Monday, 12 January 2009

Interesting Day...

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.


Mark Harris said...

You have an amazingly thoughtful way of putting your cards on the table, and courage.

I may have more to say later, but for now, thank you for this very fine blog entry.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Gosh you were quick. I was still editing it (like you print something out and go grrrr!).

Anonymous said...

I'm stunned at the progress I haven't found elsewhere in the Christian world.

I'm about 3 decades ahead; a former Baptist preacher who is now, instead, an Orthodox Jew in good standing in an Orthodox synagogue in Ra'anana, Israel... and the 16th Paqid, having restored the original Netzarim within the only community Ribi Yehoshua recognized: Pharisee (Orthodox) Jews.

(Others claiming to be Netzarim are fakes not recognized in the Orthodox Jewish community of Israel.)

Paqid Yirmeyahu
Paqid 16, The Netzarim, Ra'anana, Israel
Israeli Orthodox Jew (Teimani Baladi Dardai)
Advancing Logic as Halakhic Authority
Welcoming Jews & non-Jews

Erika Baker said...

The dominance of the Eucharist was one of the reasons my benefice decided to allow children to Communion. It just became so grating that regardless of their faith they were excluded from the high point of the service. And every time we said the post communion prayer “thank you for feedings us…” we were starkly aware that some of us had not been allowed to participate.

But what about people who do not want to participate?
You know that I share a lot of your experience and your dilemma.

But from the church’s point of view, however wide you cast your boundaries, there is a point at which individuals fall just in-and-outside them. Unless you have an open to all worship without any specific religion you cannot avoid that problem.

Ultimately, it is up to us. I could still make the many mental adjustments necessary to say the creeds because I have no doubt about the core truth to which Jesus points.
It is a hard balancing act and it often felt dishonest. But, actually… dishonest only vis-à-vis those who claim to know what and how I must believe to be “in”. Not dishonest vis-à-vis the God I believe in.

The church has changed Jesus’ teachings? Yes! That is only a problem if you don’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, or whatever you call the force that leads us into deeper and deeper awareness over time. And if you believe the teachings are fact not metaphor. Then, of course, it is a problem.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Ah I should have remembered the Netzarim as a Yehoshua following group today.

Erika Baker said...

Oh dear, but what to make of a comment like "Others claiming to be Netzarim are fakes not recognized in the Orthodox Jewish community of Israel"...

Haven't we got enough of "not pure enough", "not right thinking enough", "not one of us" in the Anglican Communion?

Out of the frying pan....?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well I do include the Kanai of Europe whatever the Netzarim say, it's just that I forgot them.

The point is that there are these Jewish Jesus based groups now, though the Kanai are considerably depleted after the Nazis and rejection by other Jews (example shown) and really are archiving their existence for a time when there are none left of this branch: there is another more obviously Christian branch in India.

June Butler said...

...but people want to make it into an alternative history of the world.

Adrain, perhaps some people do, but that's carrying it a bit far for me.

I agree that Paul messed some things up, but I value the letters, because he got some things very right. I won't go into detail here.

And there's so much that's problematic about John's Gospel, but again, treasures lie therein, so I value John.

You don't go forward for the Eucharist by your own choice, but you sound so very plaintive about remaining in the pew. I know that, for you, it seems to be a matter of retaining your integrity by not going forward, but there's something that doesn't add up for me, and I can't put my finger on it. Of course, it's not necessary that I understand. I would not say that you are no longer a Jesus person.

Fred Preuss said...

How about this interpretation: The whole idea of a Great Shining Celestial Hamster is foolish, nobody can provide evidence for it, millions don't believe in it and live no worse (often better)than those who do.
Catch up to the rest of the civilized world and separate church and state.

Fred Preuss said...

Look at the statistics for people in prison: compare them with atheists in the general population.
Do you still think that religion makes people more moral?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's entertaining imagining a hamster going round on his wheel, in fact it can be therapeutic. No, religion doesn't necessarily make people more moral. Might improve the service they give.

Fred Preuss said...

The hamster is at least getting some cardio; watching the hamster doesn't inflict weird TV rays on your eyes.
So what's the point? Religion is an intrinsically meaningless activity.
What sort of service do you mean? Do you mean your bartender or waiter might get you the beer or breadsticks faster?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

If that's someone's need.

Religion is a packaging of the supporting cultural (artistic and literary) of forms of ethical insight that has a therapeutic and behavioural purpose, that taps into what might loosely be called human spirituality - the reflective, contemplative and communal. It is clear from social anthropological study that communities will make material sacrifice (work and time) to enter into forms of exchange that are otherwise meaningless and yet have an outcome of mutual recognition and support, and it is into that culturally supported mix that are contained ethical statements. This is what religions are and what they do.