Tuesday, 8 May 2012


“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2)

“.... they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? ….say …. I Am hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus 3:13,14)

“And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, ..... we wot not what is become of him.” (Exodus 32:32)

Relationships are hard work. Communities cannot be created, or be built, or grow. A community can only be lived. You have to look into the burning bush; you have to climb up the mountain. It takes time and effort. You have to sweat it out. You have to let yourself be knocked down, then you have to get up again. You have to be broken and stay broken.

Oh how much easier it is to migrate into one's own head, and create there an image that will comfort us and purport to show us the way. To let other people tell us the way instead of working it out for ourselves. To read all about it in books instead of telling our own story.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4,5)

We might not bow down and worship golden calves, we might well keep our meeting houses free of distracting images. But if all we are doing in worship is contemplating the image in our heads, then it is still idolatry.


Robert Daines said...

We are exposing the simplistic assessment that individuals are born good and sound and the environment then shapes them. They are, or would be, ok if given the entitlements they have a right to. Entitlements from parents,family and the wider community of other free ranging individuals and public services designed to cover every need. This approach leads to successful people who still feel something is missing and failures. The failures are lucky as they can realise that life is a deep struggle always, every day. They have first to escape the idea that they have been let down by the
'environment' and the resentments and selfishness that comes from that.
The government trying to improve things for people by improving public services actually further degrades the only true way to live - from personal daily struggle to relationship daily struggle in friendship, family and community. I would abolish rights along with wealth and replace them with support for any sign of life. That would be the guiding principle of human society everywhere.

Craig Barnett said...

Robert - Simone Weil wrote a wonderfully thought-provoking essay (actually a report comissioned by the French government in exile during WW2) called 'Draft for a Statement of Human Obligations', which critiqued the concept of human rights in favour of 'human obligations'. Well worth looking out (I have it somewhere but all my books are still packed up in a Friend's attic unfortunately)...

Gordon - Talking of idolatry, I saw a billboard advert today 'Salvation cannot come from a garage pasty' - it was for a brand of butter (presumable the kind that does offer salvation). I find it fascinating that adverts are constantly turning to religious language and imagery, and suspect that our so-called secular society has simply experienced a mass conversion to the new religion of consumerism.

Unknown said...

I'm curious, Gordon - do you think there is room for growth in the way we acknowledge the presence of one another during worship meetings in Sheffield?

Gordon Ferguson said...

Paul, for me the best metaphor when talking about relationships is 'deepen'. Relationships emerge fully formed as a result of revelation, so 'grow' is a necessarily limiting metaphor. (NB: the theocrats have usurped 'revelation' for something that God does, whereas in actual fact, 'revelation' is what anyone does in order to form a personal relationship, so long as the other party also reveals themselves, of course). Since relationships are the nexus of community, communities too emerge fully formed as soon as people start sharing with one another. As we acknowledge one another during worship the community deepens through faith and grace, the very same faith and grace recognized in a meeting for worship for the solemnization of marriage when the couple commit publicly to the lifelong relationship that they have already formed.
'Grow' is a biological metaphor, which, when used indiscriminately, leads to the community being degraded to something like an ant's nest or beehive, for the sole purpose of perpetuating their genes.
'Build', a mechanical metaphor, is even more limiting, turning the community in to some sort of edifice to perpetuate the power of the organization, very much the sort of thing that George Fox recognized in the 'steeple houses' and stood against.
'Create' is a problematic metaphor if you swallow the interpretation of the creation story as God standing back from his work and declaring it 'good', and therefore having nothing more to do. Better to see the world as created anew for us every morning, so that, through grace with faith we can enter more deeply into the relationship with it which is our destiny.