Opening Doors Onto the Past

A Story from the Mabinogion

Manawydan ap Llyr had surrendered himself to feasting, to pleasure and to forgetting. Year after year he and his six companions gratified their desires in the Great Hall of Gwales Castle in Penfro. Year after year they ate and drank, sang and danced. They had nothing to drink to and nothing to sing about and yet they continued with their empty celebrations. Pleasure without purpose and happiness without reason, these had preoccupied them for a magical and unreal lifetime. Continue reading

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Faith and Human Maturing

In setting out to reflect on the relationship between faith and human maturing I’m aware that these are not often considered together. An individual can be said to be mature in their faith but their maturity as a person does not necessarily follow from that. But I believe that faith and human maturity depend on each other. Human maturity is necessary for a person to be mature in their faith, but, at the same time faith is necessary for human maturity. Thomas Aquinas was saying something along these lines when he wrote that grace presupposes nature and grace perfects (completes) nature. And so if the project of the church is the promotion of the mature humanity that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4 then we must recognise the close and interdependent relationship that exists between the two.

I may be preaching to the converted here, but I certainly come from a tradition where faith and human maturity are treated as distinct and independent qualities. A young person can be converted and immediately seen as having a mature faith, even though they don’t yet have a mature character. It is as though a mature faith can be Continue reading

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The Giving of Thankfulness

Reading Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 the other day, I was struck yet again by how the apostle is so eager to tell his readers of his thankfulness to God for them. This got me thinking about the nature and significance of the act of giving thanks for each other. These are some of the thoughts that popped into my mind…

What it is Continue reading

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The Pastor Mask

 

It is a characteristic of the modern world that many (most?) of us assume a persona of some sort; a mask that enables us to hide our real selves from the outside world. This is why some have called our era in the Western world the narcissistic age. More than ever before we feel exposed to the judgement of others through the scrutiny of social media and the tyranny of ever-shifting ‘norms’ of how we should look, what we should wear and where we should shop. This results in us adopting a false self to present to the world in order to defend against being rejected or to deny to ourselves the inner sense of shame with which our culture has burdened us. Sadly, in order to conform to society’s expectations many of us opt for a ready-made off-the-shelf mask, a stereo type of what we mistakenly think is an acceptable or ‘normal’ person. We then put a huge amount of our energy into this attempt to appear normal at the expense of who we really are.

One of these off-the-shelf masks is the pastor mask. Continue reading

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Unacceptable Unacceptability

In a previous post I mentioned Karl Barth’s definition of faith as accepting the acceptance of God. Paul Tillich says a little more than this when he defines faith as accepting our acceptance in spite of our unacceptability. According to this definition faith requires the acknowledgement of our unacceptability. This, even for seasoned Christians is much easier said than done.

Instead of accepting our unacceptability and exposing it to the grace of God we defend against troubling presence through making our acceptance by God conditional. In this way, although on a conscious level we really do believe that we are sinners saved only by God’s grace, on a psychological level we completely avoid being exposed to our unacceptability. So long as we fulfil certain conditions we are perfectly acceptable.

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Lessons I am Learning in the Ministry (5)

Preaching Needs to be Relational

One of the drawbacks of writing about any given subject is that some who read it are going to (very understandably) assume that you are setting yourself up as an expert on that subject. For this reason I have hesitated a great deal before putting finger to keypad on the topic of relational preaching. It would simply not be honest for me to give the impression that I have mastered the practice of relational preaching. But what I have done is thought a great deal about how to apply what I have learned about relating to others to the activity of preaching.

The thought that preaching needs to be relational in its character arises from the fact that when God speaks he does so relationally. Jesus is God’s message to the human race. As the incarnate Word of God he is God’s embodied and interpersonal expression. When God declares his message to his creation he does so, therefore, in the most relational manner Continue reading

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Rewritten By Grace

At its heart my pastoral and therapeutic work is about interacting with the stories people tell themselves about themselves. As they tell me their stories they are often looking to discover something new about their past and to choose new possibilities for the future. Their understanding of who they are, which is formed through the story they tell themselves about their life, has in some way stopped working in their favour and is limiting their potential for growth and flourishing. My job is to help them as they search for a new way to narrate their lives.

It is the possibility of radically changing our stories that the grace of God offers. As such it creates the context within which flourishing is made possible because it, more than any other transformational force, can simultaneously reach into our past and our future and Continue reading

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