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I have just finished a five-lecture series at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio in the Philippines, with the title “God as Mother?”. The experience has been great fun, with friendly interested and interesting staff, and students who engaged well with the ideas and were not afraid to question.

Even if I had had no clue before  I would have realised that the topic was challenging when before the first lecture every single person I spoke to said that the “topic is interesting”. As we all know “interesting” very often means “weird, off the wall, strange…” 

In my first lecture I set out to underline that God is beyond gender. This is one of those truths that every theologically literate person affirms, but which many fail to actually state in their teaching, so that in churches and classrooms people do not understand/believe it. Some Conservative teaching about gender roles in church and home also seems to deny it.1 I am glad I did because APTS students who come from many different countries in the Asia – Pacific region have a wide range of prior education, and some needed time to process even this claim. 

The extent of this reticence to accept a core Christian idea, which matches my informal surveys in NZ churches and among Carey students suggests that we have a BIG education job to undertake. Because I do not think APTS students are any “worse” in this respect than Christians in other parts of the world. Indeed by their openness and willingness to think they demonstrate why they have been selected for higher level study. 

What is your experience? Do theology students and people in churches generally really understand that God is beyond gender, or do most/many actually assume God is in some sense male or at least masculine?2

  1. Of course, writers like Wayne Grudem do not deny this basic truth of Christian doctrine, but many who read them draw their own conclusions. It must be difficult to hold “Complementarian” views, especially those that forbid women from teaching and preaching, and at the same time admit that God is NOT male. []
  2. NB here I do not mean “masculine” as a gramattical gender but as something nearer biology, like this dictionary definition: “having qualities … traditionally associated with men”. []

Tenth Blogiversary

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It is a strange thing, and one I never expected to experience (see the archive of my first post) to be celebrating ten years of blogging. Actually I won’t be celebrating today, as I will be flying to the Philippines via Thailand “on the day”, so this post is “prepared earlier” and scheduled thanks to the wonders of WordPress.

As I noted recently, I have not been posting much for quite some time. Is this a weariness with blogging? Does it represent some loss of faith in the medium?

Well, as so often, in part “yes” and in part “no”. I have been very busy with journal articles and book chapters, as well as learning to rear pigs and make ham and bacon. But this busyness alone would probably not account for my silence if blogging retained it’s early excitement. It is not that readership has dropped, it hasn’t. It is not that Google loves blogs less, if anything Google’s infatuation with blogs seems to have increased with the growing maturity of the medium. It is the lack of interaction that silences me.

I do not blog because WordPress is an easy way to make a website, I used to make quite complex websites well before blogging platforms were invented. I blog because the medium encourages interaction between authors and readers. And, in it’s heyday blogging did that with flair, enthusiasm and sometimes flaming excitement. Sadly no longer, most of us post away, and the punters read what we write, but they do not comment… And so for me much of the fun has been taken from this medium. In a sense that’s what my experiments with various formats for Reading the Bible Faithfully is seeking to restore… I wonder if the course format will encourage readers to become (once again) conversation partners?

Time will tell… but if nothing does restore the conversation, I suspect ten years will be about the length of my blogging career…

I have not been posting (here or podcasting at 5minuteBible) much for a while. Several academic publications with due dates late in 2013 and then the Christmas/summer holidays are to blame… plus a new project and a lecture series…

The new project: Reading the Bible Faithfully 

Reading the Bible Faithfully will begin as a series of articles in the NZ Baptist for the next eleven months, alongside these there is a website (also called Reading the Bible Faithfully) that will reproduce the articles and offer more resources, videos, links, discussion… 

The idea is to build up the core of a simple course for people who want more than the simplistic and narrow-minded Bible reading that many Fundamentalists offer, but who also do not want to give up on Scripture, but rather discover how to read “faithfully”. The first session will explain what I mean by that claim.

So if you know someone who might be interested please point them to the site.

 The 22nd Annual William Menzies Lectureship: God as Mother?

I have been invited to give the 22nd Annual William Menzies Lectures, and my title is: God as Mother? The lectures start in ten days or so in Baguio in the Philippines, and I am busy preparing.

Hopefully, normal service will be resumed shortly ;)

Paul Windsor had a fine post a few days ago, on living alongside the poor which should be required reading for anyone who will be living, moving or having their being where others are poor. This means all of us, unless we hermetically seal ourselves away and shut off the Internet.

Then this morning I read Richard Beck’s Widows and Orphans: On Evolution, Election and Love. Two posts that each gain depth from being read together :) If you have read one but not the other, please do read it now. If you have read neither, you have a double treat in store and plenty of thinking to do!

Paul is a Kiwi Evangelical living in India, who grew up as a MK in India, and trying to negotiate how to live, move and have his being in a place where the poor (often the extremely poor) are always with him. Richard is a psychologist who thinks deeply and creatively about Christian faith and life. Both will teach you much, and both will make you think and pray.

Launching two books

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Twin colloquia in 2011, held only days apart, gave birth to twin books, only weeks apart in 2013. My task at the launch last night was to bridge between the two. The model of a small, sociable gathering of scholars at various stages of their careers around a focused topic which leads (after a period of editing and polishing) to the publication of a book has been very productive for Laidlaw and Carey with several such works appearing over the last few years.

Spiritual Complaint

We live in a society that has chosen only to see what is desirable. The sick and disabled are hidden away from public sight in hospitals. Poverty, famine and epidemic are kept at bay and viewed through glass on screens of our choosing or through the windows of the vehicles in which we travel. Lament is privatised, locked away behind closed doors, or in hearts that are carefully cloistered from the view of others. Except on rare occasions when lament briefly invades the public sphere and the pain or loss are experienced (perhaps vicariously) by many in the public tragedies that Elizabeth Boase, Steve Taylor and Stephen Garner explored in the book Spiritual Complaint. Several contributors to this volume considered what has been called the “loss of lament”. For this privatising of lament happens even in church, and it is a loss.

In a similar way our society, that worships success and consumption, cannot deal well with lament’s sibling, complaint. To complain is seen as enmity. In church, ideologies which reduce the maker of heaven and earth to a convenient charm pulled out and stroked when help is needed, like a superior sort of rabbit’s foot, and theologies which urge us to “name it and claim it”, while “marching into the land”, reduce the Mysterium Tremendum to a glorified 24/7 Santa Claus. Yet other, more “liberal”, theologies reduce God to an impotent watcher. Each of these, in their own way, reject complaint – the godlings that we invent must be praised, and their pride might be hurt by complaint.

So, in our world, and in our churches, lament and complaint are hidden away or stifled. What this means is that we have no room also for confession in either of its guises. For if we cannot lament the wrong, and complain – appealing for redress – then neither can we acknowledge (confess) our part in ruining the world. If we cannot bring, before its creator, the pain and suffering endured by creatures, nor complain at the sovereign’s inactivity, how can we truly acknowledge (confess) God’s nature and power?

So the first colloquium was titled Spiritual Complaint. For the movement from recognising wrongness (lament), to demanding that something be done (complaint), till – at the end – we can also acknowledge our part in the wrong, and celebrate the God who is beyond the wrongness (confession), is deeply and fundamentally spiritual.

 

Isaiah and Imperial Context

The second book Isaiah and Imperial Context has a tighter academic focus. Unlike the first it did not blend biblical scholars, pastors, liturgists and practical theologians but gathered only scholars working on the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

This book also however seeks to open a window on the sad and suffering world we inhabit. As we learn to recognise and perhaps heal the wounds of past empires, we are also learning to recognise, and must seek to heal, the wounds caused by present-day imperialism. If those glass panels keep lament safely at bay, they also give us a view of the otherwise distant bombs, drones and rioting crowds that are the signs of empire.

 

The book of Isaiah with its so distinct and different imperial contexts, as the book Isaiah and Imperial Context seeks to reveal, offers resources for life and spirituality in a post-colonial and yet at the same time newly imperial world.

Bright Sparks

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Honesty compels me to admit that there are times when exactly the wrong person at exactly the wrong time with exactly the wrong motives has nevertheless said exactly the right thing.

Tom Marshall, Understanding Leadership, 1991, p97 (HT: ξἐνος)
 
Of course, the reverse is also true: There are times when exactly the right person, at exactly the right time, with exactly the right motives, has said exactly the wrong thing. And this version seems to fit my experience better.
 
“Humankind, bright sparks since BC” (cf. Job 5:7)

The series is not finished yet, so I can recommend it without grinding any axes, but for any Christian wanting to work out more clearly where they stand on any or all of the moral and theological issues surrounding LGBT people and activities this series of posts1 by Preston Sprinkle offers an excellent resource. The writing is sympathetic, gentle and leavened with a touch of humour. His conclusions may not be mine2 but I am enjoying3 the journey and appreciate the tone of the series so far.

  1. Thinking towards a book :) []
  2. Who knows? Neither of us seem to have completely made up our minds yet! []
  3. If that, as they say, is the right word. []

The news from Egypt (indeed all the “Middle East”) over recent months has varied between being silence (most of the time) and shock-horror (when some new tragedy/atrocity manages to break through Western media’s apathy about the rest of the world. 

Vinoth Ramachandra again does us all a service by posting material written by one of his Egyptian contacts he titles it The Other Egypt. It begins:

When more than 85 Churches and institutions were viciously attacked and burned (a profound blow of disgrace and humiliation in this culture of ‘honour’), the non-retaliation of Christians was both unexpected and unprecedented.

If you haven’t heard about this please read his post! In fact do yourself a favour subscribe to his blog, or visit it regularly. It is constantly sensible and provocative a difficult balance given the topics he covers.

Photo from wonderlane

I am, as those who know me face to face will be aware, somewhat more than somewhat introverted. I have posted here before about how my (Western) culture is extroverted and favours extroversion. Introverted behaviour is seldom given equal oportuntity or space.

The other week I could not avoid thinking about that as we sang in church (yes, we go to an old fashioned church were the music from the worship leaders is quiet enough that usually the congregation actually participate by more than shuffling along) that today’s worship songs present God as a male extrovert. In our songs God is forever “marching into the land” at the head of his troops, always “answering” and solving our problems.

Then I came across a “humorous” post on Facebook of “male rules”, here are a selection:

  • Men ARE NOT mind readers.
  • Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work! Strong hints do not work! Obvious hints do not work! Just say it!
  • Come to us with a problem only If you want help solving it. That’s what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.
  • Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.
    –don’t worry we will find it eventually.

It struck me that these sound a lot like the LORD described in the songs in church today. In prayer we have to tell him what we want, the last thing we say is “your will be done”. We don’t expect this LORD to merely be with us, or sympathise when we hurt, we expect a solution!

By contrast even a quick look at the old, tatty at the corners Baptist Hymn Book we used to use (a lifetime ago), and its collection of worship songs across the ages (basically 2nd to 20th centuries). Seem often content to spend time “waiting on God”, who presumably was not being pictured as an extrovert with an instant answer. In fact solutions were not always expected, but comfort was!

Perhaps, the God of the old hymns, the one the modern world has squeezed out and grown impatient with, seems more of an introvert, and more feminine than the LORD of the “contemporary” songs.

I think the less extrovert, less aggressively masculine, God of the hymns is both closer to the one whose story I read in Scripture, and more real, than the instant fix, loud, God I meet so exclusively1 in today’s songs and prayers…

What do you think?

 

  1. NB I am not here, or anywhere intentionally, arguing for replacing the male extrovert God with a female or introverted one, just for God to be allowed to be, and to be recognised as being a more balanced character! []

The Flannagan blog, M&M, can be really annoying or hugely stimulating, it is seldom boring. But the new post There probably are no duties. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life! really is something special. Matt neatly turns all the standard old chestnut Atheist arguments around to attack “moral duties” like the duty not to rape or murder. The post is a hoot and well worth a read, you’ll be chuckling or laughing all through.

Comments are open, but so far no atheist has risen to the challenge. If any brave non-believer is reading this do please provide a response! A one sided argument is less fun :)