Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Eat me, drink me


This coming Thursday (the Thursday after Trinity Sunday) is Corpus Christi, a Day of Thanksgiving for Holy Communion. Recently a friend wrote asking me why as Christians we are told to ‘eat the body’ and ‘drink the blood’ of Jesus when we take Communion. I offered some thoughts, and, as they may be of interest to others, I thought I’d lightly edit them and share them wider. They come, as I said to my friend, with the caveat that they will likely raise more questions than they answer!

In the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, the blood of an animal, such as a lamb, represents its vitality; and bringing the animal to God was a symbolic way of bringing our vitality to God. Of saying, ‘this (blood) represents my intention to live for God’.

By the way, it does not have anything to do with dealing with sin. That was the scapegoat, an animal on which the high priest placed his hands, confessed the sins of the people, and sent the animal out—alive—into the wilderness.

Now, the Last Supper is a re-imagining of the Passover meal. The Passover pre-dates the codified sacrificial system, but not the understanding on which it is based, about blood = vitality and vitality = desire to live for God, in covenant relationship (as we see in personal sacrifices offered prior to the codified system).

The people had been in slavery to a system behind which was a pantheon of gods in rebellion to the one creator God (Yahweh), whose ultimate agenda was the destruction of humanity, made in God’s image. For example, it is elohim—gods, created beings, some of whom are loyal to Yahweh (we often call these ‘angels’) and some of whom are rebellious—who decide to destroy the earth in the Great Flood, and Yahweh who acts to save Noah. It is elohim who tell Abram to sacrifice Isaac, and Yahweh who prevents it. This is essentially airbrushed out of translation because of an evolution of thought, through monolatry to ‘pure’ monotheism, through seeing Yahweh as so utterly different to the gods that they come to be viewed as having no genuine agency; but in fact, they do have agency (just as humans do). I did warn you this would raise questions...

In the lead-up to the Passover/Exodus, Yahweh has been in a series of confrontations with the gods of Egypt, defeating them again and again in order to free his people. Ultimately the only god left standing is the god of death, the dog-headed god we know by his later Greco-Egyptian name, Anubis. And yet, Pharaoh has consistently chosen to stand against God—he is dead-set to back his own elohim—and in the end, God gives us what we choose. That is free will. In the final plague, Yahweh demonstrates sovereignty over the Egyptian gods (including over the structure of primogeniture, and the claim that Pharaoh embodied Horus in life and Osiris in death) utterly defeating Anubis, so that the dog cannot even growl at any of the Israelites, human or animal, (Exodus 11:7) and providing a way out for those who accept it. He tells his people to share a meal, to strengthen them (physically and socially) for the journey ahead, and to daub the blood on the door posts and lintel. Vitality. The physical sign that they are choosing to live their life for God.

So, what has this to do with Jesus? Jesus says, to paraphrase, I replace the lamb as the sign that you are bringing your lives to God and choosing to live for him. My blood. My vitality, as a representative of your vitality. And my body, to strengthen you. Eat, and go. (Death is about to be humiliated, again.)

At the Last Supper, Jesus says his blood is shed for the remission of sins. Remission is a better translation than forgiveness (and so here the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer is better than that of Common Worship). He is not saying his blood gives us God’s forgiveness, but that his blood—his vitality—not only symbolises our desire to live for God but sets us free from slavery to sin. That’s the exodus moment within the wider covenantal backdrop; the rescue to which God, as covenant partner, is bound.

Jesus does deal with our (collective) sin, of course; but by being the scapegoat who is removed outside the city wall, not by being the lamb who was slain. This is another aspect of the salvation won through his obedience, a salvation for which we have to resort to ‘thick’ symbolism to speak of, as it is beyond the scope of other forms of expression: it is messy, and graphic, and epic in scale, and catches us up in the drama.

Restraint


Old Testament lectionary reading for Morning Prayer today: 2 Chronicles 28.

This is a stunning chapter, the sorry record of the reign of king Ahaz in Jerusalem. Ahaz so fully rejects Yahweh as his god and covenant partner that Yahweh hands him over to the gods of the surrounding nations, who looked to overwhelm Jerusalem. Even then, Ahaz looks to enter into contract with the gods who have defeated him, rather than return to Yahweh and be rescued.

Yahweh also hands Judah, the territory over which Ahaz reigned, to northern neighbour Israel. Israel and Judah are sisters, both in covenant with Yahweh, both at times faithful and unfaithful (and Israel on the whole even more unfaithful than Judah). Israel inflicts a heavy defeat upon Judah, and carries off both captives and plunder.

But then something significant happens. Wise voices speak out against this course of action, identify it as going too far—as being guilty of the very lack of restraint by which Ahaz has shown himself to be such a bad ruler. And these voices are listened to. The captives are freed, and taken part of the way home, to a city of shelter, an oasis; those left naked, clothed from the plunder; and those left weak, carried on donkeys.

Restraint is a virtue in short supply today; as are compassion, and restitution for those who have suffered injustice. All too easily, we find ourselves, in our moment of triumph, to be the ones who have been carried away, captive to some destructive power.

Monday, June 17, 2019

On time


There are two kinds of time.

There is chronos, or chronological time, we measure in hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, millennia, ages...

and there is kairos time, we experience as having the time of our life, or as going through a particularly tough time.

The Church year is divided into Seasonal time and Ordinary time.

The Seasonal half—itself separated into the Christmas Cycle (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany) and the Easter Cycle (Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost)—relates to kairos.

The rest of the year—a small interlude between the Christmas and Easter Cycles, and the long weeks between the Easter and Christmas Cycles—relates to chronos. That is why we call it Ordinary, as in ordinal numbers: the first, second, third, fourth, fifth etc. etc. weeks.

We’ve just gone back into Ordinary time. Which isn’t to say that we don’t experience kairos joy and sorrow, but, rather, that we learn to pay attention to time passing.

Elijah gave me a little book of Greta Thunberg’s speeches for Fathers Day yesterday. Which is a great way to begin Ordinary time.

Wake up! We are running out of time to fundamentally change the way we collectively live...

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Of clothes and a spirituality of clothing


A big favour:

On Sunday 30th June one of the set readings is 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14. It is the story of Elijah being taken from the earth in a heavenly chariot of fire; and of Elisha, who was like a son to him, inheriting his cloak. It was a piece of clothing heavily invested with identity and memory and legacy. As certain items of clothing so often are.

I wonder whether anyone would be brave enough to tell me your stories of the experience of:

going through the wardrobe of a parent, spouse, or child who has died;

or

wearing an item of role-related clothing that has been passed down to you by someone else (or a line of others) who have worn it before you;

or

of buying your clothes predominantly from a second-hand store;

or

of a time when a change of clothing empowered you to step more confidently into a new chapter of your life.

I might be interested in sharing those stories with others, with your permission, and in anonymised form if you would prefer.

You can direct message me if you would be willing to respond.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Feast of the Ascension


Are you a scientist or an engineer, pioneering new solutions to the problems we face? Jesus is exercising God’s reign of justice and joy through you.

Are you an artist or a campaigner, enabling us to see the world from a new and life-affirming perspective? Jesus is exercising God’s reign of justice and joy through you.

Are you in marketing or promotion, telling good news stories about a place or product and connecting people to opportunities? Jesus is exercising God’s reign of justice and joy through you.

Are you a healthcare professional, enabling healing or supporting preventative well-being so lives can flourish? Jesus is exercising God’s reign of justice and joy through you.

Are you a teacher or trainer, investing in the next generation? Jesus is exercising God’s reign of justice and joy through you.

Today is the Feast of the Ascension. Raise a glass to all the women and men caught up in the greatest unfolding drama the world has ever known, in a myriad of ways as they go about their lives.

You—yes, you, my friend—are a gift of Christ to the world.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

[X]


We, in the UK, are in a protracted process of leaving the EU. But, today, we are still in the EU, and so, today, we get to vote in the European Parliamentary elections.

There are a couple of parties standing on the ticket of delivering Brexit. Indeed, across all parties standing, this election campaign has felt like a re-run at the 2016 Referendum. But it is not in the gift of MEPs to deliver Brexit, so this misses the point, and the opportunity.

The sole question that matters today is, out of those standing, who do we believe will help the EU to be its best possible self, for as long as we remain part of it and thus have any influence?

Because even when we leave, they will still be our neighbours, our friends—after all, most high-profile Brexiteers claim they love Europe—still be countries we need to work with to address global issues.

So, go and vote, and vote for someone who will help the EU to be its best possible self. Not for someone who will take a salary and refuse to work for the common good.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Dying and rising with Christ


This afternoon we started the latest of our regular (three times a year) 8-week English-Farsi baptism classes. Today was our introduction, looking at what baptism is.

Both Jesus and Paul (one of his early followers) describe baptism as dying and rising with Jesus, in which we are made one with him and with all the baptised. This dying and rising is not a metaphor. It is a mystical reality. It is also an anthropological and sociological reality.

For my Iranian friends, their decision to turn towards God in the Way of Jesus has meant that their families, their friends, their community, their nation considers them to be dead. This is, of course, a two-way loss. My Iranian friends grieve having been put to death by the state, as Jesus was; they grieve being counted as dead by those they love; they grieve their familys pain; and I bear witness to their mourning, the outward expression of grief. And we can be sure that their family, their friends, most likely their community, and perhaps even their nation, mourns for them as for the death of any daughter or son.

For some, this would be grounds to rail against religion, whether in the form of Islamic (and other) fundamentalism, or religion in general. But as I said, this is an anthropological and sociological reality. One might as well rail against humanity and society. The hope of baptism is dying to what has already been marred here, and of rising and living into a new humanity and society.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

APEST and Anglicans, part 4


The definition of ‘discipleship’ adopted by the Anglican Consultative Council on behalf of the global Anglican Communion (tens of millions of members in more than 165 countries) is:

“living and sharing a Jesus-shaped life.”


That, to me, is a clear invitation to APEST.

These infographics, designed by Kevin Miller, are helpful:






Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Baptismal vows


I am regularly approached by parents wishing to have their children baptised. Alongside this, I’ve been marking papers written by ordinands (trainee vicars) on the pastoral (i.e. responding to human need) and missiological (i.e. pertaining to the mandate, message and mission of the church) challenges and opportunities presented by those who are seeking to engage with the Church for baptisms, with reference to the spiritual, social and psychological dimensions involved. And so, among other things, I’ve been thinking about the baptismal vows and what it might mean to live them out.

At baptism we make certain vows, either for ourselves or on behalf of our children. These vows concern a turning away, and a turning towards. In other words, a change of orientation, or perspective, a metanoia or change of mind. Though there is some variation in wording, the vows may be as follows:

Do you turn away from sin? I do.
Do you reject evil? I do.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour? I do.
Do you trust in him as Lord? I do.

Sin is largely self-centredness, and we all know what it is like to wrestle with that. In the context of being a parent—the context in which many people approach me regarding baptism—I love my children and genuinely want to be a good father to them…but when they want my attention when it is fixed on something ‘more important’ or ‘more pressing’ (such as the tv drama I am trying to watch, or the facebook feed I am scrolling down, or work, or…) they may get brushed aside, until the day comes when I want them to talk to me but they have learnt that whatever they are doing is more important. Or, again, I know that our love of fossil fuels and plastics is destroying the planet…but I love the convenience of electricity and do not really want to reduce my habits of consumption. While we can recognise sin in our own lives, vowing to turn away from sin, embracing this as habitual behaviour, is far harder.

Evil is largely the absence of love. Human beings traffick other human beings, or enslave them to drug addiction, or kill strangers, because of an absence of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. And it is easy to paint certain people as evil, somehow different from the rest of us. And yet, we all know the impact of unresisted evil in creating division, as certain groups of people are dehumanised and the call goes up to strip them of rights, and responsibilities. But to reject evil is an active stance: to resist and resist and resist, in how we think and what we say and what we do. And again, it is far easier to recognise evil than it is to commit ourselves to embracing the rejection of evil.

To turn to Christ as Saviour is, firstly, to recognise that we need saving and cannot save ourselves. And in the immediate context of these vows, that we need saving from sin and from our complicity in evil. I reckon most people I know recognise that they need saving from something that, at root, comes back to sin and evil, and that they cannot save themselves. It may be loneliness, the consequence of the breakdown of relationships into isolated individualism (and, hence, we recognise that individualism is not the answer, and so go looking for salvation in a friendship group). It may be cancer, a complex consequence of our collective modern lives including what we put into our food and our air. From a Christian perspective, I would suggest that running is a poor saviour (I need only get injured to be cast back out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth; or, I may become addicted to running, and use it as an excuse to avoid relationships that need attending to) but that it is a great means by which Christ is at work to save me. Or, again, medical science is a poor saviour (people still die; and even if we eradicate all cancers, we’ll only die of something else) but also a great means by which Christ may work to bring salvation to some. But the baptismal vow grounds salvation in Christ, as the only dependable source and completion of my salvation.

And on that basis, we come to the final vow, to trust him as Lord. That is to say that he is over all things, at work despite sin and even in the face of evil—that he opposes and will ultimately overcome—to bring about salvation not only for me and for my children but for self-destructive humanity and the tragically scarred natural environment. Such a belief is not passive, but, like turning away and rejecting and turning to, trusting calls us to step into the vow we have made. To respond to his voice, that drives out fear and calls forth courage from deep within us, courage we never knew was there. To trust the good purposes of one who is greater than our own self-centredness, the endemic lack of love of neighbour, and our spiritual, social and psychological need for salvation is a daily act of resistance, of refusal to go with the flow.

It should come as no surprise that this is what parents want for their children. At the same time, these vows become so much harder to live out when we attempt to do so on our own. God knows, the church is an imperfect community, but we live out our vows imperfectly together.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

APEST and organisational ethos


‘APEST’—shorthand for apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers—proposes that human beings bear the image, or likeness, of God in a combination of five ways; and that, collectively, these give expression to five functions of human community, culture or society. These might be described as:

the impulse to innovate, to explore, to push (beyond) boundaries, to create and populate new ‘worlds’…
the impulse to agitate, to reform, to call into question, to oppose injustice, to paint alternative futures…
the impulse to connect, to recruit to a cause, to tell stories, to share news…
the impulse to care, to attend to wellbeing, to pursue communal health…
the impulse to instruction, to gather and systematise knowledge and wisdom and pass this on to the next generation.

These are the five functions of human community, culture or society, as expressed (for example) in:
innovation in all forms of technology, the sciences, music and art…
civil rights movements…
sales and recruitment, story-telling in all its forms…
health-care and hospitals, peace-keeping and stability…
schools and universities…

While any organisation might have a primary purpose, it must attend to all five functions if it is to flourish. The primary purpose of a university is teaching, but it must also attend to pioneering research, to investing in alternative futures beyond the university, to recruiting new students, and to the well-being of academic and support staff and students as well as nurturing links with alumni.

Or to give another example, we are seeing Google, as a pioneering company, come under fire for their performance in relation to care of their employees, and the level of tax they pay (a prophetic concern of justice and injustice), and their perceived need to tell a good news story about themselves…


APEST profile case study


‘APEST’—shorthand for apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers—proposes that human beings bear the image, or likeness, of God in a combination of five ways; and that, collectively, these give expression to five functions of human community, culture or society. These might be described as:

the impulse to innovate, to explore, to push (beyond) boundaries, to create and populate new ‘worlds’…
the impulse to agitate, to reform, to call into question, to oppose injustice, to paint alternative futures…
the impulse to connect, to recruit to a cause, to tell stories, to share news…
the impulse to care, to attend to well-being, to pursue communal health…
the impulse to instruction, to gather and systematise knowledge and wisdom and pass this on to the next generation.

The APEST profile is a personality profiling tool that measures the relative weighting of these five aspects, and considers how they interact; and, by extension, how we might interact with other people.

Profiling tools give a snapshot of a moment in time, and current circumstances have their own impact. Nonetheless, regular profiling over time is likely to establish a more stable profile. My own profile is (most often) PATSE.

Our primary impulse is the ‘lens’ through which we see the world. Just as we don’t see our contact lenses or the lenses of our glasses, but see everything else through them, we do not ‘see’ our primary impulse—and the primary impulse as identified by profiling often comes as a surprise to the individual concerned. My primary impulse is prophetic. I see things from an angle or perspective that many people experience as different from their own, and yet find insightful, creative in a way that is simultaneously encouraging and challenging. I am a disturber of the status quo, a painter of alternative futures. This comes naturally to me.

Our secondary impulse is the one that ‘gives voice to’ our primary impulse. My secondary impulse is apostolic. This impulse is concerned with movement, with innovation, with change. I get ‘itchy feet’ on a regular basis, and especially where I find myself in communities that are resistant to change, or are rightly stable; I respond positively to new opportunities or challenges, but prefer to establish something new and hand it on than to maintain something that is already established (whether by someone else or by me). Though this is my second greatest impulse, it is much less developed than either my third or fourth impulses. This is in part because the church values and invests in and gives opportunity for teaching and shepherding (pastoral care), and in part because most of the apostolic role-models I have known are very extrovert whereas I am very introvert, and their approach does not sit well with me. However, this means that the impulse with which I ‘speak’ is under-developed, and lacks maturity: ‘You need to move! You need to change! ... Why aren’t you changing?’ It can lead to a cycle of frustration, for me and for those around me. I need to identify those who can help me to invest-in and develop my secondary impulse.

My tertiary impulse is teaching. However, this facet of being-human-made-in-the-likeness-of-God is well-developed in me, partly because the church has tended to place a higher emphasis on teaching and pastoral care and so I have had considerable opportunity for training to teach and for exercising a teaching role. Many people would consider me to be a teacher, but it is not my primary or even secondary impulse. It is, on balance, more life-draining than life-giving to me; and, in-and-of-itself, not necessarily the best way that I can serve others.

For me, the impulse to care, and to recruit, are much less prominent. This does not mean that I do not care about people (I do, and deeply; but in short time-spans), or that I cannot communicate passionately about things that engage me (such as APEST, or my running club); simply that these are less instinctive to me, relative to the others. And that is okay, but requires that I work with others towards communal regeneration and well-being.

APEST and Anglicans, part 3


Continuing an occasional series of technical posts:

‘APEST’ refers to an understanding of personality profile as a combination of five impulses—apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding, and teaching—that interact with the personality profiles of everyone else towards five corresponding functions of human community, culture or society: innovation, agitation/reform, promotion/recruiting, care, and instruction.
The five ‘Marks of Mission’ have been adopted by Anglicans (and, indeed, a number of other church traditions since) as expressing ‘the Anglican Communion’s common commitment to, and understanding of, God’s holistic and integral mission.’ The five marks of mission are:

1. to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2. to teach, baptise and nurture new believers
3. to respond to human need by loving service
4. to transform unjust structures in society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
5. to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Here are some reflections on the interplay between APEST and the Five Marks of Mission.
The five Marks of Mission are not (in my opinion) an organising principle; but they are the evidence of a healthy outworking of unity and diversity in the body of Christ. All five people-gifts—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers—get to play in each mark of mission; but it may be that different gifts are best suited to help the church by giving a lead in different areas.
The first mark is clearly evangelistic, and here the evangelists might take a lead, but need apostles to open up new frontiers; and, in fact, all the others get to join in.
In the second mark, the teachers might take an obvious lead, supported by the shepherds in a nurturing role. Nonetheless, all the others must be involved, because without them, the mark is incomplete, its ‘outcome’ partial or distorted.
The third mark calls for the shepherds to lead us; but needs the insight of the prophets, and, yet again, the others to join in, not abdicating responsibility for care by outsourcing it to the shepherds alone.
In the fourth mark, the prophets might lead us in engaging social in/justice; supported by the shepherds in order that we move beyond speaking out against injustice to the work of reconciliation. But, yet again, it will take the whole body working together to see true and lasting transformation.
The fifth mark points to an apostolic lead, supported by teachers who might systematise and help embed our learning to live in a new way. The apostolic impulse is concerned with environment and the ‘architecture’ of our lives. Immature expressions of apostolic gifting have pioneered the cultural changes that have been so devastatingly detrimental to the natural environment over the past 100 years (with massive acceleration over the past 30 years). Conversely (perhaps ironically; perhaps, correcting an irony), mature expressions of apostolic gifting will pioneer the cultural changes that are now needed to address this global crisis. Nonetheless, within the church, thinking about apostolic calling remains largely unapplied to safeguarding the integrity of creation: this needs to change.

Essentially, APEST is not a different structure for thinking about mission, one that is ‘other’ or outside from an Anglican perspective; but, rather, healthy APEST diversity-in-unity is essential to the five Marks of Mission becoming a lived experience.