A Brief Theology of Thought

by Aaron Edwards.

One of the ever-present dangers of our digital age is not only the extent to which it makes us thoughtless, but also the extent to which it overwhelms us with thoughts, and the potential for more thoughts, ever threatening to destabilise our ability to handle the rapidly underdeveloped thoughts we currently have in our heads. We are more readily aware of what we don’t know than ever before and our digitised selves yearn not only to be known but to be in the know of all that can be known.

Wesley encouraged his ministers to read books for at least five hours a day. In our thoughtlessly bureaucratic age, the average full-time academic – let alone the average minister[!] – is lucky if they get to read a book for 5 hours per week. With our time ever-squashed by the weight of our inboxes, we are painfully aware of all we’d like to know, but never will. There are books that stare down at us from our shelves, judging us for our perpetual neglect of their thoughts. To buy books, said Schopenhauer, would be a wonderful thing, if only we could also buy the time to read them. One of the problems of this is that in our perpetual grasp of more thoughts, we lose sight of the point of thought itself. We pursue a kind of intellectual wholeness, or peace – but we forget that intellectual peace is contingent, and is less about how much we know than about how we know.

The trouble is, there are always more thoughts to think. And because there are always more thoughts to think, we can never be satisfied with our grasp of what we currently pertain to know. Nobody is ultimately satisfied with their thoughts, with their intellectual grasp of reality and ideality. There are gaping voids in our mosaic, most of which we don’t even know about because we can only see one small part of the mosaic and we tend to think of it as ‘complete’. There are always more thoughts to think.

All this might be cause for intellectual despair, as swathes of twentieth century philosophers, in one way or another, led us to believe. And yet intellectual peace is not actually impossible, precisely because it is not located in our comprehensive mastery of all that can be known. Our mistake is to think that if only we grasped the true depths of Dostoevsky, if only we apprehended the historical nuances of the French Revolution, if only we understood the forces behind economics, if only we had a firmer grasp of this or that doctrine, then suddenly all would fall into place and we would reach that zen of intellectual peace. But alas! There are always more thoughts to think.

Indeed, God has precisely designed this problem for us. Of the making of books there is no end, said Solomon. The more we know, the more we need to know. And yet God does not discourage our pursuit of knowing. Rather, he calls us to have ‘a theology of knowing’, to desire Him in the midst of our knowledge of all the reality and ideality that we might find. If we seek knowledge in the hope that it will make us happier or more in control of our grasp of reality we are making a fatal mistake. You rarely meet a satisfied professor. There is always another article to research, another book to write. They never simply “retire” from thought. Even at the apex of their powers, as conference acolytes gather around them wide-eyed in the hopes that some crumbs of their vast expertise or wisdom would drop down from the table, you often sense they themselves are yet troubled by all that they know they don’t know, all they are yet to know, all that they do not know as clearly as they once knew. And so the thinking goes on. And if we’re not careful, we can lose our way along the way.

We need a thoughtfulness to our thinking; we need to know why we ought to think, and what relationship thinking has to discipleship and worship. God is the greatest thinker of all, the most attentive scholar of all of reality and ideality, the One who is truly in the know. We too often begrudge him his supreme professorship and seek to dethrone him by becoming ‘like him’ in our knowing, which is a supremely thoughtless thing to do, as Adam and Eve well knew. But there is something we know, as surely as one can know anything: the One who knows all has made Himself known to us in Jesus Christ, who in turn has sent us his Spirit as our guide and counsellor, as the one who will lead us into all truth. What can this mean? Will we know ‘all truths’ that are knowable? We groan here in our earthly tents, in our earthly heads, knowing in part, waiting for the crumbs of manna to drop from the Professor’s table.

But these crumbs do not drop accidentally. For He not only knows all reality, but orders all reality and calls a people to his purposes. As we give ourselves to His purposes instead of our own, He gives us what we need to know and guides us in our knowing; He calls us after Him in perpetual thoughtful worship of all He is and all He has made. This means we will undoubtedly need to think more thoughts, to pursue more knowledge, to love him with more of our mind. But it means we will think thoughts far less thoughtlessly, far more peacefully, far more theologically. And in doing so we will find our thoughts go farther than they ever could when we were stressfully scrabbling and haggling for yet another shard for our hapless mosaics.

Creative spirit

by Barbara Glasson.

My spirituality and my creativity are closely linked. I have known this for a long time yet I have always foolishly thought that my spirituality was the serious business of prayer and worship whereas my creativity was a light hearted playfulness for spare moments. I can see that I have got that wrong.

Creativity is a drive, a primal and essential force, something quintessentially human, that means there is a desire and longing and impulse to create a thing, an object , a substance. For me, creativity is not an optional extra, it is of the core of my humanity. Because I am created, because I am a creature, then I also need to create. I am invited into a conversation between my imagination and the Unknown.

Creativity is not about craft, about a skill like knitting or throwing a pot, although it might need a skill to achieve it.  It is more about an impulse, a longing, a deep desire or irresistible curiosity to explore an object or colour or concept. Creativity comes from a force beyond ourselves. It is a primal imperative. And this imperative emerges from the imagination or subconscious or, I would want to say, the Divine Creator. It is not an act of will alone, it is the result of a connection of ideas. Creativity is a spark. The sculptor Anish Kapoor talks of creativity as an invitation, a process in which we are invited to participate. Ultimately it is a question about meaning, meaning being revealed to us through mystery.

So, if this mysterious world of the imagination brings a spark of otherness, of beauty of hints of a world beyond this one, why is it that Church can be such an uncreative place? With the possible exception of a splash of PVA glue and blunt scissors at Messy Church, or our attempts to decorate chapel interiors with flowers or banners, on the whole our experience of church is often more of a spectator sport than an engagement with the Unknown.

At this point I sense a certain toe-curling angst and flashbacks to school art lessons which puts the fear of God into many a good Methodist. We can feel more pragmatists than Pollocks. We can be intoxicated by a sober cocktail of justification by works and the Protestant work ethic. Our churches can be cluttered up with ‘stuff’ rather than places of space, beauty, texture and imagination. Although chapels may be more like store cupboards than treasure troves I’m not advocating we give up sermons in favour of oil paints. What I am suggesting is that we give space to those creatives amongst us and help them to stop sitting on their hands. Release the right brains!

This is not necessarily a call for us to access our inner Rembrandt but rather a prompt to widen our conversation. Whilst creativity can be the prerogative of the lone explorer, like most spiritual exercises it can also be the soil in which communities grow together. Shared creativity gives the possibility of meeting in spaces that don’t rely on a contract of shared belief. It is within this shared process there is the possibility of surprise.

Banksy demostrates that creativity can be subversive. Certainly art is often prophetic, enabling us to see the world differently. Craftivism is a new movement that harnesses creativity in a search for justice.[i] Creativity is a truth-teller.

‘Art is not a private nightmare, not even a private dream, it is a shared human connection that traces the possibilities of past and future in the whorl of now.’[ii]

Creativity opens up dimensions of the spirit that are often submerged by the routines of everyday life. Creativity gives time and attention both to the detail of the material world but also to the mystery beyond it. Creativity is the birthright that Yawheh gives to humankind when breathing life into us. In creating the creator is created, and creation is re-created by the Creator.

‘Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, describe what is going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or , if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.’[iii]


[i] Corbett 2, Craftivism Collective 2009.

[ii] Winterston J, Art Objects, (Vintage, 1996), p. 117.

[iii] Dillard A, ‘Heaven and Earth in Jest’ in Creators on Creating, (Penguin, 1997), p.84.

All called to be witnesses

by Steve Wild.

On Sunday 21st September 1760 John Wesley was in Cornwall at the Gwennap Pit. He doesn’t give the number of people attending but says, “it was the largest congregation of all,” and as he had been there probably ten times before there must have been quite a crowd. He goes on, “It rained all the time I was preaching,” so the crowd was made of stronger stuff in those days!

The day concluded with a lovefeast although perhaps there were less people at this, such gatherings usually had “a little plain cake and water” together with singing and testimony. Wesley goes on to say “James Roberts, a tinner of St Ives, related how God had dealt with his soul.” There follows a very full account of this testimony which must have deeply impressed our founder on this Cornish visit.

Last month we saw the death of the exemplar evangelist Dr Billy Graham, he like Wesley had a very rare gift in communicating the heart of the gospel to ordinary people. The Sunday following his death I asked my congregations how many of them had heard Billy Graham live and how had that affected their lives? In the three congregations there were several people who had heard him and committed their lives to Christ as a result. My services seemed to take on a different tone as some of these folk shared their story, the organist at one church waved his copy of the Billy Graham Music Book from the Earls Court Mission in the 1960s – which he still uses!

It was moving to hear folk talk of their encounter with God, some of them at the Harringay Arena in 1954… just before I was born!

There is a power in testimony which my congregations warmed to, there was a vibrancy and energy that came across and I was touched at the simplicity of the stories and the faithful lives that backed them.

In the marvellous story of Jesus healing a man born blind in John’s gospel chapter 9, the Pharisees investigate the healing and the man gives testimony, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” In the dilemma in this story he states the fact that he is not an authority, but he is a witness. We are called to be witnesses the first letter of Peter says “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We are not all called to be evangelists but are all called to be witnesses.

In Luke’s gospel we have another healing story. In chapter 8 a demon possessed man is cured and he wants to stay with Jesus but our Lord says, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Conversion involves a responsibility to share faith.

I love the connexional “Talking of God” faith sharing course which helps individuals and congregations to talk about their faith journey. We do this best like my congregations on Sunday, by being authentic and unpracticed but stating a genuine life experience.

Personal testimony has to be honest, one lady on Sunday said to me, “It hasn’t all been easy.” Of course it hasn’t for she like all Christians has had her share of tough moments. All our stories are unique and it’s easy to be put off sharing because we feel our story is too “ordinary.” Years ago as a prison chaplain I had many requests to speak at churches and they almost all wanted me to bring a converted prisoner with me “to give testimony” and I would refuse. The new converts needed to make massive adjustments in following Christ so they were not a prize to be shown off; it is true that radical life transformation stories are heartwarming and faith building but they are not entertainment.

In the world church there is an openness to testimony through the Holy Spirit which I have witnessed as it flows naturally and interestingly – this is where the church is strong and growing. Perhaps it is something in our British way which holds us back from testifying what God means to us, but I believe that through testimony we can discover the helpfulness of the work of Christ in our and other people’s lives. This will be to the enrichment of our life and the whole church as we fulfill the call of God to be witnesses.

We are the brass band of Christ

by Will Fletcher.

‘Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Grimethorpe, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

This is how I imagine Paul might begin a letter if he was writing today to the church in Grimethorpe, a Yorkshire town synonymous with brass banding, rather than to Corinth. I choose this as someone who enjoys playing in, and listening to, brass bands. Since moving to Yorkshire, it has been such a blessing to be welcomed into Deepcar Brass Band where I make up part of the bass section on the B flat tuba.

Playing a bass instrument, we rarely are trusted with the tune. For those of you of a certain age, you may remember ‘Tubby the Tuba’. If you don’t, get online and find it! It tells of a tuba in an orchestra desperate to play the tune, but always getting it wrong and upsetting others. I won’t spoil how this story of high drama ends…

Yet without each part of the band playing their part the piece of music can sound empty. When the band plays a hymn tune, as it often does to warm up, in four-part harmony, the rich sound can be so beautiful in a way that the melody on its own cannot. Therefore, each part of the band is necessary.

I’m no Greek expert but I wonder if Paul did write to the Church in Grimethorpe he might continue, ‘You are the brass band of Christ, and individually members of it. For just as the brass band is one and has many members, and all the members of the band, though many, are one band, so it is with Christ. Therefore, the cornet cannot say to the trombone, “I don’t need you”, nor again can the euphonium say to the tuba, “I don’t need you.” If all were a single member, where would the band be?’ (My sincerest apologies to St Paul for that butchery of his text!)

So far it may seem like a classic application of a famous passage – in the Church we all have different roles to play which we need to do in order to bring about a beautiful tune. Yet there are added points which maybe the image of the body doesn’t portray, but which could be of some use for the Church today.

Firstly, in many pieces of music, not just for brass band but all manner of orchestra and ensemble, there isn’t just one tune being played. Often, whilst one instrument has the melody, another instrument has a countermelody. This isn’t just a bit of harmony to support the main tune, but something different that brings a bit of added sparkle and beauty. In our churches, we shouldn’t be of the opinion that there is only one tune and everyone else’s role is in supporting that tune. Many different people may have melodies and countermelodies, separate areas of ministry and mission that together make one beautiful whole.

The best pieces of music aren’t just about the notes that are played, but also about the rests that instruments have. As a tuba player, others in the band laugh at how many rests I have. But having different instruments coming in and stopping provides colour and impact. As churches we may need to get better at encouraging people to have spells of rest so that when they are active they have the energy to serve well and bring that much needed colour and impact.

So, may we continue to work to make our churches a coherent band, each member playing their part and remembering to rest. May we be attuned to the various melodies and countermelodies that people can offer to make up a glorious tune. For as St Paul may have said to the Church in Grimethorpe, ‘For when one member plays a wrong note, the whole band suffers; if one member plays a beautiful tune, the whole band rejoices.’

Should Lent be interesting?

by Stephen Wigley.

‘Do you know of any churches doing anything interesting for Lent?’ It’s not an everyday question, but it’s one I was asked recently by a colleague who works in local radio. I think I know what she meant and was looking for; something different to the usual round of events to be found in church notices at this time of year, something which might contribute to an interesting radio programme.

My first thought was to rack my brain for churches which might indeed be doing something a little different, something beyond the usual round of lent lunches, midweek services and ecumenical bibles studies. And I confess that my initial investigation couldn’t come up with anything much beyond the normal pattern of events, however valuable and well-intentioned.

Nevertheless, the question set me thinking. What do I make of Lent and who is it for? Is it just for Christians inside the church or should it be something of interest, able to speak to the wider world? Is it primarily a time for refocusing on our spiritual discipline, either giving things up or taking new commitments on ‘for Lent’? Or does this give the wrong idea about Christian faith and church, that it’s all about saying ‘no’ to things rather than saying ‘yes’ to life?

These questions stayed with me as I set off to take my normal round of Sunday services. But as I drove in my car, I was struck by the number of other people out in the wind and rain on a fairly miserable Sunday morning in February. There were runners in fluorescent vests, cycling groups in lycra struggling up and whizzing down hills, and even some early morning rowers out on the river Taff, all puffing and panting away.

None of them were in Church; but all were undertaking some significant physical exercise, doing something which required a regular commitment week-in week-out, and which for many of them involved doing it in company, alongside others. This outdoor exercise seemed to be  something they considered it valuable enough for their well-being to be out doing in all sorts of weathers. That kind of discipline, that level of commitment didn’t put them off – rather it was part of the appeal, part of what made the exercise, whether running, riding or rowing, so valuable and worthwhile.

It made me think about our understanding, indeed my own discipline and practice of Lent, beyond that commitment over the years to simple lunches and times of prayer and study; that it may not be a time which appears particularly interesting or entertaining to others, but is one which reminds us of the need to commit and be serious about our faith; and that the God who comes to share with us in Jesus Christ is a God who makes some pretty demanding calls upon us – and asks us to ‘shape up’.

It suggested to me that this may be something which folk in the wider world already know, indeed are willing to recognise and understand; namely that the things which matter most are the things which are worth committing to – and that if we were a little more serious about our commitment to the faith we profess, then others might be a little more willing to take it seriously. And maybe that’s the message of Lent; that it’s a time for being serious rather than interesting – but who knows – taking things seriously may just make us and our faith a matter of more than local interest.

Towards a new manifesto

by Trevor Bates.

Given that the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries saw the European ‘empire style’ outreach in trading patterns enabled the Christian Churches of European lands to establish themselves among people of different ethnic and cultural lifestyles in far-flung lands, some of whom responded to the Gospel of Christ:

And given that the 21st century of economic globalisation and instability has brought about a movement of peoples to live in communities of diversity searching for safety and security, which are quite unique for Britain:

And given that people of different faiths and varying religious traditions are manifesting diverse patterns of human living – in terms of empathy, caring, endeavour, and celebration, in their new settings, sufficient to hint at an emerging cosmopolitan world:

What is God doing with us?

Where is Christ in the midst of this vortex of change?

What is the living God saying to us as Christians?



Wilfred Cantwell Smith argues that: ‘All human history is Heilsgeschichte (salvation history). Not Israel’s only, either the old or the new, but the history of every religious community. [And] This has always been true: although we are the first generation of Christians to see this seriously and corporately, and to be able to respond to the vision.’[i] This insight should give Christians renewed confidence to proclaim that history should be seen as ‘the arena of divine actions,’ and realise that the Christian communities in Britain and Europe are being prompted to respond in new ways to our present unique time.

In the overall scheme of things have we come to a ‘wind of change’ period in the history of humanity? As we search to blend together as an extended family of peoples, all the faith communities of our time are surely challenged to manifest their spiritual resources by nurturing the basic values and inner resources of resilience, strength and gratitude, and to spell out in everyday living God’s new purpose for our world. Indeed are not all people of faith being invited together to rejoice in God’s passionate and compassionate dynamic initiatives to fashion a new kind of cosmopolitan world?



If, as Clive Marsh suggests,[ii] the incarnate action of God is recognisable in the ‘Jesus patterns’ of compassionate human interaction, forgiveness, reconciliation and mutual respect as the Christian tradition proclaims, should we then be surprised to find these Christlike patterns in ‘communities of practice’ are being lived out elsewhere outside the paradigm of the Christian Church and community? Are they not to be discovered in the ‘everyday world’ and in the communities of other faiths, and therefore acknowledged and applauded as heraldic signs of the Spirit at work in our time?



However, as long as our diverse and cosmopolitan world cries out for God’s social justice to be given the highest of priorities to counter the evils of prejudice, suspicion, mistrust and greed then the Kingdom harmony of relationships will never be fully realised. Therefore, as family members of the community of Christ is God challenging us to make bold and adventurous moves to invite across the thresholds of our places of identity and belonging the people of other faiths, in gestures of hospitality and welcome? And in turn are we willing to cross their thresholds of belonging and identity, to ‘take off our shoes’ in humility and respect with gestures of namaste (meaning: ‘I bow to the God within you, and the Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you’) in ventures of loving and lasting friendship?

Can Christians come alert to their contemporary commission from God? Is it possible for the dignity and spiritual worth of the human person to find centre stage both in the world of employment and in the spheres of local and world cosmopolitan community such as Christ longs for and as Jesus proclaimed in his own manifesto, that is Luke 4: 16-19?


[i]Wilfred Cantwell Smith – A Reader – ed. by Kenneth Cracknell (2001), p.200

[ii] : Christ in Practice by Clive Marsh (2006), p22-23

Simple acts of inclusion

by Andrew Roberts.

Christmas Eve seemed unusually busy last year. Being on a Sunday many Churches had a packed programme of services and community events. Our local Church was one of those making the most of the day. We had morning worship, an afternoon outdoor Carol event in the centre of the community and an evening Carol Service at the Church replete with refreshments beforehand. Then we had Midnight Communion.

Having had so many services that day and finding it harder with the passing of years to be bright and enthusiastic late at night I set off to lead the service fuelled by some strong coffee and a sense of duty. To paraphrase Mr Wesley I must admit to going rather unwillingly. A small number gathered, we began to journey through the liturgy together and a sense of the sacredness of the evening began to grow in the candle lit space.  Then part way through he service two ladies arrived. One had clearly being enjoying the evening already and warmed by an evening of festivities enthusiastically kissed friends and strangers alike during the sharing of the peace. Meanwhile the other lady, who had crept in, sat quietly, head bowed at the back.

When it came to the sharing of the bread and wine both ladies came to the rail. As the Steward offered the wine the quieter lady looked perturbed before Jane kindly put her at her ease by saying the wine was non-alcoholic. The lady received the proffered wine with gratitude and drank her cup slowly and tenderly. At the end of the service she returned to the rail and asked if she could light two candles explaining that she had come to Church that night because she wanted to make a new start. We shared conversation and prayer until it was time to go home.

As I drove home I continued to pray for the lady and reflect on how important simple acts of inclusion are. That evening we had used gluten free bread so that all could share of the one loaf. Someone very close to me has coeliac disease.  She has stoically gone without bread if only bread made with wheat was offered at Communion services or gratefully received the gluten free bread offered as an alternative on other occasions. At one Christian Festival she was moved to tears when gluten free bead was offered to all in the celebration of Holy Communion. The experience of being fully included was overwhelming and we long for the day when gluten free bread will be the norm on the Communion table. To not be so seems to make a nonsense of the liturgical pronouncement that we are all one because we share in the one loaf/bread.

Simple acts of inclusion can be so transformative, pastorally, missionally and evangelistically. In the famous encounter between Jesus and the plucky insightful woman at the well (John 4.4-42) a simple sharing of human need – the need for a drink of water – opened up conversation, revelation and resulted in someone, who in the culture of the time could so easily have been ostracised, being included and blessed. With her worth and dignity affirmed she returned home to be an exemplary evangelist (bearer of good news) to her own community.

Sharing non alcoholic wine, gluten free bread or a drink of water are simple acts of inclusion that make a world of difference. Being evangelistic doesn’t have to be difficult.