Saturday, August 30, 2008

All roads lead to...

...the Rome theology and philosophy conference, The Grandeur of Reason. At least, my road leads there this week. Speakers include Agamben, Hauerwas, Milbank and O'Donovan, as well as Myers, Russell and many more - should be a good week! Blogging will resume upon my return.

UPDATE: Conference programme now available to download [102KB], H/T Ben.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stealing the limelight

I've seen some crazy political stunts, but this is quite audacious: John McCain has announced his VP candidate, the 44 year old governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

Will it work? On the one hand, it's a blatant bid for disenfranchised Hillary voters, and a grab at younger voters. But on the other, it does rather undermine the main line of criticism the McCain campaign has launched against Obama's inexperience. The announcement's timing is, of course, perfect. This is how to get the news cycle off the DNC. The next few months will indeed be interesting. No prizes for guessing whom I'm barracking for, despite some serious reservations.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Running from the past: Breakfast with Jesus IX

An Easter sermon from John 21: part IX
“We might be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” Perhaps you might feel a little like Simon. You started well, full of hope and promise. You wanted to follow Jesus wherever that path might have led. Maybe it was even exciting for a while, but after a failure, or a series of little disappointments, you’ve decided it makes more sense to return to ‘normal’ life, to focus on financial security or seeking a sense of personal fulfilment. Maybe you still come to church occasionally, or even fairly regularly, but inside you’re somewhere else.

In any case, your life that was once filled with hope and promise now feels compromised, complicated, tarnished and tangled. There are parts of it you’ve tried to jettison or hide, relationships you’ve attempted to abandon. You want to be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with you. What are you running from? What have you tried to sweep under the carpet?

Jesus waits on the shore, ready to provide abundantly. He will give us a new start, but not an easy amnesia. The only new start possible involves the scary necessity of learning to see ourselves as we truly are in all our brokenness, all our need, all our failures and squandered opportunities. Seeing ourselves as we are and finding that even that, no matter how bad, doesn’t stop the cleansing flow of Jesus’ love. He will not take away our pain, sorrow and guilt, but he will take it and re-make it into something beautiful. He will not simply accept us, but he will make us new, starting a lifelong process of renovation and healing. He will not throw out all the broken pieces of our lives, but slowly put them together again as they were always meant to be. He doesn’t need rock solid faithful followers who have purged their lives of all problems; he invites us to share all we are, to come with our frailty and sickness and sorrow.

So jump out of the boat. It begins this morning. We will confess our failures, our brokenness, our need. I acknowledge that my past is my past and hear God’s free acceptance. We receive Jesus’ gift, his body and blood given for us, with empty hands. We eat and share in his life.

And we are not left passive. No, the good shepherd invites us to join him in his own most important and delightful and difficult task: caring for one another. So jump out of the boat. Come and eat with the risen Jesus.

We are running and scared. Chase us with your love.
We are in denial and avoidance. Confront us with your truth.
We are hurt and broken. Heal us with your mercy.
We are hungry for life. Feed us with your body and blood.
Series: I; II: III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New town, new blog

My wife has started a blog of our experiences heading north. The plan is to post a (more or less) weekly photo with a couple of thoughts. She's already put up a number of images from our time in India and a few of Edinburgh. If you'd like to have some idea what our new life is like, feel free to check it out.
It is not necessary to point out how much better hers looks (unless you're offering to give mine a makeover)
The picture above is the street where we have been (temporarily) staying with a very generous friend of friends.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Running from the past: Breakfast with Jesus VIII

An Easter sermon from John 21: part VIII
3. Facing Failure
And this forgiveness, this re-commissioning, is also for us today. Today of all days, we celebrate the God who can bring a new start out of a deadly end. But Jesus’ resurrection didn’t mean the undoing of his death. He was not de-crucified. He still bore the scars. It was not as though that part of his past was simply erased by God and replaced with something else. No, God creatively made something new out of the old, even where the old was dead and buried. God is a renovator, not a demolisher.

And so, if we are running from our past, if we feel we need to sweep it under the carpet, if our bridges feel burned and we think it would be better to write off a bad debt and start again as though it never happened, then we need to listen again to Simon Peter and Jesus.

If I simply hide or repress my past, I am not free of it. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. “When we see societies losing or suppressing their past, we rightly conclude that they are unfree, diseased, or corrupt” (Williams, Resurrection, 24). So it is with us. The goal is not to live as though failure never happened. We must face our failures.

Jesus doesn’t erase our past. God doesn’t un-make, he re-makes. Our past is not obliterated. Instead, it is from these very patterns of brokenness and failure that the first signs of true humanity arise; we abandon the fantasy in which we simply shed our history and memory and instead accept that we are to be re-made where we are. The start of this new creation may well be a right remembering of the very patterns that have not miraculously disappeared. To remember rightly includes awareness of our failures and that in Christ we are unconditionally accepted and forgiven by God. Unless I own my history as my history, there is no hope that forgiveness will function not only backwards in absolution but also forwards in transformation. To recognise both my poverty and God’s grace is to receive an invitation, a summons, into a richer life of what relations with God and others can and should be.
Series: I; II: III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Welcome to Edinburgh

Having spent the last few weeks in India, it is something of a relief (and a disappointment) to be back in a country in which seat belts, traffic lanes and stop signs are not optional and in which long pants and a collar in stifling heat and humidity are. Not that Scotland has any stifling heat or humidity, and that is the biggest relief of all. Nevertheless, we had a great time in India (thanks to the Toulmins, our wonderful and very educational hosts) and now have a slightly larger appreciation of the enormous diversity and vibrant colour of the world's largest democracy.

We arrived in Edinburgh late on Sunday night, and Jess celebrated her natal anniversary the next day and started her new job two days later. Our newly adopted home town is very beautiful, very walkable and so far, very grey.

However, I don't intend for this blog to be filled with personal updates. For that, you will have to wait for Jessica's new blog, due to be launched in the next few days (d.v.), or become friends with me on Facebook. Regular posting will resume shortly, and as always, there is more to come.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Leaving the country

After months of planning, praying and packing, we're off to sunny, er, weatherful Scotland! We're spending about ten days in India visiting friends on the way and then will be living in Edinburgh for the next three-ish years. Jessica will be working as an operations manager for a Scottish Episcopal (Anglican) church. I will be beginning a PhD at Edinburgh University in the School of Divinity (I am still planning to post my initial proposal at some stage, if only for humour value in three years' time). Our emails will remain the same.

I intend to pick up the blogging a little more regularly once we arrive, including finishing the current series on running from the past. My wife Jessica has also promised to start a (photo) blog once we get there and has even decided to join Facebook - wonders will never cease!

More to come on the far side of India...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Running from the past: Breakfast with Jesus VII

An Easter sermon from John 21: part VII
In the presence of the gracious and risen Jesus, Simon Peter is able to recognise himself as betrayer and to acknowledge the past that he can’t escape. Jesus’ forgiveness takes the form of an invitation, a summons, to re-enter the life of loving service that he had fallen from. Not to just go back as if it never happened, but to learn from that past and grow into the ongoing purposes of God for his future.

“Simon has to recognise himself as betrayer: that is part of the past that makes him who he is. If he is to be called again, if he can again become a true apostle, the ‘Peter’ that he is in the purpose of Jesus rather than the Simon who runs back into the cosy obscurity of ‘ordinary’ life, his failure must be assimilated, lived through again and brought to good and not to destructive issue. [...] Simon is still, in the eyes of God, Peter. What he has to learn is that his betrayal does not make God betray, so that his calling as Peter, as rock of the apostolic faith, is still there, waiting to be lived out.”

- Rowan Williams, Resurrection, 28-29.

Jesus won’t let him return to the anaesthetised pain of being a failed apostle; instead, he calls him to move forward, to say “yes, I failed, but in God’s creative grace, that very failure can become something the start of something beautiful and worthwhile.”
“Peter’s fellowship with the Lord is not over, not ruined, it still exists and is alive because Jesus invites him to explore it further. […] To know that Jesus still invites is to know that he accepts, forgives, bears and absorbs the hurt done.”

- Rowan Williams, Resurrection, 30.

Peter’s personal story of initial hope and promise, followed by betrayal and emptiness, is to have a further chapter: a new and deeper calling as forgiven apostle; as a rock that has been broken and re-made. He is now able to be not simply Simon the failure nor Peter the unshakable apostle, but Simon Peter, the preacher of our second reading in Acts, the preacher of a forgiveness and divine love that takes us where we are and uses us and all of our history, if we will only bring it all before the loving scrutiny of Jesus. He will still make mistakes, even serious ones (you can read about one of them in Galatians 2), but the risen Jesus makes it possible for us to face failure.
Series: I; II: III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX.