A Bit About Abelard (c. 1132-1138)

A Bit About Abelard (c. 1132-1138)

I have recently been enjoying The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (c.1132 – 1138) by Peter Abelard and Heloise with a translation and introduction by Betty Radice and M. T. Clanchy.  And this has caused me to theologically investigate what is a very interesting Medieval man and his theology, a poor token offering of which is offered below (that’s my attempt at being humble):

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Peter Abelard was a highly gifted intellectual.  He outshone his fellow French pupils and tutors alike during the High Middle Ages, being also a supreme master logician.  One of his pupils was a young woman named Heloise, who was, arguably, more gifted than he.  The short story is that they fell in love (or fell in lust?), had a secret affair that was then exposed, leading to a strange story of marriage, revenge (castration – ouch!), love and ministry.

I have been reading from the Penguin Classics series by updated by M. T. Clanchy from the work of Betty Radice’s own work of the 1970s, featuring the letters of Abelard and Heloise (including his really fascinating autobiographical account – worth the book alone – Historia Calamitatum) plus other bits, such as letters between Peter the Venerable and Heloise, two hymns by Abelard and extracts from the Lost Love Letters. Another of Clanchy’s books opens with: ‘Peter Abelard, now forgotten, was once the most famous man in the world.’  Well that may be what it is, but it is not what all it is.

The Lives of Abelard and Heloise

Peter Abelard was born c.1092 at Le Pallet, near Nantes, the eldest son of a minor noble Breton family. His father wanted his son to have a career in the military as he did, but Abelard pursued life as an academic, and a gifted one at that. Abelard excelled at the art of dialectic, and during this early part of his life he “began to travel about in several provinces disputing, like a true peripatetic philosopher, wherever I had heard there was a keen interest in the art of dialectic.”  One gets the impression he rather enjoyed being the know-it-all, but I suppose to many (including himself), he did!

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Resistances to Mission from within the Church

A guest post by David Matcham

Resistances:

Why is it that significant numbers of people in a given church either passively or actively resist moves by that church to open itself up to being more missional in its dealings with the world? The first question that I would ask is, how does the church function as a body of people beyond how people say it functions as, say, a Spirit-filled church?
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I ask this because regardless of how people say they think both the church functions and what their own role is within that functioning, if mission is either passively or actively being resisted then something else is at play in the ‘how’ of that church’s functioning for those people at least. To say that, yes, the church is the body of Christ, is Christ’s hands and feet in this world, is the House of God, is a family of believers, or whatever, is to ignore what is actually going on when people think of church and their role within that particular body. What role then, does that church fulfill and how does it fulfill it for all the church members?
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The phrasing of this last question opens up here the way in which churches, the idea of ‘church’ acts upon the believing Christian. This is an inevitable part of the fact that the concept of ‘the Church’ functions as much as a socio-historical one as it does an eschatological realisation of the purposes of God for mankind. In a sense therefore, to be part of a church is to enter into a relationship with an already existing body of believers with already existing specific ways of being with each other and the world.
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In this sense to be a member of a church is an inherently passive experience for the believer who is not at liberty to tinker with the self-understanding of either the concept of ‘church’ or the particular body to which he or she belongs. Fundamentally, whether or not the believer goes to this church or that church, or any church, the contribution they are able to bring is already in advance mitigated. Not entirely, of course; at the micro personal level of normal interaction, individual believers will form relationships within a given church that hold significant importance, and are vital for the “spirit” (small “s”) of fellowship in that community – as indeed, in any community.
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At this point a further reflection comes to mind regarding the camaraderie described above: that there is a love which is natural to human beings, and a love which is unnatural. Fundamentally, therefore, the love which is unnatural is the love which is commanded. It is not at all that the one cancels out the other. In marriage, for instance, the paradox is entered into of a permanent vow to continue to lifelong fidelity of erotic love for one person; something which is inherently changeable is forced to submit to a binding legal vow. But, of course, erotic love wants this vow, against all the evidence of our experience, the lover wants to commit to the beloved.
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Fleshly love is not, then, in opposition to a binding contractual obligation to love, but, in its purest form, seeks it out. Likewise, the kind of love that Jesus commands his disciples to is not to be confused with buddiness or camaraderie. It does not exclude this kind of love – in fact we should encourage it so far as it doesn’t detract from God’s purposes – but natural human love and enjoyment of company must submit to a different, less natural love that is commanded.
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And here I come to a central point which I’d like to make, that if camaraderie, the kind which often develops through common activities and or purposes, then of course churches will not be outward looking. A collection or club of likeminded people who get on because they are all like-minded personable people is not going to be motivated to the kind of radical call to love the loveless that Christ commands and the Spirit makes possible.
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If “love” in a church setting does not mean the kind of commanded love for the loveless, but is in fact more like camaraderie or like-mindedness, outsiders not only won’t be invited in, but nor will they really fit in with their unlike-minded knobbliness if they do come. And this is the sense in which the usual, enjoyable, friendly love that grows amongst people of like mind, who like the same music, dress the same, read the same books, etc, and of which we all naturally want to be part, actually works against a church being missional.
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To join this kind of group, to want to be a part of it the “unbeliever” would already have to have submitted themselves in advance of joining to what it is that makes this group tick. In this case it cannot be said to be Christ, but rather a fleshly desire to be part of a larger whole, a mere sociable drive to have friends and be liked.
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How then can a church differentiate itself from any other group of people who more or less enjoy each other’s company and get along? This issue goes to the heart of what a church is, rather than what a church does. There is a sense in which what a church is is not independent from what a church does, but that is not here the point. There is though theological justification for seeing the church not just as a collection of geographically bound believers gathering together for worship and fellowship, but as an eschatological eucharistic community.
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What I mean by saying this is that the church as an eschatological eucharistic community draws attention to the ‘now and not yet’ of the Christian hope as it works itself out through the celebration of the dying and rising body of Christ, on whom we collectively feast and whose ‘body’ we collectively are. The ‘now and not yet’ refers to the church as an instance of the Kingdom of God here on earth, but also to the fact that the full revelation of the sons of God is yet to come.
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As a eucharistic community we are brought together in thanksgiving and acknowledgement of God’s grace for our salvation as a body, not our own efforts. Though this is extremely brief, these pointers suggest a reason for belonging that far transcends the merely natural desire for company. Not centered on its own ways of functioning, the church is in fact part of God’s radical call to love the loveless in the dispensation of his Kingdom on earth. Such a call is profoundly alien to the human concept of a group because mere friendship or fellowship may more often than not hinder such a call.
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Anyone can have friends or groups of trusted people, but not all are called by God in this way to be an eschatological eucharistic community. The point is that we are together not because we like each other or because we are all of a similar social class or intelligence level, but because we are committed to the working out of God’s eschatological purposes for the world of which we are each a part. That God’s purpose for the world is to become a eucharistic community centered on Christ’s body, and thus in a sense inward looking, is actually at the heart of the good news which we have to bring. The message is, don’t join the church if you could get what you want just as easily as you could from joining the Freemasons, or the W.I., or the Rotary, or whatever.
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The church does not exist to pander to perfectly normal but essentially fleshly desires or a fear of loneliness. That the broken body and spilt blood of Christ are what joins us together as a ‘body’, and not our mere likes and dislikes, is what makes us, drives us outward into the world.
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The problem of resistance then seems to have taken a distinctly theological turn, as I would have expected. The more churches establish their common unity upon team-building activities, whether it be soup-runs, sports, music groups, theology discussion groups, evangelism, etc, (and yes, I agree that it sounds odd to include such evangelical projects, except when you consider to what kind of church are these evangelical projects calling people in for) the less motivated people will be to actually see the Father’s Kingdom come.
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That is, insofar as evangelism is calling the lost, the lonely, and the disposed to a group that is essentially a christianised club of like-minded people, not only will that evangelism lack lustre (why would you really want outsiders to join and potentially disrupt the group anyway), but also why would you, as a disposed, lonely and lost individual want to join a group which would inherently desire you to become like-minded (christianised) before integration can even begin. Nor is this a back-handed way of saying that communion must take on a more elaborate style for evangelism to become more effective and more motivated.
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Where communion (or Mass or the Eucharust, or whatever you want to call it) as a point of non-individualistically realised transcendental unity in the Body is sidelined, the church is in danger of descending into a Jesusclub, welcoming new-comers with one hand, whilst sticking two fingers up to them with the other if they don’t fit in well enough. And communion is just the start of this process of de-naturalising our relations with each other, because our unity is not in liking each other (which is great when we do) but in the broken body of Christ; just as our fellowship is not in our enjoyment of each other’s company, but in the impossible command of God to love one another.

 

Written by David Matcham at Swivel Chair Theology
A Moment of Grace

A Moment of Grace

20160307_154633OuchOuchOuch!
How can loving you hurt so much?
You came; we saw; you conquered – us.
But we have to give you away.
Ouch.

It hurts boy.
But you have been a joy.
A treasure, heaven sent;
But we knew the time was short,
For you, to us, were lent.

A bundle, given for a season;
Given to us, for no known reason.
Your mother and father loved you, you must know that;
But their pain told in life’s twists and turns.

In fact boy, you’ve been loved by so many,
Our home, the church, our wider family;
And true agape-love always hurts; better to have loved and lost, and all that agony!
There is no anaesthetic for open heart surgery.

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Captured by Love

Captured by Love

This wonderful “Confession of Faith” can be found here at Michael Hardin’s ‘Preaching Peace’ website.

We confess we have been captured by love –
the constant source of the universe,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Jesus has captured us for freedom.
In his truly human life
he was God among us, crucified by us.
God raised him from death
for the forgiveness of our sin
and the re-creation of our life.

His Father is our Father –
The source of his life and ours,
the God of Israel,
in whose gracious purposes
all creation is drawn to fulfillment.

His Spirit gives life to all
transforming our life from the inside out
by worship, scripture and sacrament
into the community of Christ and of the future
for the sake of the world.

In this triune God we bear witness
to the love which has captured us.
Our vocation lies in God’s mission –
to communicate it here in Aotearoa New Zealand,
to embody it socially
and to care for God’s glorious creation.

In this new-given unity
we live in confidence and hope;
anticipating the healing of creation
and the final flourishing of peace
in Christ.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Hamill
Coastal Unity Presbyterian Parish
Dunedin, New Zealand

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Near Redgate Beach, Torquay (c) Gralefrit 2016

Aliens Are People Too

ET-Extra-Terrestrial-PSDo you remember when E.T. first came out?
It was literally a block-buster! And rightly so, what a great film that finally proved, once and for all, that aliens existed in our universe!
I never really doubted – did you?

To be terrestrial is to be related in some way to earth – as distinct from “other planets”!
So “Extra” terrestrial is something from “out there” or not from earth, coming to earth – it is “extra” – thus, E. T. stands for: Extra-Terrestrial a “thing” originating from outside or beyond earth!

So that makes all of us “Terrestrials”. We belong on earth, we are from this earth, and it is all a gift from God who made it.

Another word we have to describe E. T.’s is Alien. Many of us have seen various science fiction films with both friendly and non-friendly aliens and so on.

Some of us may even believe that aliens “out there” exist, and there are some weird and wonderful theories out there, by some very weird and wonderful people – but that’s irrelevant for my purposes here.

When Adam and Eve did the only thing they were not to do (Gen 3), they who had been created by God for the earth and the earth for them, were now banished by God within the earth – they became “alien” to the loving, saving, tender mercy of God.

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Healthy Conflict

Church has always been, and is, and will always be a place of tension, dissension and conflict.

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Of course, conflict isn’t all bad, some is very necessary, but all too often, conflict is done badly – the Old Adam rising to the surface, making demands (without love), speaking the truth (without love), speaking plainly (without love or wisdom) – all the pain, anger and frustration gushing out like an unstoppable Tsunami of muck!

Christians hold in tension a vast array of beliefs and preferences whilst holding to a collective Credal declaration.  A lot (most) of disagreements can come down to the secondary issues and preferences, not to mention ‘historical romanticism’ about the past, or as one friend recently said, historical amnesia!

A great teacher I have leant much from once said to our class, “In life, in Christian ministry, choose the mountains you die on!”  In other words, work out what is primary (die for those things); work out what is secondary (don’t die for them but learn to hold them in a creative and humble tension).

In the book Mastering Conflict and Controversy, the authors highlight six helpful points to dealing with conflict:

1.  Conflict can be healthy and useful for our church.  It is OK for people to differ with one another.

2.  Resolutions for the sake of quick agreement are often worse than agreements that are carefully worked out over time.

3.  Fair conflict management includes:

  • Dealing with issues one at a time.
  • If more than one issue is presented, agreeing on the order in which the issues will be addressed.
  • Exploring all the dimensions of the problem(s).
  • Exploring alternative solutions to the problem(s).

4.  If any party is uncomfortable with the forum in which the conflict is raised, it is legitimate to request and discuss what the most appropriate forum might be.

5.  Inappropriate behaviour in conflict includes, but is not limited to:

  • Name calling.
  • Mind reading (attributing evil motives to others).
  • Inducing guilt (e.g., “Look how you’ve made me feel”).
  • Rejecting, deprecating, or discrediting another person.
  • Using information from confidential sources or indicating that such information exists.

6.  Fair conflict always allows people who are charged with poor performance or inappropriate behaviour to:

  • Know who their accusers are.
  • Learn what their accusers’ concerns are.
  • Respond to those who accuse.

The authors then suggest that if these “rules” can be agreed, a variety of conflicts can be worked through.

For me, the oil in the engine of all conflict must be love, wisdom and grace.  The “rules” above do not cover all bases and sometimes, frankly, pastors and leadership teams deal with rude, obnoxious, immature, repressed and infantile church members.  Pain can go very deep and often come out of nowhere.

Church isn’t perfect (yet), but I’d rather be in the ring fighting than outside the ring offering my tidy suggestions.

CrossinEarth