SEE ATTENDANCE FOR MY 'STUDY, AUDIT AND TRAIN' RESOURCE PACK FOR SCHOOLS
Regularly updated and still available by email
My 'retirement' writing project is to prepare alternative sermons and discussion notes for each Sunday's Old and New Testament readings in the Common Lectionary. Available as a FREE DOWNLOAD every 3 months. Starting from PENTECOST 2019.
This series of weekly reflections is intended to support those who are still hanging on to attending (or even leading) Christian worship, if only just, because the traditional doctrines and beliefs no longer work for them.
I also hope they will be an opportunity for those, like me, who hadn’t darkened the doors for years, to give it another try, if they can find an inclusive, open-minded and accepting welcome somewhere.
JUNE 9th - AUGUST 25th AVAILABLE FROM AFTER EASTER
Reinventing Christianity one week at a time!
Some people seem to use the word 'radical' in a Christian context to mean right-wing, fundamentalist, violent or extremist. Please do not confuse me with them!
All religions are human creations. We devise our belief systems - and we can change them. Indeed we must do so or they become irrelevant and unbelievable. I offer a questioning, experimental and essentially humanist perspective on the set lessons for the Christian year. For those looking for different angles and ideas, whether you are preaching yourself or just interested in 'hearing' something new. Intended to give encouragement to those who do not believe in the traditional interventionist God or evangelical certainties, but who are still drawn to the 'Way' of Jesus and want to approach the Bible passages with an enquiring, creative and C21st mind.
'Perhaps we have buried the real Jesus under a mass of later ideas that have squeezed the life out of him, leaving only a hollow idol of a Christ, not a living 'Lord' who shows us how to be fully human. (From Pentecost 7, 2019)
I would not claim to be 'a Christian', but I hope to be a follower of Jesus. He wasn't a Christian either! Christianity has tried to put 'God' into a box, all neatly tied up with Trinitarian string. 'There you are. That's God. Almighty. All-powerful. All male. Tick. Sorted'. That just doesn't work anymore. Most people are now non-Theists as traditionally understood even if they recognise a sense of mystery in the Universe. Other traditions talk more of a 'breath' or a 'spirit' of life in all things or of God as 'being-itself' not 'a' Being (Tillich). Images that are open-ended not closed or patriarchcal may now be more helpful: an eternal flow or a spiral (from Heraclitis to Richard Rohr). 'God' is a concept outside our experience; only our own human understandings are available. She may be very different from what we have previously thought!
Diversity, including of beliefs, is to be celebrated not discouraged. The Church should be about enjoying the harmony, not expecting everyone to sing in unison!
Many of us feel we are 'in exile' or 'on the boundary'; not wanting to abandon the Church altogether but unconvinced by its historic doctrines, irrelevant language and sometimes outdated values. Since the Bible books were written and Christianity was created, we have discovered evolution, science and the rest of the Universe. We are not at the centre of it all. Many of the assumptions made centuries ago no longer apply for most of us. It's not always easy to keep going and some of my fellow-travellers will think I am way off course. But once you turn 'God' into a thing, an object, an idol that we have made, I believe you get lost - especially if you are sure that your way is the only way. That was not, for me, the Way of Jesus.
All our statements about 'God' are metaphors, similes, poetry and imagination. They do not actually describe any such deeper reality. We cannot know what we cannot know! The language may still be useful, as long as we recognise what we are doing. But many concepts of God are now unacceptable. It's those who claim to know all about God 'personally' or to speak directly on his behalf who worry me. Those who effectively worship the Bible, the Church or any other human creation as if it were God. The gospels are not meant to be read 'literally' as if they were newspaper reports. They are portraits of Jesus, woven to express each writer's faith in him. They each need to be understood in context, not stitched together to make a fictitious comfort blanket. Literalism will kill Chrisianity if we maintain it's just about 'facts' that most people now know are not literally true.
So the focus for me is not 'God' but the memory of the human Jesus: what he taught about how to live and how his death helps us to deal with suffering and injustice. We can only access him at second hand - through the remembered tradition about him - but the story is about a real person who lived and died. This is the new icon above the nave of Lichfield Cathedral, made by the Bethlehem Icon Centre as part of the centenary of the end of WW1. I use it as a source of personal meditation and as a statement of solidarity with oppressed communities and individuals today. This ancient story about Jesus invites us to look around to see evidence of the 'kingdom' today. A 'Godlike', inclusive, spirit-filled way to live; but all about this life, not a supposed next one.
I recently visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The centrepiece is a massive circular war memorial with two group sculptures. Each of them shows muddied and frightened figures gently bearing away a dead and naked man from the battlefield. A school party was there and one of the children asked her teacher, 'Is that Jesus'? The answer, of course, is 'Yes'. Indeed that was in the mind of the sculptor. That human Jesus is my guide for this journey, not what the Church made up about him hundreds of years later.
OTHER PEOPLE'S BOOKS:
'God in Us: A Case for Christian Humanism' by Anthony Freeman, (SCM 1993, Imprint Academic 2001). A short, clear and no doubt still controversial summary of the idea that 'God' does not have to mean what it usually means for Christianity to still have value. Let go of the old God and you may find a new language that actually makes sense in the modern world. Unless we find new ways to tell the Christian story it will simply be ignored by those who cannot believe its claims anymore.
‘Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy’ by John Shelby Spong, (Harper Collins 2016). This book is a magnificent reinterpretation of Matthew’s Gospel. Spong asks us to get back to the original context, steeped in Jewish liturgical life. Much of Christian orthodoxy has to go if there is to be any chance of finding a faith about Jesus that is compatible with what we now know to be true about the world and about ourselves. The gospels are each a response to the life of Jesus, not just a tape recording of what he 'actually said'. That makes a huge difference to how we can approach them today.
'Through Mud and Barbed Wire' by Mel Thompson, (see also his website: http://www.mel-thompson.co.uk/index.html). Timed to coincide wth the 100 years anniversary of the ending of WW1. The stories of Teilhard de Chardin and Paul Tillich. On opposite sides in the same bloody battle and both later huge theological thinkers. Interwoven with the author's own story and, at many points, with mine. Not always easy reading but well worth the effort.
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I have now retired from most of my face-to-face school attendance and absence training, but I still offer my STUDY, AUDIT AND TRAIN PACK by email. I also still WHITTER on education issues now and again and deliver occasional courses for FORUM TRAINING.
My HOME PAGE now reflects my other main interest. Can Christianity and its central figure mean anything to those who are not convinced that conventional ideas of 'God' take us where we need to go as modern, thoughtful human beings? Can faith be radical, rational and inclusive?
FEEDBACK is always very welcome.
ALL INFORMATION AND ADVICE PROVIDED ON THIS WEBSITE, AND IN RELATED RESOURCES, IS GIVEN IN GOOD FAITH AND IS TRUE AND ACCURATE TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEF. HOWEVER NO LIABILTY IS ACCEPTED FOR ANY ADVERSE CONSEQUENCES ARISING THEREFROM OR FOR ANY IMPLICATIONS OF UNINTENDED ERRORS. I HAVE BOTH PUBLIC LIABILITY AND PROFESSIONAL INDEMNITY INSURANCE.