Confessing the faith…

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“We acknowledge the God of Abraham, the Lord of Isaiah, the Father of Jesus, the one God.

Having such a Lord. we cannot accept the sovereignty of any lords in this world who (in the name of their worldly lordship) would cause us to despise and destroy the brown skinned, the poor, or the least of these human brothers.

Rather, we acknowledge that we serve a Lord in whose eyes all lives are precious, who teaches us not to be lords but servants of all, who calls us to be ministers of life, not agents of death…’

This comes from a statement drafted by McClendon and endorsed by the Faculty of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in 1972.

It is an example of ‘first-order theology’ and is included in this book of ‘prophetic’ sermons with which I am about to keep company for a few weeks. I have to review it but thought a ‘sermon a day’ ….

Democracy as a process rather than a point…

This mornings BBC news referred to yesterday’s decision by the Westminster parliament to allow the British government to formally begin the so called “Brexit” procedure. The news spoke of a historic moment and the “point of no return”.

The “point of no return”. What an interesting if misleading phrase. Perhaps reflecting a wrong sense of self importance by MP’s…

for democracy is a process not a point…

Since the European Referendum the world has spun, rivers flowed, time ticked, people died and people have been born…the world, Europe, the UK today is not the same as on that day or even yesterday.

The referendum and yesterdays vote did not just happen…appear…it was the culmination of years of debate, discussion, campaigning, arguing by those opposed to the status quo. They did not like the way things were and sought to change it…this is right….

for democracy is a process not a point…

During the referendum the various discussions were brought to a head in what was not been a high point in truthfulness, integrity, and political leadership. Those who argued to leave on that day won the argument. Yes democracy has its points as many years before there had been a point in 1975 when a referendum indicated that the people of Britain had voted to remain within the then EC (Common Market). It was a point…but clearly not a point of no return ….

for democracy is a process not a point…

Get over the decision, get on with it, accept the decision, these are what those who oppose the decision are told …me included… to challenge is to be called a democracy “denier”.

Actually…with a very repressed “liberal voice” (whatever on earth that is meant to mean) let me say NO.

Democracy is process not a point, the world is spinning, debates are taking place, values are at stake, the past is made but the future is yet to be determined…I will not be told that I simply have to accept things, the dominant worldview, the person with the loudest voice if I consider these to be opposed to my own values and convictions. If people do not like that, I guess I should use the emboldened language of “get over it” and appear tough and strong, but I do not feel such a need…for the world spins…

and democracy is a process and not a point…

 

 

Baptist Social Teaching: Participatory Politics

hands-jpeg-tinyA starting point for Baptist Social Teaching can be the “polis” of the Church meeting. At its best – no – at it its least it should be participatory. In so far as this participation is based upon some theological convictions about the inter-relationship of the individual and the community under God it offers a model of civic engagement that belies the abdication of responsibility in a representative democracy.

‘The person becomes fully human, and fully free, only when actively engaged in ruling and being ruled in turns. Political activity, and the “positive freedom” which such participation is said to bring, become necessary constituents of a fully human existence. There is a qualitative difference – a moral difference perhaps – between the liberal understanding of politics as activity necessary simply to leave the individual free for his or her private concerns, and the ideal of participatory communal polity: “the lively sense of oneself as a participant in a free state, concerned for the common good”‘. Meilaender reflecting on Aristotle. (Friendship: A Study in Theological Ethics, 1981, pp. 70-71)

To present a view on which people vote or to vote for a position and then to take no responsibility for its impact for the common good is poor democracy. It is neither the democracy we should support nor should it reflect the nature of our own participation.

Official and Operant Baptist Human Rights

hr-day-graphicLast year as every year the Baptist World Alliance encouraged Baptist Churches throughout the world to observe a Human Rights Sunday. This is the Sunday in December closest to the 10th December which is Human Rights Day.

This year they encouraged:

“During this years’ celebration, Baptists are encouraged to “Stand up for someone’s rights today,” this year’s Human Rights Day theme, by being living witnesses of Proverbs 31:8-9: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

At this and other official levels Baptists articulate a commitment to Human Rights.

From my experience in Scotland I doubt that few know of this BWA day, their clear articulated commitment to human rights, or if they do make know make any reference to it in Sunday services. That is at the level of practice the operant theology of Baptists at least in Scotland if not indeed the UK and Europe there is no operant articulated commitment to human rights.

Why is this so?

Some say that human rights are not mentioned in the Bible, others that people under God have responsibilities not rights, others that this is a political issue rather than a theological one. All of these responses probabaly betray that the lack of attention given to the issue of Human Rights in Baptist preaching and worship is the ongoing inherent dualism in evangelical theology or at least large parts of it, between the personal and the social. Overcoming this dualism contextually does indeed require engaging in hermeneutics which goes beyond dealing only with issues as so named in the Scriptures but this is no more than is also required of some doctrinal issues such as the Trinity.

I think that there are clear theological grounds for the support of human rights as an important feature of human living. I do not mean that people need to accept these theological grounds in order to support human rights many who support them do not. Rather, for those who do believe in the God revealed primarily in the person of Jesus Christ I think that there are specifically compelling faith based reasons to support their defence, implementation, and development of human rights at an international and concurrently necessary international level. It is clear, however, that this is a case that needs to be made rather than being assumed as accepted.

In approaching he theological grounding of human rights in general there are several valid approaches but let me in this post remain seasonal or rather argue that the incarnation is not a seasonal doctrine but essential. Here I simply reflect that much has recently been made of the incarnation – all these sermons and cliches about God becoming human in a vulnerable baby – a real baby if one wishes to maintain orthodoxy. In order to emphasise this people get quite creative.Yet, this part of the redemption good news story, God becoming human,  tends along with the decorations to be put back into the box for most of the year. Instead we get on with the real themes of death and resurrection. These are big themes indeed. Yet the one who died and was raised was this Jesus – his death and resurrection and all associated divine meanings are deeply embedded or better embodied in his humanity. He did not as it were become less than human or cease to be fully human – God raised Jesus of Nazereth. In turn this one human, the story proclaims has universal significance he was not just for a nation but for the nations, the Saviour of the World it is claimed.God it seems to me was pretty committed to the human project in his goal and method of salvation.

Humans matter – let us start there. They all do. God indeed revealed God’s value of humanity not simply in creation, nor even in salvation but in his approach to salvation – becoming flesh – human flesh matters. To say that it matters in a world where this may not be recognised, where Herod like powers and interests needs to be spelled out in practice – for all flesh – that is what human rights seeks to do. The official lines on this, however, need to encouraged to become operant.

Performing Scottishness

massed-bandsOn Saturday 17th December some colleagues from the Beatrix Pipe Band and I traveled to Dusseldorf to ‘see’ Music Show Scotland. We are hoping to contribute to this show in the year 2017 and so went to see how it worked, go backstage, watch the rehearsal and see the show.

From the beginning we were welcomed by the organizers, allowed all area access, and provided with hospitality. Thanks to all.

Music Show Scotland claims to be one of the biggest indoor Scottish Music events in the world and in 2017 will tour the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. The base of the organisation is in the Netherlands.singers

The show is precisely that – a music show. It is as much to be seen as to be heard. It combines for the big stage light, sights, sounds, narrative, drama, dance and action. The music is a mixture of the traditional and the contemporary with a number of creative musical arrangements. The Scottish culture as presented is a mixture of history and myth – but this indeed is the nature of all identity. As a show it is great entertainment and worth seeing. To be sure as with any music show not all items resonated with me in the same way but I thought the performances of the Gael, the drum salute, and of Drum Major Geertjan Van Rooi were outstanding. The show was also at times just good fun and well conducted with good audience interaction.

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I have to confess, that I had seen the ‘Castle’, climbed on it, and know that it was not ‘real’ – but when during the show the massed bands came streaming out of that castle, pipes playing, drums beating, kilts wearing, with the St Andrew’s flag blowing in the ‘wind’, it was a pretty stirring moment. Likewise when the lights lifted to display the Castle ramparts filled with bagpipers it brought a gasp from the appreciative audience. Good entertainment should invite you to ‘suspend your disbelief’ and the Music Show Scotland does that.

As a Scot seeing your culture performed mainly by people not from Scotland and in a ‘foreign’ country, sometimes strikes me as surreal. It could make you critical. Yet, it seems to me that what I saw was Scottish culture being treated and portrayed with respect, seriousness, and appropriate humour.

drummers

There is no getting away from the ‘military’ aspects of such Scottish performances and all of this pageantry was part of the entertainment. Yet, the choice of music and songs and the nature of the presentation pushes towards a less narrow nationalistic and military theme and towards something of a more universal, peaceful, and hopeful nature. This helps it be transferable as a performance. To do this is a skill and it is well done.

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The reasons for the interest in all things Scottish on mainland Europe has been treated academically in relation to matters of identity and the recognizable figure of the Scottish performer dressed in tartan.  What I saw, however, was people enjoying something of Scottish culture, the music, and being part of the performance. The show and thus Scottish culture brings together people from diverse backgrounds in a common performance. We need some of this. If there was any division backstage it was the time honored tradition of drummers and pipers sitting at different tables having a practice!

In my opinion the Scottish Tourist Board should be sponsoring this organisation because they are doing a good job of promoting Scotland or at least a particular expression of its story. So along with the business of preparing to compete with Beatrix in the various pipe band championships in 2017 including the World Championship in Glasgow, I look forward to being part of this event.

 

 

 

 

I wish there could be ‘Peace’ on earth

I switched on the news this morning to hear of the ‘presumed terrorist’ attack at the Berlin Christmas market.

Some immediate thoughts:

The Christmas market is so much a traditional part of German culture and tradition – here in the Netherlands I have had Dutch friends say – the German Christmas markets are the best.

It is a market but also a Christmas market and so related to the historic Christian faith of much of Germany.

I mention both of these things because the indicate perhaps something of the symbolic cultural significance of this event in addition to the painful and heartbreaking human tragedy and loss.

I immediately thought of colleagues in Berlin based in the German Baptist Union and the Baptist Theological Seminary in Elstal.

We at IBTSC Amsterdam today prayed for them even as they too will meet to pray.

This event presumably represents the violence of extremism and will encourage similar responses.

In Churches at Christmas we will speak of ‘peace’ but the danger is that we speak ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace and reduce the message to vacuous wishful thinking.

Peace cannot be wished – it has to be worked at to be achieved.

Here the initiatives of ‘Just Peacemaking’ as advocated not least by the late Glen Stassen in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr come to mind as expressions of ‘tender hears and tough thinking’ (King).

I cannot help but think that at times as the Christian Church faffs about looking for an identity and purpose and cause and role – that it has one staring in its face. One, however, that is so demanding and truly counter cultural that it cannot embrace the sheer call of the one who we hail as the Prince of Peace.

 

 

 

Ministry Training or Education?

The comment was made that in a ‘secular’ University some people wonder why there is a link to ‘training people’ for religious ministry, they think surely that belongs in seminaries.

On the one hand of course a defence, can be made for the place of theological education including for religious leaders in secular Universities with reference to the fact that religious groups do play an important part in society.

On the other hand interestingly, this comment attributed to ‘secularists’ is one that I think would find a lot of traction with some Christian people who want more and better ‘training’ (what to and how to) teaching for those involved in Christian leadership.

In turn, those Christians who support this comment are also sometimes those who think that they are the ones who know what and how things should be done. This of course does not mean that they know how to pass this on (train let alone educate) or that they are open to their views being challenged and critiqued.

There is an interesting often critical ditty which says: Those who can do, those who can’t teach. I am not sure that this is always true – but what is true is that those who can and do cannot always teach!

Insofar as theological education enables people to as it were become themselves, or who God wants them to be and teaches the ability for such people to work out in contexts, including contexts they have never been trained for, what is a theologically responsible thing to do – then I am on the side of education over training.

“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change

Of course of course, these things, training and education are not mutually exclusive in so far as training encourages those trained to question the what and the how not least in relation to the why, – but I have never suggested that they are or set up the dichotomy I am rejecting.