Thursday, 24 September 2009

A Square Peg in a Round Hole

A square peg in a round hole
A spiritual misfit
Never fully belonging
Never quite at home

Always one step ahead
or one step behind

The cynical edge
The questioning glance

Is this what it means
to be a prophet?
Is this what it means
to be a disciple of the Son of Man
who had nowhere to lay his head?
Is this what it means
to be a follower of the mendicant misfit
who said: 'A prophet has no honour at home'...?

a prophet with honour is never at home...
the call is to never settle
the call is to journey, to run, to hide, to escape

To forever be
the square peg in the round hole.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Cautiously Optimistic

I've just spent the last three days at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, attending my quinquennial (look it up!) 'Ministry Refresher Conference'.

As is usually the case for me, the high point is the people - catching up with old friends, and making new ones. That said, the Bible studies by Steve Finamore were excellent, and Rachel Haig gave a great opening address.

I have deliberately not spent the whole time with existing friends, and have made a conscious decision at mealtimes to sit on tables with people I don't know. The opening gambits of such conversations follow a pattern as regular and predictable as the opening moves of a game of chess:

1. e2-e4, e7-e5. Where are you from?

2. Ng1-f3, Nb8-c6. South Wales Baptist College.

3. Nb1-c3, Bf8-c5. Oh right... erm... how long have you been there?

4. Bf1-c4, Nc6-d4. I'm just starting my sixth year.

5. Nf3xe5, Qd8-g5. Oh right... erm... that's a long time! Gosh! How many years do you have to do?

6. Ne5xf7, Qg5xg2. Well it depends how long the Lord wants me to be there.

7. Rh1-f1, d7-d6. Oh right... erm... is that how it works at College these days?

8. Nf7xh8, Bc8-g4! Well it does if you're a tutor!

9. Bc8-g4. Oh right... erm... So, you're a tutor! Gosh, they get younger don't they! What do you teach?

10. Nc3-e2. Biblical Studies, mainly New Testament, and my research interest is the Book of Revelation.

11. Nd4-f3. Oh right... erm... Gosh! That's an interesting topic. I once preached through Revelation, well, the letters at the beginning and the end bit, not all that stuff in the middle!


And so on, and so on, and so on.....

But after this fairly standard execution of Pratt's trap (look it up!), things start to get interesting.

And what I have discovered through my unscientific random sample is, to my delight, that my colleagues in ministry are generally sensitive, intelligent, informed people, who think deeply about their faith and take their own spiritual development seriously. This, I think, is a cause for optimism...

The gathering was predominantly male, but with a good smattering of female ministers. It could be more, it should be more, but it's a good start.

I am pleased to be part of a Union which takes the care of its ministers seriously, by providing a conference such as this.

I am also left with a sense of renewed responsibility regarding my own role - as I have been reminded once again of the impact that those three short years in College have on the ministry of those who come to us for ministerial formation. Sometimes it can feel like I'm banging my head against the wall of students, but the evidence of the last three days is that the College years are incredibly formative. I have always felt my call to College was actually a call to the church, and the evidence is that this is so.

As I said, cautiously optimistic...

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

A busy month

My last month:
  • 1 day in Birmingham for a 'Women in Ministry Day' (184 miles by car)
  • 5 days in Cheltenham for Greenbelt (88 miles by car)
  • 4 days in Aberdeen for the British New Testament Conference (1,100 miles by plane)
  • 2 days in Manchester for a Baptist Colleges' Staff Conference (356 miles by train)
  • 4 days in Felixstowe for Liz's sister's wedding (436 miles by car)
  • 1 day in mid-Wales on a 'quiet day' finishing off with a Church meeting in Cardiff in the evening (147 miles by car)
  • 4 days in Cornwall as a holiday to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary (316 miles by car)
  • 3 days in Derbyshire on a Baptist Ministry Refresher Conference (306 miles by car)
  • 3 days in Felixstowe (again!) for Liz's sister's wedding reception (436 miles by car)
  • 5 days in Cardiff for work (360 miles by car - the normal commute!)

A Greenbelt Poem

Thanks to Helen for spotting this:

'Welcome to Greenbelt, Heidi and Chris' by Pádraig Ó Tuama from Greenbelt Festival on Vimeo.

Postcards from the wall #7

Here's the seventh in my series of postcards from my study wall:

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A review of my book in The Expository Times

I've just discovered a great review of my book in the Expository Times.

Here it is:

Students of the New Testament will find an excellent and stimulating guide to the Apocalypse in Woodman’s SCM Core Text: The Book of Revelation. Woodman’s enthusiasm for Revelation shines through on every page. He skilfully engages aspects of recent culture: the capacity to re-imagine the world we inhabit, as in The Matrix, or the demand of impressionist art for us to stand back and not allow the larger picture to be obscured by the details. Failure to employ either strategy accounts for widespread misreadings of Revelation.

Woodman introduces us to differing reading strategies in a non-technical way, highlighting the merits and weaknesses of each. His sympathy for Brueggemann’s notion of ‘imaginative submission’ to the text is particularly suggestive. This does not mean that he fails to engage with the difficulties a text such as this raises.

A substantial section of his book introduces the various ‘characters’ of the Apocalypse ‘drama’, and their varying relationships to heaven and earth, the Lamb and Satan. Especially illuminating is his discussion of the bride of the Lamb. He reminds us of the promise inherent in the language of marriage: weddings normally herald beginnings rather than endings. One wonders how often interpreters of Revelation take this to heart!

Woodman is perhaps at his most interesting in his final chapters – Engaging the Imagery. Here he explores the difference that reading Revelation in a context of worship makes. He also builds on the work of scholars who have seen the potential of the Apocalypse for political and economic critique. Nor are environmental concerns lacking: though often read as a script for cosmic destruction, the Apocalypse might articulate an alternative theological view. God may be envisioned, not as a God of destruction, but of restoration and re-creation.

St Stephen’s House, Oxford

Monday, 7 September 2009

Postcards from the wall #6

Here's the sixth in my series of postcards from my study wall:

Finally - Prayer explained!

Mrs Betty Bowers, 'America's Best Christian', looks into a phenomenon sweeping the nation -- asking invisible people for all the stuff you're too lazy or cheap to get for yourself!

Some highlights to whet your appetite:
  • Amy Grant Topless
  • 3 homes = 3 x things to pray for
  • Jesus DOES play favourites
  • Baptist research confirms: Poor people must be doing something to piss God off
  • God is my ATM, Prayer is my PIN
  • I don't ask 'Why?' I just ask often!
  • Never forget to say 'Amen'. It's like 'Abracadabra'
Enjoy the video here:

HT: Ben.

Charity Commissioners definition of religion

I'm chair of a small charity (Friends of Radosc, if you're interested - check us out on the charity commission website), and I've been doing a bit of reading about 'Public Benefit' - apparently to exist as a charity, we have to be able to demonstrate that we fulfil the requirement to provide Public Benefit.

The Charity Commission website indicates that one of the criteria for Public Benefit is 'The Advancement of Religion'. So we're OK.

It then goes on to define Religion:

The advancement of religion

20. For the purposes of charity law, a religion is a system of belief that has certain characteristics that have been identified in case law and clarified in the Charities Act 2006. Section 2(3) of the Charities Act states that:

"religion includes:

  • a religion which involves a belief in more than one god, and
  • a religion which does not involve a belief in a god"
So... my question is...

What about belief in just one God?

Does this definition tacitly exclude all the great monotheistic faiths?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Back from Greenbelt

A couple of years ago, my spiritual director asked me where I truly belonged, spiritually...
  • Was it my church? Kinda...
  • Was it the College? Also, Kinda...
  • Was it my housegroup? Sometimes...
  • Was it sharing a meal and fellowship with friends? Often...
And then it hit me, and brought a tear to my eye (which doesn't happen often)...
  • The place I truly belong, spiritually, is Greenbelt.
So, once again, we've been to Greenbelt...

At a session he presented with the (wonderful) poet Stuart Henderson, Martyn Joseph was asked what makes Greenbelt special for him - and he answered that it's a place for spiritual refugees. And I thought, yes, that's right. And also, yes, that's me.

Now it might seem strange for one as embedded in a denomination as I am to appropriate the label of spiritual refugee, but honestly, it's true: my favourite songs (which I want played at my funeral) (which I'm planning for 2082 in case you're wondering) are U2 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for' and Martyn Joseph 'Treasure the questions'.

Questioning everything and dissatisfaction with the status quo run deep within me, and hence I find myself drawn not just to Baptist ecclesiology, but also to Anabaptism and, of course, Greenbelt. This year was my 22nd (in 24 years), which if you add it up means I've spent nearly 3 months of my life at Greenbelt. Time well spent, I feel.

Highlights this year for me included:
  • A talk by Bishop Gene Robinson on human sexuality.

  • He (rightly in my view) suggested that if the church wants to properly address the issue of homosexuality, it must be done in the context of a much broader debate about sexuality in general, and that perhaps a good starting point might be to get all the heterosexuals in the church to have an honest conversation about their own experience of sexuality, before then turning to the 'problem' of the homosexuals in their midst.
  • A lecture by Paula Gooder:entitled Taking a very long view: the end of the world in the Bible at which she said pretty much what I'd have said if they'd asked me to do it instead!
  • A performance by Ockham's Razor, which was visually stunning and thought provoking.

  • And a high-energy concert by the wonderful Duke Special: