Archive for February, 2017

Talking About Inclusivity

Posted: February 22, 2017 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Since the autumn, Revive have dedicated their teaching evenings to conversations about inclusivity, taking the categories identified by Inclusive Church as a starting point, but adding age and dividing gender into identity and equality.

We invited a series of speakers to come and talk from their own experience, to open our eyes to the stories of those who have traditionally or historically been excluded by churches, and to start us thinking about how we can better love and affirm those who have been hurt and rejected.

We grounded our conversations in experience because this is not a purely academic issue, but has a very real impact on the way we live out our call to love one another. Of course the stories we have heard are only a handful among many, and if they tell us anything at all it should be that we must seriously commit to listening to the other and coming to know them as individuals made in the image of God.

What follows is a very brief summary of what each of our speakers brought to our meetings. It would have been impossible to accurately represent the whole conversation, but hopefully this will spark some memories and lead to some new trains of thought.

 

Sexuality

Andy Johnson and Alan Golden are a couple whose home has become something of a sanctuary for members of the local LGBTQ community. They shared their mixed experiences of growing up in churches as young gay men, with stories of both rejection and embrace. Alan’s response to being told that we were looking at what it meant to be an inclusive church was along the lines of ‘so they’ve decided to find out what it means to be church’, challenging us to recognise that inclusivity is in the fabric of who and what we are called to be.

 

Gender Identity

Helen Belcher is a trans rights campaigner who was one of the founders of Trans Media Watch. She and her wife shared the story of Helen’s transition, including some incredibly damaging experiences of church. She used a spectrum from ‘Barbie’ to ‘Action Man’ to demonstrate that none of us fit neatly into boxes, calling us to widen and nuance our understanding of identity.

 

Gender Equality

Leigh Greenwood is Revive’s minister in training and finds herself in a minority as a woman in ministry. She shared her positive experience of growing up in a church that actively encouraged female ministry, and her hurt at watching the debate over women bishops in the Church of England. She noted that while Revive does value women and affirm their ministry, we will still encounter those who hold or are held back by other views. She confessed that she has become deaf to those who oppress women in the church, and asked if she should unplug her ears and engage in the conversation. She also raised the questions of how men are included in church, as women are increasingly in the majority in the congregations, and statistics concerning male mental health suggest that the church is not adequately providing a place of emotional and spiritual safety.

 

Poverty

Glen Marshall is co-principal at Northern Baptist College and was previously a minister in a former mining community. He talked about God’s heart for ‘the least of these’, the poor and the homeless who Jesus identifies with in Matthew 25:31-46. He also challenged us to think about why we are seeking to be more inclusive, and what impact greater inclusivity would have on our community.

 

Mental Health

Leigh Greenwood is (still!) Revive’s minister in training and she has a history of mental illness. She shared her experience of depression as a child and anxiety as a teenager, and her belief that God was working out an ongoing healing in her life. She suggested that we need a more nuanced understanding of healing, which sees God in coping as well and in cure, and recognises that God works through medication and management as well as through miracles. She also talked about the need to be a community of care and hold space in which it is safe to be vulnerable.

 

Age

Simon Hall is Revive’s founding minister who has experience of ministry across a span of age ranges. Simon got us thinking about ways in which we had felt excluded because of our age, encouraging us to thinks about our different needs and expectations at different stages of life. He talked about the way in which spiritual experience seems to be educated out of us in our middle years, so that children and the elderly have a particular gift of spirituality to give to the church.

 

Ethnicity

Gill Thurgood and Harland Rivas have recently returned from Peru where they served for several years with BMS World Mission. Unfortunately they were unable to make the meeting due to illness, but Simon and Leigh were able to draw on previous conversations with them so that we were still able to explore this issue. Leigh talked about some of the cultural values and assumptions that shape us but threaten to exclude others, and Simon spoke about how the story of Pentecost expresses God’s desire to draw all people together without destroying difference. Simon also shared Gill and Harland’s observation that embracing different ethnicities will mean contending with different theologies.

 

Disability

Sally Nelson is Baptist tutor at St Hild College and she has a particular interest in the theology of disability as her daughter has complex and profound disabilities. She challenged us with the fact that people with disabilities are the largest unreached people group, and used the parable of the great banquet as a picture of God seeking out and drawing in those with disabilities just as they are. She also talked about the importance of lament and adjusting expectations when faced with disability, and shared that research suggests relationship is more significant than access when it comes to inclusivity.

 

To quote Sally, inclusivity means creating a space where everyone can contribute equally, and that will mean rethinking everything. That might seem an overwhelming task, but it begins with a desire to talk openly and to love freely, and that is perhaps not so frightening.

 

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 This image is of a statue outside Coventry Cathedral, which has dedicated itself to dialogue and reconciliation since it was bombed during the Second World War.

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Coming and Going

Posted: February 16, 2017 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… (Matthew 28:19-20)

Revive are about to start a series on how we handle the Bible, how we take it seriously and use it respectfully, so in the spirit of practicing what I (am about to) preach, I want to start with a disclaimer.

There was some distance of time and difference in context between these two sayings of Jesus, and we have to be careful when we take two separate verses and slam them together to make a point, so as is always the case on this blog, what follows is only my own simple musings. I hope there will be some kernel of truth in it, but I can’t claim it is gospel truth.

With that out of the way, these two verses came into my mind during a discussion at college on Monday, and they brought with them a sense of a rhythm of coming and going, like tides rolling up and down a beach.

Jesus calls us to come to him to unburden ourselves and find rest, and then sends us out to our holy work refreshed. And when our witness in the world leaves us weary, he calls us back to himself to begin the pattern again.

Sometimes that happens over an extended period. We come to church to simply be part of a praying and worshiping and learning community, and we are nourished and invigorated, and then we find a calling for our gifts and passions, and we set ourselves to a particular work for the kingdom.

We come and we go.

Perhaps for many of us it is our weekly routine. We see Sundays as a chance to recharge our batteries, giving us a protected space to meet with God before plunging into another week.

We come and we go.

But it can also happen as part of the day to day rhythm of our lives. We start the morning or close the evening in prayer, and go about our day in the knowledge that every act can be an act of service.

We come and we go.

We come and we go.

Like tides rolling up and down a beach, we come and we go.

tides

 

It Is What It Is…Or Is It?

Posted: February 8, 2017 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

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I’ve been hearing the phrase “it is what it is” a lot recently. It seemed to appear from nowhere, masquerading as an age old saying full of profound insight, so I decided to do a bit of digging.

I was surprised to discover that it really is an age old saying (it’s the title of a prose piece by the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi, and was used in the 17th century by the philosopher John Locke to describe the concept of essence) although I’m still not sure if it really is full of profound insight.

The phrase itself is kind of redundant as it doesn’t actually tell us anything, but it seems intended to say  “this is the way things are and I can’t do anything about it”, like a verbal shrug which reassures us that there is no point worrying and relieves us of the need to act.

I don’t doubt that sometimes we must accept our circumstances, because sometimes there are things we have no control over, but I’m not so sure that the easy resignation suggested by this phrase is ever truly the best option.

Because I think there is a difference between acceptance and resignation. Acceptance recognises the truth of difficult situations, resignation simply allows them to happen. Acceptance opens the way to transforming pain and dissatisfaction through strength and humour, resignation surrenders to those negative feelings with no promise of comfort or respite.

“It is what it is” may be helpful in as much as it encourages us to accept our given reality, but it may also be harmful in as much as resigns us to a loss of agency.

Perhaps it is not mistaken, but merely incomplete. “It is what it is, but…” “It is what it is, so…” Perhaps these are phrases that hold the power to move beyond resignation to acceptance, from despair to hope, through pain to peace.

In Philippians 4:6-8, Paul gives us an idea of what that “but…” and “so…” might look like:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Because whatever the “it” of our circumstances, we never lose the power to pray, and those things that are true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy are the eternal “it” of God.

On Ethics

Posted: February 1, 2017 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

As regular Revivers and readers will know, I am studying part time while I train for ministry. One of the modules I am taking at the moment is Christian Faith and Ethical Living, and even though I have studied ethics before, I am increasingly aware that it is changing the way I think, not just about particular moral issues but about how we come to make moral decisions in the first place.

 

We have studied three ethical frameworks, arguably the three we most instinctively fall back on even if we could not name them, and it may help for me to outline them briefly before explaining how studying them has had such an impact on me.

Command ethics is concerned with right actions, holding that behaviours are always right or always wrong, in accordance with a guiding principle. For the philosopher Immanuel Kant, that principle was ‘do as you wish everyone else would’. For many Christians, it is the authority of God as expressed in scriptural commands.

Consequentialism focuses on right outcomes, holding that actions must be judged according to the effects they bring about. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill developed a strand of this ethics called utilitarianism, which argued that the right action was the one that brought the greatest happiness to the greatest number. Joseph Fletcher’s explicitly Christian version of situation ethics made agape the only binding principle, so that the right action was the one which most demonstrated love.

Virtue ethics puts the spotlight on right character, holding that good decisions are the result of the practice of good habits. Aristotle believed that virtue trod the line between deficiency and excess, so for example courage is the balance between cowardice and rashness. For theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, virtue is located in the life of Christ as practiced by the community of faith.

I’ve not done any of these strands of thought justice by a long shot, but hopefully these brief summaries are enough to give you an idea of how each framework might be applied as a Christian ethic.

 

So how has all of this started to shape my thinking? And why have I chosen to blog about it?

First of all, I have become more conscious of my thought processes. I instinctively use elements of all three frameworks, but now that I have the language to describe what is going on in my head, I have started to unpick the various threads.

When I was woken up at 2am by a crying baby a few nights ago, I found myself leaning over his cot wondering what each framework would say about the ethics of controlled crying. And my television watching has given me plenty of opportunity to practice this new pastime.

Second, this more deliberate way of thinking has changed some of my decisions. On Monday I had to give a presentation exploring how one of the frameworks would handle a moral dilemma we have faced, and I ended with the conclusion that I would make a different choice if faced with the same dilemma again.

That was partly because I have come to learn more about the issue, entirely separately from my studies, but partly because reflecting on some of the weaknesses of the frameworks led me to realise some of the weaknesses in my own approach, and led me towards a wider and more generous perspective.

And so I guess I’m blogging about this to encourage you to think a little more intentionally about how you make moral choices. Many of the decisions we are faced with are made before we even realise it, but reflecting on the whole process away from a particular crisis may lead to some interesting and influential insights.

ethics