[un]conscious-stream[ing]

Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Monthly Archives: October 2009

Mary

This year, the Old Trafford Community Choir is singing, amongst other things, “Jesus Child” by John Rutter, of which par of the chorus is:

“Worship the Jesus child and praise his mother mild.”

Another of this year’s songs is “Come on down to Bethlehem” by John Parker / Joel Raney, which has the line:

“Sweet Mary gave birth to God’s own son.”

Typically, in the community that I grew up in and am still a member of, Mary is not venerated, worshipped, praised or adored in any way.

I expect a large amount of this is due to the Victorian origins of the community and the desperation (especially of that time but the shackles hold long and fast) to be different from the main-stream church, especially the Catholics.

It stems from the general subjugation of women and (often subconscious) misogyny that pervaded the Victorian era, and still in many ways influences the practices and structure of the churches within the community.

This means that Mary is constantly either ignored or reduced to ‘just another ordinary woman’. Yes, in many ways, Mary was just another ordinary woman like many other ordinary women through theges and currently, but what actually does the bible say about Mary?
Luke 1 holds the most complete story of Mary finding out she was going to be the mother of the Son of God.

v 28:
‘The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”‘

v 30:
‘The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”‘

v 41-42:
‘Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”‘

Elizabeth is prophesying, filled with the Holy Spirit (God is filling her as God IS Spirit – John 4:24 See here and listen here for some expansion of my thoughts) and her words are:

“Blessed are you among women” (NIV)
or
“God has blessed you above all women” (NLT)
or
“God has blessed you more than any other woman!” (CEV)

Now, although, by looking at the original Greek, it is possible see that the NIV is technically, literally most accurate out of those three, the depth of feeling in the words is not conveyed any where near as much as in the other versions.
Elizabeth is full of joy and though she is herself incredibly joyful that she is also bearing a miraculous child (due to her age – Luke 1:18), she would also have possibly been a very tiny bit envious because every Jewish girl knew from an early age that it would be an immense privilege and honour to be the one chosen to bear the messiah, because they all knew the prophecy of Isaiah:

Isaiah 7:14
‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.’

Mary understood the honour, Elizabeth understood the honour, the angel says “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you”, so why do we demote Mary – the mother of God’s only son, who was sent to save the world – to just an ordinary woman?

I’m not suggesting that we go down the ‘hail Mary mother of God’ route, but I am suggesting that we give Mary a bit more respect, honour and a little more veneration.

Maybe then we would start treating our sisters in Christ with a little more respect and honour and let them use the skills they have within the community for God’s glory and the benefit of others.

Grace & Peace

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Excuses

“People turned away from following Jesus because they didn’t like his teaching!”

This is a comment I have heard many times especially in my church community as a way of explaining why our churches and community as a whole is shrinking. The passage that is referenced is John 6:66

“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”.

Personally, I think it’s just an excuse for being lazy and doing church badly. It also takes no notice of the real meaning behind the passage as a whole (not something for this post).

I’m probably setting myself up for criticism here but it comes from the kind of mindset that uses the excuse to argue that we shouldn’t change anything about the message we preach or the way we preach it or the other things we do as a church. The argument goes along the lines of this:

“The reason the church / community is shrinking is because we are being true to what Jesus said and people don’t like what Jesus had to say, so therefore nobody is attracted to the community because fundamentally ‘they’ (all non-members of this community) can’t deal with the truth about Jesus.”

This enables the arguer to absolve themselves of the responsibility of presenting a relevant, accurate and culturally meaningful picture of Jesus to the local community and gives the option to hide behind an approach that says ‘as long as all we do is keep pumping out a bible-based talk that has a lot of scripture references in it, we are doing our job correctly and saying what Jesus said’.
It is also the argument that says ‘we don’t need any more parables, the bible has enough of its own’, without realising that Jesus drew his parables from his surroundings, history and culture meaning they were completely apt, specific and relevant for his listeners.

So, where does that leave us?

I’m not suggesting we dress up the message in fancy language, images or hyperbole, try to make the message more palatable to us or anything like that, but sometimes it strikes me that the very people that Jesus reached out to are the very people that the church holds at arms length because they are ‘too messy’ and they are put off not by Jesus and his ‘hard teaching’ but by the people within the church and their non-gracious, non-acceptance of anyone who doesn’t fit.

Here’s my take, based on ideas from many different places.

1. We need as a church and as a community to be creating environments that people enjoy being in. By that I mean environments that feel safe, comfortable and accepting. Environments where people feel they can ask questions freely without there necessarily being only one answer or even a ‘right answer’. Environments that people can begin to feel attached to and events that people begin to own corporately. These kind of environments are called ‘community hubs’ and they are places where people gather to connect with each-other, enjoy doing things with each other and are encouraged to explore their spiritual, faith relationships together.
These environments need to be looked after by people who genuinely care about the guests who come in to enjoy them, are happy to explore faith & culture and the conflicts they throw up and are not just intent on pushing a message down the throats of the guests.

2. We should also be stepping outside of our comfort zones to reach into other people’s environments where we don’t feel as safe or comfortable. We need to be providing for and engaging those around us with attitudes that reflect the Jesus that we know and have experienced and display his redemptive healing.

Let us not just reminisce about what God has done in the past or look forward to what He is going to do in the future, but let us become obsessed with what God is doing now.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (the message)
God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

(Light the blue touch paper and stand well back)

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Adding Value

Initially, it could be a little depressing to read:

Job 1:21
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” 

There are multiple layers to this passage but today, I’m going to touch on the most superficial, least back-upable and shortest.
The brunt of the passages accepted meaning is that whether or not we build up riches in this world, we arrive with nothing and can’t take anything with us when we go. If we receive; it is from God, and if we lose everything; God intended it, somehow for his greater glory (a can of worms to be opened another time).
1 Timothy 6:7 sums it up again:

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 

My reading of the Job passage this week has brought out the sub text, the in-between the lines.

Whilst we bring nothing to this world at birth and can take nothing from it when we die, the thing that really matters is what we can contribute while we are here.

From what we are given after our birth by God, we can bless others.
From our talents, we can add value to the relationships we make.
From our experiences, we can learn and share our wisdom, feelings and journeys.

What riches are you prepared to bring to add value to anyone and everyone that you have any kind of interface with?

Hebrews 10:24
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 

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