had done, and so they established an alternative church which explicitly advocated the holiness of ministers, the need to have a pure church; in other words, if a sinner presided at communion, the communion was not valid – Jesus was not present, no spiritual medicine was distributed. There followed a very unedifying struggle for power, especially in North Africa, between these two groups. It took some two centuries for the Donatist church to die out completely, and St Augustine was heavily involved, not just in establishing the theology, but practically as the legitimate Bishop of Carthage in his own day.

Now the Donatists were condemned as heretics. The word 'heresy' simply means choice, that is, the Donatists had chosen a course separate to that accepted by the wider body of the church. Although Donatism is the technical name for the heresy, it is more commonly known as the 'pure church' heresy.

In our highly individualist age, the notion of heresy is problematic. What is wrong with a group of people coming to a decision about how they wanted to function together? Why shouldn't they have their own denomination, and be left to get on with their own business? What this misses is the connection between getting our doctrine right and the state of our souls. 1 Timothy instructs pastors that we are to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” In other words, in Christianity, there is a link between what we believe and our eventual salvation, and the most important quality for pastors is the ability to teach the truth. That is how a priest exercises their cure of souls; not through being popular and well liked, but by holding fast to the truth of the faith. Right doctrine enables right behaviour; conversely, wrong doctrine leads to spiritual destruction. Let me spell out what this means in the case of the pure church heresy.

At the core of the controversy was a refusal on the part of the Donatists to forgive those traditores who had collaborated with the Empire, and handed over the Scriptures. In other words, the Donatists had embraced a path of judgement, contrary to Jesus' explicit teaching. This is the spiritual root from which Donatism emerged like a flower. The trouble with this path is that the divide between the sinners and the righteous does not run between different people, or between different groups; rather it runs within people.

This leads to a problem. For if a community is constituted by the notion that only the pure can share in communion, then there is tremendous psychological pressure to preserve oneself in a state of innocence, in order to continue to share the sacrament. This means that all the elements of our own nature that don't fit neatly into that ideal of innocence become repressed and denied. What this leads to, St John describes eloquently in his first Epistle: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In practice, the tension generated by this pursuit of innocence and denial of sin is resolved through scapegoating. One person, or one group of people, becomes identified as the source of all pain and bitterness – they are no longer traditores, but traitors, the great betrayers, the ones who have become a scandal and a stumbling block to the wider community. The scapegoats are then persecuted and destroyed, and the pure church community is able to find unity in that process, with reassurance for their own identity.

This is the way of the world, and we don't have to go very far to find examples of it. The most obvious is what happened in Germany in the 1930s, but it has happened in this country very recently, eg when considering the fate of one of the boys who killed Jamie Bulger. Generally speaking, the tabloid newspapers are driven by this process, of finding scapegoats on whom to place all the burdens of our existence. Remember: this is the realm of Satan. Satan means the accuser, the one who points the finger, the one who apportions blame, the prosecuting counsel in a trial. It is because Satan is the presiding spirit of this process that Jesus calls him the Prince of this world.

In other words, just to make things absolutely clear, the end point spiritually for anyone who embarks upon this path is to be cut off from the living God. It is to be in Hell, now and for eternity. Hell is not a metaphor, it is a state of life filled with finger-pointing and bitterness, where anger is nursed until it becomes the defining feature of the personality. This is why St Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that we are to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The only possible way out from Satan's realm is forgiveness – as Jesus taught, and as he lived. As St Paul writes, we are to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” To live by forgiveness – to give and to receive forgiveness – this is what it means to be a Christian, to pass on forgiveness just as we have received forgiveness. This is lost by the pure church. That is why it is a heresy.

In Part Two – what do we do when the priest isn't pure?

Friday, March 12, 2010

But Jacob...


But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man".

No more hairy biker, but at least I passed my bike theory test yesterday.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

40FP(20): Numbers 12

(NLT translation, which is my favourite at the moment)
1 While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman.
2 They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” But the Lord heard them.
3 (Now Moses was very humble — more humble than any other person on earth.)
4 So immediately the Lord called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam and said, “Go out to the Tabernacle, all three of you!” So the three of them went to the Tabernacle.
5 Then the Lord descended in the pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tabernacle. “Aaron and Miriam!” he called, and they stepped forward.
6 And the Lord said to them, “Now listen to what I say:
“If there were prophets among you,
I, the Lord, would reveal myself in visions.
I would speak to them in dreams.
7 But not with my servant Moses.
Of all my house, he is the one I trust.
8 I speak to him face to face,
clearly, and not in riddles!
He sees the Lord as he is.
So why were you not afraid
to criticize my servant Moses?”
9 The Lord was very angry with them, and he departed.
10 As the cloud moved from above the Tabernacle, there stood Miriam, her skin as white as snow from leprosy. When Aaron saw what had happened to her,
11 he cried out to Moses, “Oh, my master! Please don’t punish us for this sin we have so foolishly committed.
12 Don’t let her be like a stillborn baby, already decayed at birth.”
13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “O God, I beg you, please heal her!”
14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had done nothing more than spit in her face, wouldn’t she be defiled for seven days? So keep her outside the camp for seven days, and after that she may be accepted back.”
15 So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.
16 Then they left Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

Why is this a favourite passage?
There is much worth pondering in this passage. A few thoughts:
1) Like many in authority, Moses arouses resentment in those around him. It is as if Miriam and Aaron (brother and sister to Moses, remember) resent the admission into Moses' inner circle of someone new. This is rivalrous desire.
2) Unlike most people, Moses does not play their game - he is genuinely humble - but the Lord then acts on his behalf. Moses does not assert himself - the Lord defends Moses from what his relatives are doing. Something of a theme with Moses ('you have only to stand and watch...')
3) Moses intercedes for his sister - there is no anger on display. Moses doesn't try to stand in God's place of judgement.
4) The people wait for Miriam.

I just find this a very human vignette, and a story which says a great deal about Moses' character.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Separation horizontally and vertically (ordination)

Justin Martyr (presumably not _the_ JM) asked me to expand on my comments about ordination.

One point at issue is whether ordination confers any sort of spiritual superiority compared to other Christians, to which the fairly uncontentious answer is No. However, there are things which the church does which do confer that spiritual superiority (superiority is a bad word for this, but I can't fathom a better one just now).

I am thinking of baptism. Baptism grafts a person onto the Body of Christ and equips them for ministry. The community of the church is a community set apart, consecrated, a royal priesthood. The church functions for the world in the way that the Levitical priesthood functioned for the people of Israel. They are called to be holy.

Ordination to the priesthood neither requires nor enables any greater degree of holiness on the part of the minister, compared to what is expected of any baptised believer. What it does do is mark out a person for the exercise of a particular role; it also prays for the guidance and blessing of the Holy Spirit to be with them as they exercise that role (this could be rendered in 'ontological' language but doesn't have to be). So someone who is ordained is not called to be more holy than someone who is baptised.

The separation is not vertical (more or less holiness) but horizontal (a different part of the body).