Sunday, 17 April 2011

On Route 66 #SH2011

This year we forsook Minehead to visit Skegness for Spring Harvest 2011. It was a good call as the weather was dry and warm with a healthy dose of sunshine. Last time I went to Skeggie for SH it snowed. I mentioned in a previous blog the theme of this year’s celebration was Route 66 and focused on the Bible. As in previous years I haven’t planned a full review but offer some reflections on the experience.

Bible Reading: SH returned to its more established style of exposition for the morning Bible readings. I had been concerned that over the last couple of years these sessions had drifted away from engagement with the text and become little more than a springboard Dave Steell for the speaker’s observations and experiences. However, the series of readings based on the book of Malachi had a healthy balance of exposition and application and were ably led by Dave Steell.  During the four mornings we explored a variety of themes including worship, justice, complaint against God, money, sex and power. The teaching was accessible without being superficial. As I’ve mentioned before I tend to take phrases away to chew over and some thought provoking comments included:
Justice isn’t just about Mugabe or Libya. Justice is about when we go to buy a T-shirt for £1 and don’t ask how that’s possible.
Richard Dawkins’s ignorance about God is born out of the witness of Christians.
If we can’t honour our highest human covenant relationships, how can we expect to honour the rest.
The problem with tithing is that it often stops us thinking about our giving.
The mistake we sometimes make is to complain about God when we should be complaining to God.
Worship: One of the themes running through the Bible readings concerned our understanding of worship. I think there is a problem with the way that worship is often presented as being about the singing. Singing and music are an important and valued part of worship but worship is to be the offering of the whole of our lives to God. So when the person leading the singing is referred to as the Worship Leader it reinforces this partial understanding. I would prefer it if the person was referred to as the Music Director as that is a more accurate description of the role. To be fair this isn’t only Spring Harvest’s problem but an issue for the wider church.

This year the music was led by Ben Cantelon and he did a good job, drawing on a variety of material appropriate for the context of the celebrations. It helped that Ben didn’t have an album to promote and so it didn’t feel as if we were being force fed his own material. I did fear for my life at one stage when we sang a song inviting us to dance and jump; not a good move for those of us on the risers at the sides of the Big Top and I was not surprised when we were asked to stop jumping by a message on the stage screen (not that my pals paid any attention to that instruction).

Dave Steell gave a helpful example of the problem of defining the secular and the sacred when thinking about worship. Dave’s father had a huge record collection and the records were carefully categorised and labelled. One of the key categories was to distinguish between the secular and the sacred. What Dave noticed was that from time to time various artists were transferred by his dad from one category to another. So one week Johnny Cash was classified in the sacred, at another time he would be moved to the secular and then a few weeks later Cash was back in the sacred. As Christians we are called to see everything as sacred, belonging to God and honouring to him. That is a challenge to offer every aspect of our lives to God and it also challenges us to have a much broader view of what can be seen as reflecting the glory of God.
Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Malachi 2:10
There was plenty of space to enjoy time with family and friends, including the annual go-kart race and a daily splash with the kids. I gave the teaching zones a miss to do my own reading and thinking. Enjoyed watching lots of football, not least Man Utd’s win over Chelski and an evening vigil with the Bishop of Willesden as he watched his beloved Spurs go down to Real Madrid in the Champions League. A bonus was the free wi-fi courtesy of Costa coffee.

Bibles Lowlight of this year was the book stall at the resources exhibition. I realise that SH’s usual supplier has gone out of business but this year’s offering was not very inspiring and there were a couple of tables dedicated to different ‘versions’ of the Bible that chilled the blood. Prize for the worst offering was shared between the Precious Moments Bible and the Princess Bible. This fetish for creating different versions of the Bible has got to stop. If the Bible is for everyone then why do we have to manufacture these different versions to appeal to different groups? My suggestion to Bible publishers is that they waste less time creating these atrocities and devote more energy to making the Bible available to different communities throughout the world who don’t yet have the privilege of the Bible in their own language.

Two final challenging comments about the Bible that have stuck in my mind, both from Krish Kandiah:
The Bible should be a kiss of life but it is often heard as a text of terror.
You may be the only Bible some people get to read.
Thanks to the Spring Harvest team for all their hard work in preparing this year’s programme and theme. Next year’s theme is Church Actually: God’s Brilliant Idea.

For reflections on the second week of Spring Harvest at Skegness check out The Beaker Folk.


Peter Kirk said...

Philip, I'm glad to see you have taken on the message of Wycliffe Bible Translators about the needs of those without the Bible in their own language. When you get to your new church you will see my name on the board at the back of the building as a member of WBT sent from your parish. I'm actually no longer a member, but several of your St Mary's congregation will remember me as such, as well as from when I was a congregation member (1978-1985).

Philip Ritchie said...

Thanks for the comment Peter. I follow Eddie and Sue Arthur's blog and their work with Wycliffe Bible Translators.