Friday, November 16, 2007

Changing how we imagine God

I took time out to attend a lunch at the United Services Mess today, to which I'd been invited to listen to the St Athan Methodist Minister, who is one of the RAF station's long serving chaplains, and had been invited along as guest speaker. The other guests were all well retired military personnel and their spouses. The speaker himself, I guess, was in his seventies, and he opted to speak about the measure of change he had experienced in his lifetime and ministry. It was quite amusing for me to learn that his moment of media fame back in the eighties was due to him being the first Methodist Minister in Wales to learn to use a computer. Another enthusiast ahead of his time!

What he steered his audience's thoughts towards, however, was changing ideas of God - something which he found himself still working on, due to the contact he still had with new recruits who most often had no concept of God in their lives, and even no clear code of values to work from. He explained a little about how he sought for new images that connected with their experience, and then took us back to a 1950's book by J B Phillips with the title 'Your God is too small', one I remember well, although I came across it in the late sixties after the publication of Bishop John Robinson's landmark book 'Honest to God', which was also about perceptions and images of God, the first book to lead me to the discovery of mystical theology. It was hated by the evangelical fundamentalists I know and grew up around in the South Wales Valleys. Our speaker challenged his elderly audience to remain open to change in the way they thought about God, to relate this better to their whole experience of life.

For me, as for him, this is at the very heart of what evangelism today must be.

This evening we went to the Millennium Centre's studio theatre to watch a contemporary dance performance, a collaboration between a Polish group and Wales' Earthfall dance group. It was loosely based on Aristophanes' 'The Birds', containing a mix of very energetic physical theatre, challengingly dissonant a capella vocal music, and bizarre humour. We weren't sure really what it was tying to say or achieve, but the energy and seemingly effortless athleticism of the performers were most impressive and engaging, even if it left us a bit puzzled about the message.

Perhaps this is what Christian liturgy is like for the uninitiated.

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