Musing Aloud: Jamais vu, that doesn’t sound familiar!

This was a term I came across for the first time a few weeks ago. It means the opposite to déjà vu, (the vivid sense you’ve experienced something before). It is when something happens which seems like it should be familiar, ordinary, but isn’t. It could be a place, a word, a person. You would normally know this instinctively, but it feels like you have heard the word, or being in the place for the first time.

It can be associated with certain types of illnesses and conditions such as epilepsy.

It made me think about how this would be helpful in developing our spirituality. To look at something, the sea, a hill, a flower, a person, as though we were seeing, experiencing it for the first time. Seeing a Bible, reading a passage of scripture, hearing the story of Jesus, being in Church, as though it were completed unfamiliar to us. How potentially fresh could life, our faith be to us?

This might become how I describe, explain Theological Reflection. It might help us to understand we can listen, look at the familiar, and expect to find, discover a fresh insight about God, faith or the Kingdom.

May this be our late summer blessing, Jamais vu to our searching Spirits.

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Honest Christianity – sinister sleeping beauty

sleeping beauty

Some of you may have heard the report of a parent this week requesting that the story book of Sleeping Beauty be removed form the school library. This was because the parent felt it encouraged inappropriate, uninvited sexual contact, a stolen kiss. While some of us will respond with “what the heck, leave it alone, its only a children’s story book”, some might go “em, not thought of it like that before, perhaps she has a point”.

On further research, the original story is much more sinister (trigger alert).
“Sleeping Beauty”: In Giambattista Basile’s tale (which is the actual origin of the Sleeping Beauty story), a king happens to walk by Sleeping Beauty’s castle and knock on the door. When no one answers, he climbs up a ladder through a window. He finds the princess, and calls to her, but as she is unconscious, she does not wake up. Well, dear reader, he carries her to the bed and rapes her. Then he just leaves. She awakens after she gives birth because one of her twins sucks the flax (from the spindle) out of her finger. The king comes back, and despite him having raped her, they end up falling in love? However, another big problem: the king is still married to someone else. His wife finds out and not only tries to have the twins killed, cooked, and fed to the king, but also tries to burn the princess at the stake. Luckily, she is unsuccessful. The king and the princess get married and live happily ever after (despite the fact that he raped her). Perrault’s adaptation of Basile’s updated adaptation of the story (a much tamer version) is probably what was used for the Disney adaptation, as they are much more similar. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/the-real-story-behind-eve_n_4239730

I have not finished my theological reflection upon these bits of news, but it seems that both women in the story are very wronged and sinned against, respond in totally different ways and continue to be misrepresented in today’s culture. I am left wondering, when does a story become misrepresented and when does it it become reinterpreted and redeemed? Its only a story, right?

Honest Christianity – where and how did i learn about hospitality: difference between applied theology and theological reflection

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We hosted some friends from Australia this weekend. We took them to a very nice hotel for afternoon tea and to one of our favourite retreat churches. While we were having afternoon tea we were discussing how difficult many students find it to write about a situation they have theologically reflected within and upon. I shared this spontaneous example of theological reflection and the difference to applied theology.

I reflected upon how we were relating with the hotel staff. I asked our friends how do we think we are treating them and why? They replied they thought and observed we were being polite, respectful, thankful. I suggested the reason why we were doing this was because we were enacting principles of our faith, perhaps even going as far as saying loving our neighbour as ourselves, applied theology, doing Biblical theology. We were not asking the staff’s permission to be nice to them, we just did it. Why, because we held certain Biblical texts as truths to be lived out or applied.

I suggested that before we did theological reflection, it was best to have a clear, simple process to follow. I really like:
Stage 1 What? The experience
Stage 2 So What? Engage process, the experience with faith resources
Stage 3 Now What? Do, learn something etc because of processing the experience.

I then asked our friends what they had experienced, felt, learnt during our afternoon tea (stage 1 what?)? I then asked the two questions which help facilitate theological reflection:

l. What new insight might I learn about our faith, God or the kingdom?
2. What within my faith helps me engage with this experience?

We shared together how we had felt the staff had been – friendly and hospitable. This had made us feel welcomed, comfortable, even though we were not dressed overly smartly and perhaps had signs of having just come from a walk on Bodmin Moor! (Stage 2, so what?). We projected that this is how we could seek to make visitors to church feel (stage 3, Now what?). A quick, simple example, but I am sure you get the idea .

This lesson regarding learning from faith insights from everyday experienced was reinforced when we visited a church the next day. They were getting ready for a service and restriction ropes were being put up and down. In what area of the church the rope has been tied to a pillar and one of our friends walked into the crossing part of the nave to take in the beauty of the breadth, depth, and height of the magnificent building. He was then told off by one of the guides for walking where he shouldn’t have been because it was a holy part of the church. I was glad he was already a Christian!

Processed Christianity

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I (Paul) originally trained in catering so I have followed the horse meat scandal with interest.  It has led me into some interesting theological reflection on the concept of processed Christianity.  A long time ago I lived on a farm for a while and we drank milk straight from the  cow – no pasteurisation processes, just pure unadulterated milk.  Now some people would say that was a risky thing to do – that is why you can’t normally buy untreated milk – but I knew the cows the milk came from, saw the conditions it was produced under and trusted the people who gave it to me.

One of the things that has been said in the recent debates is that consumers have become estranged from the food source.  I began to wonder what the equivalent was for my faith.  As a young Christian it was made clear to me that there were trusty suppliers of truth and there were also dodgy suppliers.  I quickly realised I was supposed to avoid the latter!  As I have got older I have become more eclectic in where I get my supplies from and always have questions of the processors, I want to know who it is that is writing or speaking, what their values are, their presuppositions, their particular angle on whatever the topic is.

When I teach practical and applied theology, I always explain that a systematic theology is only one person’s from a certain perspective and understanding of how our beliefs hold together.   It is often said that we read the newspapers that reinforce our political views, could it be that we limit our reading and listening to those who reinforce our biblical and theological views?  If I had listened to all the voices from my youth I would never have discovered such riches as Henri Nouwen or Celtic communities and learnt so much about ministry from their honesty and vulnerability.

Sometimes our food needs to be treated before we eat it, perhaps eating locally sourced food is the equivalent of doing our theology locally.  When we live in a global community, sometimes it is enjoyable to eat dishes from around the World. I have eaten ostrich, crocodile, kangaroo and horse, all very enjoyable, when it is what I ordered and well prepared.   It seems naive to think I can have a pure unadulterated faith, as we are so far removed from our New and Old Testament writers. But some analysis of its contents would seem prudent and tracing of its sources.  I like lasagne and a burger as much as the next person, but I also like my beef raw enough that when you stick the fork in, it goes moo!

As we perhaps begin to reflect more carefully on the physical food that we eat maybe we should also consider if and how our spiritual food has been mixed and be careful if all we take in is processed Christianity.