Category Archives: Theology

The Books I’m Planning to Read in 2014

Gemma inspired me to be a little more intentional with my reading so I’ve put together a list of the books I’d like to read in 2014. I’m sure it will have a degree of flexibility.

Have you read any of them? What did you think? Any you think I should add or not bother with?

Fiction
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Canada – Richard Ford
May We Be Forgiven – AM Homes
Best Of Our Spies – Alex Gerlis
Biography
The Governor – John Lonergan
Conversations With Myself – Nelson Mandela
Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life – Sari Nusseibeh & Anthony David
Leadership
Boundaries for Leaders – Henry Cloud
Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman (Psychology as related to coaching)
Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
Thanks For The Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well – Sheila Stone &Douglas Heen
Theology
The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatious
A Theology of Work -Darrell  Cosden
Introducing Liberation Theology – Boff & Boff
Why Cities Matter – Stephen Um & Justin Buzzard
Doing Local Theology – Clemens Sedmak
And looking for some good stuff on Isaiah
Have you read any of them? What did you think? Any you think I should add or not bother with?

2013 in Books: Non-fiction (part one)

Due to my need to categorise this is part one in the non-fiction books. On a side-note I’m finding Goodreads a great way of keeping track of my reading.

Biography

OneWildLifeFrontCoverART-sm1. One Wild Life – Claire Mulvaney

This qualifies as biography (in my mind!) in that the author Claire Mulvaney tells the stories (and interviews) people around the globe who are working for social change. From Ireland to India she introduces over 30 people working to make the world  better place. With a few pages per person its a great book to dip into every day and come away inspired and motivated to make a difference. Find out more on her site here.

51eaYJmEwfL._AA160_2. Adventures of a Waterboy – Mike Scott

No matter if you’re a fan of the Waterboys or not this is a great read and wonderful insight into life as a musician. I read Peter Carlin’s ‘Bruce’ at a similar time and Mike Scott’s writing is vastly superior – unsurprisingly.

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3. Where Are You Really From? – Tim Brannigan

I think everyone from Northern Ireland should read this – especially if you come from a Protestant background. Fascinating and incredible story of growing up black in West Belfast in the 70s and spending time in the H blocks.

Honourable mention for ‘Stillness and Speed: My Story’ by Dennis Bergkamp which isn’t really by him but more a series of interviews. Bergkamp was undoubtedly one of the best footballers to grace the Premiership. His insights and story of a playing career spanning Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal are a must read for the football geek. and it was only 59p on Kindle. Bargain.

Theology/Christian

Interestingly I found myself reading much less Christian books in 2013 although maybe I was just being more selective!

JTMEE1. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Kenneth Bailey

Kenneth Bailey is a Middle-Eastern scholar (and lived there for 40 years) who has written some brilliant books unpacking the context of the Middle East at the time of Jesus helping bring deeper understanding of many of Jesus’ encounters and parables. The section of Jesus and women was particularly helpful with some of the material on the parables similar to his earlier works Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes.

WMF2. The Word Made Flesh – Eugene Peterson

I feel I’m starting to turn into Jaybercrow as my love for Eugene Peterson’s writing reaches adulation. Maybe its about stage of life or experiences but I find Peterson incredibly insightful, earthy and inspiring.This is the fourth in Peterson’s wonderful ‘Spiritual Theology’ series. Continuing the parables theme – I really enjoyed getting stuck into them this past year, also dipping into Ched Myers ‘Binding the Strong Man’.

STPOTC3. Seek the Good of the City – Doug Banister

A free ebook (get it here) this is a wonderfully short, holistic and practical guide to what it looks like to seek to bless the city.

Honourable mention to Multiplying Missional Leaders by Mike Breen – another practical and provocative read.

What were your best biographies and theology/Christian reads of 2013?

Next up is leadership and productivity.

Suffering, healing and why getting our theology right matters

Suffering and healing. Emotive issues. Ones with lots of questions and few answers. At least few answers that do it for me.

I come from a family with what can only be described as a ‘difficult’ history. I met my dad for the first time that I can really remember a few months ago (I’m 34). I grew up with my mum. Just me and her. She sacrificed so much to give me the best she could. She faithfully followed Jesus and lived generously with what she had.  At the age of 62, almost 3 years ago she died of cancer, 3 months after her diagnosis. I watched Ruth, a 22-year-old who interned with me lose her battle with cancer several years ago. I saw Andrew, an incredibly gifted leader, surgeon, preacher, husband and father of 3 young children lose his battle with cancer in his mid-thirties.

In church I hear a lot about healing and praying for healing and that God can heal anything and anyone. We’ve seen people healed and rejoiced with them. God is a good God and a loving Father who wants what is best for his children. But God doesn’t always heal and make people better. My mum died. She may have still received the ultimate healing of a resurrection body but she isn’t here any more. Her last months were painful. For me too. It still hurts. And it hurts when I hear people say God can heal anything. I know He might be able to but He doesn’t. And please don’t even try to trot out the line about “all we need is faith…” I worry about  people being  given false expectations that ignores the reality that we live in a broken world and life is just tough sometimes.

I believe that God is good and can heal. I don’t believe He always heals. I don’t know why but I know that sometimes He speaks and works powerfully in the midst of suffering. As my mum was dying and I was losing my family I got engaged and gained another family. In a beautifully redemptive moment as my mum lay in the hospice I met and embraced one of my uncles for the first time.

Then there is the Calvinist line that takes a belief in God’s sovereignty down to the fine details. That uses the language of “God ordains…”. Suffering becomes something God ordains to teach us stuff. My story of meeting my uncle becomes the reason for the suffering. I worry about the sort of God that this view portrays. One who wilfully causes suffering just to teach us stuff. That doesn’t sound like a loving Father to me. I’m sorry but I cannot believe that God prematurely takes lives or brings illness just for our learning. In this perspective this understanding of suffering comes from trying to maintain a view of God as being totally in control of every little event.

I do believe God is sovereign but I don’t believe he controls every action. That makes us into robots without freedom. I believe God gives us the dignity and freedom to choose.

All these thoughts have been swilling around my mind and occasionally come flooding out in the odd rant.

Then on Sunday Alain Emerson came to speak in church about his experience of hope in the midst of tragedy. He articulated so much of what I’ve been struggling to articulate for so long (and what I’ve been trying to articulate above). You can listen to his talk here.

He talked about how each of our stories find meaning in the kingdom of God. He went on to say that if we go to the extremes of theology (either everyone gets healed or no-one gets healed) then our stories don’t fit. For me this was a lightbulb moment that expressed my struggles and frustrations.

He reminded us that we follow a God who is familiar with suffering, who took on our suffering and is present with us in the pain. He reminded us that there is grace and hope in the pain. In my case mum was able to make it to my graduation, see Emily and I get engaged and get to know Emily’s mum – passing on lots of stories even I didn’t know. Even though I had no words when it came to prayer I felt myself being carried along. Meeting my uncle was part of the process of my dad and I meeting. In the midst of loss there were moments of healing and reconciliation.

In the midst of pain and suffering I experienced hope and grace. But to say that God brought about my mum’s death so he can do those things I don’t think I can believe. And to suggest that God wants to heal everyone. Well, where does that leave those of us who didn’t experience healing?

Getting our theology right matters. Alain’s words that we need a really robust theology of the kingdom of God really resonated.

We live in the in-between. The older I get I realise there is more grey and less black and white. God is not a puppeteer. As his image-bearers He gives us the dignity of freedom and making our own choices. We live in a world full of brokenness and things that should not be. But the kingdom of God is breaking in and one day God will make everything right – that’s the hope I cling to.

Who are the prophets of our day?

I’m reading a little book at the moment called Four Modern Prophets. Written in the 80s it looks at Walter Rauschenbusch, Martin Luther King Jr, Gustavo Gutierrez and Rosemary Radford Ruether. All were prophets who spoke into the society of the time and who stood up for the rights of the oppressed – whether those were people who were poor, black or female (or all three). Many might have some issues with elements of their theology but it cannot be argued that their concern is not rooted in the Old Testament prophets and the teaching of Jesus.

I’m wondering who the prophets of today are?

A few year years back Stocki penned ‘The Rock Cries Out‘ in response to a sense that  musicians were speaking out on issues that the church was too silent on.

Currently the media only seem to hear Christian voices in debates on marriage,sexuality and abortion.

Too often at the moment it seems like the Christian voices we hear are about ‘our rights’ and less so about standing up for the rights of the marginalised and the oppressed, for justice and for the dignity of people created in the image of God.

Where are the modern-day prophets who are able and willing to speak out on healthcare, on education reform, on housing, on behalf of  the marginalised. In 2012 Ireland who is prepared to speak out on behalf of the urban poor, the rural poor, the asylum seeker, the traveller?

And what is my role?  Is it time for me to look for and encourage the Gutierrezes and MLKs of our day and our time? Is it time for me to agitate in my church that we need to be serving and speaking up on behalf of the oppressed in our little part of Dublin? Is it time for me to step up?

Who are the prophets of our day? Can you help me find some?

Leading by the book?

Over at the Innovista Ireland page I’m asking what leadership shaped by the ‘good book’ should/could look like.

Is the model of leadership practised in most of our churches really a biblical one?

How can we move towards an understanding and practice of leadership that is less ‘one-man-band’ or about maintaining the status quo but instead more closely reflects the New Testament?

Those are the questions I have been asked to tackle in a seminar at New Horizon on Wednesday 20th July. At 10pm (As if the questions weren’t daunting enough!)

What do you think?

Head on over to weigh in…

Hauerwas – Coming Late to the Party

As with many things I tend to take a while to get around to reading what everyone else has been talking about for a while. Nelly first introduced me to Stanley Hauerwas through Living Gently in a Violent World (Resources for Reconciliation)""Living Gently in a Violent World. Now one of my former housemates has helped me along with a copy of Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir""Hannah’s Child – Hauerwas’s memior. I’m drinking it up.

A few weeks ago we had a session for young leaders on Spiritual Formation, which Hauerwas speaks into wonderfully saying:

Thus Jesus does not tell us that we should try to be poor in spirit, or meek or peacemeakers. He simply says that many who are called into his kingdom will find themselves so constituted. We cannot try to be meek or gentle in order to be a disciple of this gentle Jesus, but in learning to be his disciple some of us will be gentled..

Another comment caught my attention too, especially thinking back to various theological debates, and our need to try to explain everything, dot every i and cross every t:

Only in God are existence and essence one. Accordingly, our language about God is necessarily analogical, which means that theology has the task of helping the church not say more about God than needs to be said.

Enough said…

Women, Leadership and the Church

It’s one of those issues that keeps cropping up again and again. From a conversation started by meinmysmallcorner a few years ago to our small group in church over the last few weeks.

We’ve been working our way through Acts, and it’s been really noticeable how much reference Luke makes to women. In the Jewish (the court for women in Herod’s Temple was part of the court for Gentiles which says a lot) and Roman cultures of the day (correct me if I’m wrong) women had little in the way of rights or social standing, and lived very much in submission to their husbands. But Luke keeps mentioning various significant women and uses phrases such as  ‘quite a few prominent women’ (Acts 17.4 and 17.12). Last night when looking at Acts 21 he throws in this seemingly random comment about 4 unmarried daughters who prophesied, which again stirred up a conversation about how we have to read the whole of scripture together and hold these references in tension with passages such as 1 Timothy 2.12. Scot McKnight does a great job of pointing out all the women God uses in leadership throughout the Bible in the Blue Parakeet which Patrick Mitchel works through on his blog. Another recent book called How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership brings together lots of interesting ‘conversion narratives’ including John Stackhouse – who makes his chapter available on his blog.  Our discussion last night and a conversation with a businessperson yesterday reminded me of the need for role-models and exposure. If we are to develop the gifted female leaders and teachers that God has placed among us, they need opportunities to use those gifts and to be seen ‘up front’. It is only when gifted women are made visible and given the opportunities they ‘deserve’ that the next generation of women can have role models. Which means in many cases it is up to the men in positions of responsibility to champion this cause and make a reality Paul’s words in Galatians 3:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

NT Wright elaborates on the Galatians passage here.  I recognise I’m only putting forward one perspective here- because it’s what I’ve come to be convinced of, but also because I feel there is a need to really wrestle with this issue and provide a healthy alternative perspective to a lot of what is around in the evangelical sphere currently. I’m all about the liberation…

‘Our Father’ – faith as communal more than individual

It’s blindingly obvious but yet something I’ve failed to take much note of the number of times I’ve said the Lord’s prayer.

The fact that when the disciples ask Jesus how to pray and he tells them not to say ‘my Father’ but ‘our Father’ reinforces that we are called to join a community, the family of God. When we address our Father, the use of the phrase ‘our’ reminds us that we cannot exist in our own selfish little bubble demanding our own rights and wants, but the father that we address isn’t just mine but the father of all his children, of all the Christian community. In this small simple word profound truth is expressed that realigns my view on the world and those around me in the church.

No matter how different they are, no matter how much they may disagree with me, or have hurt me, we share the same Father. We receive the same relentless love, the same undeserved grace. It would be so much easier if he was just ‘my father’ but the our calls me to a more difficult road, a road walked by our elder brother, one that is redemptive, that embraces the difficulty of forgiveness. A road that can bring the joy of true reconciliation instead of the bitterness of avoidance or a pretend forgiveness. A road down which if we all had the courage to walk could change the world…

Inaugurated eschatology – the kingdom is here but not yet

So sometimes people will say that it is not the place of Christians to fight for justice, to fight against structural injustice in governments or trade systems, or to be green warriors crusading for the environment. Our task is for the higher purpose of tending to people’s souls. I’ve long had problems with this, and yes I am caricaturing a little but to be honest very little. The problem with taking such an approach is that it is verging on dualism, on even gnosticism. It implies that all that matters is the ‘spiritual’, the physical world is bad and will be burned up so lets concentrate on the spiritual. It sounds reasonable in some ways. But stop and think about it for a moment. Why did Jesus rise bodily from the dead? If the physical is not important surely he would simply have risen as a spirit? Why did he go to such lengths like eating, and having people touch him to show that he was a real physical person? Is it not because in the resurrection we see that God desires to restore the physical creation?

Take another perspective. We all recognise that we will never be completely holy until Jesus returns. Does this mean we give up on pursuing holiness? The same in terms of care of creation and justice. Yes we will not restore them completely, that will only happen when Jesus returns, but that doesn’t mean that there is little we can do so we don’t bother. Jesus announced that God’s kingdom had come. Jesus came to demonstrate what life in God’s kingdom – as God would have it – was like. He calls us to do the same. He asks us to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earht as it is in heaven’, so of course we are to pursue the care of creation and justice, because when in those small moments when we see justice, or people are stewarding God’s good creation as He called us to, there are glimpses of God’s kingdom as it will be. It inspires us with the hope of what is to come. It shows people what God is like, and his plan for redemption and restoration covers every part of life. We are not disembodied souls being whisked off to the clouds, we are real flesh and blood, feeling people, living in a physical environment. Everything is God’s. He is restoring everything. and obviously humans are the pinnacle of that restoration. Just because I believe God calls us to pursue justice and care for creation doesn’t mean I am not passionate about god restoring and reconciling people to himelf as part of that.
when we talk and think about these things, let’s make sure our thinking is joined up and not fragmented. Lets not slip into simply reacting against someone else and going to the extremes. Let’s have a big view of a huge God that is holistic.

(Can you tell what I am currently reading?)