starting it all off…

17 June, 2005 at 11:28 pm 3 comments

I’m the Director of the Windermere Centre, the United Reformed Church’s residential training centre set in the Lake District. I cut my theological teeth in South Africa. I began a BTh with Unisa, and one of the first compulsory courses was something called Missiology. The lecturer was a guy named David Bosch. I was singularly unimpressed at having to waste my valuable time being diverted away from the real stuff – Old Testament, New Testament and Systematic Theology. Two hours into my first reading, I was more excited than I’d ever been in my life! Here was someone who was saying something that really mattered – and it began to change my whole understanding of what faith was all about. God was a missionary God – with an ongoing mission of salvation for the world. And the Church, if it is truly to be the Church, exists to serve that mission. Some years later, reading Theology at Durham, I wrote an undergraduate dissertation on Bosch’s work. The research involved travelling to South Africa in 1986, where I landed in the midst of the Kairos Document furore. It became a different trip altogether.

Fast forward to Cambridge, 1987. A doctoral student, working on South African political theology, I was reading the story of Beyers Naude and the Christian Institute. Now what I haven’t mentioned so far is that I grew up in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). As a keen young Christian, I left school and spent nearly 3 years in Ian Smith’s Special Branch, working in political and military intelligence. My job was extracting information from people. As I read Beyer’s story, my blood boiled. Here was a man who was doing what he was because of his faith. And the people who were persecuting him were supposed to be Christians! How could this be? Suddenly, the penny dropped: Lawrence, in Rhodesia, you were on the other side!

Life fell apart in an instant. How could I have been involved in something so profoundly anti-Christian? How come my parents – or school – or church didn’t tell me it was wrong? Worse, why did they encourage me in my “god-given duty” to protect Christian civilisation from the march of godless, atheistic Communism? And, when they had all failed me, how come God (to whom I spoke at length every day and listened to through reading the Bible) didn’t let me in on the fact?

My slow, painful quest to rebuild my faith and theology began. And the question that hammered at me with agonising insistence was, “How can it be that so often the Church is part of that from which the world needs saving?” How do we live and build a world that is a sign of God’s grace and God’s kingdom, rather than one which leads people to believe that resurrection has never happened? Who is the real Jesus? And what would the Church look like and be like if it was the institution God intends it to be?

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he taught them to pray, “Your kingdom come – which means, ‘Your will be done on earth'”. What that means in our contemporary world is what this blog’s about.

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Entry filed under: general.

Meeting Mordechai Vanunu

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lucy Berry  |  11 July, 2005 at 9:40 am

    Wol asks: “Who is the real Jesus?”.

    Today, He is the person I persecute and crucify, (either myself or in belonging to a crucifying group). He is the parts of others which I am prompt to disdain for gentleness and apparent inefficacy. He is the courage to get up after having been beaten down – or up. He is the uncondemning judge who sentences me to change.On a very good day, He is a state of mind.

    Psychology has taught us things about the personality of individuals and groups which I find very helpful: I am, we are, capable of splitting. Capable of wishing simultaneously both to save the world and to own it. Both impulses drive us, consciously and unconsciously, all the time; as individuals, as groups,as nations and as mobs.

    Psychology can un-nerve us, because it is evident that for some it has become a new religion – and because psychoses and neuroses sometimes manifest themselves as religious fervour. But psychology, like money, is neutral and can be used well.

    To understand that we carry within us all possibilities and regularly have huge, dangerous choices to make – in ongoing personal wildernesses – is safer and more life-giving than to think/believe that there is a GOOD which there is some easy access to. Actually, there is an ongoing struggle between Good and Evil taking place inside us every day. In leafy suburbia where I live the struggle is covert. A mile down the road in Tottenham, less so. In Holloway HMP, three miles south, not covert at all.

    Jesus is decency or death. He offered us all the insights he could.But he only gives them at the point when we get them. His temptations are set out for us in a way that shows something very clear cut.But our own wilderness temptations are often made up of things more subtle and insidious; such as a culture we inhabit,the received wisdom of our parents.The ethos of our church.
    Thank God for forgiveness!

    To follow Jesus is to be condemned to develop until the day we die. Or in His case, until the day when standing by his development brought about his death.

    Reply
  • 2. Wol  |  11 July, 2005 at 8:33 pm

    Wow! That is astonishingly perceptive, suggestive and moving. A fascinating coalescence of Jesus, his values, his meaning, his challenge. I find that very helpful. I couldn’t agree more, and I am sure that we’d agree closely on the detail. What, though, when someone doesn’t agree on the detail? What about the person who sees Jesus as God’s wrath and condemnation? How do we idedntify the “real” Jesus amidst competing Jesuses?

    Reply
  • 3. Lucy Berry  |  12 July, 2005 at 9:51 am

    Ok Good.

    Jesus is a way of watching how to do it. He is in the same boat. He is not outside our loop.He is neither benign or retributive. He is human. He is the way things are. Since our beginning.

    He has identified, for himself, what is important. Abiding in that has given him a personality which stirs up, heals and changes things and people. Inevitably he has got into huge trouble.

    He has considered and rejected the options of selling out or of running away.As he gets closer to being himself, (I would say closer to God), his words, silences, actions, get him further down his unique, trustworthy, terrifying road. It does with all of us.

    The truth sets him free even though it kills Him. The truth annihilates egoism (I don’t mean ego or self), the closer we approach God.The further we and he goes towards God and himself, the more impossible (and fundamentally unattractive because un-natural) it seems to go back. The truth, our individual truths, (yes personalism, but also “religio”) become more worthwhile and more trustworthy as they become more uncomfortable.

    “My husband is sleeping around” is ultimately safer than “I am frightened to find out whether he is sleeping around”. “I have cancer” is safer than “I have an unidentified lump”. “I am disappointed by my life” is safer than “everything is fine really”.”We are sinners” is safer than “We are observant”.

    You can move forward only where you have identified what is going on.

    Above all things, Jesus knew what was going on. He chose to say it.He knew that “the truth will set you free”, because it had set him free; to be himself wherever that was likeky to take him.

    People who want to believe in Jesus as a source of retribution have not noticed that Jesus was inside our loop. They may have an argument with how God behaved/behaves. Who doesn’t? But Jesus is a pattern for loving and living, according to one’s own lights, knowing oneself to be in tune, and copping the consequences.

    How the world is set up to hurt goodies and befuddle the decent is a question for God. And many people with a sense of fair play are too angry with God to admit of Him. They will object that Jesus was set up. Huge ancient problem. Yes he was, from our beginning. No he wasn’t because he had a choice.

    He is a glorious pattern for being at odds, which really good people always are. If they’re not they’re making the wrong choices.–>

    Reply

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