Friday, 18 April 2014

"He opened his arms of love upon the cross"

So goes a line in the liturgy. There are so many ways of seeing the Crucifixion, but one of the most accessible  interpretations  is that Jesus died to "show us how much he loved us", or to use scripture, that God so loved the world that he sent his only son. You might think that the line above from the liturgy reflects a relatively modern understanding- the touchy feely aspect of God rather than something more daunting and controversial, such penal substitution." Surprisingly though, the quote about opening arms is attributed to Hippolytus, right back in the third century.
                          Hoping you feel the embrace of Love this Good Friday:)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Surprising Easter

Today, Maundy Thursday, has been my first chance to get some time to myself and to really appreciate the fact that it is Holy Week. A few weeks ago I planted some seeds- I'd almost forgotten about them until this afternoon when I found several small but distinctive shoots in evidence, tender green emerging through the soil.
Maybe it is just me, but I always feel a sense of delight and something akin to surprise when I see that a seed I've planted has grown. It is a tiny miracle that the shrivelled, tiny seed has that potential. Today it reminded me of the words of Jesus to his disciplines, "unless a seed falls into the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it produces much fruit." Holy Week is a week of highs and lows and of surprise and paradox- meekness and majesty,  triumph from shame, life through death. It is a journey to the bleakest places, disappointment, fear, humiliation, rejection, betrayal, loss, grief, suffering and death, and then beyond to a garden where a tomb is transformed into a surprising symbol of hope and life because of the power of love and sacrifice. It is so outrageous as to provoke doubt, there is whiff of a conjuring trick and plenty of room for the doubting Thomas in us all.
Steven Turner cleverly plays on our ambiguous attitude to Easter in the poem below. By using the structure of a joke, he draws attention to our questioning, our inability to understand, our tendency to scoff or to dilute the message of Easter and, in his final "knock, knock", the message that Easter is not a riddle which we can fathom but a call to encounter the risen Christ for ourselves.

Poem for Easter

Tell me:
What came first
Easter or the egg?
or daffodils?
Three days in a tomb
or four days in Paris?
(returning  Bank Holiday Monday.)

When is a door
not a door?
When it is rolled away.
When is a body
not a body?
When it is a risen.

Why was it the Saviour rode on the cross?
To get us
to the other side.

Behold I stand.
Behold I stand and what?
Behold I stand at the door and

knock knock. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Vicars are just so multi-talented these days! (Don't worry, he doesn't break dance or anything...)

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Praise to the Lord

A wonderful hymn of praise to a God who defends the weak and vulnerable and befriends us with his love, goodness and mercy.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
The King of creation
O my soul, praise Him
For He is thy health and salvation
Come ye who hear, brothers and sisters draw near
Praise Him in glad adoration

Praise to the Lord
Who o'er all things so wonderfully reigneth
Shelters thee under His wings
Yea, so gladly sustaineth
Hast thou not seen all that is needful hath been
Granted in what He ordaineth

Praise to the Lord
Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do
If with His love He befriend thee

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him
All that hath life and breath
Come now with praises before Him
Let the 'amen' sound from His people again
Gladly for aye we adore Him

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Doing Lent badly

I'm not sure I am really that good at doing Lent. I've written before about how I prefer to see it as a time of growth and renewal rather than of deprivation and guilt. There are quite enough real Lents around without having to play act pain or suffering. I firmly resist doing things like giving up chocolate or alcohol just because I've tried it before an don't personally feel that brings me any closer to God.
What I do try to do in Lent is find a little time to read and pray regularly, and I sometimes pick a theme to meditate on throughout Lent. This year all of that has gone right out of the window simply because, having agreed to cover an absent colleague's classes, there's been no time to do anything. I had planned to mark the start of Lent, as I usually do, by attending the Ash Wednesday service in town but unfortunately I had a meeting on the same evening that didn't end until late. I guess it's not a good enough excuse.
So we were asked today in Church to think about what Jesus would make of our lives at this moment. I have no idea and I am not sure it is an easy question to answer. The gospels contain a warning about people who had looked at their lives through the human lens and genuinely thought they were doing pretty well. I am thinking of the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other people - robbers, evildoers, adulterers or the tax collector or of the rich young ruler, who was probably looking for a bit of a pat on the back for having kept all the commandments, or of Peter when he asked how many times he should forgive, knowing he had the "right" answer.
 Lent shouldn't offer a lot of space for complacency, and one of my fears about it is that Lenten discipline can be in itself a kind of egotism- in fact how often do we reflect upon the real danger  that religious faith can be a cover for a sort of smug, self satisfied egotism, even when our intentions, our desire to be "good" is well meant?  So much of what we do is about ourselves and meeting our own needs even if that is the need to feel righteous or at least less guilty.What is asked of us is mercy and compassion over routine sacrifice and , while I like to fool myself that I am quite good at compassion, it hasn't yet led me to give all I own to the poor...
 Lent should strip us bare of  our masks and make us recognise how utterly inadequate we are, not because we need to wallow in guilt for the sake of it, more because we need to understand the reality of our collective and personal human frailty. As Jesus once said, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good." Until we acknowledge that we all do Lent, and life, badly, we do not understand our need for the cross or the hope offered by an empty tomb.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Do dogs have souls? (Part twenty-three) The battle between good and evil

Be watchful, for your adversary the devil prowleth around like a roaring  ...  pussy cat?

PS: Bessie is giving up cats for Lent.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Prayers and P45s

 There is already a fair degree of  wailing and gnashing of teeth over the new pastoral guidance issued by the House of Bishops on same-sex marriage in relation to lay and ordained. It is, as one conservative blogger says, a complete dog's breakfast. Lay persons who have entered into a same sex marriage must be welcomed into churches, not subjected to intrusive questioning nor denied the sacrament. The church will allow prayers following a lay same sex marriage as long as nothing called a "blessing" takes place. Clergy on the other hand may enter into a civil partnership but not a same sex marriage, if they do they will not be ordained or if they are ordained then...
And this is where the statement is not entirely clear. Will clergy who enter into same sex marriage or look to convert a civil partnership into marriage be summarily dismissed? It doesn't actually say that but the Church will undoubtedly have to confront the issue as some of its gay partnered clergy surely will enter into marriages and I can imagine the headlines that might follow? Furthermore, although I can see that the Church may accept different standards of conduct for its lay members than it demands from its clergy, I can't be the only one who thinks that there would be something decidedly dysfunctional about an institution that prays (presumably in a warm fuzzy way?) for the newly wed gay parishioners while simultaneously handing a P45 to their newly wed gay clergy. What message do they seriously think that would give to the same sex couple they just "pastorally and sensitively" prayed with anyhow?
The fact that we have been dished a dog's breakfast is not so very surprising. The Church is after all caught between a rock and a hard place in not wanting to seem to lack compassion and be unwelcoming and not wanting to change their doctrine of marriage. Marriage is now largely the preserve of a secular state, but to the Church it remains a holy sacrament and there are very strong feelings on both sides about whether or not it should (and to some people whether it can) be open to same sex couples.
 I personally was neither surprised nor particularly moved by this report.  I made my mind up on these subjects long ago and am not up for debate. I am not a member of any religious institution (I have recently once again politely declined becoming a member of the Quaker group I attend, so this extends to all religious institutions) and the Church really must do as it sees fit and sort the matter out if it can.  What I do feel though is sorrow when I read the distress of ordained LGBT clergy like Rachel Mann. LGBT clergy (and lay persons) within the church have not pondered and debated these issues but rather have lived them.
When I read this piece I ask myself how pastoral the House of Bishops guidance really is.