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e- fish March 2006 no 2

Welcome to another issue of e-fish from Alan Webster. Also in this edition some feedback from 'Kenneth Smith in response to last weeks issue. Your responses, suggestions and offerings gratefully received.
David Bush d.bush@netaccess.co.nz


Alan Webster writes:
For issue number two, I have asked myself ten questions that I'd like some intelligent interviewer to ask me: and since none has offered, I'll prompt them! (And if anyone wants to use this format as a prod for their own e-fish contributions, maybe it'd be fun?)

1. What seminars/conferences/workshops have you attended in the last five years that have made a real difference to your ministry?

Hah.Methodist Conference, obviously!

Now wait a moment.that's for real.especially my first conference ever, back in 2004. I was totally blown away by the genuineness of the
meeting in finding a way of consensus. Instead of trying to out-manoeuvre opponents, to bad-mouth in the nicest possible way people who experienced life differently, people whose theologies were obviously very different there was a commitment to process: a desire to work past barriers, a call to love that was quite new to me. I could and can see that sometimes that seems hopelessly moribund in terms of getting things done efficiently and quickly: I can also see that it will need constant vigilance and observation to keep the process honest: but I just love it. It seems to me to be the embodiment of Paul's idea of the Christian Body at work:.and I loved - love it.

Another neat conference was the Kennon Callahan conference here in Christchurch late last year.Without going back and revisiting the extensive notes I took, the biggest thing that has remained with me is his call to do what you can do well, and not to worry about trying to do and be everything as a small church." Be At Peace!" he kept saying. If you can't do it: do what you can do, and leave the rest! If you're good at this one ting, concentrate on the one thing: work to your strengths, and don't berate yourself for your weaknesses." I loved that: still do, both personally and institutionally. A summary word for that might be "grace".

And Tom Bandy, just been, was seminal too. He has three calls that I want to keep in front:

- the question to keep in front of leaders and the congregation is "What is it about my relationship with Jesus that this community cannot do without?"

- With my last breath, my last dollar, my last bit of energy: will it be Me or will it be Mission?

- Are we prepared to lose controllers in the congregation to gain seekers?

The last question didn't resonate quite as much, although I know what he means.appeasing manipulators and politicians is a sure way to stress and burnout of a congregation's vision...but I'm still thinking through the implications of that. Was Peter a controller? When he took Jesus aside to "correct" this distressing tendency to introduce alienating language, Jesus didn't "lose" him.

But I loved Bandy's description of our world being full of "spiritually hungry, institutionally alienated " people. It is forming the basis of a new
Introduction to the Bible thingummy I'm writing!


2. What have you read recently that you'd recommend to a friend?

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

It's a free-wheeling, high spirited one-sided really easy-to-read conversation with God asking why Christians look so nerdy, so
black-and-white, so irrelevant..and instead of giving up in despair, finding through it that what is genuine is really essential. I've lent the book to someone and can't remember who: so this isn't a review (when I get it back I'll write a proper review for Touchstone) in the meantime, get it! Read it! Enjoy it! Argue with it! Learn from it! pass it on.

A Generous Orthodoxy, and A New Kind of Christian both by Brian D McLaren. The first - which I have also lent to a friend, who promised to have it back in time for this review and didn't (That'll larn ya, Kevin!) - is subtitled something like "why I am a green Methodist Pentecostal liberal conservative evangelical hopeful yet not quite arrived Christian.( again, I'll review it properly for Touchstone asap) McLaren goes through various traditions of the church, extracts the good bits, castigates the bad bits, and calls for a kind of faith that isn't a populist blend of all available ingredients but a rediscovery of Jesus..If that sounds twee, it's not. It's thoughtful, thought-provoking, and had both my wife and I as we read it saying " Yes! Isn't this so right! That's what I miss about this.that's what I don't like about that.He's got it!"

A New Kind of Christian, which I'm half-way through, is a kind of lightly fictionalised dialogue between a minister and a science teacher asking "Surely there's more to ministry than this?" and "What happens when I don't feel I fit the categories I was once happy with?" "What does faith in a post-modern world look like? What does it mean to find that faith is more about a way of life than doctrinal purity, and where direction is more important than position?" I am loving it.lapping it up.


3. What's a great song for you?

"You've only got a hundred years to live" .
"No matter what they tell us." [BoyZone]
(read it in conjunction with Romans 10:5-15.)

U2 " I still haven't found what I'm looking for."
A date to play in Auckland?

Shirley Murray's hymn, FFS 37:

"In the quiet of this day
In the safety of this place
Holy Presence hear me pray
Soothe my spirit with your peace

Take the tangle of my thought
Take the tension from my frame
Free within me what is fraught
Still the waves I cannot tame

I am tired and out of tune
It is you who gives new song
I am fearful and alone
Bring me home where I belong

What I am
You truly know
More than lover, more than friend
You the light to which I grow
You my meaning and my end

Superb!...

4. Give us a couple of church jokes that appeal to your particular sense of humour

A Methodist minister and his wife were driving along Lake Shore Drive, in Chicago, and they were pulled over for speeding. As officer O'Malley approached the pastor, he saw the pastor's clerics, and mistook him for a Roman Catholic priest. "Oh, sorry about dat, fader. Uh, just try and slow it down a little, OK?" As they drove away, the pastor's wife said, "Shame on you, Harold! That was unethical. You know who he thought you were!" "Oh, I know who he thought I was," replied the pastor. "I'm just wondering who he thought you were."

The Perfect Pastor

....The Perfect Pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes. He condemns sin roundly, but never hurts anyone's feelings. He works from 8 a.m. until
midnight, and is also the church janitor.

....The Perfect Pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and donates $30 a week to the parish. He is 29 years old and has 40 years' worth of experience. Above all, he is handsome.

....The Perfect Pastor has a burning desire to work with teen-agers, and he spends most of his time with the senior citizens. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humour that keeps him seriously dedicated to his parish. He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be handy when needed.

....The Perfect Pastor always has time for parish council and all of it's committees. He never misses the meeting of any parish organization, and is always busy evangelising the unchurched.

....The Perfect Pastor is always in the next parish over!

If your pastor does not measure up, simply send this notice to six other parishes that are tired of their pastor too. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the parish at the top of your list. If everyone cooperates, in one week you will receive 1, 643 pastors. One of them should be perfect.

Have faith in this letter. One parish broke the chain and got its old pastor back in less than three months.

5. Give us a bit of scripture that you hadn't really noticed before but that you really like in this translation.

1 Thes. 1:2-6 (MsgB)

Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you're in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labour of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father. It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn't just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.

6. Give us a bit of autobiography: what in your life has turned out to be an important part of your spiritual journey?

Hmmm.difficult to choose.Who thought up these questions anyway? Oh, yes, that's right.
Um.

Maybe one seminal moment for me was in Theological College having just taken my wife Glenys to hospital for what turned out to be our third miscarriage. A well-meaning but incredibly insensitive colleague said "Ah yes well God must have wanted your babies in heaven.".

I remember a searing anger that probably had a lot to with grief and enormous barriers to God is Loving concepts.I don't remember what I replied but it probably wouldn't make it in the ten most pastoral responses ever!. I do remember another colleague saying "I don't know what to say, Alan" and putting an arm around me..and my realising in a huge rush about incarnational love: about God's presence in another human being's frailty: about knowing that God was there in wordlessness and comfort and grief.

Since then I've no longer (?) felt that it is my call to "explain" God.it's more allowing people to see that he is there anyway.

7. What three things have revved up your prayer life that might be of interest to someone else?

Why three? Are you a preacher or something? Oh yes, well, okay. Here goes.

Number One: Journalling.I discovered that keeping a journal is a wonderful way of praying. of keeping in communion with God. My journal is a wonderful collage of paintings, calligraphy, stories, prayers-official ( those that begin " Dear Lord.and conclude.Amen) and prayers unofficial ( Those that begin.."Hmm.I seem to have messed up again Lord."). I include photographs. cartoons.song lyrics.. diary entries. reflections.. poems. wisecracks.You name it, it's there. I'll tell you more about journalling in a future E-fish if you're interested.

Number two: Silent retreats.with Spiritual Growth Ministries, or self-prescribed ones. Essential.wonderful. Again, more some other time.

Number Three: and this surprises me, as a graduate of the spontaneous-is-the-only-way to-be-genuine with God School of Training.
Number three is Other People's Prayers.in the form of hymns, of collections of prayers, of Joy Cowley's collections, of such people as Peter Marshall ( who? look him up) Thomas Merton (who? ditto) Joyce Hugget, Jeff Bullock and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Sometimes other people's words just seem to say what I cannot find words for myself.

8. What makes you an evangelical?

Something in me reacts against defining myself, but I'll try.

For me, it's to do with an understanding that God's Good News exists despite culture, despite history, despite labels and sects and
denominations. It is clear to me that I have something deep in common with brothers and sisters who come to the Bible as something to test themselves against, whose life-call is to become more like Jesus, and whose understanding of God is as one who makes himself known to us. I want to put the Holy Spirit in there too: as God's breath in ways that cannot be measured, weighed, surveyed and restricted: the Unexpected and the Holy, the Transcendental and the Beautiful.

I don't want that to stand as a creed or a doctrinal statement: especially in light of my reading at the moment: and it's easy to find evangelicals who hold firmly onto things that are not at all clear to me, or about which I even disagree quite passionately. However, the Evangel, the Good News, isn't something that we redefine because it suits us: it's something from God that we try to understand and apply in a personal and a world-wide way..and I want to keep engaging in that in my reading and in my conversations with people who see things differently from me.

And to say that I am evangelical also implies something about Mission, about an attitude to the Bible, about who is Jesus was and is, about
tradition and revelation.it's to do with calling and focus, to do with journeying process rather than a set of beliefs.

And in passing, I hate it when people assume that because I believe a) I must therefore also believe b) g) and q), if you see what I mean. One issue Christians bore me..

Does that help? It's hardly a definition: but it might make sense.

9. In what way does your particular hobby bring you closer to God?

Which one? When I am bookbinding it's to do with making something beautiful for a journal or to value written words.when I made my little steam engine it's a paeon of praise to predictability and precision.when I play my musical instrument ( guess what? I'm not telling which!) it' in homage o the beauty I find in music..when I do my woodwork, I'm reminded of how God loves me despite my imperfections!

I loved "Practising the Presence of God" years ago..I love it still.

10. What's the best question to ask you?

When I was about fifteen, I met my Bible class leader unexpectedly in the street. He hit me with a doozy question that's hard to beat for cutting
straight to the quick: "How are things between you and God, Alan?" It made me think then: prevented a flip answer then: still does now.

See you again sometime!

-Rev Alan Webster
Beckenham Methodist
Beckenham Methodist Church P O Box 12-127 Chch 8002
Ph (03) 337 3435; FAX (03) 387 3434 Sunday morning service 10:00am

Kenneth Smith writes:
Your latest E-fish has prompted me to share with you a service that we have done at both Wanganui and Glen Eden. Last year on 4th Dec we had 8 young folk confirmed and we held a, "Meeting the Ancestors," service so that they could meet our ancestors in the faith.

I asked folk from within the both the Palagi and Samoan congregations (it was a combined service) to dress up as the following:
Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Deborah, Samson, Ruth, King David, Ezra, Queen Esther, Isaiah, Elizabeth, Mary, Peter, Paul and St Andrew because it was the closest day to St Andrew's Day.
I prepared a question for each person and they gave their own answer to it trying to be the person in question. After Adam and Eve we sang morning has broken and had a prayer To Creation. There after we fitted the components of worship around the stories as they
unfolded. The group of 'actors' waited in the lounge and came in on cue each time. It was a fun service and in both places very much appreciated.
With every good wish and God Bless, Kenneth.

Please address enquiries about e-fish to:
Rev David Bush
Shirley Methodist Church
68 Lake Terrace Road
Christchurch 8006
d.bush@netaccess.co.nz