Thursday, December 31, 2009

TIME: A valuable commodity...

It's been a very restful Christmas and that was the plan all along. I made a determined effort to spend as much time with family and friends as possible. I have been very aware that this would be the last Christmas for many years which would be as such. Next year (I am reliably informed by those in the job already), that I will be extremely busy and will barely have a moment to draw breath, let alone wrap a present or bake a sausage roll! To be honest though, whilst I will miss the time that I have had to prepare this year; being immersed in carol services, christmas visits, children's parties and service preparation will I think, be even more fulfilling. What I do have to guard against is being so busy that I miss the peace of ceebrating Christs birth and being so tired that I burn out before I can celebrate...However, I am also aware that burn out isn't just a pitfall linked to Christmas but to every day of the year in Ordained ministry.
So I'd like to take this opportunity of wishing you all a very happy and hopeful New Year...Thank you for commmenting on this blog, I really enjoy reading the ones I get and look forward to doing so next year as well. Despite my concerns about time, I'm DEFINITELY looking forward to 2010 and in particular my Ordination...bring it on!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Old Testament Israelite society men and not women, were generally the leaders. Men were the ones who controlled the political and religious decisions and who ruled the land. However there are some exceptions to this general state of affairs. Whilst we could pick out examples of poor leadership by women in the Old Testament (Jezebel springs to mind), there are also inspiring stories of God using women to lead his people in the face of adversity.

Deborah was one such woman. A prophetess, a Judge and a military leader – an extremely powerful combination of authority and responsibility. She was chosen by God to be Israel’s leader at the time of the Judges. Moses and Samuel were the only other Old Testament characters to fulfil all of these roles.

"Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided.” Judges 4:4-5
There is no doubt that Deborah was acting within the will of God. Her prophesies were fulfilled and the writer of the book of Judges is entirely positive in his description of her. Deborah was also known as the Mother of Israel because of her successful leadership - a title which was as close to ‘Patriarch’ as a woman could get in such a male dominated society. She is impressive enough when assessed regardless of her gender, but when one considers the restrictions that culture and the society of the day put on her, her achievements can be regarded as truly groundbreaking. It would appear then, that in Deborah’s case God was very much in favour of women in authority.

Huldah the prophetess was another woman used by God in a key authoritative role.

“Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophetess Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District. She said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me...” So they took her answer back to the king.” 2 Kings 22

In this extract we read that Huldah was consulted by Hilkiah and the Kings advisors on his behalf. Hilkiah was also a priest. Huldah's words were taken back to the King as authoritative and from God himself, so much so that they were immediately acted upon. It is clear then that in this instance a woman definitely had authority and was treated with respect by the leaders of the day.

Deborah and Huldah are both portrayed in the biblical accounts as explaining and proclaiming the word of the Lord to important men in an authoritative way. As authority and teaching are two of the reasons that Conservative Evangelicals often oppose women’s ordination these texts must be grappled with by those who contest it. It is not enough to find texts which appear on a first reading to be against women having authority in the church and using these to argue an opposing view. Unfortunately this is exactly what so often happens, despite there being clear texts in the Bible which describe and support women having authority over men and proclaiming the word of God to them.

Countering what I would describe as a 'plain reading' of the Deborah and Huldah accounts; some Conservative Evangelicals like Thomas Schreiner (writing for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), draw attention to the context of both Deborah and Huldah. (Interestingly 'context' suddenly becomes much more relevant and less is said about taking scripture at face value on this occasion)...Schreiner sees their roles as complementary and supportive ministries. Further to this he argues that this ministry fostered and preserved male leadership.

“Deborah is a special case because she seems to be the only judge in Judges who has no military function... Deborah is not asserting leadership for herself; she gives priority to a man...Deborah did speak the word of God, but her attitude and demeanour were such that she was not asserting her leadership. Instead, she handed over the leadership, contrary to the pattern of all the other judges, to a man.” (Schreiner, 1997)

It is sometimes claimed that both women lived at times when Israel was short of men who were willing to step up to the mark and lead. Barak’s reluctance to go into battle without Deborah is seen by some to be an example of this. Deborah attempts to back away from the military responsibility which should have been Barak’s, but is forced by his reluctance to take on a more prominent role. This argument claims that if a man will not respond to God’s call, then God will use a woman, but only as a ‘second choice’. His ‘best’ is the leadership of a man. Indeed Schreiner differentiates between Deborah and other prophets by pointing out that she isn’t explicitly described as being raised up by God:

“But in the case of Deborah, there is no explicit statement that the Lord raised her up...I am not suggesting that the Lord did not raise her up, for He did bring evident blessing to Israel through her, but it may indicate that the nature of her role as a prophet and a judge was different from that of the other judges in that she did not exercise leadership over men as the other judges did.” (Schreiner, 1997)

The problem I have with Schreiner's argument is that nowhere in the bible is it suggested that Deborah or Huldah are anything other than God’s chosen prophets who both clearly wielded considerable authority over important men. Huldah advised the advisors of the King – a badge of authority indeed! How anyone can see Deborah as anything other than a leader I cannot tell! Both women’s evident blessing and proclamation of God’s truth are the only indications of their divinely inspired leadership and God given authority that we should need.

I have to conclude then, that if God chose two women to have authority in the Old testament, then why not today? To deny Deborah and Huldah's God given prophetic/leadership status is to twist the Biblical accounts, making them fit a predetermined theology of male only leadership. But these passages demand that we have to take biblical approval of women's leadership seriously and then ask candidly; what does this mean for God's church today?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Well it is all beginning to feel a bit real now! I had the letter yesterday from the Bishop, telling me that he was willing to ordain me as a stipendiary curate in Chester Diocese and formally offering me a Title Post.
I will be serving this in the Cheshire countryside, in a group of parishes very different from the one I am in at the moment, which is suburban.
I am looking forward to the new challenges tremendously and can't wait to get started.
The reality is though, that I still have a secular job to go to until May, several essays to hand in and a church play to direct and produce in the meantime. Add to this co-ordinating the house move that goes with the new job and that adds up to quite a lot in a few months!
Still, it will no doubt go very quickly and I am constantly amazed at how much God has seen me through so far and have no doubt that he will be beside me, holding my hand all the way to Ordination and beyond...I'm glad of that...because I need it!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do Evangelical's emphasise the authority of leadership too much?

One of the principal reasons that some Anglicans have objected to women priests is due to their theological understanding of the functionality of the role. In the Evangelical wing of the church, Ordination is understood as a calling to leadership and authority over the people of God. Incumbents are expected to fulfil a teaching and preaching role primarily, leading the people and proclaiming God’s word from the pulpit.
The Church of England Ordinal certainly states that these roles are indeed part of priestly ministry:
“They are to proclaim the word of the Lord” and “They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God.”
It could also be argued that an authoritative role is hinted at when the ordinal says:
“They are to teach and to admonish” and “Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ's name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.”
However, nowhere is the actual word ‘authority’ mentioned. Indeed the Ordinal puts far more emphasis on serving and caring for the people of God and for those who are outside the kingdom, than on anything else.
“Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent... They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; to feed and provide for his people ...and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith...They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death.”
The language above is heavy with subservient, selfless language. It echoes the words of Jesus - the Good Shepherd and also the use of the word 'diakonos' (servant) in the letters of Paul to describe the churches leaders.
A shepherd cares for the sheep and puts himself at risk for them. A steward and a messenger both serve others. Feeding, nurturing, supporting and defending are all words which suggest selfless caring and pastoral responsibility.
In the ordinal's description, as in scripture the importance of 'being in authority' seem almost entirely absent. Why then are they emphasised so much Evangelical circles?
All Anglican priests accept the Ordinal’s description when they are ordained. If they have integrity it is fair to assume that they must agree in full with the theology of the priestly statement.
With the exception of teaching and preaching most of the ordinals listed functions of a priest could and should be fulfilled by women as well as men, even allowing for the most 'complementarian' readings/interpretations of scripture. No-one would argue that a woman shouldn’t ‘defend the poor and intercede for those in need’ for example.
Is it then just the teaching and preaching role which is really the problem for those who cannot accept women's ordination? Certainly this is the area of functionality that seems to be the most debated amongst evangelicals. It is also an area where certain biblical texts are frequently cited as definitive against the idea of women fulfilling this side of the role, 1 Timothy chapter 2: 11-12 for example.
However, teaching and preaching are something of a lesser issue if we examine the problem carefully. Many evangelicals will accept woomen as deacons and assistant priests but not as incumbents or as Bishops. Thus they are ok with women preaching as long as they are under a man's authority.
It is actually ‘authority’ that is at the centre of the issue for conservatives and more specifically the idea of ‘headship’. When commenting on the evangelical view of Ordained priestly ministry, R.T. France comments:
“But the heart of the issue is elsewhere: it is a matter of authority...the specific function of priests is not primarily specific acts in the context of worship, but an overall role of leadership in the parish.” (France, 1995)
Is it possible then that the conservative evangelical emphasis placed on authoritative leadership may be at odds with the wider expectations of the ordinal? In conservative evangelical churches, many of the listed responsibilities of a priest are rarely fulfilled by the incumbent, but are usually delegated to layworkers, often ironically - women. Something doesn't add up! The Church of England has an agreed theology of priestly ministry far from the day to day reality of the evangelical model. The ordinal emphasises servant leadership not authority. At ordination we pledge pourselves to serve, nurture and pastor the people of God as well as to teach them. But for many Evangelical clergy, pastoral care clearly is only very rarely the vicar's role..he believes himself to be called primarily to teach and preach and to be in authority over the people.
Why then are so many conservative evangelicals still happy to go through an ordination ceremony which demands that they make pledges they do not intend to fulfill and to agree to a very different theology of priesthood from which they actually hold?
That doesn't seem to me to be an example of integrity at all...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A MeMe

Pets: Two Guinea pigs
Married: Yes...for 21 years
Children: A fabulous son-aged 9
Smoke: Never
Drink: Wine sometimes, fizzy pop..toooo much
Exercise: Not if I can go in the car..which is bad because I usually can
Spend Your Life On Facebook: Yep...only way to keep up with college friends
Play On A Sports Team: see exercise...
Belong To Any Organizations: Church of England, AWESOME, CPAS,SNWTP
Love Your Job: Not my present one, it is ok but I am looking forward to what comes next..Ordained ministry...7 months to go!!
Like To Cook: Yes..Paella, Thai, Italian, Roasts...if it tastes good I will cook it
Play An Instrument: Ha ha ha
Sing: ummmm....nooooo (see above)
Dance: well I have been known to but only after too much falling down water...
Speak Multiple Languages: Nine (that's German for NO by the way, not the number..)
Ice Skate: Well I can stay upright..mostly
Swim: Yes and usually underwater
Paint: Used to paint landscapes in oils
Write: Yes, mostly plays and now sermons too..
Ski: Only once
Juggle: Why?
Do you wish you lived somewhere else?: No, nearly moved to Canada a few years back but I am so glad I didn't..(There's no place like home, there's no place like home...)
Roller coasters?: NO!!!!
Enjoy sppending time with your family? Definitely
Ever think about the price of petrol?: No, why would I? I have to buy it anyway...see exercise
Sleep with a fan on?: I live in England, how often would I need to do that?
Spelling?: Not bad but I occasionally need a dictionary..
Ever type "kik" instead of "lol?: Kik ???
Know how to play chess?: Yes but badly.
Ever miss being a little kid?: I enjoyed the freedowm we had to roam...but if I was a kid now I wouldn't have that...those days are long gone..sadly

Friday, August 21, 2009

I haven't blogged for ages as I have been a little preoccupied with arrangements for next year and also with assignments and summer stuff.

The news is that it looks as thought my curacy is pretty much sorted and it is a big relief to know where we will be as a family from July 2010. I can't say where it is yet (except that it is in the Diocese of Chester), but I will say that I am VERY pleased and can't wait to get stuck in!

However, waiting is something I am getting quite used to which is just as well as I still have 9 months of my course to go. We have LOTS of work to get through before May 31st and I am already doing assignments for next year that we were given on Summer school. Hard to believe we will be third years...time has flown by...

At summer school I ordered two clergy shirts and my ordination stole which was really scary, yet exciting!

Ahh well, times they are a changing...and it is wonderful to be a part of!

Thank you God for ALL your blessings...too numerous to mention!!!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Step in to the Light!

Just recently I have been a little surprised by some unexpected compliments/showings of respect that I have received and feel totally unable to identify with me. Having said that, receiving them has also been a great encouragement. This didn't remove the puzzlement until I read some biblical passages today which put it all into perspective.

"Have faith in the light while it is with you, and you will be children of the light." John 12

"Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.
How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast in the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light." Psalm 36

What came to mind immediately, was the fact that it is God who is righteous and holy. Therefore in one sense I am right to find other's praise incongruous. However, the Bible also tell us to to be 'a light to the gentiles'.

The best image of the light Christians are called to be that I could think of was the moon. Sometime the moon is the only light shining in the darkness. Just as the moon doesn't have an light of its own, a light which is self generated; we do not. The moon merely reflects the light of the sun. It struck me that I am in exactly the same position, I am here to reflect the light of the Son of God. If therefore people notice and comment, instead of being uncomfortable or proud; I should rejoice and remember that what is being seen is a reflection of God because he chooses to make me his child.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

One of my asignments at college is to write an art reflection on a picture which means something to me spiritually. I will then present this to a group as a talk in due course. I have chosen this rather stunning painting by He Qi, entitled Martha and Mary. I think I know what I want to say about it (as this incident in the Bible has meant a lot to me as I have wrestled through the whole egalatarian, women in ministry thing). However, if anyone out there has any nuggets of wisdom or stuff which springs to mind when they look at the painting, please comment...I can probably do with all the insight I can get!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Yay! I won and award for an instant sermon idea from a random picture! Awarded by Rachel over at Re-vis.e Re-form Here it is!

Our lives can seem like a tangled mess but God is always there in the centre of them making sense of it all and working with us despite our failings.
Philippians 2:13
It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Packaging is a big thing today..we are attracted to well packaged merchandise. Retail uses it to attract us to their product. Therefore it is big business. Everything is packaged! Clothes (labels), cosmetics, food etc etc. We even package ourselves! It's a strange and rather shallow concept really, because we are actually buying the product and usually throw away the packaging. I found a quote on the internet which hi-lighted our obsession with it.
“Urban Decay's Big Fatty Mascara - the packaging is so retro. I love it! I have been using Dior’s waterproof mascara for about a year now and I feel like it’s time for me to try a different brand. I was torn between Urban Decay's and Benefit Bad Gal, but I was sold to UD's packaging.”
Is it me, or do we seem to have got our priorities all wrong?
In Biblical times, packaging was less important. What was inside the container was the important thing. Most things were sold/stored in clay jars: Virtually every archaeological dig in the Middle East has unearthed many pieces of pottery. Pottery was a favourite material for making a wide variety of utensils. It was cheap and mouldable. It was used to make everything from pitchers and oil jars to bowls and pots. Utensils were made for a particular purpose. But all made from clay. Paul refers to these clay pots in 2 Corinthians 4. The phrase ‘Jars of clay’ that he uses is actually "earthenware vessels" and refers to a vessel serving a specific purpose (such as a jug, cup, pan or pot). When used of people it often carries the sense of "implement" or "instrument". So to be God's "vessel" is to be his instrument in carrying out a specific service.
Items of value could be kept in clay jars. They were especially popular for storing liquids because the pottery slowed evaporation and kept the contents cool at the same time. Clay pots are mentioned a lot in the Bible either directly or by inference. At the Wedding at Cana in Galilee where Jesus turned water in to wine, empty clay jars were filled with common or garden water and then Jesus miracle occurred. The water became wine. The jars themselves were not important other than to contain the fabulous wine. But without them the miracle could not have happened. Empty they were useless. Filled they became something amazing. Their existance was vital to contain the miracle.
Every person in this world is made by God and is loved by God. But just like an unfilled jar, our lives can often seem empty. To compensate for this emptiness, people try to fill their “jars” with all kinds of different things. Sometimes it is drugs, drink, TV, shopping, big houses, cars, friends, parties, work, money—and the list goes on. Unfortunately, these things are transient. They fill the longing for a time but the happiness and fulfilment soon evaporate.
Nevertheless, there is something, or rather someone, who can fill us. That someone is Jesus! The solution to our difficulties is not to struggle alone with them but to allow Jesus to take control of our lives. As Christians we accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord. That means that we accept what he did for us on the cross in dying for us and taking our sin on himself, but it also means following him, doing his will and putting him first in our lives. Not all difficulties will be removed but we will have divine strength to deal with problems and difficulties as they occur. We are all called to be witnesses to him and to his death for the world. Paul says,
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus amy also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4 v 10)
Christians are a reminder to the world of Jesus life and death and of the reason for it. It is for us to point people towards him with our lives and with our behaviour and with our words. We are the human equivalent of vessels made of common, run-of-the-mill clay--fragile and easily broken. And yet God has entrusted the treasure of the gospel to such vessels. Just as Palestinians stored their valuables in common clay pots. Why does God do this? According to Paul, he does it to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. God uses what is fragile and yet serviceable so that there might be no confusion to the origin of the gospel's power. When people see or hear Christ in us, they know that it isn’t because we are just fantastic naturally, but because it is the presence of God within us, working through us. The Greek dynamis is the term from which we derive our English word "dynamite." The gospel is not merely a message that confronts the mind but an explosive power that turns a person's life upside down.
As Jesus spoke to the woman at the well as she filled her clay jars he said: “Everyone who drinks this water, will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13 - 14).
We have this water, but we need to share it with others, we have the hope that is the Gospel. We carry this hope out into the world. Each of us have been made for a specific purpose, like clay jars we are ordinary and weak but we are all unique. We each are called to different purposes but with one thing in common; we are all made to carry something of the highest value, the death and suffering of Christ. God's message of love to mankind. How much more important, fulfilling and meaningful can life get?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Could God really be exclusively male?

There are many Christians today that truly believe that God has a gender and is therefore male, including his physical appearance and his personality traits. God created man in his image. Women were created as a 'helper' for the men from the Hebrew word (ezer)in Genesis. Subordination then is their role, designed for them by God.
However, if anything we perceive to be 'good' or 'holy' in a person is a reflection of God's nature, does that mean that only men exhibit these qualities? But surely any positives in any human MUST come from God? He is the origin of all goodness. This would of course include so called feminine attributes if we accept that females have some positive traits in their make-up. Unfortunately many Christians still harbour Greek philosophical ideas about women. They misinterpret the story of the Fall as the result of women's weakness and unsuitablility to lead. Eve was the one who upset the applecart and rebelled. Adam was an unfortunate and fairly silent victim in the whole sorry tale. According to some, all he did wrong was to lack the backbone to stand up to his wife and say NO! Consequently those preaching this theology, have to accept that they see all women as inferior. Their attitude to God's character and 'gender' betrays this. If man alone was made in the true image of God as many in this school of thought believe, then where does that leave women? I asked a friend who believes this stuff recently and his answer was that women were made in the image of man. I must conclude then that like the Greeks, women are seen by some Christians to be inherently inferior to man, not made in God's image but made in the image of Adam. Women cannot truly reflect God's nature because nothing exclusively feminine is 'good' or 'holy'. i.e. directly from God. As God's nature is inherently good; God must therefore be a male through and through...
I worry about these teachings and the effect they are having in our churches today. How many women have been damaged by them? How many have turned away from tnhe church altogether? Serious prayer is needed, so that Jesus attitude to women becomes the one we follow, not a major misinterpretation of the Biblical passages which rely mostly on translation, a lack of contextual understanding and inherited pagan attitudes.

It's not in the bread
but in the breaking
that the mystery of God's story is told.
It's not in the seed
but in the dying,
not in the treasure
but in the digging for it.
It's not in the mountain
but in its moving.

It's not in the wine
but in the pouring out
that a new world is purchased
for the weary.
It's not in the cross
but in the crucified,
not in the nails
but in the nailing.
It's not in the grave
but in the rising from it.

It's in the giving
that the gift becomes life;
it's in the living
that the Word becomes flesh.

It's in this taking,
this receiving,
this sharing of a supper,
this pointing to a future
that is promised
and paid for
and pressed into our hands;
it's in this everyday mealtime miracle
that the universe is born
to new life.

From a collection of poems by Gerard Kelly called 'Spoken Worship', published by Zondervan (isbn no: 0-310-27550-4).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I've been reading 'Why Not Women?" by Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton (YWAM Publishing, Seattle). It is a comprehensive summary of all of the arguments for an Egalatarian approach to leadership and the intention of God for humanity since the creation. I have already read a great deal of articles/books on the subject, but think that this one best sums up the reasons why many Bible believing Christians (and Evangelicals to boot), do believe that a Complementarian view of men and women is actually unscriptural and therefore against God's plan for us.
The book covers the background of Biblical and surrounding cultural beliefs about women, including the Greeks, Romans and Jews. It focuses on Jesus attitude, particularly against the backdrop of a misogynistic society and hi-lights Paul's praise of and support for certain women ministers. In particular, the book looks in detail at a number of key 'Complementarian' passages (1 Cor 14, 1 Tim 2 amongst others,)and unpacks well known theological positions such as 'Headship'.
I feel strongly that the many Complemetarians I know (I became a Christian within a Conservative Evangelical setting), have come to their views without really examining the opposing arguments. Those I have debated with, tend to assume that those of us who disagree with their interpretation of scripture (and it is an interpretation and not 'plain reading' as some would try to claim!), are throwing out our 'high view' of scripture and selling out to a reason only approach to theology and doctrine.
This book shows anyone who bothers to read it that this is just not so.
It is my hope that those who disagree with me on these issues and hold to a male headship view of Christian leadership; would at least read the opposing arguments and accept that they too have spiritual integrity and are backed up by legitimate theological scholarship. Sadly, through discussion, I have found this to be much rarer than I would like.
Those of us who have examined both perspectives (whatever position we hold), have I hope, a better understanding of and respect for the others reasoning, however much we may disagree with it. That has to be the way of Christ and thus of Christians, doesn't it?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Random thoughts

I am a little too preoccupied at the moment with something which will be decided in a few months time:- my curacy. I think the problem is down to two things.
1) I like to plan and be in control of my life and I know that instead I must leave this to God and trust him to lead all those who are involved in the discernment of where, who, which etc. to get it right.
2) I am just plain excited and can't wait to find out where it is that we as a family will be sent! What kind of community will it be? Rural or Urban? What kind of church? What will the Vicar be like? Will it be Evangelical enough for me but still accept my ministry as a female? What will our new home be like (also linked to the feminine part of me I suspect)...and so it goes on, like a swirling whirlpool of thoughts and preoccupations...
All I can actually do though is pray and wait and trust....It is at times like this when I wish I was more spiritual...

My sermom for Sunday, a sneak preview:

All things to all people: 1 (Corinthians 9:16-23)
When it comes to people, most of us live with a range of attitudes. We need people to share our lives, to socialise with, share insights and information, and to interact in ways that shape our lives and theirs. Family and friendships are very important. We are naturally social animals. On the other hand, if we are honest, there are people in this world that we have no desire to be with. With some, even minimal contact can be difficult and to be avoided!
Sometimes, the distinctions we make are personal. We just don't like some people. Sometimes, the distinctions we make are social. With some people, we feel as if we have no common ground on which to build a relationship. This isn’t anything new. Jews had no dealings with Gentiles. Greeks considered themselves superior to Barbarians. Today, Palestinians and Jews live in the same land but in a relationship marked with fierce violence. Modern British society is made up of many different cultures and traditions, many of whom never meet or experience one another as friends. Thankfully class division and racism are less pronounced than they were but they still exist. Middle class will often mix with middle class, working class with working class. I am including myself in this. How many upper class people can I call a friend for example? Our paths just don’t cross very often, we are culturally separated. Our occupations and age can also classify us and separate us from one another. In our current looks led culture, young people are often encouraged to make judgments of others purely on their appearance. We hear more and more about even children becoming obsessed with losing weight, having cosmetic surgery, spending money they don’t have on ‘looking good’. The reasons given are so that they will be popular, have lots of friends and fit in. Sad but true. Looking good has replaced the God given desire to ‘be good’ or more accurately to attempt to emulate Jesus.
It isn’t just the young who have to conform to social stereotypes and post modern cultural rules. All age groups look for certain commonalities when forming deeper friendships. This isn’t wrong in itself. It is however a problem when we develop a tendency to exclude certain kinds of person from our circle because of preconceived ideas and assumptions, without actually knowing anything about them.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks about his attitude towards other people and how he relates to them. His words in verse 22 have often been misinterpreted to mean a sort of spineless, two faced kind of attitude. I don’t believe for one minute that this is what he is getting at. Paul doesn’t mean that he wants Christians to be lovely to some one’s face and then criticise them mercilessly behind their back. Unfortunately this is a definite human trait and one that we as Christians need to be watchful of.
Instead, Paul states that he is free in verse 19, he has no obligation to anyone, he isn’t forced to behave in a particular way, or to be nice to someone just for the sake of it. We know that he was a strong character who wasn’t afraid of challenging authority, being imprisoned and ultimately he gave his life for his faith.
No, his words here refer to how he feels we as Christians should relate to others, in order that they may see God in us. As Christians we should want others to get a glimpse of God when they look at us. I have to ask myself, how often though does my attitude and behaviour fall short of that ideal?
How do we as Christians respond to one another in our day to day lives? How do we respond to different viewpoints or to different ways of doing things within the church? Are we prepared to “become all things to all men, that I might by all means save a few” In other words, are we aware that sometimes what is the best and most obvious way of being or doing to one person will not be the best and most obvious to another. We live in such an eclectic society, with the best will in the world, you can’t please all of the people all of the time and we certainly can’t all be the same, nor would we want to be – that would be pretty unexciting!
How then does the Bible teach that we should behave as individuals? Thankfully, we’re not on our own. Jesus modeled the way for us to be. He was totally at home in a range of situations and relationships. He taught the high ranking men of the synagogue (aged 12), he challenged Pharisees and Sadducees about their theology, he ate with the despised and marginalised, the tax collectors and sinners. He spoke to women, not something which was accepted or expected in his day. In the way that he related to those around him, he was ‘all things to all men’. He embodied Paul’s words. He never compromised that which was really important, but he was always ready to relook at practices which were taken for granted and turn them on their head - healing on the Sabbath for example.
Above all, to the vulnerable, Jesus was approachable. All strata’s of society felt comfortable in his company.
Approachable people exhibit the following characteristics:
1) Personal warmth; they truly like people and generate personal warmth toward those they meet each day.
2) Their moods are consistent. Approachable people are usually the same every time you see them. They may not always feel like this inside, but they work hard not to take out their moods on others.
3) Sensitivity toward people's feelings. Although approachable people are emotionally steady, that doesn't mean they expect others to be that way. They recognise that good people have bad days; consequently they tune their moods to the feelings of others and quickly adjust how they relate to them.
4) Understanding of human weakness, and exposure of their own. Novelist Ed Howes said, 'Express a mean opinion of yourself occasionally, it will show your friends that you know how to tell the truth.' Approachable people are honest about their abilities; and their shortcomings. They embrace the old proverb which says: 'Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused.' And because they can admit their own faults, they don't have a problem allowing other people to have faults as well.
5) They show an ability to forgive, and are the first to ask for forgiveness.
As Christians we need to take these concepts really seriously. Those outside of the church will look to us when they are searching for God. If we respond well to them and really show care and consideration for them, they may be more disposed towards us and may listen to what we have to share. Ultimately our hope should be that through us, they find faith for themselves. In doing so we will be living out Paul’s final words in the passage:
I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


On one of my recent course weekends we were asked to complete a personality profile test called an Enneagram. I hoped that it would identify my natural characteristics and enable me to connect my personality with my current spiritual behaviour. One of the things I continually beat myself up about is that I don't always find private prayer easy to relax into. Knowing more about my personality could help to develop my spirituality, once I knew what kinds of prayer suited my type. Learning about myself and the personality types of others would also enable me to be watchful of my reactions towards others spiritually, pastorally and socially.

The sessions explained that we have one, over-riding energy which determines our behaviour. This can be our greatest attribute and our biggest failing. It affects our outlook, prayer life, preferences and relationships. As a Type Two(helper), I learned that the need to be needed could be both positive and negative. When a ‘helper’ is at a healthy level then words such as ‘compassionate’, ‘generous’ and ‘loving’ are used. These are all qualities I would like to have and would want to see in any Christian. However; ‘manipulative’, ‘domineering’ and ‘belittling’ are used as unhealthy characteristics; disastrous qualities for an ordained minister to exhibit! Sadly, I know that all of these behaviours are possibilities for me. Therefore the Enneagram has acted as a warning as well as an encouragement.

The session relating personality types to prayer gave me a deeper insight into my own struggles and came as a bit of a relief. Because 'Helpers' are naturally busy people who enjoy being with others. I am also an extrovert which increases this need. They gain energy from interaction and so sitting quietly just resting in God can seem very unnatural. It can be done however, if we understand how our personality can be encouraged to be more reflective. Using visual aids to focus upon and let go of the worls around can be the key for my personality type. Over the past year I have tried using candles and other visuals to concentrate my mind and have begun to find just existing in God’s presence beneficial and uplifting.

The sessions helped me to be aware that I need times of silence as repose from the busyness of life and to connect the two, listening for God’s voice in response to my worries, fears and problems.