In April 1984 Channel 4 broadcast three one hour long documentary programmes titled Jesus: the Evidence. Three of the issues addressed in the programmes were that Jesus never called himself God in the Gospels; that the titles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels (e.g. ‘Son of God’) were not in fact used during his lifetime; that Jesus, as a Jew, was hardly likely to have claimed to be God. I find myself wondering how many Church of England clergy still believe that Jesus thought of himself as divine, the Son of God. How many think that Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives are historically true? How many think the resurrection narratives in the four gospels are accurate historical accounts of an event that happened?
Prayer is a two-way process. We are making something of the Mystery of God in our prayer and prayer is making something of the Mystery of God in us. At least, this is what can happen when it is ‘true’ prayer, remembering Ken Leech’s phrase, prayer that is truly open and radical, taking risks, allowing the Mystery we call God to impact us, our preconceptions and prejudices, our emotions and energies.
I’ve been reading The Christlike God written by John V. Taylor, formerly Bishop of Winchester and published in 1992. There is much in the book that echoes my own ideas about God, creation, evolution, and contemporary contemplative life. In the penultimate chapter, Dwell in me, I in you, (John 17.21,22), Taylor writes about the author Charles Williams and his use of the word coinherence to describe the relationship between God, the divine other, and us, human kind, Homo sapiens. I believe the universe, the divine Mystery and human life are seamlessly interwoven, coinherent, as Charles Williams describes.
In June 1988 a group from St Faith’s Wandsworth went to St Columba’s Woking for a retreat weekend led by Verena Tschudin. Verena provided us with a number of pictures from which we could choose one. She also gave us a series of questions to help us engage with the image. I offer these journal thoughts from thirty-one years ago as a complementary insight to what was going on within me at the same time as I was writing my reflections about parish life and ministry in the previous blog.
My daily faith experience is woven around the always elusive presence in which silence, attention, presence, self-giving, experience, quality, emotions, the unconditional, uncertainty, goodness are ingredients and essences, everywhere. Trusting deeply in what I can’t prove but know is my core, my essence, deep within, touched by, feeling it. The Church faces me with many images of God – homophobic, misogynistic, white bearded, authoritarian, judging, cruel, partisan, rejecting. The disconnect the Church maintains, between an imaginable God for the twenty-first century, and the God of co-dependency, abuse, depression, anxiety, and neurosis, is unsustainable.
The Christian Church hasn’t begun to come to terms with the nature of myth as the most powerful expression of sacred, holy truth about the divine. As a result, we live with false myths: the myth of a male God, the myth of male superiority, the myth of God Incarnate, and the myth of God is dead. It’s the male anthropomorphic God that is dead.
This week I’ve been particularly interested in the authority of bishops. I realised that the status of the authority of bishops has changed significantly in my lifetime, in a way that I had been intuiting but hadn’t quite identified. I haven’t found it easy to find the right words to describe this, but I believe the bishops of the church, the teachers and leaders and theologians, senior staff at Church House and Lambeth Palace, the members of the Archbishops’ Council, no longer, ontologically, embody the kind of wisdom authority to the same degree that many church leaders embodied in my youth and my years in parish ministry.
Jesus’ authority is predicated on God’s authority. Biblical authority is predicated on God’s authority. Jesus declines to answer the question posed by the chief priests and elders. He poses instead a question they find it impossible to answer – clever move. But the question of what authority Jesus has remains unanswered. What amazed the people was not Jesus’ authority - the people were amazed at his teaching because, unlike the scribes, he taught with a note of authority. It’s the teaching, not the authority, that is fundamental.
This week the Nobel prize in physics was awarded to three American physicists for the first observations of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago. The description of what these three scientists detected is way beyond my imagination or comprehension. Our theology, especially our theology of God, is utterly inadequate to the task both of imagining our place in a universe of such incomprehensible dimensions and to the task of comprehending unconditional love. Jesus teaches about a Father whose love is unconditional and infinite. The God of tradition and orthodoxy habitually reinforces our guilty anxieties and worries.
I question the truth about ‘God’ being proclaimed in the church today. The image of God is based on an uncritical reliance on Scripture and Tradition, a simplistic reading of the Gospels, and a proclamation of the teaching and practice of Jesus which is in many ways profoundly in error. What theology, what image of God, is held by the bishops of the Church of England and the Primates of the Anglican Communion? Is it the toxic version of God and Jesus that supports discrimination and the abuse of LGBTI people or the radical, prophetic version that melts prejudice, confronts abuse, and transforms lives through living and loving unconditionally?