Savannah Pauses at the Tomb

Savannah at the Tomb

This past week we went to York for a few days as we won’t be near enough to visit the city in the near future with our move down to Kent. As we usually do when we go to York, we made a stop at the beautiful Minister Church. As we are still in the Easter season, the church still had it’s large Easter Garden display with the crosses and the tomb.

The Easter story really fascinated Savannah, just as much as the Christmas story did. Though there being no plays we have not had to put on Easter plays as much. She has also asked some fascinating questions, like why do the pictures of Jesus always have him leaning forward; or why are the clothes still in the tomb? And usually when she sees vinegar she will tell us that the soldiers gave it to Jesus to drink but he didn’t like it.

So she was quite excited to see the large tomb, if a little surprised at first. She named all the parts and we took her photo with it. Then April and I walked away, expecting her to follow. I turned around and I saw the scene in the photo above (which, I couldn’t resist taking and I was far enough away that I did not disturb her). I called April to turn around. Savannah was sitting in front of it quietly, taking it all in. Maybe she was just waiting for us to finally leave her alone so she could have a moment.

It was also a beautiful reminder that York Minster was not a tourist site, but a place of prayer.

Laughing at the Rapture Crazies

Religious fanatics are everywhere. They have their beliefs and most are dealt with by simply laughing them off. Sometimes, if you don’t laugh at what is out there, you might cry. Every so often, it can be downright harmful and giving it more exposure only worsens the problem. I think of this past year’s saga with the pastor in Florida who wanted to burn books.

Then there seems to be the odd movements that get attention and I don’t know why. Take for instance Harold Camping, who believes that the rapture will happen on Saturday 21 May 2011. At 6PM. In each time zone. I don’t remember hearing a quite-so-specific time set for the rapture before, but certainly this is nothing new. Plenty of people have promised to tell us when it was going to happen. I wonder why this has got the press it has. There is now a site called Rapture Fail that will catalogue the failures of the rapture in each time zone. Twitter and Facebook have been buzzing about it. And of course, lots of jokes made. I won’t deny that I have engaged in a few myself. As I said, sometimes if you don’t laugh you will cry.

Then my blogging friend Wyman Richardson made me to stop to think with his latest blog post, ‘An Open Letter to the Followers of Harold Camping’. The paragraph that stood out most to me was:

I believe that you are sincere people.  I believe that many of you sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus and I believe that many of you sincerely trust in the scriptures.  Unfortunately, in embracing the prophecies of Harold Camping, you have sincerely believed in a false prophecy and a false prophet.

Of course we should expose bad teaching and theology where it is (therefore, I am not criticising those who are behind Rapture Fail or any other attempt to discredit Camping’s teaching). But, where does exposure/correction leave off and full-blown ridicule of the people begin? In his post, Wyman shows his concern for the deluded people who have chosen to believe the ramblings of a deluded man – a man who very well believes he is following Jesus. These are people loved by God and whose heart breaks over this. What will happen to those people on 22 May? Perhaps we should be in prayer for them, even before the laughter dies down.

As a post script, I am speaking about Camping’s belief that he has correctly identified the date for the return of Jesus, who told us himself that no one knows the hour or day when he will return. While I do not hold to a view of the rapture and I think it bad theology, I am not calling those who hold such a view deluded. But for an excellent summary of the problems with Rapture Theology, I point to my blogging friend Craig Adams’s website.

Bin Laden and the Narrative of Scripture

Not long after President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, Twitter lit up. As you would expect, Christians have played their part, too. One particular way Christians tweeted was using Bible verses to proclaim their feelings on the matter. Christianity Today, the American Evangelical magazine, posted an article on their website that listed data from OpenBible.info that told us what were the most tweeted Bible verses 12 hours after President Obama announced bin Laden’s death.

I admit that I was glad to see that the number one verse was Proverbs 24:17, ‘Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice’ (NIV). Of course there were other verses, too – ones that seem to be quite fine with the rejoicing that the enemy had indeed fallen, but 3 of the top 5 indicated that the death was not a celebration. Still, what does quoting one verse do?

Quoting Bible verses in my environment growing up was nearly a language all its own. It’s how you answered questions when people challenged what you thought and it was what you quoted to prove your case. Usually the surrounding context mattered little. It was easy that way. You could find your preferred texts and use them as an axe to cut down any argument that someone tried to make. They were little clues that formed a picture of your own making.

Since that time, I have learned that quoting verses does not always help, and if we read carefully in the New Testament, we see that Jesus and Paul nuanced how they used scripture. For Jesus, I can point to the gospels where he would begin by saying ‘you have heard it said’ before quoting some part of the Old Testament and then deepening its meaning. Paul could have used any number of scriptures that said eating food sacrificed to idols was wrong, but he takes a very long time to get there and in the end doesn’t exclude it all together! In both cases, Paul and Jesus wanted us to hear more than just what a single verse of scripture might say.

While I am not opposed to quoting scripture, and as a general practice I wish I knew more than I did so I could quote them, I think we also have to look at the full story of where scripture is going. It’s a little more difficult this way, and sometimes I have to give up my preferred verses. It also takes discussion and listening, as unlike quoting a verse it isn’t easily doled out in bite-sized portions. The overarching story of scripture has at it centre what Jesus did for a world that was opposed to him. He came to bring forgiveness, and did it amidst people who were cheering and celebrating his death. He even reached out to a terrorist and converted him so that he could take the gospel to the gentiles.

So, I do understand there are verses that would say it’s perfectly OK to gloat and brag that bin Laden is dead. But, there are other verses that say the opposite. I think we have to go to the overarching story for where the weight lies for those verses. If our central story is that of Jesus and his sacrifice, then I don’t see how we can celebrate the death of another.

Hymn of the Day – Palm Sunday

I don’t wish to steal Richard Hall’s thunder as he is the usual one for posting Charles Wesley hymns for his ‘Hymn of the Day’, but I spent about 15 minutes looking for a Wesley hymn that I couldn’t find and was using for worship this morning.

This hymn is the appointed one for today (Palm Sunday) in Paul Wesley Chilcote’s The Song Forever New: Lent and Easter Meditations on Charles Wesley’s Hymns. He suggests using the tune ‘Ratisbon’ (the normal tune, for him at least, for ‘Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies’). This morning I used ‘Heathlands’, the tune we use over here for the same hymn. I hope you enjoy it!

O my all redeeming Lord,
all thy kindness I record,
me thy kindness hath allured,
called, and drawn me from above,
sweetly am I thus assured,
of thy everlasting love.

But is now thy grace less free
for all sinners, than for me?
Lord, I have not learned thee so:
Good to everyone thou art,
free as air thy mercies flow;
so I feel it in my heart.

Every soul may your grace find
for you love all humankind,
all have once thy drawings proved,
every soul may say with me,
me, the friend of sinners loved,
loved from all eternity.

Sinner, how he yearned to be
joined by grace to you and me!
He was willing, we were not,
would not sleep beneath his wings:
grace to all salvation brought,
grace to all, salvation brings.

Now, yes, even now we may
grace receive in this our day,
all may hear th’effectual call,
he would all the world receive,
Lo! He spreads his arms for all,
all may come to him and live.

Shout ‘Hosanna’ to the Son,
Child of David, on his throne!
On his throne of love, and grace,
grace, which all with us may prove,
love to all the fallen race,
sovereign, everlasting love!

God Answers a Prayer (Jess the Cat Comes Home)

Last night April and I were coming to terms with the loss of our 18 month old cat, Jess. He had been missing since lunchtime the day before (Sunday) and while we know that isn’t a terribly long time for a cat, we had a feeling this was the last we had seen of him. We started talking about how we could tell Savannah this. She got Jess as a birthday present the year before and though she hadn’t quite connected with him (or perhaps it was the other way around!), he was a part of her life. She talked about him and prayed for him every night in her prayers.

So after April and I talked, all I could think to do was to tweet a prayer. I wrote, ‘Tonight I pray for our cat Jess, wherever he is. He’s been missing since yesterday. We pray he can come back to us.’ It was finally an admission on my part that he was gone and I missed him. The latter something I hadn’t realised. So I broke down and sobbed over this little cat that I thought I would never see again.

A few minutes later the phone rang. Seriously, it could not have been 20 minutes. My next door neighbours (and members of my church at Wilpshire) were on the phone. ‘Are you missing your pussy cat? He’s upstairs under our bed.’ It was such a moment of joy that I could hardly believe it! I grabbed Jess’s food and headed next door for what had to be the strangest pastoral call I ever had. By the time I got there, Jess had raced up to the attic, but hearing my voice and rattling his food bowl he came to me. I scooped him up and hugged him. As cats always are, he was vastly underwhelmed by the occasion and oblivious to the trouble he caused us.

So I have to wonder, did God answer my prayer? There is a sensible side of me that wants to say, why with all else going on in the world would God choose to bring our cat safely back home? I can’t help but think of all the ‘more important’ prayers that go unanswered, especially as images of horror flicker on the TV. But also, I often keep God at a distance – remotely uncaring about my concerns while God goes on to take care of the rest of the real problems.

I have a hard time thinking through God answering a prayer for me. I’m not someone who easily accepts the idea of God’s love for me (yes, I know – odd for a minister). Even more so in what can be a very isolating job as a minister. So today, I have been attempting to ‘try on’* the idea that God reached across the veil with this silly little cat to let me know God loves me. It is a small token to remind me that God still loves me, even amidst all else that is going on in the world.

*I am indebted to my friend Jen Harner for this image. When April and I were thinking through our decision to stay in the UK or go back to the United States, she suggested that we ‘try it on for a day’. Think through everything as if we were going to stay in the UK and then another day as if we were going back to the US to see what it feels like.

Supervision or Pastoral Care?

Angela Shier-Jones has a great post on the difference between supervision and pastoral care. Part of what she says scares me because I had no idea that the church was moving in this direction – perhaps I have missed something in the connectional mailers. Anyway, she writes:

As a line manager and the person designated to conduct the annual supervision, the Superintendent ceases to be a colleague, a fellow minister, the ‘first among equals’ described in the ‘What is a superintendent’ report. Instead the Superintendent becomes the boss, the record keeper of a minister’s attempts to measure up to some unwritten ‘measurable outcomes’ of ministry – and the (potentially unqualified) judge of their performance. So who will pastor to the pastors – because supervision is NOT pastoral care. There is nothing ‘pastoral’ in supervision, nothing ‘gracious’ or deliberately of you God – supervision is a performance indicator – nothing more and nothing less. And I doubt that it will be too long before annual supervision reports are held in the new personnel files for ministers.

In none of this does she think that pastors are perfect people and acknowledges the growing number of discipline problems, but at the same time wonders why we don’t move to get at the root cause of it – likely handled better than making a superintendent a supervisor.

Her article made me reflect on my unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) that I took part in 7 years ago. We had a chaplain named as supervisor, but she certainly didn’t supervise as Shier-Jones defines it. My chaplain supervisor lead as Shier-Jones defines pastoral care. My chaplain supervisor encouraged and challenged me, all in honesty with what she saw in me. There were no results to measure against! As a result, I grew in the process, though it wasn’t easy. That there are no measurable targets does not mean that it was fluffy and easy. On the contrary, there were times when it was excruciatingly difficult. But the supervisor, the other intern chaplains, and I worked hard at it.