away in a danger

2 12 2009

where's the donkey?

Nick Baines, the Bishop of Croydon and my area bishop, has been in the news a lot the last few days.  He’s been ‘saying things’. That, my friends, is always dangerous. Of course, when nothing is said, the C of E is criticised for saying nothing. And when something is said, it is often criticised for what is said. And especially when what is said doesn’t fit with the benign, feeble and inept image people like to keep of the C of E. You see, people want the church to say something, as long as it says something that doesn‘t make a difference. Doesn’t challenge. Something suitable bland.

Bishop Nick has written some things is his new book about Christmas carols. All he has asked us to do is engage our brains, to think as we sing, to ensure that the historical and factual truths of the radical and transforming Jesus don’t become lost in the casual sentimentalism that can so easily take over each Christmas. That’s my paraphrase.  These are sensible things to say. Because it is the same Jesus who rules in power who we welcome at Christmas; as one of my congregation said, it is the same Jesus who turned the tables of the money-changers. The same Jesus.

nick's 'controversial' book

The balance we have to strike every year is that we want people to come to our carol services; we want some contact with them, we want them to catch a glimpse and maybe even a full-on view of the real, transforming Jesus. At the same time, that is not what most people are expecting or wanting. They want Away in a Manger sung by little children, some candles a familar (short) reading and nothing more. Not even coffee and a mince pie.

So how much do ‘we’ do Christmas ‘their way’ for ‘them’, because we don’t want to alienate or upset’ them’; and how much do we do Christmas for ‘us’, real and honest and raw and authentic, brazenly mad and ridiculous and dangerous a story as it is, politically murderous (the killing of the babies), historically pertinent (Palestinian refugees from a controlling state) and socially alienating (look at the reaction to Nick’s book).

god rest ye merry gentlemen

I am sure the answer is some kind of third way, a middle ground, a complex blend of the two – which sounds like the very Anglican kind of answer people expect. Sometimes, just sometimes, I want it not to be. I want to tell it like it is, rudely and loudly and obnoxiously. Then, I am away in a danger, where things are not comfortable or safe or quiet or easy. Like a baby in a cow’s dinner trough. For now, though, I will leave that to those more qualified. Who practice a little more restraint. Like cheerful bishops.

Though I will leave you with this.


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6 responses

2 12 2009
c2drl

I’m glad that Bishop Nick has said what he has and that it is making us uncomfortable. That’s the problem – Christianity isn’t a comfortable religion and it bites us sometimes where we don’t expect it. Well good, that is what we need, in the Church and in the world and all credit to Nick for having the broad shoulders to take the flack.

Maybe we need to reflect on our attitude to church. We think it is somewhere to which we can entice, drag, con people to come and that somehow they will then mystically meet with God and worship him without any help from us. Well sometimes by God’s good grace it happens but not often. A friend of mine used to say “Church is for Christians” and you know he had a point. Christians need to hear and reflect on the hard uncomfortable facts and challenges of the Bible and our God. Then they will get inspired and filled with the Spirit to go out and make a difference. While we tread daintily through the minefield we serve nobody.

For the outside world we need a different message, not a misleading one, but the one preached outside the church buildings about a God who touches the world and loves it, and loves them and says see how we live and what a difference it has made in us.

How many of us would be happy to have our lives and words scrutinised like that? Maybe that’s why we prefer to be Silent Knights.

3 12 2009
Mr The Edge

It is always good to be thinking about things, so things which make us think are good. That’s what I think.
First, I must disclose a prejudice: I hate Christmas carols. Actually, it’s carol services I really hate. Because they are the same thing. Every year. Stuck in a heritage nostalgia loop. Why don’t we have any new carols to sing? Are they not being written? And if they are, would anyone want to sing them? Yes & no, probably. The traditional carol service mafia won’t allow us to modernise, even if we wanted to
I quite like the fact that Cro-Bish-Nick has stirred things up. Let’s stir everything up, I say! Life is much more interesting that way. But what he has reportedly said is perhaps rather preposterous in some respects.
Can Christians really expect people to take us seriously when we say that to sing songs about a baby not crying in a manger is simply ludicrous, because all babies cry. So we should be a bit more intelligent, really. Yet we contend that it is perfectly rational to insist that the virgin birth which produced the helpless babe is a FACT. So anyone who intelligently asserts that surely all birth mothers must have had sex beforehand is just being rather naive?
And shepherds following a star across fields towards a messiah baby is a perfectly rational act, of course, not to mention a FACT. Because it’s in the Bible. And anyone who is intelligent would no doubt acknowledge that not to believe in that particular story is a personal failing that they will need to go back to their Bible and do some homework on. They need to check their facts, of course.
I have enjoyed reading some of the fall-out from this subject in the papers. But I’m usually laughing and cringing at the same time. Not much that Christians assert as facts are really facts, are they? They are beliefs. And that’s why it’s called faith, isn’t it?
Anyway, it’s Christmas time. There’s no need to be afraid. And there won’t be snow in Africa…

3 12 2009
Kevin

We assert some ludicrous sounding things. And we try to assimilate 2 different stories, and then get annoyed when tradition and folklore try to squeeze in as well. So, Jesus was born in Bethlehem – did they already live there (Matthew) or travel from Nazareth (Luke). Were there Magi (Matthew) or shepherds (Luke)? Did they escape to Egypt (Matthew) or return to Nazareth (Luke)? Was he born at home (Matthew) or a stable (nowhere) or all we know is ‘laid in a manger’ (Luke). Was Mary a virgin or simply a young girl? Where is the donkey? How many wise men were there? And so on.

The problem is, if we need the stories to match up in modern ‘accurate’ terms, they don’t – bang goes so-called Biblical in-errancy’. The point is, like with Genesis 1 and 2, the writers wanted to get across that Jesus birth was special, unique, miraculous, ordinary and extraordinary. How then do we understand it for today? Immanuel only knows.

And actually, there is snow in some parts of Africa at Christmas (the really high bits!).

3 12 2009
carol

The trouble is Christmas Carols, tinsel and the like, obscures the astounding truth of THIS baby being God. So lets keep busy, get sentimental, sing a few carols and open our presents, but God forbid that we stop, think and ponder on Emmanuel-God with us. That’s far to close to home and uncomfortable!

10 12 2009
18 12 2010
away in a danger II: return of the fool « the blog of kevin

[…] they love to sing the favourite songs like away in a manger And they insist on three wise men and some things even stranger But it reminded me that such […]

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