Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Preacher, keep yourself from idols - Derek Tidball.

Probably one for the ministers this although it may do people in the pews some good to see that preaching is perhaps more complex than they realized.

The book has been pulled together from a series of lectures given by the author to a theological seminary in the USA.  I certainly heard nothing like this while I was training.  In fact, I heard very little about preaching at all.  So I am glad that some ministers in training have heard these lectures so early in their formation.  

Tidball begins with an examination of ‘idolatry’ and puts forward the idea that while preachers do not construct idols of wood and stone they are prone to more subtler forms of idol worship.  He writes:

‘While no preacher today would bow down to literal images, there are more subtle forms of idolatry that can prove to be temptations.  Messengers of God are particularly vulnerable to the kind of idolatry that is a distortion of what is good.  All Christian leaders are familiar with the way in which their service for God can become the end game of their lives, displacing God himself.  Honesty would compel many of us to admit that at times ‘the work‘ and ‘the ministry‘ are the reason for our existence.  We find our identity in ‘the service‘ we render, rather than any real relationship with the living God.  It is possible to continue to go through the motions of ministry, and even on the surface to be quite effective in ministry, long after the relationship has died.‘      

With this thought Tidball organizes potential idols for preachers under four headings: idols associated with the self, the age, the task and the ministry.  In all of this preachers are called to have a proper perspective on the work never allowing self to become inflated by the temptations of authority and power; never allowing the standards of the age to shape our message; never allowing preaching itself to become our ‘god’; never allowing the ministry to take precedence over the Master.  

A challenging read, folks.  At times I felt I was being opened up and scrutinized under a very bright light but feel I am the better for it.  

Give Peace A Chance.

In the Imperial War Museum in London there is a series of photographic portraits of young men and women who have recently served in Afghanistan or are at present still serving there.  They are all quite striking not least because they are all close-ups of the face with each set of eyes telling their own story.  To the left you see Marine John Beesley from 40 Commando, Royal Marines, who served in Afghanistan in Summer 2010.   The exhibition is a reminder of the uniqueness of each human life, the courage of those whose lives are endangered in the line of duty and the tragedy when a young life with all its possibilities is extinguished.   

It occurred to me as I moved from one portrait to another that this would be a meaningful way to spend part of Remembrance Sunday, just to pause in front of each portrait and to give thanks for each by name and to commend their lives to God.  I came away with a deeper sense of all that is demanded by war and a new, more heartfelt  prayer for peace.

I’ve come a long way from the day when I wrote ‘Give Peace A Chance’ on the front of a school jotter.  It’s all a lot more complicated than that, I tell myself.  And yet . . . surely the plea behind these words rises from a heart that is weary of the cost of war and longs for circumstances where the best in human nature can flourish.  The prophet Isaiah received a vision of a Day when God would settle all disputes between the nations, when swords would be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, when weapons of war would be completely abandoned and no one would see the need even to train for war.  (Isaiah 2: 3-5)

I believe that Day will come when Christ will bring His great plan for the Universe to glorious completion and everything that makes us cry will be flushed out of Creation.  Until that time those who follow Him are called to work and pray for that peace which can only be found in Him and through Him.  I hope that commitment will be renewed in all of us in this season of Remembrance.      

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Mystery Worth Exploring!

A quick visit to London and an opportunity to see Simon Callow at the Playhouse Theatre in ‘The Mystery Of Charles Dickens’.  Essentially he is the Narrator of Dickens’ life but from time to time through quotations from letters, journalism and other sources be becomes the man himself.  Best of all, though, he inhabits characters in the novels, 35 in all.  All the favourites are brought on: Ebenezer Scrooge, Uriah Heep, Mr Bumble, Sam Weller.  However, Callow has said that Mrs Gamp from ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’  is his favourite and it shows.  It’s not only the voice but his face and body transform into the booze-soaked midwife.  Remarkable and very funny.    

Callow is on stage for about ninety minutes with a short break in the middle.  It must be very demanding especially as he gives so much to the performance.  Watching and listening I was reminded of a story told by Donald Coggan in his book ‘The Ministry Of The Word.’

‘The then Archbishop of Canterbury once asked Thomas Betterton (1635-1710) why actors seem to have no difficulty in making an impression on their audiences, while preachers frequently leave them cold.  The famous actor replied: ‘Actors speak of things imaginary as if they were real, while you preachers too often speak of things real as if they were imaginary.’  

It is obvious that Simon Callow has made a profound connection not only with a man he has never met but with characters which have emerged from that man’s imagination.  And he has been blessed with the gift of being able to communicate something of the reality he has gathered.

It is something very like this which is at the heart of Christian devotion.  The centre of our faith is a Person, Jesus Christ, and it is as we connect with the truth of who He is and His teaching and the significance of His death and resurrection that we are transformed and given grace to reflect something of Him in our lives.  This is a mystery but one well worth exploring and proclaiming.  

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

'In A Land Of Myth . . .'

Never a fan of ‘sword and sorcery’, immune to the Tolkien bug, bored with Harry Potter after the third film yet I have awaited this new series of ‘Merlin’ with an excitement quite unbecoming a middle-aged Presbyterian gentleman.  Saturday nights are now worth looking forward to for more than just ‘Match Of The Day.’  From the moment of John Hurt’s majestic intro to whatever cliff-hanger lies at the end, I am enthralled.  

So what is the appeal?  When something which goes so much against the grain is so enjoyable the question is worth asking.  

For a start, I like the strong sense of friendship which runs through the stories.  On the surface Merlin in Prince Arthur’s dogs-body, running errands, preparing food, polishing armour.  What Arthur doesn’t know is that Merlin is a gifted wizard who has been given the task of protecting the young prince from any danger.  The prophecies say that Arthur will one day be a great king and Merlin has a role in bringing that to reality.  The problem for Merlin is that his influence, his crucial role in holding Camelot together must remain hidden. 

The other important friendship is that between Merlin and the Court Physician Gaius played by Richard Wilson, better known as Victor Meldrew.  He has a great knowledge of sorcery and legends and is one of the few people who know of Merlin’s magical gifts.  As Merlin’s mentor he often keeps the young wizard’s sometimes impetuous nature in check.  

Destiny is also a major theme.  All the main characters have their moments of achievement and failure, they make their personal choices for good or ill,  but they are being carried along by a force they have no control over which will lead to the fulfillment of Arthur’s great Kingdom.  Along the way there will be dark forces seeking to prevent this but although they do much harm and leave their mark the great destiny will not be denied.

It looks as if there will be many challenges for Arthur and Merlin in series five and I will be fighting every monster and evil knight along with them.  Apparently, when I was a wee boy watching westerns I used to dress up as a cowboy.  Anyone got some spare armour?