Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Pioneer Spirituality edited by Jonny Baker and Cathy Ross reviewed

Put this up on my review blog earlier. Realised that it may be interesting to readers of this blog too. Pioneering Spirituality: Resources for reflection and practice edited by Cathy Ross and Jonny Baker, published by Canterbury Press, is the latest work from the CMS stable.

Whilst distinctly different from its predecessor , which I reviewed last year -The Pioneer Gift ,it still has the familiar format of having a range of chapters from practitioners in a range of contexts. The work that Baker and Ross do involves seeking to facilitate the hearing of voices which might not otherwise be heard. This has primarily involved seeking to ensure that it is those who would describe themselves as pioneers whose stories and theological reflections are heard.

The scope of contributors to this book seems wider than in previous texts of this kind. It seems that going beyond the traditionally recognised type of fresh expressions and pioneering projects they are engaging more widely with different types of pioneering. This includes hearing the voices of Harvey Kwiyani who is one of a group of Malawian pastors living and working in Nottingham and Berdine Van Den Toren-Lekkerkerker and Benno Van Den Toren who are originally from the Netherlands but have worked in various parts of the world. The former discusses African Spirituality in Western Contexts and the latter From Missionary Incarnate to Incarnational Guest: A Critical Reflection on Incarnation as a Model for Missionary Presence. There is also a chapter by anti-FGM activist Ann-Marie Wilson, who started 28 Too Many, on An Active Spirituality for Mission.

That said there are the familiar type of Pioneers in here too such as Gavin Mart of Engedi Arts who is a Methodist Venture FX Pioneer. Whilst Ross and Baker are careful not to speak with the voices of academics, rather presenting their introductory chapter in a more conversational form the academic voice is here too. Not only via Ross (and to a lesser extent Baker) but also through Stephen Bevans of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Bevans chapter Dancing with the Missionary God: Towards a Mission Spirituality seeks to identify six constant features of spirituality which provide a template for those engaged in pioneer mission.

The Bevans chapter is one which seeks to invite the practitioner to reflect on their own spirituality and seek to identify what both unpins it but also what sustains it. This concept of ensuring the pioneers own spirituality is sustained and the sharing of ideas and practices to help with this is the focus of the first part of the book. The most powerful chapters on this topic I believe are Kate Pearson’s on Angela of Foligno as a Model for Pioneer Minstry and Beth Honey’s Pioneers as Pilgrims. Both of these chapters were particularly useful to me personally as I seek to identify how to develop my own spirituality having moved into a lay university chaplaincy role – a role that in her chapter Pearson who is a chaplain at a different university describes as having “been a space for pioneers for a long time.” (p80)

Other chapters particularly in the second half of the book talk more about practice and how to help others develop their spirituality. Johnny Sertin’s chapter on Getting Dirty talked about doing this within a Church of England Parish Context whilst Tina Hodgett talked about it in relation to a group for young mums in her chapter on Doors in the Air: Baby Spirituality. These were interesting chapters telling the stories of what they were doing in a way which readers of the Ancient Faith, Future Mission series will be familiar.

Overall though this is more of a book to help pioneers themselves reflect rather than a book for those outside the system. It is a text to help understanding between different groups and to facilitate a conversation as illustrated by Kim Hartshorne’s We Are One Body Because We all Share in One Bread: Pioneering and the Eucharist. This chapter was focused on explaining to those from lower church backgrounds particularly why the Eucharist is so important to many practitioners from an Anglican tradition. This chapter articulated clearly why the rules matter to some people and why in finding new ways of doing things respect needs to be given to existing etiquettes. Again as somebody who doesn’t at times understand the need for the rules and restraints this was something I found particularly useful.

Overall this is a book which I would highly recommend to those who are seriously following developments in this area of pioneer ministry and mission because it highlights how maturing is now occurring. There is also more space being given to voices of those who have come from elsewhere to the UK which is good. I would also recommend it to practitioners who wish to reflect on their own practice and rootedness. Would I recommend it beyond that readership? I am not sure. Whilst it is a very good book and very readable and far less of a text book than some recent books I have read in this area it is still I believe quite specialist reading. It is clearly seeking to support the growing band of practitioners whilst developing some important conversations. It is a book of sharing ideas and also asking important questions of pioneers themselves.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Advent Reading by Richard Coles and Fiona Joseph

Fathomless Riches by Richard Coles and Beatrice: The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune by Fiona Joseph may not sound like the most obvious Advent reading. Yet, they’ve been what I’ve been delving into in recent days.

Why? Well part of it relates to the comments I picked up from one of the Queen’s lecturers whilst I was sitting in college communion (something I tend to do on Tuesday evening). He was talking about Advent being a time to examine our history and look for evidence of God breaking through. It is a time for looking back and looking forward whilst focusing on the difference Christ’s coming makes.

Both books enable you to reflect on the ways in which God’s kingdom breaks through and how this occurs in ways in which you might not expect. They also both, in their own ways, provide challenges for the reader because they show that ethics and actions are not simple.

Beatrice was a book I first heard about when the author gave a talk at Greenbelt a few years ago which I found absolutely fascinating. Somehow, though I never got round to reading the book until this week. It is a biography of Beatrice Boekes (nee Cadbury) whose Quaker roots and understanding of Marxist theory saw her adopt an increasingly radical lifestyle during much of her life. This included outdoors preaching which saw here frequently arrested and at one point giving up the use of money amongst other things. She was also responsible with her husband Kees for setting up a school and helping Jewish children escaping persecution in the Second World War.

This sounds admirable and it might be easy for one to get overly romantic about the world of Beatrice and her family. However, the book veers away from uncritical praise of her actions. Rather it details the difficulties this caused to her family and others who were seeking to ensure the welfare of the family.

Thus it shows that we need to think about our actions. God uses those who are willing to take risks and work beyond the status quo to help build his kingdom but those people have a duty of care towards those around them too.

Before I’d turned my attention to Beatrice and a Brum based book I had read Richard Coles Fathomless Riches or How I Went from Pop to Pulpit. This was a book I had pretty much avoided for a year. I suspect part of it was that I didn’t quite trust what I was going to get from it. I’m not entirely sure why but I didn’t. Then there was the fact the only comments I had heard about it seemed to focus on dogging, (suggesting people had not really gotten past the first few pages).

My view on the book changed in when I went to an event at the Birmingham Literature Festival where Coles was interviewed by Catherine Ogle, a Dean at Birmingham Cathedral. This previous post from my review blog explains something about why that evening changed things.

So it was I read the book, a memoir which does what it says on the cover and tells how a former pop star ended up training for ministry.

The book talks of his family and youth and then moves on to his life within the early 80’s gay scene in London before looking at his life post-fame and his involvement with the rave culture. It then moves on to exploring his interest in religion and the tensions he encountered between an Anglican and Catholic identity. Within this sex and drug use are a part but there is far more within this text.

First is one of the most moving accounts of the impact of the Aids crisis on the ‘80’s gay community I have read. This is something in the Literature Festival talk Coles had said he had not found cathartic to write. The pain within what he writes is clear and it is movingly described.

Scattered throughout the book are accounts of how he messed up and the regrets he has. It’s a book which seems scattered with references to repentance and gives some examples of what this might look like in practice.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading both books. They were both highly readable whilst subtly challenging. They also in their own way did show a real picture of God’s Kingdom breaking in on the margins as well as within the establishment. 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Letter to Miriam (Exodus 15)

Dear Miriam,

I am taking it you were with Moses and the Israelites when they sang a song exalting the Lord for what he had done to the Egyptians.

It is obviously a song of praise mixed with a telling of your people’s story. I find it a hard song of praise to connect with.

You are praising God for his anger against another group of people and for taking the lives of others. Yes, they were oppressors and they were your supposed enemies but they were still people made in the image of God.

In verse seven it talks about God unleashing his burning anger and that is something I can sort of get. I have no doubt God looks at the world at the moment seeing all the pain and senseless killing in it and is both angry and sad. Yet, as I say you are also celebrating violence and the destruction of others.

I could dwell on this but will not. I have recently read the Christmas Sermon on Peace which Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1967 and I think that says far more about where my concerns lie than I could.

What I want to enquire about is you and your status. Verse 20 describes you as a prophetess. What exactly did that mean in your context? You are also described as Aaron’s sister but we also know you to be Moses’. Is it the fact you grew up around Aaron which made you identified in that way?

You appear to have the role of leading the women. Was this because yours was a segregated society? Did you, as an Israelite, have a role Moses’ wife ,who was partly foreign, could not?

How did the men relate to you? Were you married and did you have a position of leadership higher than your husband or were you single?

Again you are a figure who seems significant but we seem to know relatively little about.

Then there is the wandering without water. Were you scared? Did people turn on you as well as Moses?

I know a lot of questions but you raise them in my mind and as so often the text can’t answer them.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Letter to a Chariot Driver (Exodus 14)

Dear Chariot Driver,

You are representative of the ordinary service personnel who suffer and die when rulers order you into an action which may be futile. Yet you also represent how ordinary people may be motivated into the actions they are because of fear and the desire to exact revenge too.

I am assuming you had a child or children or brothers or sisters. You had suffered loss and pain over a sustained period of time due to the acts of Pharaoh and God hardening his heart. You would have been in a state of anger and fear I suspect and so we can understand why you may have wished to exact revenge on those who you believed had caused you so much suffering.

I suspect that there would have been a sense of relief you were rid of the Israelites and the suffering which had been caused as Pharaoh would not let them go. Yet, I also imagine that you may have had feelings of hate against them which I cannot imagine or understand which came out of the suffering you had endured.

As I say you were also being ordered into action by the Pharaoh and other senior officials. It would have been almost impossible for you not to comply to these orders.

When the cloud came down as you were in the water what was it like? I imagine the horror must have been unimaginable, with the horses panicking and the noise which would have been generated as people sought not to avoid one another but couldn’t as the wheels got clogged and the screams as people died, even before the waters came over.

You wanted to escape but you were not given the chance. You died in the water in what must have been a horrific event, seeing the events of your life come before you.

I cannot understand your situation or the actions your people took with regard to keeping and abusing slaves, just as I cannot understand much of the horror in the world today.

As I read this living in a situation where people around the world are still dying in violence which is so often rooted in revenge and fear and the acts of those who are seeking to exploit those feelings in others I have to pause.

I have been taught to see the Egyptians who were keeping the Israelites in fear as “the baddies” and the Israelites being led by Moses into freedom as “the goodies”. The truth is in this situation there were too many ordinary people, who are innocent, suffering as victims on sides all. The narrative of the Old Testament is not as I have been taught to read it.

It is complicated, just as the current situation in the Middle East is. The Palestinians are suffering and need their freedom, but at the same time many ordinary Israelis are too.

This part of Exodus has taught me very much to question see things more widely and to identify how far too many people are dying or living with pain, bereavement and injury – leading to fear and a desire for revenge. To reduce things to “the oppressed” and “the oppressor” is too simplistic, just as I think my engagement with the bible (on a non-academic level) has been. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Letter to Moses (Exodus 10 - 13)

Dear Moses,

I am writing this short letter asking simply how did you cope with the horror which was going on around you?

I am angry God kept hardening Pharaoh’s heart and that more people had to die. I really don’t know if it was the only way that freedom was possible. If so I struggle to understand that.

I hope in some ways this is a narrative put together to explain history, but don’t know if it was. I struggle with this passage deeply.

I could go through the different plagues and festivals but I feel that is not appropriate. I want to know how God’s will could be the slaughter of innocent children.

People tend to try and explain it away saying it was cultural, or it was necessary. I don’t believe the slaughter of the innocents could have been necessary and I don’t believe a God of love would choose to do this.

I am writing to you struggling with what kind of God I worship. If this is true that God did kill in this manner does it mean that mean he still justifies violence which takes place in his name? If he does I cannot worship this God, yet he is not the God I know and so I have to question this account.

The only thing I can take from this is that I come from a nation who has to take responsibility in our past for acts of barbarity and violence too. Perhaps this is another group seeking to explain the worst parts of their history too, where in the complexity of trying to obtain freedom they had to undertake acts of atrocity. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Letter to Official (Who Took His Cattle & Slaves Inside) (Exodus 9)

Dear Official Who Took Their Cattle & Slaves Inside,

I write to you with intrigue and a mixture of feelings. You were a slave owner, somebody who kept a system of oppression in place and benefitted from the extreme suffering of others. Yet at the same time you were a human being who had the same choices as many to make in terms of whether you lived within the status quo and the norms and values of your context or not.  

You were an official of Pharaoh and by that I take it you were some kind of advisor to him during this crisis. In terms of how God hardened his heart I am wondering if it was done through some hard line advisors who kept pushing for the most extreme action. It seems from this chapter that a split was emerging between you officials in terms of how you felt about it all. People such as yourself seem to be on one side, perhaps urging the more passive approach whilst others seem to be much more hard-line.

What happened once the Israelite livestock survived and the Egyptian livestock had died? Whilst it is not stated I would imagine in that situation, where the Israelites were slaves that their livestock would have been taken from them. If it wasn’t was it through fear, or did somebody try that and then the livestock died?

What did you think when Moses and Aaron took the soot from the kiln? Were they viewed as magicians and sorcerers themselves? I get the feeling they were which is why Pharaoh seems to have produced his own. I cannot imagine the scene of horror which the boils were creating. How did it feel for you? Was the screaming induced almost as bad as the physical pain? Was this the point you started fearing the Lord, or had it occurred earlier?

I find it interesting in this situation that my holy book says “the boils afflicted the magicians as well as the Egyptians”. What ethnic group did the magicians come from? Were they Israelites or from some other nation? This is something I had not picked up before, that they were not your own people. Did they initially come to serve the court as entertainers but were viewed as having other powers too?

When you heard the Lord tell you that he had let you live what did you think? Did it confuse you? I am confused by the Lord throughout this whole thing because it seems just as those of you advising Pharaoh to let the Egyptians go the Lord hardens his heart. As I say earlier I am not sure if this was done via a set of hard-line advisors. That’s the thing which makes sense to me, that there was somebody coming up with some really nasty stuff about the consequences of letting them go which changed his mind. Yet, the Lord was behind that and the messes with my head.

The hardening of hearts caused untold suffering to people on both sides of this, slavery continued for longer as well as the Egyptians going through more suffering. Why? I cannot think of rational explanations.

With the hail thing I find it interesting that God seems to be exploiting the divisions between you officials by giving you the warning and seeing who would listen and who would not. Did he do this to measure the overall feeling in court and see how many people, such as yourself, would listen and how many were still hard-liners? If so I can see the logic.
Yet it is something else which makes me angry and makes me question how a loving God could do this when it caused human and animal death, including the death of slaves.

You and your family were safe, because you had listened and taken everybody inside and sought to save as much as you could. I wonder through this experience did you seek to treat your slaves at home differently? Did you start to ask them about their God and their traditions? Were you scared of them and what they might do to you and your family? I also wonder if you sent as many as possible back to Goshen. Was that like the townships were in South Africa? Was it a short distance away, like a suburb, and the slaves came in from there each day to you? Yet, Egypt is a vast land and it could not have been like that everywhere unless Goshen was a term for ghetto and each town had one. I wonder if that was the case. It would make sense to me.

You must have felt some kind of relief for taking the right action. It must also have strengthened your resolve to argue the case to Pharaoh for letting the slaves go. I wonder if that is why Pharaoh then says he will let the people go.

I wonder why Moses, who appears to be speaking and doing the work in this narrative, which is clearly different to the one where Aaron is the main orator says you do not really believe. Is it because yours seemed to be a belief of convenience based on fear created by the confusion and pain of the events rather than a real fear based on a conscious choice to believe? I find that interesting. That God demands that our belief and awe/ fear of him to be out of a freely made choice rather than a knee jerk reaction to our experience. Was there some custom linked to the Wheat harvest that you were planning for which indicated that you were not ready to follow Israelite customs and so still following your own gods rather than fearing God? I ask because the mention of what crops had and hadn’t been destroyed, in brackets seems rather random.

I notice that after the hail stops the hearts of Pharaoh and the officials, such as yourself, hardens but on this occasion it is not the Lord who appears to be hardening the heart. Does this mean that once the crisis was over the hardliners who remained amongst the officials gave a strong case which seemed convincing to most of you? What was it that made your own heart harden? Was it the economic case or what? Too often the hardening of hearts comes from fear and I wonder what was said to make you scared again?

This letter to you has been longer than most I write, I guess it is unconsciously allowing me to speak to those leaders in my own world whose decisions I cannot understand. It is also because yours is another story which seems vital to understanding the bigger picture yet which is not fully recorded. The image included is one I found on a wall in the city I live in and photographed. It seems to describe part of what is going on in your context and so I am not going to explain it, rather I leave it to speak for itself.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Letter to Aaron (Exodus 8)

Dear Aaron,

I am getting more interested in you and your story as Exodus continues. I had always thought it was Moses staff being used and you were just the voice who Moses spoke through, but I am realising I was wrong.

You are described in an earlier chapter as a “prophet”, somebody in your own right who is speaking and acting against power to give the message of God. We too often condemn you to being “Moses brother”. This identifying people by their relationship to another rather than in their own right is a common mistake in our society. You remind us there is so much more to the other and their story is vitally important too.

As I read about you I am intrigued about how you were able to do some of the things you did. For example how did you gain access to Pharaoh in the first place? How come you were not put under arrest, or more probably killed for your actions? Then there is the question of how you were able to get to the different rivers and canals to put your staff over them? Did you have to travel all over the country in disguise?

I ask these questions being aware that two versions of this story are interwoven and that there are questions over your existence. Personally I think that you were real and that you acted against the state in order to free your people. I think that the stories of the plagues do describe events which happened at the same time as you were involved in your freedom fighting.

I think it is particularly interesting that your story highlights the overlap between freedom fighting and terrorism. If we look at it in a modern context you would have been viewed as a terrorist. God through you was causing massive disruption in the land. These actions were of a sort which today would be described as environmental terrorist acts. I wonder if that was why Pharaoh’s heart hardened, did he get to the stage where he realised that things needed to change but then think if they did he would be giving in to you? Or was it he realised the implications on the economy and his great civilisation he let you go? I am not sure, but I think the hardening of the heart may be able to be looked at in these terms.

Your story actually reminds me a lot of what I know about South Africa and the ANC actions there. That gives a different question, did the response of the authorities always harden against your people too? We know initially that was what happened but did it happen after each plague too?

How did you cope with the disappointment of thinking on several occasions, this was it you had gained freedom, but then having Pharaoh change his mind? I cannot imagine what that was like for you. How much did you let Elisheba know about what was happening? Did she and the boys have to go into hiding? I am imagining that Goshen was tightly controlled by the Egyptians.

What were your feelings towards Moses? He seems to have your total trust, how was that gained? As you can tell I have lots of questions for you because you intrigue me the more I read about you.

In terms of what you teach me I guess a large part of it is that of having courage to speak out against injustice. I am not in your situation and so am not called to engage in acts against the state. I am not called to speak truth to power like you were either, but I do know there are still injustices in my society which God does call me as a Christian to speak out on. Whilst he does raise up prophets such as yourself many more of us are called to follow the example of the prophet in resisting unjust authorities and speaking up for the marginalised and speaking out against injustice. 

Letter to Elisheba (Exodus 6 & 7)

Dear Elisheba,

You were Aaron’s wife, a woman who would face disruption in your life to as your husband took the role of prophet and Moses’s spokesman.

I wonder how you felt about everything going on. I am taking it that you would have been suffering like everybody else in your community. Were you ostracised by those who blamed your wider family for bringing suffering upon them or did they try and use you to speak reason to the brothers?

How was Moses viewed by you? Did you worry about the influence he appeared to have over Aaron? Did you and your husband have to accept that Moses was acting on God’s word and not completely mad? Were you and your husband amongst those who refused to believe Moses originally? These are questions the text raises for me but which it does not have answers to.

I wonder if heritage and genealogy was the thing which was used to persuade you that you had little choice or that Moses wasn’t crazy. I guess the family stories passed down and you knew them well, especially as the boy’s mother was also their great aunt and so she would have had a link to that previous generation too.

Was Jochebed still alive when all this was going on? If she was did she use the story of Moses’ survival as a baby during that slaughter of the innocents as evidence that God was really with him?

You obviously had four sons to think about too. Did you both decide to follow Moses because of a fear of what would happen to them and a desperation that something had to change so they had hope of a better future?

Did Moses tell Aaron that he was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart? It seems to me that your husband got a lot of the raw deal on what was going on. He was the one who was charged on speaking truth to power but was only the intermediary, having to trust Moses completely.

The dynamic is something I find really interesting and is something I will explore further in a letter to your husband I am sure.

How did you feel about Moses speech defect? Was stammering or whatever faltering would be most fully translated as in our day and age common or was it judged as a sign of weakness? Was it something used to mock by yourselves? I can imagine the children doing impressions of Uncle Moses which you probably had to tell them off for or were they too well behaved for that?

What was going on in your head on that day when Aaron headed off with Moses to see Pharaoh? Did you know what was going on or was it hidden from you to some extent?

What was it like when Aaron got home and told you about the staff turning into a snake and the others having their staff’s turn into snakes too but his eating them up. Did it scare you even more? I think it would have me as this was clearly getting into the world of the supernatural and in your pre-modern society there would have been even more myths around such actions than we have today.

Then there was the blood in the Nile, that would have been really scary and I guess your people would have suffered doubly too. Did it mean that you did not have water and had to dig the wells for the Egyptians?

As you can tell I have lots of questions for you. They relate in part to the fact the narrative focuses on the main events but do not look at the impact of you as women. Yours is in many ways a hidden history. Yet, I think it is an important history because we have so much to learn about how to relate to and support the families of those who lead in whatever capacity. Having the stories of women such as yourself would help us as it would having the stories of men who supported women who lead and having the stories of children and so on.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Letter to an Overseer (Exodus 5)

Dear Overseer,

Pharaoh put you in a terrible position where you ended up suffering most. I am guessing you were not popular with your own people, possibly being seen as collaborators of some kind by having the overseer positions. Certainly I am guessing many resented the way in which you sought to pass on the orders of the slave drivers. At the same time you got beaten most severely for not managing the impossible.

As I read, and whilst I know there can be no real comparison my mind strayed to thinking about those employed in benefit offices and so on. Where you had the straw taken away and people were punished for not managing they are forced to sanction people who find it increasingly difficult as the safety net is taken away from their clients in the name of austerity. At the same time their own working conditions are being subject to cuts and they cannot spend the time they used to supporting clients.  

Both you and they were the in between people, the people most in touch with the suffering whilst being the same people forced to implement the new regime.  

I am interested in what the meeting with Pharaoh was like and how it was secured. In many ways it seems to have been like a deputation from a modern day trade union. How did you secure this meeting? Was it that there were slave drivers who weren’t so tyrannical that you managed to build up relationship with, did you have a sympathetic ear in the palace or was it that the slave drivers were being punished to and so wanted you to go in and explain?

Today in our culture when the trade unions go in they too are not being listened to. Indeed they are being punished through a range of ways some ways talked about are legislative and some are based on the government putting unreasonable conditions on starting talks with them whilst seeking to portray them as the baddies who won’t come to the table. As I say I know it is different in many ways but it is what your story brings to my mind and I think part of the role of the bible is to make us sensitive to what is going on around us today by jogging our minds and helping us to make these loose connections about who the modern day people in similar positions would be.

When you went to see Moses and complained he was making it worse for you I wonder what that was like. Were some of your number talking about attacking him physically or was it just a plea being made to him to go away and stop getting involved?

Your story suggests that you were people of good intellect and able to put your case forward well, even if you were not able to win. I am guessing that brains rather than brawn is how you were chosen for the role of overseers. I also wonder now whether rather than collaborators you were somehow seen as community leaders of some kind. You were able to get the ear of people who perhaps ordinary members of your community could not.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Letter to Zipporah (Exodus 3 & 4)

Dear Zipporah,

I guess that people would expect me to write to Moses regarding these two chapters but I want to think about it from your point of view as the wife of somebody who has been called.

I want to start with the end of chapter four where the Lord comes to Moses and tries to kill him and so you cut off your son’s foreskin and touch Moses feet with it.

My view of this incident has always been wtf….why? But having read through Genesis first I can understand this a little bit more. In doing this you were making it clear that both you and Moses son were going to be living by Israelite rather than Midianite customs. You move from the tribe of Midian where your father was a priest into the tribe of Levi which Moses was part of through this action. Quite why you had to touch Moses with the foreskin I don’t get, but you obvious thought this was important. I am not sure if it would have been a cultural action too.

In order to stop the Lord killing Moses you had to intervene and show your loyalty. I think this may have been a test for you, the Lord may have been checking whether you were going to be able to handle what Moses was being called into.

I say this as the wife of a trainee Methodist presbyter who has not been called in the dramatic way Moses has and is not likely to have to do the sort of things Moses did, but still has been called into a life which involves turning everything upside down. The following of that call depends not just on the one who is called but also their partner. Whilst I do not intend to be a “clergy spouse” of the type many think of I have had to change my life as a result of my husband’s calling, just as you were.

In terms of that call and encounter with God it is clear that you got it and understood. What was it like when Moses came home and described it all to you? I can imagine him stammering it out with lots of hesitations and asking you if you thought he was mad. You knew him and knew his strengths and weaknesses were. I guess that when God got a bit mad with him for using the speech issue it would have hit very deep with Moses. I get the feeling that it would have been something he knew was a weaknesses and he was just trying to be reasonable with God. Your role would have been to reassure him.

When my own husband was called I found the calling of your husband and indirectly yourself useful. You see when God called Moses we know he was calling somebody who didn’t have a perfect past and may not have been the one who people might have initially thought of. You were somebody who supported him knowing him faults and all and knowing that you were potentially somebody who wouldn’t fit in, as a Midianite.

My husband is a bit different too. He is a trans man amongst other things & I am certainly not your typical potential ministers wife, (not that I really think the typical exists beyond stereotypes). We are the type of people who might genuinely ask God if he has made a mistake or is he sure he doesn't want somebody who fits in with the Christian ideal that many people have a little more.

Whilst not called to go out and do what Moses did or anything near it we do feel we are on this journey because God has called him to give up his own comfort to work alongside others, particularly the marginalised. At the same time there may be situations where he is called to speak the truth to power in order to improve the situation of the marginalised. This is scary, but God is opening up ways for him to be trained in this, which might surprise people.

I know I said yesterday some stories need to be left and read as just that. However, others can be connected with on a personal level. These chapters connect with me in a way which is specific and clear. I am called to support my husband just as you were called to support yours because God has called them to turn our lives upside down for his glory and work and to help others.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Letter to Pharaoh's Daughter (Exodus 2)

Dear Pharaoh’s Daughter,

I wonder how old you were when you went down to the river. I am assuming you were not old enough to be married and perhaps had the naivety of youth about you.

You knew that your attendants had to obey you, even if it might bring them into conflict with your father.

What did you think of your father’s orders to kill the Hebrew babies? It seems you took the opportunity to save Moses although it would have involved some risk on your part. I am guessing when Moses sister arrived on the scene and offered to find a nurse for you that you probably worked out what the score was. Yet, you went along with this happily. Did it make you feel good that you were doing the right thing?

At what age did you take Joseph in? Were you married by that point or did you have to explain it all to your father? Did he accept Moses into your family because you were his daughter or because there came a point where he realised he did wrong?

When you heard Moses had committed murder and run away did that bring out xenophobic feelings in your father? Did you have to deal with a lot of “I told you so”?

Were there people who kept you informed or not though? Did you know when he got married to Zipporah?

How did you personally feel about the slavery of the Egyptians? Did you understand it and condone it?

As I read it and wonder what my response should be there is an obvious moral lesson about looking after people in danger. However, I wonder if sometimes rather than looking for the moral meaning or echo in everything whether it is sometimes better to read parts of the bible and let them be. To just hear the story and not automatically be seeking to draw out the application.

I think the bible should teach us and application is important but sometimes we should just absorb the story and let it be as that, an interesting narrative.  

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Letter to an Egyptian King (Exodus 1)

Dear Egyptian King,

You did not know Joseph. I wonder if this is because there had been a change of dynasty in your land or was this to do with the time which had elapsed since Joseph had been in Egypt and his story had not been handed down?

I ask because I would have thought the story of the great famine would have passed down and Joseph’s role in it would have been known.

Or was it as the Israelites became more powerful in Egypt there was a conscious writing out of him by those who resented the foreigner’s power?

Your brutality towards them seems to come from fear of a potential security risk. I find this interesting as our government seems to be becoming more fearful of the risks posed by part of the population who come from families who have emigrated here. This fear that they will join with our enemies is one which echoes down to today.

Thankfully we do not put people into forced labour in the same way, but I do worry how as your people allowed this policy to be implemented what role we in our country play in the shrewd oppression of groups judged to be dangerous.

When you decided to go for the killing of the boys to try and stop the growth of Hebrews in your nation I wonder if this was a common practice? To us it seems barbaric but to you it does not seem odd.

I am glad fear of God stopped the Hebrew midwives obeying your commands but I do wonder what happened to them for disobeying you. These women stood up for life and in doing so took a courageous step. I doubt to be honest if I could have done the same, yet I don’t think I could have done what you asked either.

As I read this story I am yet again struck by how different your culture was yet how the same fears are what underlie different actions throughout culture and time.

I have previously been somebody who has had far more time for the idea of social construction than social fact but I do wonder if the bible gives evidence that there are certain fears and emotions which are social facts and it is our reaction to them which is the social construction as well as who these fears relate to.

If this is the case do we, as Christians, need to acknowledge those fears more and identify ways in which they can be overcome? For example rather than simply saying “fear of the other taking over our country is wrong” do we need to ask deeper questions about where the fear of a particular group comes from and what can be done to deal with that fear in a way which is positive rather than negative?

This passage illustrates I think the need to understand our history and the history of immigration of certain groups and use that in our response. Part of your response came because you did not know Joseph. If this is means you did not know his story it shows how a lack of knowledge of history can impact our interpretation of the present.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

(Another) Letter to Joseph (Gen 49 &50)

Dear Joseph,

You were the favourite son from the moment you were born and the blessings your father dishes out reflect that. Their wording identifies what your father thought of all of you boys.

You had been estranged for so long and then found him again, but by then he was elderly and approaching death. How did that feel for you?

You are clearly moved by his death and make sure his wishes are met in terms of where he was to be buried.

I take it when the embalming is referred to it is the Egyptian form of mummification which we are today familiar with from the bodies found in the pyramids. Did you follow other customs we associate with that time such as burying specific items with him?

You were clearly touched by his death, which was marked by those from your adopted country too.

I wonder if other siblings felt relief that they could now move on as well as fear as to how you might act.

I think whilst most mourn the death of their parents the emotions are not as simple as we are often led to believe. Because in our society death is somewhat taboo we do not often discuss it and yet I think we need to.

Sometimes death can be kinder than life. I really worry that in our society we are so focused on life that we keep people alive too long when they have no quality of life.

I wonder how your own sons felt about your death. Was it your status that meant you knew you would have to be buried in Egypt but your heritage that meant you knew your bones should be moved when your ancestors moved out of the land?

You clearly were aware of your own mortality. Did that thought of death scare you or not?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Letter to Ephraim (Gen 48)

Dear Ephraim,

I wonder what it was like for you when you were taken in to see your grandad. We don’t know how old you were but that you were young enough to sit on his knee.

You were being taken in to see somebody ill and old and I am guessing the atmosphere would have been anxious. Were you scared by what was going on?

Then there was the blessing your brother was meant to get, in your dads eyes. I wonder if Jacob was remembering he was the younger son. There seems an important pattern in Genesis of showing that the eldest son is not necessarily the one who gets the blessing. This I increasingly realise as we go through is counter-cultural. That’s why Joseph got so upset, because Jacobs actions were going against what seemed to be the correct social order.

I think this is an important thing to take on board, that the “right choice” is not always God’s choice. I find this helpful because when I look at myself and my husband and I often think, “God have you made a mistake?” Why have you given me the calling you have and called my husband in the way you have? Do you not know who we are and the labels attached to us?

I know this is a note rather than a letter today, but I don’t want you to think this is not an important one. Your story has underlined to me something important.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Letter to the Ordinary Egyptian (Gen 46 & 47)

Dear Ordinary Egyptian

I write this letter to you, not knowing you but understanding you were impacted by the events we read of in these few chapters.

The account focuses on the migrants, Joseph and his family but I wonder what life was like for you at this time of famine. As I read through I am aware you were suffering real hardship and you would have seen your ruler providing wagons for these foreigners. I am sure the wagons would have been identifiable in some way as being provided by Pharaoh, who seemed to be doing very well out of your suffering and having to give him all you had for food.

It says 70 people came into Egypt with Jacob. I wonder what size settlements were then and what impact an extra 70 people (and I am thinking this number may not be exact but rather may be one of ritual significance) have in each area they stopped. Did they share their food with the local inhabitants or not and if not did this build up resentment?

I suspect they were not the only people to come into Egypt at this time of famine searching for some pasture or anything which might help them survive.

When they took the best land they were given did you or others get displaced? I wonder what you felt about this. I can see how the disruption caused may have caused social problems and perhaps the rise of racism.

When the famine was at its most severe how did you feel about Joseph and Pharaoh? It seems that the worst aspects of the market economy are at play here. When supply fails and demand is high the prices increase and in this case actually require you to become exploited whilst the richest in society get rich through this. In this case it shows how you become surfs as a result of this natural disaster and yet you show gratitude for this because you say it was enabled you to survive.

Did the fact that the Canaanites had been able to buy food too cause division between your peoples?
I can’t get my head around quite what it must have been like. Yet we see different echoes in our own society. Greece is a country which is suffering economic suffering, in a large part as a result of the debt repayment conditions being put on it by the EU but they are also having to deal with a migrant crisis.

In terms of the ethics of it all reading through it helps me to understand how racism and division might grow but also it underlines that those who should be targeted are not migrants but rather those exploiting these situations for profit.

I know I am supposed to see Joseph as a kind of hero in this over all tale but to be honest I see him as a man who used his power to exploit others. The fact that God seems to be putting him in this position and almost encouraging the exploitation is something I find really problematic. Yet, I do wonder if through these actions more of your people’s lives were saved than if the famine had taken hold without any planning.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Letter to Joseph (Gen 42-45)

Dear Joseph

I am interested in the encounter you had with your brothers when they came to get the grain. It seems that you would have made a good capitalist selling the supply of grain for a good profit to the desperate. The famine enabled you to do very well for yourself.

That is not to criticise you totally. You provided good leadership which was important. I do wonder though how, in that situation, the poor faired. With this shortage of supply in relation to demand was there some way of ensuring that people were cared for who couldn’t afford the grain?

I live in a society where there is a safety net, although it is being eroded because there are those who would argue that such a safety net causes dependency. This is something I disagree with to a large extent. I believe that what matters is how aid and support are given – it can be disempowering but it can be done in ways which enable life and participation. However, I digress from your story.

With regard to your brothers coming to buy food. How did you keep it together? I wonder if any of them suspected you but then dismissed it from their minds reckoning it to be impossible.

There is that bit when you pretend to need an interpreter but actually hear what they are saying. This is an interesting one which suggests you were a good actor. Did those who were interpreting for you know you could actually understand?

With regard to finding out news on your family, I can see why you quizzed them carefully.
I know why you did what you did not taking the money and so on but did you also take a little bit of pleasure messing with your brothers heads.

When you revealed yourself and your brothers were dismayed at your presence was it all out of fear out of what you would do or was there some of the previous jealousy going on? I ask because it wasn’t exactly the warm reunion you see on tv. I can imagine them looking at each other and then to the floor and a couple muttering “oh bother” or words to that effect under their breath.

You telling them to not be distressed sounds like a good way to deal with a very awkward situation. I also suspect that you understood that there were going to be very mixed reactions to you not being death. Is that why you told them not to quarrel on the way back. I wonder if that worked, after all for those who may have been jealous it could have been quite patronising and could have increased resentment against you.

In terms of what we can learn and apply now from your story. I’m not sure really beyond you never who you will bump into in the future in what circumstances and that should be taken into account in your interaction with others.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Constance - Review of the Film

This review of the Constance Coltman film was first posted yesterday on my review blog, but I think it fits with this blog too and so I am posting it here today, Sometimes when reviewing it is necessary to understand the constraints that the producer of a piece of art or product may be under. I think this is the case with Constance.

When watching this Kevin Snyman film I was disappointed at how short it was, expecting something much longer which covered more of the remarkable Constance Coltman’s life and work. Yet, I understand the film makers have done the best they can under difficult circumstances and it was a film I enjoyed.

Watching this URC supported film about the first woman to be ordained as a minister in an English mainstream religious denomination I was struck by the impact this woman had. However, the impact shown at the beginning was that she had upon the great and the good. I would have liked to have seen a condolence letter written by an “ordinary person”. Part of the reason for this is I had the privilege to hear talked of warmly by a now deceased member of her congregation, a man who had been ministered to by Constance and Claude in Wolverton (near Milton Keynes). Unfortunately there was no mention of her ministry there, even in the credits.

What this film did was show the strength of character it took for her to be accepted for training. Within this short film I find it most interesting what it says about call and how she had to show her call was beyond her gender yet God was also calling her in a significant way because of her being a woman in a situation which excluded women.

What I had not been aware of prior to watching it was her pacifism or her links to the suffrage movement, the latter of which of course would have been there but which I had never picked up upon previously.

I was caught between being pleased and frustrated that the hook for the film was her relationship with her husband Claude. Somehow turning this into a mini chick flick based around their love story seemed inappropriate for a feminist film, yet their relationship was pivotal to their ministry which was in many ways a joint ministry.

This is not a film about one woman though. It is a film which shows she had a prophetic voice and which is seeking to talk into our current situation.

I would therefore recommend you watch this film which is available to be shared on a not for profit basis under a Creative Commons licence and then share it. Constance’s story is one which should be shared and celebrated not forgotten.

Letter to the Cup Bearer (Gen 40 & 41)

Dear Cup Bearer,

I am writing to you, another biblical character who has an occupation but not a name. You are as so many others identified by your place in the class structure of the time.

My first question is what did you and the chief baker do which displeased Pharaoh? Was there some kind of food poisoning which he traced back to you two or was it you were somehow seen to not be following protocol enough?

What was your understanding of the significance of dreams? I know they are seen as really important by some people. Personally I have not had the type of dream which would need interpreting. It seems a key part of your culture though to have had dreams interpreted and for them to have meaning.

I am interested by the role Joseph played in prison. In the modern prison system we have people who act as listeners to other prisoners. That seems the nearest parallel we have to what Joseph was doing there. He was clearly sensitive to how other people were feeling around him which shows a sensitivity.

When he offered to interpret the dreams and gave you a positive interpretation how did you feel. Did you believe him or not? Then when the baker was given a negative interpretation what did you think? I do wonder what those three days were like where you were waiting to find out whether the interpretations were correct. I think that it must have been quite tense.

When you got out you forgot Joseph. I wonder if that was because you were suffering some king of PTSD and so blocked out that experience of the prison you had gone through or was it you were initially looking for an opportunity but that opportunity never came. That is something I think a lot of us suffer, including when we want to talk about Jesus and share him with others. It can be that we want to but never quite feel it is the right time. Was it you felt others would be embarrassed if you talked about that negative time in your life which others had responsibility for?

It seems when there was an emergency in the palace you remembered, but with some shame for not having mentioned Joseph earlier.

Were you given a slightly higher status in the court for having recommended Joseph or was there some kind of gift to you in recognition?

I could have asked so much more of you but I think that is enough, others can answer the other questions I have.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Letter to Potiphar's Wife (Gen 39)

Dear Mrs. Potiphar,

I write this letter with slight trepidation knowing I am about to go where angels fear to tread. You were a woman who made a false rape allegation and put an innocent man in jail as a result.

The behaviour of women such as yourself together with the attitudes of men who try to justify their actions mean that many genuine rape victims find it hard to be believed.

However, this passage suggests that you were so motivated by your own desires that you had little time to consider the impact of your actions on others.

Was the problem you had that this man, who was a slave was not giving you power over him? He was a foreigner who belonged to your husband and yet he rejected your advances.

You obviously found him sexually appealing on the basis of his appearance or was it due to more that? Did you also find his success appealing?

You seem to have had a desperation to sleep with him and I wonder if you had been a man, and him a woman, whether you would have raped him because you seem totally consumed by love. From the way it is described with him fleeing as you held his garment it appears that you had moved on from verbal sexual harassment of Joseph to physical sexual harassment.

When you are making the false allegations you bring his ethnicity in to it. Did that make it easier to make the allegation?

What were your feelings when Joseph was taken to the prison? Did you regret your actions or not? Were there others who had their suspicions about the truth of the matter?

I ask these questions because I find it difficult to understand your actions.

One of the things I am finding as I read these passages is how they relate to modern debates. The book of Genesis includes the stories of genuine rape victims as well as yours. In a world where the victims voice needs to be heard but each allegation needs to be fully examined this book explains why this is necessary by looking at both sides of the debate through different stories.
**for anybody who read this earlier overnight I don't know if I was hacked or if there was an unfortunate dyslexic/poor proof reading moment but I would like to clarify I have never made a false allegation of this kind.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Letter to Judah (Gen 38)

Dear Judah,

I find yours a fascinating story which has much to say about sex and sexual ethics. In a world where we struggle with the way in which society seems to be misusing sex and families often appear dysfunctional so much I think it is really interesting to examine.

Firstly, I want to go back a step to your suggestion that you sell Joseph into slavery rather than kill him because he was your flesh and blood. It seems that you had an understanding of what was happening was wrong.

I wonder when you went away whether it was because of resources and managing scarcity or because of guilt. I am sure you must have chatted to Reuben and realised that in your trying to save Joseph’s life you actually stopped him being rescued and increased your fathers distress.

I wonder what wickedness Er was guilty of which led to his death. We don’t know but as it was mentioned straight after you getting Tamar as his wife I do wonder if it was domestic violence or adultery which he was guilty of. The sin does implicitly appear to relate to his treatment of Tamar in some way.

You seem to understand the duties you had towards Tamar or was it you were concerned about the continuation of your bloodline?

Did you know the feelings that Onan had towards getting Tamar pregnant? He seems very concerned with the idea of any biological son of his being acknowledged as such. This passage has been used to condemn masturbation in my own culture at points. However, it is clear reading it that it is not the wasting of the seed which is the problem but rather his treatment of Tamar who in your culture he had a responsibility towards.

How did you feel about telling your son he had to go and sleep with this woman he may not have wanted to sleep with? It seems that you had a lax attitude towards sex and the use of women, yet also sharp moral codes. Yet you also have a fear of what you don’t understand. This latter is shown by your reluctance to let Tamar sleep with Shelah because you were scared of the death of another child.

You were happy to go and sleep with a prostitute, that is something I find interesting and a sign of double standards – something I think applies to a lot of people who use sex workers today. You went and slept with this woman yet you were willing to burn Tamar when you thought she had had promiscuous sex.

How did you feel when you discovered that it was you she had slept with? Your reputation was clearly important to you and you did not want to be laughed at by others or shamed her apparent actions.

That encounter when she identified you as the father of her children, because you had not given her Shelah obviously had a great impact on you because you knew why in her desperation she had acted in this way. It is like you have your eyes opened to some of the effects of patriarchy and what you had been doing to her through your abuse of power.

Did you get to spend much time with the twins before you passed away? I ask because you were obviously in older years when they were born.

I wonder what your relationship was afterwards with Tamar. Did you treat her, and indeed the other women around you with more respect?

It is interesting yours is a story I had caught in passing before but not really taken on board. Yet, it is one of the ones which has caught my attention most so far through this project.