Friday, 30 July 2010

Limited Creativity

Looking back on the last few month's blogging, I find something interesting. Which is that when I wasn't posting any Eileen blogs, I posted quite a lot here. But when I started posting Eileen again, I stopped here. And then when Drayton starting taking over, Eileen became harder.
So I am working out Gary's Rule of Blogging, which states that I can only maintain enough creativity for work, my ministry and one blog at a time. Any more and my head starts spinning.

So nothing original here, I'm afraid. My creativity has gone elsewhere. Again.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Independent Fundamentalist Baptists

Now here's a thing.

I've started a new blog, in case you hadn't noticed. It's called "My Gospel, Right or Wrong" and it's the further adventures of Drayton Parslow. Drayton, in case you don't remember, don't care or never knew in the first place, was second only to Hnaef as deputy to Archdruid Eileen. For reasons entirely unconnected to her paranoia, Eileen was convinced that Drayton was constantly plotting against her, and as a result Drayton suffered from a lot of casual violence.  With Eileen safely packed away in 19th century Wessex, I suddenly realised I had a hole in my life by not writing funny stuff about modern church life. Eileen's interest in making money was matched only by her contempt for the people to whom she ministered, so I thought it might be amusing to have a dedicated, totally committed church leader whose poor people skills and utter doctrinal certainty made him a disaster. Drayton was the obvious candidate, so he was moved to the Leicestershire village of Frisby-on-Soar*  and made a pastor.
But even in the Beaker world, where chapels are swallowed by black holes and choirs are floated out of the manor by filling their robes with helium, I couldn't just make Drayton an archdeacon, or even a curate or a Methodist presbyter. We have to go through years of selection and panels and training to do that. So I needed a congregation that would value dedication over academic qualification, and might even scorn Theological courses and schools. So I went for a congregationalist type of church. And since most child-baptising  Congregationalist churches are now URC, and insist on training their ministers, I made it a baptist church. So Frisby Independent Baptist Church was formed. And Drayton's first musings arrived on the Interweb on  Monday 5 July.
Note the date. Because on 4 July, Clayboy posted on an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church that was opening in his neck of the woods. And you will notice that I commented  - on the 6th, because I don't read every blog every day - on the coincidence.
Now, I'd never heard of Independent Fundamental(ist) Baptist churches. And the co-incidence that I'd just invented the FIB as opposed to the IFB was lost on me. But this was still only the second day of my new blog, the time when you go around adding blog rolls. And my tradition on "fantasy" blogs is to link to blogs that are "interesting" in the wider sense of the word, rather than only blogs I agree with. So I did some googling, and found Stuff Fundies Like, which appeared to be an amusing take on the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches of the US. Seemed interesting, and that fits the criteria, so I linked.
Presumably I sent some traffic there, as the owner noticed and very kindly linked back to me. Simon Robinson pointed this out to me, and that prompted me to look at the stats. To find that I had (as of now, nearly three days after the post) hundreds of visits, nearly all from that one site. Including one person who seems to be totally devoid of irony [skip the text if you like - just head down to the comment from Mr Curry].
Now, I can see a lot of pain from the visitors - people who've been hurt by a movement of which I knew, until Thursday evening, next to nothing. We in England may laugh at American fundamentalists, but we normally laugh at the snake-oil salesmen and televangelists and snake-handlers - we don't think of them as having groupings and alignments and real victims. We hear about their financial and sex scandals, but we don't categorise them.
Now, Drayton is a monster and a pastoral disaster. But he's not these things because he's an Independent Baptist. He's these things because he's an idiot and totally devoid in irony and self-awareness. That is all. But I guess if nothing else, the response I've had to Drayton is proof that idiocy and religious incompetence are widespread human phenomena.  I personally regard fundamentalism as a fear-response to uncertainty, and so I can see why something so utterly illogical and unscientific - and unbiblical, in my opinion - still attracts even in these twenty-first century days - or maybe even more so.  The world is hard and complicated, faith is always something that is founded on things we don't see, and don't even understand. How much easier to read your faith off a play-sheet, and read the entire Bible as if "God's Truth" were a single genre.

*Named in honour of the real villages of Frisby-by-Gaulby and Frisby-on-the-Wreake. Frisby's just such a great placename!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The decline and fall of Christian Blogging...

Church Mouse regrets the decline in Christian Blogging. Kindly, but kind-of-incorrectly, he cites the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley as joining David Keen's blog in going into oblivion. But 'tis not true, of course. Not only has Eileen re-emerged in 19th century Wessex, it would appear that Drayton Parslow is getting busy as well.

Of course, in David Keen's case it's a great shame for many of us. But hopefully not for the good Revd David himself, who has brightened and illuminated my days on many occasions, and realised the Beaker Folk were meant to be funny while members of a certain theological college were still praying for Eileen's soul.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Twitter and Trinity

I'm a self-supporting minister. I spend 40-odd hours at work each week, and some more driving there and back. I have a young family I must spend time with.  I therefore spend very little time networking with other clergy, So it has occasionally been suggested that I may feel slightly isolated in my ministry and development.

And it's true that, so far, I have made precisely half of one CME training session in the last two years. And I missed the new bishop's visit to the deanery chapter meeting. Partly because it was held at lunchtime on a workday, and partly because I seem to be sufficiently invisible that nobody knows who I am, or at least the person who does the inviting doesn't know I exist. So maybe viewed from a local anglican clergyperson's outlook I'm a little isolated. Although I have regular meetings with my Incumbent and of course share in worship and the life of the parish and carry out whatever parochial duties are compatible with one evening a week.

But the odd thing is that I don't feel isolated at all. Part of this may be to do with my own nature, which is quite self-sufficient. But one other reason for this I've got to put down to Social Networking. Because in fact I've got literally dozens of clergy - and other Christians - and Unitarians, oddly, but whom I'm grateful for - and non-Christians with whom I keep in regular touch, who I can bounce things off and discuss with - in different ways and in appropriate ways.

Now it's important to bear in mind one thing - which is that if I'm interested in really serious personal matters that I need to sort out, I talk to my wife and/or friends, and in real life not on Facebook or IM. Regardless of whether the friend is also on some social media or another. Because as well as being a fairly self-contained person I'm aware of the dangers out there of snoopers and what have you and I don't want the deeper details of life leaking out anywhere.

But for the normal, whirl-of-life, who's burying someone, who's confirming people, who's struggling with a sermon, who's angry about the treatment of women or animals or asylum seekers , who's got a big service coming up or an archdeacon's visitation - I'm really glad to see all that going on. And I'm always happy to share a fairly flippant remark to (try to) help someone else's struggle for truth. When people tell me that Twitter's just a load of people informing us that they're sitting on the bus or whatever - well, yes, some of it's that. But then that's part of life as well.

So I'm grateful for Twitter and Blogger and Facebook, which although they overlap do very different things. I'll be honest, if all my friends were on Twitter I'd never use Facebook again, as I'm not interested in how they're doing in Bejewelled Blitz, or how many kittens they've saved in the "Blazing Kitten Farm" game or how their cow is doing in Cowville. Just want to know that they're well, or know if they're not, and what they've got coming up next.
Because it's the communication that seems to matter to me, not the silly games*. And in the end for most of us that's what matters. And I think that's because we're made in the Image of God.

Not that Image of God.

 More like this Image of God**. An image of God where God is there in Threeness.

That Threeness is really important.
Just God and Adam*** didn't really work. Adam on his own was incomplete - even with the glories of the eternal and incomparable God before him. Adam needed someone else. And God found the answer for him. Obviously, first he tried all the animals of the field. But it turned out Adam wasn't some primaeval cat-person prototype. It might have been a nice idea, that he could have lived in his hut or wherever Adam was living, surrounded by dogs and anteaters and badgers and all the other friendly folk o' the forest, but they weren't good enough. Adam needed his own kind. A human being.

"But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman',
for she was taken out of man."

Adam needs someone to love. He needs someone to talk to. He needs to share things - his thoughts and his dreams and the fact that after working in the fields clearing all those weeds that just sprung up, he's now suffering from a nasty case of nettle rash.

And Adam and Eve can't stop there. Next thing you know there's Cain, and Abel and after the first human relationship breakdown (after all, Adam and Eve can't really argue about his mother's influence over him and how she's never really let him grow up, can they) when Abel's dead and Cain's run away they know the grief of broken relationship and then Seth comes along, and Seth and Cain go off and find wives in circumstances that are never adequately explored. And the web of human relationships goes on and spreads out. And through love, and sex, and marriage - and through talking, and sharing, and dreaming - the web of humanity brings itself together again and again and again. If you drew out the chart of human relationship, it wouldn't be an ever-expanding tree like an evolutionary diagram. It would be a web - constantly re-connecting its independent threads, unable to hold unless each thread touches many other threads, which in their turn touch many others. Holding the human race -  lover and loved, child and parent, friend and friend - together from the first day to the last.

We are empty without human contact. Even with a wonderful relationship with God we cry out for a companion, a help-meet, an ally, an associate, a loved one, a child. Because we're made in the Image of God. The God who doesn't come in a self-contained, perfectly packaged, hermetically sealed One. Who isn't self-sufficient as One on His Own. Who in his own nature comes as an open, loving, relational Three. Where Father loves Son and Son loves Father, and the love of Father and Son is Godself as Spirit - a love that's not even locked between Two, but shared out to Three and then out to the many beyond the Godhead.

We increasingly live in self-sufficient boxes. Our houses are, increasingly, detached. We live further from the shops than we used to, so we travel in sealed boxes to get there. The other people that we meet on the route are also in sealed boxes. So we assume they're not so human, and can be abused for their stupidity and lack of knowledge of the rules of the road. Sometimes the most real people we can meet are those projected to us through Big Brother, or the tabloid newspapers or - the Lord preserve us - celebrity magazines. 2-dimensional people - if you're lucky - that we relate with one-way.

But we cry out for the relationships we can share. We were told that we'd all increasingly become couch potatos, absorbing whatever content the all-powerful, all-knowing Companies provided to us. But the minute we had it, we grabbed the Net and starting pushing content the other way. People started sharing their lives on YouTube, through Blogs, through Facebook. OK, some of their lives aren't very interesting to us. Facebook pictures of people standing in pubs are less interesting than being in the pubs with friends ourselves. But they're a sign of the Image of God in us - sharing, reaching out, making relationships. Re-forming the web of humanity. We want to share in other people's lives - and then share again. To #followfriday a new contact that we know is really interesting and pass it on. To chip our own comments onto someone else's theological or social musings - to share our insights, or move the debate on, or just to affirm that when someone's communicating it's a good thing to communicate back.

I'm not decrying the dangers of the Web - the security ones, and just the crying, obvious danger of wasting God's valuable time. Or the sense of neediness that can drive people publishing their thoughts to the world.

But in the end, for me, the Web used like this is about being ourselves, breaking the barriers of distance and age and class and education, sharing good news and bad, and just being ourselves - open, sharing, relational creatures.  Made in the Image of God.

Just to express my inner geek, I've created this rather lovely Venn diagram to explain my social media and in-the-flesh relationships. At least one of these overlaps is actually empty - there's nobody I've never met, who's a Facebook Friend and I follow on Twitter, who's not clergy. In fact I only have one Facebook Friend I've never met, and since he's fairly well identifiable as a real vicar (and I know where he lives) I'm happy to stick with just that one.

* Apart from "Who's Got the Biggest Brain", but I've even stopped playing that now.
**The St Albans Holborn website explains what's going on in "The Trinity in Glory" - I can only tell you that you really need to go there to grasp the scale of this marvellous picture
*** Just in case anyone thinks I'm a believer in a literal Adam and literal Eve in a literal Garden of Eve - I'm not. But as is so often the case, the power and truth in the story is far beyond a little tale about a bloke and a woman and a talking snake with legs.