A visit not from the suffragan but the diocesan bishop for the morning service. I found him very personable and communicative. Certificates were handed out to younger people, and indeed to other people including myself - for completion of The Bishop's Course: Exploring Our Faith over a two year period. Interesting that I did, and where it got me.
The sermon was something like this: that if we were John the Baptist's people, we would go home now - after all we've repented and had a blessing; but as partakers of the Eucharist meal we are Jesus's people. The problem with that essential division is what about the people who don't go forward, including, now, myself? Should we have said thank you for the reminder and gone home? Am I no longer a Jesus person, because I disagree with making statements and promises of a faith - statements about Jesus that I think are false, yet still recognising in a more voluntary and critical way some of the messages of Jesus?
There was a West Gallery Choir Evensong, for a change, that continued the Christmas theme (indeed, not just Epiphany) because of the method of presentation, and I listened and participated in expressing beliefs that are a fiction. This really is about a claimed history of the world that I don't recognise, a salvation-incarnation faith that has slipped through the fingers if it was ever in the hand. Well it's a story, but people want to make it into an alternative history of the world.
Then I watched much of the Channel 4 (plus 1) broadcast of Christianity: A History as presented in part 1 by Howard Jacobson. I rather think he has it right. Jesus, the Jew, had a message rooted in his own faith, and it is Paul, of "doublethink", who created this religion of salvation about Jesus. In two hefty bursts the Romans destroyed the Messianic Judaism of the day, and that strand held within Jesus's family was lost (there are claims of continuance: for example the Kanai Jews for whom Jesus is the fore-filment of the Law). From the New Testament time grew the division that was to become outright anti-semitism, as at York, and (interestingly) Lincoln in this country, long before the Nazis.
I'm afraid I'm with Howard Jacobson here, and I put it that Jesus pointed away from himself to God in his end time preaching and teaching, and that it is the early Church we are presented with in the New Testament that turns the focus around (even to look forward). And yet even doublethink Paul did not regard Jesus as divine, even if Jesus had the sole job as Lord in bringing in the Kingdom (Paul says Jesus will yield the Kingdom to the Father: the Nicene Creed says it will have no end - a critical difference).
Of course I haven't suddenly discovered these opinions; it is just that you somehow merge them with the tradition and try to extract the Jesus ethic out of the awkward tradition. It is just the conviction that you follow what seems to be right. This conviction seems to be right.
At one time the catechumens went home. As the confirmed went to the Thanksgiving Prayer that was to the Eucharist, the others left. At one time Christianity was accessible to the people who went home, and usually came for worship less clubby. Now it's nearly all for insiders, those who agree, and it rather excludes the rest. I don't know how it is going to recruit new people.
I could be less rigid: why not be as easy going as the rest? I might be, and might be very inventive with my theology again. I could be a Radical Orthodox and live the bubble in fantastic detail, and not believe a word of it. But I still used to think as Howard Jacobson does, and I do now. The difference is that now I feel more consistent.
Over on Fulcrum one or two keep going on about false teachers and the like, in a kind of narrow band of people who put the New Testament document up as the highest authority regardless. It isn't: it is deeply flawed. The false teacher, really, was Paul: a manager of churches where some Greek culture people wanted to join the monotheists without having to have bits chopped off their willies and not obeying strange food laws. Paul let them in, because once he said you can't be faithful to the Law and have a Messiah (to Jews who followed Jesus's urgent message) and then he changed sides without changing his mind and said you have to believe in salvation by Messiah and not need the Law - it had done its job containing sin. So he let a lot of different people in and turned the thing into something else. He even had a stripped down focused ritual for the Christians when they had continued a love feast more in the Jewish manner, and he said that his spiritual experience was the resurrection that thus was an event, as well as something about expectation. The faith was in one of those highly creative, meltdown and reforming charismatic periods you get when there is a period of intense social and political rupture, when hope is built into rituals. See Peter Owen Jones (also on TV) when he looks at those faiths that take from the past but arise after a local ground-shifting rupture.
Michael Goulder taught New Testament, knew all this, and after a long time sent his collar back, but others have been doggedly on the edge or off the edge and still participated. That's what I'm thinking about now: that I really honestly don't believe the presentation as given but I shall just participate as a practioner and as an extractor of this material. Or, inevitably, a point comes, sometime, when I shall end up going home.
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