Category Archives: Minister

Liminal

It has become my habit to write a poem for Advent. In doing so, I try to instil something of the mood of the times and to reflect upon themes that seem to be prevalent. This year, the word I keep hearing is “liminality.”  It comes from the Latin limen “threshold, cross-piece, sill” But tends to get used when we cross a sensory threshold or we are in a transitory space. It seems to speak into these times when so much is changing and familiarity is consigned to the past. So, this years Advent poem plays with those ideas. I hope you find something of value within it.

Liminal

On the edge of a moment –

must fear drive the chaos of becoming?

Faced with inevitable loss –

can hesitant doubt be heard as hope?

At the cusp of unknowing –

can we be open to the presence of possibility?

On the rim of fragility –

is truthfulness already broken beyond repair?

Here we are: dissolving into uncertainty,

filling time with inactive verbs

carried by searing winds of destruction.

Here we are: on the edge of blessing,

discovering love amongst woken healers

rejoicing at the threshold of breath.

Craig Muir, Advent 2021

May this Advent be a time to reflect upon all that life reveals and the Christmas season that follows bring an openness to the presence of possibility. 

be blessed, Craig

Abraham & Sarah, Genesis 18

I’ve jumped passed it. This chapter is attributed to the Priestly source. It is written in a very ponderous, disciplined way and once again finds Abraham doubting (and laughing at) the promise. However it is also the moment when  Abram & Sarai become  Abraham and Sarah – and that is how they are known from now onwards; introduces a covenant relationship and a mark of belonging to this distinctive community through circumcision. 

Genesis 18 comes from the source known as the Yahwahist. It has a far more fluent storytelling style that is ‘“an accomplished work of epic art”: it expects  of the reader a willingness to be told a story. i.e the open-mindedness which can share in the most incidental details and understand latent subtleties and intimations.” Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, 1961.

18:1 YHWH or Angels?  singular Lord, plural three men, singular “My Lord,…” (v3)

a Revelatory encounter. 

18:2-8 The perils of welcome created an intricate ritual. Greeting – offer of shelter – acceptance – offer of food – acceptance – more food available than suggested – acceptance – served by host – creates debt – and ensure no threat to safety. 

urgency of the narrative – saw- ran – bow – brought – wash – rest – refresh – hastened – make ready – knead – make – ran – took – gave – hastened – prepare  took – set it before – stood – ate.

18:9-15 “Where is your wife, Sarah?” impolite!

“your wife Sarah shall have a son” unlike Hagar, the messenger does not speak directly to her.

Sarah laughs (cf 17:7) 

“this radical gospel requires shattering and discontinuity. Abrahm and Sarah have by this time becomes accustomed to their barrenness. they are resigned to their closed future. They have accepted their hopelessness as “normal”. the gospel promise does not meet them in receptive hopefulness but in resistant hopelessness.” Brueggemann

The call of God is nonsensical!

The Lord said to Abraham. “Why did Sarah laugh? … Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

“I did not laugh”

“Oh yes, you did laugh”

“The laughter of disbelief seems to refute the invitation implicit in the question. Abraham and sarah’s world of possibility has been assaulted. But they have beaten off the attack. the story leaves them thinking their presumed world is still intact”

But not everything depends on their answer. The resolve of God to open a future by a new heir does not depend on the readiness of Abraham and Sarah to accept it” Bruggemann p 160. 

cf Elizabeth, Mary, 

Mk 10:27 “With humans it is impossible, but not with God for all things are possible with God.” 

Matthew 17:20 Nothing will be impossible for you. 

18:16 to set them on their way …

Hagar: genesis 16

16:1 Sarai as First Wife: “The inability bear children was a grave hardship for any woman in a patriarchal society, since the survival of the clan or tribe depended on the expansion of individual families. It was a particular affliction  or the wife of the patriarch , for it was her responsibility to provide the next leader of the group. Thus, Sarai’s barrenness was both a personal affliction and a condition that jeopardised the entire group. Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

Sarai blames YHWH & looks to fix the situation  – surrogacy

16:1 Hagar: – alien – slave

“Female slaves were often given as marriage gifts by the family of the bride. Such slaves belonged to the wives and could not automatically be taken as concubines by the husbands.”

“As a slave, she has no power to make decisions about her own life. Without being asked she is given to the patriarch in order to produce a child that will not even be considered hers. the child will be adopted without her consent. She is raised in status from slave to concubine not because of any merit on her part, but because of the child whose she will bear.” Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

16:3 This language promotes tension between Hagar as maid and Hagar as wife and between Sarai as wide and Hagar as second wife. The vocabulary also recalls the story of the garden. The primal woman “took” the forbidden fruit, ate it, and “gave” it to her man (Gen 3:6) Hagar becomes in effect the forbidden fruit. Like the primal man. Abram eats what is offered without question or objection.”  Phyliss Trible, “Hagar, Sarah & Their Children”

16:5 The pressures of polygamy

16:6 Hagar’s return to slavery – and then acts for herself. 

16:7 Hagar is named, recognised, spoken to directly

16:8 status is recognised – instructions given – a promise received

“Hagar is not frightened but enters immediately into a very candid conversation with this mysterious visitor. Previously, when God confronted Adamwith the question , “Where are you?” (3:9) and cain with the question “What have you done?” (4:10) both men tried to avoid a direct answer. when hagar is asked . “Where have you come from and where are you going?” she provided straightforward answers.” Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

16:13 [Hagar] names the Lord who sees. “The narrator introduces her words with a striking expression that accords her a power attributed to no one else in the Bible. Hagar ‘calls the name of the Lord who spoke to her” She does not invoke the Lord, she names the Lord. She calls the name, she does not call upon the name. “You are El-roi” [God of seeing] she says. …. Hagar the theologian sees God and lives. Uniting the God who sees and the God who is seen. Hagar’s insights move from life under affliction to life after theophany. Finally they conclude the divine-human encounter in the wilderness.  Phyliss Trible, “Hagar, Sarah & Their Children”

From the beginning, Hagar is powerless because God supports Sarah. Kept in her place, the slave woman is the innocent victim of use, abuse and rejection. As a symbol of the oppressed, Hagar becomes many things to many people. Most especially, all sorts of rejected women find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to other. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. p. 28

Hagar is a pivotal figure in biblical theology. She is the first person in scripture whom a divine messenger visits and the only person who dares to name the deity. Within the historical memories of Israel, she is the first woman to bear a child. This conception and birth make her an extraordinary figure in the story of faith: the first woman to hear an annunciation, the only one to receive a divine promise of descendants, and the first to weep for her dying child. Truly, Hagar the Egyptian is the prototype of not only special but all mothers in Israel. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. p. 28

Abram & Promise: Genesis 15

Once again YHWH needs to encourage Abram to trust in the promise. But there is another crucial question underlying this narrative. Can Abram trust YHWH?

15:1 “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” This reminder not to fear will become a common greeting through each God-human encounter. But perhaps Abram has good cause, we have jumped over Chapter 14, but it is worth a read as Abram becomes a war leader, but is now trying to carry on his herding life in peace. Is he in fact looking over shoulder at enemies  circling? 

“reward” = ṥkr = can be rendered wage but this usage implies gift and not quid pro quo. Here the reward is not a a prize that is earned but a special recognition given to a faithful servant of the King who has performed a bold or risky service. Abraham and Sarah are called to live their lives against barrenness. The “reward” calls them to live as creatures of hope” (Brueggemann)

cf Matt 5:4615:2-5 “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless,

What is it to be fearful, anxious? How do we respond in such situations.

Revelation, vision, disclosure – faith in the face of uncertainty 

15:6: “He believed!” cf Matt 16:15-17 Romans 4, Galatians 2-4

“the future of God’s goodness is open to those who trust themselves to that future, seeking neither to hold on to the present nor to conjure an alternative future of their own.” 

“The childless Abram will have not only an heir for his estate, but also offspring to numerous to count. Time when we lack what we desire can be discouraging, but only if we have a lost sight of the potential of the Lord to provide” Asshoto/Ngewa Africa Bible Commentary

7-21 Is this an older text? It seems to describe an ancient ritual. Two parties walk between the animals and through the blood. If one breaks the agreement then more blood will be shed.

Binding the commitment – covenant

– the promise will be kept

– the promise will be delayed

– do not fear , it holds from generation to generation

Using fire – it is only God who signs this covenant, gives the land unconditionally

The text of Genesis 15, taken as a unit asks whether Abraham can, in fact, trust. And it asks if Yahweh, can in fact, be trusted. It is faith which permits Abraham to trust and God to be trusted. It is unsure faith that wonders about delay. The issues are set here. The remainder of the Abrahamic narrative explores the question.” (Brueggemann)

Open Church

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7.

I don’t know about you, but I find prayer difficult. Not so much the act of praying, but holding on to a verse like this one. Experience says that we don’t always receive what we ask for. Sometime we can justify that by accepting that what we asked for was inappropriate, but other times the things we ask for in prayer will be worthy, valid, right and still we do not seem to find the response we sought. Some will say, “Ask more”, like a persistent child; or “Ask louder,” and I’ve certainly been in some prayer meetings were I’m convinced everyone believes God is deaf. Some will say my faith is faulty, that even asking these questions means that I don’t have enough faith to receive what I seek from God. Yet I know many with great faith who don’t receive what they seek. 

At the same time I get annoyed when people trivialise prayer, “I needed a car park place, said a prayer and there it was. Thank you God.” No, I don’t think God is your personal Genie, especially when we look around at the brokenness of life and wish God would magic that away as well. 

Yet, I also know that prayer can calm me when stressed, encourage me when disheartened, clear my mind when a million thoughts compete to be heard and can open up opportunities that I would never have thought possible. I particularly believe in people  coming together to pray. It allows us to hear one another’s prayers and get a sense of the things others seek. Sometimes we can hear a prayer and know we are not alone, or be awakened to a need we hadn’t noticed, or realise that we might be the one who can respond to that prayer in some way. Experience tells me that a church that is not praying together is in terminal decline, for we are not listening for God’s voice within our congregation or our community, we are operating in a vacuum and listening to no one but ourselves. It is not a healthy state for church.

So I was glad that we have re-started Open Church on a Thursday and that key to that time is spending time in prayer. In doing so we hold the whole community in prayer and ask questions of ourselves  “What is God saying to us?” Where is God leading us?” “What is the role of this church in this town?” I

It would be lovely to see more people calling in for some of the time and joining us in prayer alongside general chat about the world we live in.

be blessed

Craig 

Introducing a new Minister

The request went something like, “Craig, please write something about yourself for the Church magazine.” I replied, “Yes, of course.” But then comes the problem, what do those reading this want to know about me, that they might not have picked up in the introduction process? And how do I give people a flavour of how I might approach life and ministry?

So here are 5 questions you might not get a straight-forward answer to: 

“Craig, Where are you from?” 

“Well, I was born in Glasgow, but the family come from Clydebank, (if you have a Singer sewing machine built before 1980 or ever sailed on a Cunard ship my family might have had a hand in the process of building it.) But the first place I lived was Northumberland, and then Cheshire, Manchester and Bolton (where my Mum & Dad still live.) I went to University in Loughborough, returned to Bolton, then ministry has taken me to Rochdale and Coventry and now Leicestershire. So where am I from? Well if Scotland are playing football/rugby/cricket/athletics, I’m Scots. But for domestic football, I’m from Manchester and for cricket, I’m Lancastrian.”

“So where is home?”

“In truth wherever we settle and are with family and friends, so increasingly that means Leicestershire. Chris was born and raised in Leicester only leaving when we were married as by that time I had joined the Police in Bolton. Our son Graham, went to De Montford University and then stayed. He now lives and works in the centre of Leicester and his partner Imogen is also from Leicester. Our daughter, Hannah lives in Burbage and when she goes into the office heads for Lutterworth. In addition, we have bought a garden with a house attached in Burbage. Although, it was bought looking to our long-term future, don’t worry. I’m not coming to wind down towards retirement, I’m eager for a few more challenges whilst Chris looks for her own new projects, as she has taken the opportunity to “retire”. Initially we will live in Burbage until the manse in Loughborough is ready. After that we will work out a pattern that allows us to take time away in Burbage or to work from there if it fits in with the Synod Transitional Ministry role.”

“So what do you do?”

“Tricky one! A lot of the time I listen to stories. I love to hear about your life, the highs and lows, the things that have brought you here at this time. Where is God in all that? Why are you in this church? What is God saying to you at the moment? Sometimes those will be in an individual conversation, at other times they will be the questions I’m asking all of us as we try to work out where God is calling us next. I’m told that my love of a story means I do a decent funeral, but I do hope we can hear the good things people get up to before they have died!  I also like to tell a good story or encourage people to tell their own story. Of course, stories are best heard with a cup of tea (black, no sugar)  or a pint of beer (ale, no fizz)  in hand and a selection of cakes or veggie nibbles to hand. I look forward to hearing your tales, and these early days before the diary gets filled are good times for that. 

“What else do you do?”

“We enjoy the theatre and music. As a family we are working our way through RSC performances and I’m sure that will continue despite being slightly further away. We volunteer at the Greenbelt Festival, enjoying time with friends who also gather there every year. I also enjoy poetry events, attending and sometimes performing at open mics. I regularly meet up with my brothers to watch football in Manchester, it still feels strange to be watching the Premier League champions, but we enjoy it whilst it lasts. Sadly, our Dad can no longer join us or remember the times we enjoyed together. Mum and Dad both live with dementia and once we are allowed to visit again we will add those visits back into our routine. 

“What next?”

What a good question – what do you reckon?

be blessed

Craig