Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reading in the New Year

I really do pity my loved ones when it comes to the traditional gift giving times of the year, birthdays and Christmas in particular. I am a nightmare to buy stuff for, mainly because I have very clear ideas about the things I like and even the tiniest little thing can take something from the "yes I'll have that" pile to the "no, never, buy me that I will be offended for life" pile - as you can imagine, I am a nightmare to go shopping with.

The safest bet with me, as I constantly tell Mrs Velkyal, is books. I love books, I love reading, and to be perfectly honest, if I could spend my life surrounded by books then I would be as happy as Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. One of my long term ambitions is to build a house to my own design, the centre piece being an atrium going from the ground floor to the roof which would be my library and study.

I must admit to having dropped several very large hints at Mrs Velkyal that I wanted a copy of Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" - I book I have pondered getting several times before but not gone ahead with. My interest in the book was re-stirred when I discovered that my eldest brother was reading it, and given our history of theological discussions (usually over pints somewhere - the pub is so much more conducive to good conversation I find, infinitely preferable to a Bible study group) I decided I would angle for a copy so that we have more to discuss.

One of the things I love about Mrs Velkyal, other than being Mrs Velkyal, which is worthy of a medal in and of itself, is that she often goes beyond the call of duty, thus is was I also received a copy of Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth", which I am very much looking forward to delving into. Sometimes though I like to give myself the occasional present, and so I bought a copy of Thiselton's "The Hermeneutics of Doctrine" - I loved hermenetics at college, and thoroughly enjoyed Thiselton's "New Horizons in Hermeneutics".

I am sure that these books will stir many a thought in my brain, and that I'll be making reference to them time and again in the coming months, so here's looking forward to some good reading!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Very Happy Christmas!

Despite my many, and fairly well documented, misgivings about the Christian religion, or faith, whatever you want to call it - the only difference is semantics and a self important notion of somehow being different from other Christians - Christmas is one of the festival of the church that I really love.

Is there any more powerful message in all of human experience than that God would deign to take on human form, coming to preach a message of the possibility of humanity's reconciliation with their creator?

Of course, the message of Christmas, of Christianity really, is that humanity can be better than it is, that the constant cycle of emnity, warfare and hatred need not be the norm for the human race, that peace and goodwill can extend to all of God's creation - it is a vision still worth living for.

Being an Episcopalian at Christmas is to drench oneself in the traditions and rites of the church, embodied so much in the Lessons and Carols service, especially at King's College. Here are some clips from this most beautiful of service.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Missing Millenium

I often reflect that there was a glaring great gap in the theological education I received at college, and this isn't an attempt to disrespect everything I learnt at college.

For many of us in the one of the various Protestant traditions we miss out on about 1200 years of theological thought and development because our worldview basically goes as follows from a historical perspective:
  • Acts of the Apostles
  • Early Church up to 313AD
  • The Reformation
If you accept the Reformation began with the nailing of the 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517 then most Protestants ignore a thousand years of Christian thought, devotion, expression and spirituality in the misguided notion that from Constantine's alleged conversion to Martin Luther shaking Europe to its very core nothing of note happened.

Naturally there are precursors to the Reformation in the work of the Waldensians, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, but there were also many honest and sincere theological reflections during those thousand years which can feed our spiritual lives today.

There are several writings that I have found instructive and edifying in the years since I left college and started exploring those thousand years, and here I would recommend them to your own reading:
  • The Imitation of Christ - Thomas a Kempis
  • The of Life of St Columba - Adamnan
  • The Writings of Julian of Norwich
In recommending these works, I ask that we remember that all human writings are flawed in some way, for as St Paul reminds us, "we see through a glass darkly". None of us sees or understands the Gospel in all its fullness, the divine mind is simply beyond us, but in sharing that which we see, we hope others gain from our insight, as we look to gain from theirs.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Passion

Over on Murgsy's blog, written by my best friend from college, Cristi, is currently posted a story about an Aston Villa fan who is so passionate about his club that he has only missed one game in 30 years. I had to give Cristi kudos for not turning the story into a bash of people who shout and scream from the terraces or, from the comfort of a pub, at a TV set whilst watching a match of football, yet like a quiet, reflective form of Christian expression.

Said kudos is due largely because I am one of those people. Although in recent years I have improved remarkably when it comes to being vocal watching a match, a fact I put down very much to the calming influence of Mrs Velkyal, I have spent many a sermon sat squirming as the preacher berated football fans for using their passion in support of a club, instead of jerking around in church with St Vitus' Dance.

To be blunt, such preachers simply do not understand the nature of passion, and I think part of the misunderstanding is that they fail to see that the most common emotion of the football fan is frustration, not passion, if you are a Liverpool fan, think back to Houllier's last season and you'll know what I mean.

Passion is not about noise, not about being wildly demonstrative, not about flamboyance, passion is about what you care most deeply about, they key there being "deeply". Passion without depth is just splashing around trying to make a good impression.

I love the story of when Elijah, having proven the superiority of YHWH and slaughtered the false prophets, does a runner from the retribution of Jezebel and hides in a cave. There follows a mighty wind, an earthquake and a fire, none of which contain the comfort of God, only in the still small voice did God speak to Elijah.

So let others bang on about the latest fad in worship music, or the latest manifestations of the Holy Spirit, God is still the still small voice - perhaps we should learn to shut up?