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Theology For Life: my degree course

For a lot of years now I have really wanted to take one some kind of formal study in theology, just for personal development reasons rather than any desire to use that training professionally.  For a whole host of reasons it has been difficult to find a course that I considered suitable, I was not keen to go through my own denomination, I feared that avenue would be in conflict with my screaming liberal tendencies and would likely be skewed in a particular direction.

That being said it’s impossible to find any course that’s not skewed in some direction or other and it seems like whichever way you go you’re going to have to take from it what you can.

My nephew Ed now works for the Church In Wales and he has recently been asked to be a facilitator for the ‘Theology For Life‘ course which comes from St Padarn’s Institute, the educational facility of the Church In Wales. When Ed asked me if I was interested I agreed as it was the kick start that I needed to get into study.

Theology For Life is a part time study course designed around small group and individual study. Each year has three terms made up of one module each.  It is a course that you can take as far as you want to, two years will give you a Certificate, a further two years gives you a diploma and if you complete six years in total you will graduate with a BA in Theology and Discipleship from Trinity St David’s University.

I mentioned earlier about courses being slewed and this one is unsurprisingly very Anglican.  The first module is called ‘Exploring Anglican Worship’ and with me never having been an Anglican it’s already a steep learning curve, but it looks interesting.

At this rate I could be a graduate before I’m sixty!

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Community Fair in Newport

At our local church, St Julians Baptist, Newport, this morning we held a community fair, an open morning for local residents to come along and explore some of the community services that are available to them. It was really well supported and there were lots of really interesting stalls set up.

Some of the services represented there included, community police officers, local councillors, Newport Care and Repair, a local clinic for patients with macular degeneration, the Family Information Service, Newport Parent Network, Christians Against Poverty, Newport Credit Union, Newport Mediation, The Reading Tree, Age Cymru and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

I had a really good chat with the Age Cymru reps about pensions and was able to express my gratitude to Christians Against Poverty and Newport Credit Union for their help.

We offered refreshments for the visitors and were able to show the plans for our new Jubilee Hall which we will start to build next year.

It was good to see our local MP, Jessica Morden there to support the event too.

Responses to the Nashville Statement

In another of my multiple identities I run the website at affirm.org.uk, which is UK network of Baptist Christians working together for LGBT+ inclusion. For a long time I have had a strong Conviction that the church’s traditional position on sexuality is, not to put too fine a point on it, un-Christian and it’s refreshing to see changes happening, albeit slowly.

Below is a reproduced post that I wrote today for the site, regarding the Nashville Statement, a vile piece of garbage that I had the misfortune to read recently.

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This week a group of around 150 Christian leaders published The Nashville Statement, a set of affirmations and denials regarding sexuality and faith and in particular LGBT+ issues. This group, it must be said, represent a particular brand of conservative evangelicalism that this particular writer finds to be unwholesome to say the least.

I won’t post a link to the statement here, you’ll find it easily enough if you really want to read it.

There have been a number of responses to the statement online, many from the church and many from secular writers. I want to highlight two responses here that I found to be particularly helpful in presenting a more loving, inclusive and Christ-like representation of the broad spectrum of humanness .

Firstly the ‘Denver Statement‘ written by Nadia Bolz-Weber, an author of several ground-breaking books and a founding pastor of House For All Sinners And Saints in Denver, Colorado.  Nadia responds brilliantly to each of the articles and adds one of her own at the end.

Secondly from Christians United, a similar statement listing their own set of ten articles written in the same style as pairs of affirmations and denials, This statement has initially been signed by a broad spectrum of international Christian leaders and in this case there is an option for the reader to sign on in agreement to the statement.

Here at Affirm our purpose is to support the LGBT+ community, particularly those within the Baptist denomination, but in a wider sense to all those seeking to be at home in an inclusive, Christ-like church, it makes me sad to read the Nashville Statement, but I am encouraged by the responses and by the realisation that the love of Christ is all-encompassing and slowly, very slowly, his church is coming to realise that.

This post by Andy Long, website manager

Christian Aid Week fundraising

As always I am organising a series of events for Christian Aid week at our local church St Julians Baptist in Newport.  Each year we manage to raise a pretty good sum for the charity and it has long been one of our favourite projects.

This year you can help us out by going to this just giving page and donating to our sponsored walk around Llandegfedd Reservoir.

This year Christian Aid week focuses on the plight of refugees around the world. Please visit the Christian Aid site for some more information

Any gifts given through this Just Giving Page will go direct to Christian Aid, but we will get a running total so we can add that to the amount that we raise by other means.

Give at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Andy-Long11

Thanks

Progressive Christianity Network AGM

This weekend I enjoyed a train trip up to Birmingham to attend the AGM of the Progressive Christianity Network.  It’s the first time I had been to this event and didn’t really know what to expect, apart from previous experiences of other AGMs leaning towards the tedious.

In fact this was a very enjoyable afternoon. 65 people in attendance with a chance to make some new friends over lunch before starting the proceedings.  The business part of the meeting took place first: Election of officers, finances, reports etc. Once that was all out of the way we split into sub groups to discuss a variety of subjects and I found myself in a small group discussing how PCN members can make better use of social media platforms.  As an avid tweeter this was home ground for me, but a couple of our other members were quite new to the whole concept.

The whole group reconvened for a plenary session to discuss issues raised by the various groups and it was a good opportunity to hear from a broad selection of the members.

It was great to meet Adrian Alker at last. I picked up a copy of his book ‘Is A Radical Church Possible‘ and added it to my already too large pile of books to be read.  I’ll get round to it. Adrian also expressed an interest in coming to address our PCN group at Cardiff so we’ll be fixing up a date soon.

I brought home a box of resources for our group. PCN have recently released a set of four leaflets to be given to friends or used in churches.  These are titled ‘An Introduction To The PCN Groups Network’, ‘An Introduction To Our Eight Points’, ‘Helping Churches To Share A Progressive Faith’ and ‘Helping You To Live A Progressive Christian Faith’. These are an excellent little series of leaflets, I’ll be distributing them to our group, if you’d like a set please get in touch and I’l be happy to send them.

I’ve been grateful for the friends at PCN over the last twelve months or so and look forward to future events.  Next major conference is with Robin Meyers in Bristol on May 13th. Details here.

Thoughts about Trump and ‘the ban’

atheistEarlier today I was having a little mooch through Twitter, like I do most days (OK every day!). One of the authors that I follow there is Frank Schaeffer. Frank is the author of the book ‘Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes In God’, a book which I found quite profound. Frank has also had quite a lot to say on Twitter about President Trump. This morning I read one of his tweets about the ‘Muslim Ban’, I found myself in agreement with the content of the tweet, so (as is the trait of the Twitter user) I hit the ‘retweet’ button.

Another of my Twitter friends is a man that I met a few years ago, a man with whom I share a set of interests and values, however politics is an area where we differ quite radically. On a few occasions we have exchanged views on Twitter, sometimes these exchanges have been a bit ‘testy’.

Today this friend responded to my retweet with the question ‘how can it be “Muslim Ban” when India, with 172m Muslims’ isn’t on the list of banned nations?’ My initial response, to be fair, was a little sharp.

The problem with Twitter is that it’s very difficult to have a proper discussion on any subject in 140 characters, hence these discussions can quickly descend into arguments. So I thought I’d take a look at the question and put some thoughts down, I’m no expert in this matter, these are just a few musings.

So, as my Twitter friend pointed out 172m Muslims is a lot to ignore, so I decided to take a look at some stats.

There are indeed 172 million people in India identifying as adherents of Islam. According to the 2011 census this equates to 14.2% of the population.

Let’s have a look at each of the seven countries that are listed in Trump’s 90 day ban.

The population of Iran is 77.45 million. 99.4% of the population are Muslim

The population of Iraq is 33.42 million. 95% of the population are Muslim

The population of Libya is 6.2 million. 97% of the population are Sunni Muslim

The population of Somalia is 12.3 million. 99.8% of the population are Sunni.

The population of Sudan is 38 million. 97% of the population are Muslim

The population of Syria is 22.85 million. 90% of the population are Muslim

The population of Yemen is 24.4 million. More than 99% of the population are Muslim.

So no, Trump’s ban does not exclude all Muslims, just those from these seven countries that are almost exclusively Muslim. It’s hardly surprising, is it, that this has been widely interpreted across the world as a ‘Muslim Ban’?

The people who will suffer most from Mr Trump’s actions are the people who have had to flee from their own countries in fear of their lives. Often leaving everything they own behind and being separated from their families. In short the people who will suffer most are the refugees.

America has long called itself a Christian country. The American Evangelical Christians were major supporters of Trump’s campaign. Trump stated categorically in one of his election addresses that the Bible was his ‘favourite book’.

deuteronomy-10-19It’s a pity then that neither he, nor apparently any of his supporters, have read, for instance, Deuteronomy 10:19, or any of the countless other references in the Bible in which God reminds his people how they were once exiles, refugees and strangers in a foreign land and instructs his people to show compassion to the refugee.

OK, so reading the above text back I’ve realised that I’m coming across as a self-righteous, lefty, liberal twat. Honestly that wasn’t my intention. I’m no politician and it’s a simple task to Google ‘how many Muslims in XXX?’.

People, please feel free to vote for whoever you want and support the policies of whoever you want, that is democracy. When you live in a democratic country the vote doesn’t always go the way that you wanted it to go, sometimes you have to accept that the majority of people (or sometimes not the majority, depending upon how your electoral system works), feel differently than you do about how the world should work. But at least you can have the freedom to disagree openly, you may not always agree, even with your family and friends, that is fine, just please don’t stop standing up for what you believe to be right.

To my Twitter friends. Frank Schaeffer, thank you for your insight and wisdom, please keep doing what you do, and to the other friend mentioned above, whose name I purposely left out, please keep challenging me too and let’s try not to shout at each other too much. I’ve got the feeling that you might feel differently about some of Mr Trump’s other ideas.

 

 

My book list to start off 2017

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I’ve got a bookshelf near my bed and I generally buy more books than I’ve got time to read. At the start of the year I sorted out this pile that led reading, once I’ve finished the three or four that I’m already reading at the same time.

Looking at the titles I guess this is a clear indication of the way my spiritual life has been going for several years now.  My Christian faith has always been important to me, but in recent years has become much more liberal and progressive and I find myself reading authors like those above.

Peter Enns books ‘The Sin Of Certainty’, ‘The Evolution Of Adam’ and ‘The Bible Tells Me So’ have been a welcome refuge for me so I’m looking forward to ‘Inspiration And Incarnation’.

I recently finished ‘Falling Upward’ by Richard Rohr and have just bought ‘The Divine Dance’ an examination of the nature of God from his uniquely mystical stance.

There are a couple of C.S. Lewis books in there which  my nephew bought for me in Hay On Wye. I’ve read much of Lewis’ work before and will enjoy revisiting these.

The books on sexuality and gender are of interest because of the passion that I have to see all people welcomed into the body of Christ. Inclusion and equality are Christlike traits that we need to pursue.  Equal marriage is only one of the issues that the church needs to address in this area, but it’s a big one.

No doubt more titles will be added soon and some of these books will still be on the pile next year, but I’m getting there.

Progressive Christianity Network, Cardiff

pcnA year or so ago I was invited to a small group that meets regularly in Cardiff. The group is part of the Progressive Christianity Network of Britain, a small organisation of people who are seeking an open and contemporary approach to their faith.

The Cardiff group meets twice a month in a church in Pontprennau. There are usually around 8-10 of us at the meeting which is centred around a visiting speaker, video presentation or discussion idea.

It’s been a refreshing and thought provoking time for me at the group. I don’t always agree with the ideas that come out of it, but I think that’s kind of the point, all the members have come to progressive thought via a different path.  In my own church I’m a raging liberal with funny ideas, whilst at PCN I feel more like a conservative trying to hold on to the reins.

At the start off 2017 I will be taking over as the convenor of the group, which sounds very grand, but really just means that I will be facilitating the evenings and booking speakers.

I’ve lined up a few interesting speakers already, here are some of the forthcoming evenings

17th January – Fair Trade In Wales: Aled Pickard and John Mathias

21st February – Some Christians are trans, what does that mean?: Elaine Sommers

21st March – The Dategrove Group: John Henson

Other speakers have yet to confirm topics and I have a few video evenings lined up too.

The group meets at 7:30pm on the first and third Tuesday of each month at Pontprennau Community Church. If you would like to come or want to be added to the mailing list please email me

 

 

A random act of kindness idea.

Do with this whatever you like, it’s just an idea

We often see homeless people in and around the streets of our town, and pretty much anywhere we go in the country.  We’re always reluctant to give them money when we don’t know the back story and there isn’t always time to get to know them, but we like to help them out with some food when possible, so that at least for that day they have had something to eat.

Recently we were in a well known bakery chain, buying a coffee and snack for a guy for breakfast. We noticed that this particular bakery chain sells plastic gift cards that you can preload with some money.

*light bulb moment*

Bought one for a fiver, gave it to the bloke, now he’s fed for the day.

We’re not naive enough to believe that this solved all his problems and we are involved in other ways of helping the homeless, such as a local night shelter. But for this one bloke, on this one day, for an affordable amount, we made a small difference.

So…

I went back to the well known bakery chain and bought four of them. We’ve now got two each in  our wallet/purse. Prepared for the next such occassion. In fact I gave another one away today.

We’re only writing this to suggest it as an idea, not for any praise (or criticism), it’s not a perfect idea by any means, just a random act of kindness.

Matthew 25:40

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