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The World Wide Web is My Parish – Zoom Edition(part 1)

Difference between Internet and Web - WWW and its services | Websites Management | The Internet is a network of connected devices that covers the entire world. The Web is a service that supports it, such as browsers, emails, FTP, etc

There is now a video version of this blog available at:

Twenty one years ago, as part of my ministerial training, I wrote my dissertation.  It was called ‘The World Wide Web is My Parish’. Focused on whether and how churches should be using the, then relatively new to general use, internet.  At that time the big question was mainly about churches having websites, whether they should and if they did how they used them – was it mainly as a notice board, or for interaction.

All these years later, the internet is a very different place and the advent of social media has brought much more space for the church to consider how it uses.  And in 2020 a global pandemic has brought a whole new slant, opportunity and, for some, questions. Zoom worship is now a pretty established thing that has, in my opinion, been a great blessing to the church, particularly as it has the ability for people to phone in to via a landline phone, which means most of the population of the UK could access it.  How awesome it has been in a time of isolation to be able to ‘meet’ together, to share fellowship with one another and to worship God together.

But as lookdown eases and the possibility of churches re-opening their buildings for worship, even with restrictions, the question is raised of what happens to zoom worship. Perhaps now is the time to look at some theology of online and our place in it…

In June 1739, John Wesley wrote in his journal:

“I look upon all the world as my parish. I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it, meet, right and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.  This is the work that I know God has called me to; and sure I am that His blessing attends it.”

Jesus parting words to his disciples, which includes us, were:

“Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Online, in all its forms, whether we like it or not, is very much a part of our world, and therefore an entirely legitimate place to be in worship, mission, discipleship.

In his book Mission and Dialogue, Michael Nazir-Ali reminds us that the Church is called to “proclaim the gospel afresh in every age”  Part of being christian and being church is to live out our experience of God where we are, within our community.  To do this the church needs to be a part of its community and not hide in a “holy huddle” in the safe place.  If we are to bring the gospel to the world we have to be where the people are. 

Historically Methodism plays its part by breaking out of imposed structures and boundaries, when necessary, to be where people are.  John Wesley left the buildings and preached in the streets and fields to reach people.  To believe in God incarnate is to want to see the church incarnate in the world, not just clinging to its familiar ways.  Unless we express church in a way our community understands, we are failing to be Christ’s body to them.

We could question if there is is a need to liberate Jesus from clutches of a church focussed on institutional buildings, so that he can be experienced and encountered anew for each generation – relevant to their experience and understanding.

Throughout history, particularly by the church, there have been profound misgivings about machines and technology and the effect they may have on the social and spiritual wellbeing of the nation. The printing press and television were both seen as highly dubious in their time!

Frank Wright in his book, The Pastoral Nature of Ministry asks the pertinent question if we have so conceptualised faith that we have forgotten it is primarily an invitation to see (1980, p15)? Have we become to hung up on our buildings that we forget what God can do, or even that he exists outside them?  Buildings very much have their place, but they are not the only place. For the Church to fulfil its mission, it has to be changed and learn new things (as Leslie Newbigin asks in his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989, p124), not to move from its core foundation and principles, but reinterpret the way it expresses them.  The church can join the search for new community, taking its place in it, and not missing its voice in the discussion. 

The Church is a place for people searching for truth, love, peace and wholeness.  We have that to offer and should seek to make that offer in any place where people are.  Online is such a significant part of the lives of so many people, the first place to which they turn.  The church is failing to fulfil its mission to go into all the world if it is not in that part of technology that covers the whole world, regardless of any political, geographical or physical boundaries.

In part 2, I will follow up with questions about where we are today, what lockdown has taught the churches about an online presence and where we go from here.

We pray Lord
for those whose lives have been so upset
by the Corona virus pandemic,
those whose certainties and sureties
have been taken away.

We pray for those isolated,
who feel that they have lost their community,
those who feel that they have lost what they held dear,
those who have lost their routine
and those who feel they have lost their connection with you.

We thank you Lord for all the ways we have been able to connect
whilst being aware that those ways are not for everyone,
but we thank you for the gift and the blessing that we have found
in services in Facebook Live, zoom, in the Daily Devotions,
in things that we have time to read,
that we wouldn’t have had time for before.

Thank you Lord
for meeting us in so many ways,
in the place where we have found ourselves.

We pray that you will continue to bless us,
that you will continue to meet with us,
as we begin to be able to meet together as we are able
and for those who still want to meet online.

We pray for all those seeking to find a place
where they can meet you
and know the reality of you.

We pray
not just for those who know and love you
but for those who are seeking
and for those who don’t even know
they are looking,
may they encounter you
in the place and in a way that they need to,
that all the world may know,
that all the world will hear,
that all the world may fall in love with you.

For we ask it in Jesus name

Amen

Failing to See The Obvious

John 9:1-41 

If you prefer a version read to you you can find it here

(GNT)

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?”

Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.”

After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle; he rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes and told him, “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” (This name means “Sent.”) So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing.

His neighbors, then, and the people who had seen him begging before this, asked, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some said, “He is the one,” but others said, “No he isn’t; he just looks like him.”

So the man himself said, “I am the man.”

10 “How is it that you can now see?” they asked him.

11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.”

12 “Where is he?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered.

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 Then they took to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 The day that Jesus made the mud and cured him of his blindness was a Sabbath. 15 The Pharisees, then, asked the man again how he had received his sight. He told them, “He put some mud on my eyes; I washed my face, and now I can see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this cannot be from God, for he does not obey the Sabbath law.”

Others, however, said, “How could a man who is a sinner perform such miracles as these?” And there was a division among them.

17 So the Pharisees asked the man once more, “You say he cured you of your blindness—well, what do you say about him?”

“He is a prophet,” the man answered.

18 The Jewish authorities, however, were not willing to believe that he had been blind and could now see, until they called his parents 19 and asked them, “Is this your son? You say that he was born blind; how is it, then, that he can now see?”

20 His parents answered, “We know that he is our son, and we know that he was born blind. 21 But we do not know how it is that he is now able to see, nor do we know who cured him of his blindness. Ask him; he is old enough, and he can answer for himself!” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, who had already agreed that anyone who said he believed that Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That is why his parents said, “He is old enough; ask him!”

24 A second time they called back the man who had been born blind, and said to him, “Promise before God that you will tell the truth! We know that this man who cured you is a sinner.”

25 “I do not know if he is a sinner or not,” the man replied. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.”

26 “What did he do to you?” they asked. “How did he cure you of your blindness?”

27 “I have already told you,” he answered, “and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe you, too, would like to be his disciples?”

28 They insulted him and said, “You are that fellow’s disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses; as for that fellow, however, we do not even know where he comes from!”

30 The man answered, “What a strange thing that is! You do not know where he comes from, but he cured me of my blindness! 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners; he does listen to people who respect him and do what he wants them to do. 32 Since the beginning of the world nobody has ever heard of anyone giving sight to a person born blind. 33 Unless this man came from God, he would not be able to do a thing.”

34 They answered, “You were born and brought up in sin—and you are trying to teach us?” And they expelled him from the synagogue.

Spiritual Blindness

35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 The man answered, “Tell me who he is, sir, so that I can believe in him!”

37 Jesus said to him, “You have already seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you now.”

38 “I believe, Lord!” the man said, and knelt down before Jesus.

39 Jesus said, “I came to this world to judge, so that the blind should see and those who see should become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were there with him heard him say this and asked him, “Surely you don’t mean that we are blind, too?”

41 Jesus answered, “If you were blind, then you would not be guilty; but since you claim that you can see, this means that you are still guilty.”

Good News Translation (GNT)Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society

 

Failing to See the Obvious
Lent 4 Year A John 9:1-41

I am me, I am who I am, with what I have.  But that day I found myself the centre of attention – well an argument actually.  Someone started trying to use me and my condition to score points.  They were wanting to trap this Jesus we’d all heard so much about – but they wanted to use me to do it.

How was my disability caused?  Had I done something wrong, or my parents?  It seemed a given to them that illness and misfortune were caused by what they call ‘sin’- which seemed to mean getting their rules wrong.

But Jesus stood up to them, made it clear that whatever had caused this it certainly was not because of anything either I or my parents had got wrong, nothing we had done at all.  This was really important.  So many people lived by the understanding that bad things did not happen to good people.  Bad things happening to you had to mean that you had done something bad.  We like things neat and tidy.  We like to know who or what to blame.  But Jesus was quite clear that was not the case.

The sad part about the whole episode is that the only thing that seemed important to the Pharisees was that the Sabbath Law has been broken – or at least their interpretation of it!

Having got nowhere with their first argument, they tried a different tack.  Perhaps this is some set up.  I was never really blind at all – Jesus was just using me to try to make it look like he was a prophet.  They were beginning to get worried that there are those who are thinking that Jesus might be the Messiah.

The leaders want to keep the lid on all this.  But it very soon becomes clear who the blind ones are.

The one who was blind meets Jesus and finds he can see.  The one’s who believe they have the understanding of everything meet Jesus, and it turns out they can see nothing because of their prejudices.  They need to open their eyes – and who knows what they might discover.

Lord
may I open my eyes to you.

May I see
the things you have to show me.

May I not be closed-minded
but wanting to discover more of you.

May I never think
I know everything there is to know,
or have you sorted,
but be open to new possibilities.

Surprise me Lord
I pray

Reflecting on The Amazing Technicolour Pyjama Therapy by Emily Ackerman

So, after my review of The Amazing Technicolour Pyjama Therepy, I thought I’d share a few things that have made me think – after all, such a book is only any use if it changes something in you.

Perhaps some of these things are issues I should have ‘dealt with’ by now.  But grief and loss are like an onion, there are many many layers.  Just when you come to terms with one aspect, another is uncovered and needs facing.  The length of the situation also means strategies that have worked, no longer do, or things you had worked through need taking out and looking at again as time gives them a different hue.

There is much in this book that is thought provoking and challenging, these are some of the ones that hit me where I’m at, some of which I tweeted the quotes from.

“Look on managing your illness as useful work” (p25) That is all I can manage, however different I might like it to be – and that has to be OK.  Somehow, I have to find a way to be me, this new, alien, different me, outside of my role – whichever role that is.  What I can do now is different to what I could do.

That brings a huge sense of loss, and can go on doing so as those losses are re-enforced, or newly discovered for the first time.  I think new losses will be realised as life with chronic illness goes on, but when we come to them the loss has to be faced, stared straight in the eye, acknowledged and dealt with.  That doesn’t necessarily meant that you ‘get over’ it, but you have to find a way of living with, or else the pain becomes crippling – and were back to the Pile Under the Carpet again!

Life, reality, what I can and can’t do are very different; they look and feel so far from where I once was – a life I was quite happy with.  Somehow, this life has to become as useful and pleasurable.

So, I know I only function well for 30-45 minutes, beyond that I’m gone.  I know I’m better in the mornings, I don’t do afternoons at all (I sleep for a good couple of hours and if I don’t it’s not good) and I’m not much better in the mornings.  SO I deal in small chunks and I do it early.  What isn’t done by 11ish will not get done that day.  That is what I have learnt in being an expert on me 🙂

(Oh and try telling the DWP that managing your illness is a full-time job!!)

“love and forgiveness is costly because it means letting go of my version of the past” (p95) for most of us our past was precious.  We were having a whale of a time until chronic illness struck.  Being chronically ill is not generally a reaction to being miserable, or a pleasant escape from a life we were hating.

So, chronic illness brings up many emotions: guilt, anger, resentment, self-pity, bitterness, loss of confidence, frustration and fear are mentioned in the book.  Yup! And some…

But those emotions can easily become misdirected.  So much is lost, but am I blaming the wrong person?  Invisible illness brings with it a whole new set of possible misunderstandings – but they’re not necessarily anyone’s fault.  Calm explanation may be better than exploding – but that was never my strong point 😉

I need to take time to stare those losses in the face, acknowledge them, feel the pain; from then a new foundation can be built – not on the past, but the future.

“God is always on the move and he wants us to come too” (p117) has to speak in to that.  Whatever I have lost, there is a tomorrow.  Maybe not the one I envisaged or might have chosen, but one that God is in nonetheless – and he is still going to be working in and through me there.

“I should work at meeting my own daily challenges, not peek over the fence at my past or my neighbour” (p121) that might be far healthier!  My life is my life, only I am responsible for it.  This is how it is, and I am the only person that can live with it.  The past has gone, it would have anyway.  I can only deal with what is before me now.

“Worship is about God surely.  It’s about putting him first, focussing on him and clearing a space from other pursuits and concerns to consider his beauty.  It isn’t about how I feel, where I am or what I do with my body.” (p179) This is a biggie.  Having been a Presbyter in Circuit work, worship was the bread and butter of my life.  It challenged and inspired me – but I was also responsible for how I worshipped.  So much of my identity was tied up in worship and how it was led.  Now I have to find a way to engage with worship that works for me.  I can’t sing, sitting is not always comfortable, my attention span is assaulted – your average act of worship is difficult for me ‘get on board with’.

BUT that is all about me.  What about God?  Where is his ability to meet me where I am?

Wake up call – worship is not about me, or even what I can and can’t do.  It is a meeting with the holy God, a place of encounter, of healing (in it’s broadest sense), of finding peace and being challenged; of hearing from the God who is far bigger than anything I can or can’t do.

And then there are some things that are useful for others to know, things I’d like you to know, not to moan, but to perhaps help you to understand me and where I’m at better:

“The sick are exiled into a strange and scary place, leaving behind great chunks of their previous way of life.  It’s a lonely transition” (p2) I cannot emphaise enough the truth of this.  However ‘sorted’ I may come across, or not, I am in an incredibly lonely place.  However long I have been ill, the path goes on, and each twist and turn can be scary.  Each day is new and I am exiled in a land not of my choosing.

“Illness related fatigue is nothing like healthy tiredness. It’s like a very heavy wet blanket pulled over your head that squashes you flat” (p37) This is not just ‘being tired’ or in need of a rest.  This is an all consuming exhaustion that makes your head spin and your body shake.  Accompanying that is the inability to think straight, never mind make sensible decisions!  A sit down doesn’t make it better, neither necessarily does just sleep.  It is not possible to imagine or understand if you haven’t been there.This fatigue goes hand in hand with so much chronic illness, and adds to the delight of trying to cope.  Dealing with illness is hard, dealing with the practicalities are energy sapping and time consuming – doing it when you are already exhausted can be mind-blowingly difficult. I’ve linked to this before, but it explains this kind of fatigue so well.

“It’s painful to feel overlooked or misunderstood by members of your church” (p189) Sadly this is also a great pain and burden.  The place you want to belong, sometimes feels like the place you are most rejected or sidelined.  It is the place I should have so much to offer, and yet I can’t.  Not withstanding what I have said above about worship, church too can be a place of exile.

These things are particularly hard, when you thought people understood, only to realise again that they don’t.  Why should they?  They are not walking in my shoes, they have their own with their own pinches.

But unless we talk and keep on talking, how will any of us know?

These are just some of the nuggets this book contains.  I’m sure if I read it again different things will jump out.  There is more I could say, but why not read it and see what it has to say to you.