Lambeth Day 6

22 July 2008

I am quite exhausted after the first full day of the Conference (Ordinary Day 1).  It has been wall-to-wall conversation, with a double dose of the Indaba Groups – of which more later.  My exhaustion comes from really enjoying what I have been hearing and experiencing, but needing some time and space to absorb it all.

The day started with a Eucharist led by the province of South Korea which really came alive when the Korean Archbishop talked about the experience of fear during the time of their occupation by the Japanese – he used the striking phrase “fear as the absence of God”.   The good will here at the Conference was tangible as the Archbishop of Japan then offered moving prayers of reconciliation and commitment.

It was the fourth meeting of our Bible Study Group and we are really relaxing into each other’s company.  So far we have skirted around the gay issue, which is probably just as well as we need to secure our confidence and trust in each other before tackling it.  But today was a powerful time as we talked about ‘fear’, drawing on the story of Jesus walking on the water and the fear of disciples.

The stories of fear from members of our group who have been in the civil wars and strife of Africa were demanding.  The two of us from the West really had little to contribute as, in truth, we live very safe and predictable lives.   One of our number helped us understand that he fears that he would be deposed if he was known to have become soft on issues central to the thinking of his Diocese – and another piece fell into place in the jig-saw of the complexity of the issues which face the Conference.

The double dose of Indaba was clearly designed to get us in the mood for dancing together.  There are certainly those who are very suspicious of this process, feeling far more at home with weighty reports, set piece speeches and a western style parliamentary approach to ordering the mind of the church – convincing them that Indaba will work may be an uphill struggle.  But we all appeared willing to try and my group had a good go at establishing an ‘Anglican Identity’.    It was very much a first day at this and other groups clearly found the process frustrating.

The day was rounded off by the charismatic evangelist Brian McLaren ‘rattling our cages’.  He drew on the sociological language and model of cultures in transition to help us understand what is happening to the global church. He suggested that when cultures make the transition from pre-modern to modern, then the church is used to exploiting the transition and gains large numbers of converts, but when the transition is from modern to post-modern, then we become either static or decline.  The problem is that we don’t know how to unfold our faith in the emerging culture. He used the image of a lumbering  giant tortoise to reflect how the church reacts to the immaturity of an emerging culture which it doesn’t really understand.

I thought that it was great stuff – but I suspect that one or two exoskeletons were dented!

And so to bed……..

Everything must change

13 June 2008

I have just been reading a really challenging book by Brian McLaren called ‘Everything must Change’. In the book McLaren looks at the values which are around in contemporary life and sets them against the life of Jesus. He argues that the core message of the gospel actually addresses the economic, political, environmental and social problems of our age, but for it to speak into our age, the church has to move away from talking about the externals of faith and concentrate on what Jesus was actually trying to say.

In many ways he is stating the obvious, but I have sat through so many sermons (and preached a few of them myself I fear!) which are brilliant about the finer points of doctrine, or biblical criticism, or church life, but which don’t actually address the gospel themes of justice, peace, forgiveness or hope. Too often we assume these things are known and understood, forgetting that we are in a culture which doesn’t really understand that this is the stuff we are about. What McLaren reminded me was that this lack of understanding is to be found amongst those who are part of the church, as well as amongst those yet to include themselves in our number.

If you really want to be challenged about the Christian faith – what it means and how we have allowed the practice of faith to divert us from the core message of Jesus, then this is the book for you.