Friday, 27 March 2015

Holy Week

At almost the start of Holy Week, a meditation from a dog who says it much better than I can.

Thought for the day: If only human beings could be a bit more like dogs.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

I am still struggling with what seems like never-ending coursework (the stuff is like a boomerang and keeps coming back) and it is now combined with timed essays I have been setting due to exams looming on the horizon. So weekends are being pretty much wiped out but yesterday I did get down the gym and while working out on the cross trainer I watched the procession of remains of Richard III through the streets of Leicester and their reception at the Cathedral.

I have mixed feelings about the whole matter and spent some time pondering the motives behind all the fuss. The cynical part of me was very aware of the commercial potential offered by ensuring a real show with all the media coverage, no doubt Richard's bones will draw tourists to Leicester. Then again there is the undoubted fascination of a historical figure, no doubt maligned for political ends. There is perhaps the sense of guilt from the historians and scientists who dug him up- and while there has been much fuss about him getting a "proper" burial, it is also true to say it matters little to him now and he was actually buried, albeit hastily, in the Greyfriars Priory after his body was recovered from Bosworth field. To read the media you might think he had been originally buried in a car park...

Yet despite all these doubts, when the procession reached Leicester Cathedral and the remains were officially handed over and the coffin entered the door, I suddenly felt a rush of emotion and the sense that, at some level, we mark death and life in this way, not for others whether they be Kings or commoners, but for ourselves - to say something about the importance and dignity of this life. As the coffin moved from the streets into the cathedral, from secular to sacred, I couldn't help but reflect on the power of religious ritual to mark that sense of human dignity and of the worth and beauty of life more profoundly than anything else. You may say this is ironic because religion can treat the living in ways that diminishes or even abuses human dignity, yet I think it is because of the belief in a God who values each of us that, despite its many flaws, religion and religious ritual breathes its power and through its power can breathe hope and meaning into death and failure.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Lent- a place to ask for help

One thing about the wilderness is that it is a place where you can ask for God's help.We often don't like to ask for help because we see this as a weakness but when we find ourselves in a bleak inhospitable place there is sometimes no other alternative but to overcome our pride. I've said before that I can feel uncomfortable with the idea of suffering and privation, not to mention the pseudo suffering and false humility, that can accompany Lent. Wildernesses, real or imagined, are not always the places of spiritual health and renewal that they are cracked up to be.

 I have been thinking that one of the messages of Lent is, rather ironically, that we are not alone. Before Jesus went into the wilderness he was assured of God's love and delight in him, after his temptations the angels came and ministered to him. Rather like the hope that remains at the bottom of Pandora's box, so the bleakness of Lent is shot through with grace. Its message is that help is not so very far away and that we need not be ashamed to need it and to ask for it.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Half term

I think I mentioned at Christmas that the next few months would be wiped out with marking mocks and coursework? Well the coursework marathon started this half term with work from every single group. I marked from Saturday until Wednesday which wasn't great. I did go to sleep at night (!) managed to fit in a few trips the gym, ate some pancakes Tuesday lunchtime and Mr M took me out for a curry on Tuesday evening to celebrate the start of Lent, otherwise it was pretty non stop. I prepared lessons yesterday, which is more fun than marking. I have now FINISHED completely and the rest of half term is pretty much my own.
So far the only Lenten discipline has been the amount of work I had- quite enough as far as I am concerned. Today was very definitely down time and I met a friend in Knutsford for lunch. I had a delicious seafood pasta dish followed by the tempting trio of puds featured above. We then wandered around Knutsford and went walking in the park. It was lovely to catch up with someone I haven't seen for a while and so good to just have some free time. I now have a whole work free weekend ahead, a luxury I intend to enjoy!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Red sky at night, lemon delight

Red sky at night, shepherd's delight,
Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning.

That's how the old saying goes but I rather feel it has been disproved today as the picture above is of the sky last night taken from our study window and yet today has been cold, grey and foggy in our neck of the woods- although apparently bright and sunny elsewhere in the UK.

Grim weather notwithstanding, I've had quite a pleasant day. Having experienced a couple of broken nights recently (I am prone to insomnia), last night I crashed out and slept over ten hours at a stretch. I do feel much better for it. This afternoon I baked a lemon drizzle loaf, partly to use up some leftover lemons and a jar of lemon curd but also because baking while listening to "Poetry please" on Radio 4 seemed just the ticket given the dreary weather and general chill. The recipe below has to be one of the easiest cakes to make, you just bung it all in a food processor and it comes out perfect. The addition of the lemon curd seems to make it quite moist and- well- lemony actually. Who'd have thought?

·                           140g (5 oz) self raising flour
·                           110g (4 oz) caster sugar
·                             110g (4 oz) butter or margarine, softened
·                              2 eggs, beaten
·                            2 heaped tablespoons lemon curd
·                           Ingredients for topping
·                            2 tablespoons granulated sugar
·                             zest of 1 lemon
·                               2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 170 C / Gas 3, 150 C for fan ovens
2.      Put flour, caster sugar, margarine, eggs and lemon curd into a mixing bowl or food processor, and mix well together. Put into a greased or lined 900g (2 lb) loaf tin (or makes approximately 16-18 cupcakes).
3.      Place in centre of oven and bake for 1hour - 1hr 30mins (or 40-45 minutes for cupcakes).
4.      While in the oven make the topping: blend together the granulated sugar, lemon juice and lemon rind.
5.      Once cake is cooked, leave to cool still in the tin for about 2 to 3 minutes. Then while still hot to warm, pour over the topping so that it soaks into the cake. Leave to cool for about 1/2 hour then turn out of tin. Keeps well for a few days if wrapped in greaseproof paper and tin foil.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Stephen Fry and theodicy

" I don't know if God exists but it would be better for his reputation if he didn't. (Jules Renard)

 Stephen Fry's rant about how God "dare" to create such a brutal world is doing the rounds on YouTube and social media at the moment. I personally am not offended by Fry's view; the notion that theodicy, any attempt to account for a loving God in the face of a cruel world, is futile or even obscene is not a new one. The view he expresses has its validity and Fry has a right to his opinion even if it does not express my own world view.
I have blogged before about suffering and the way that Jesus's suffering and humanity helps me to begin to make sense (I don't claim to have wholly made sense) of a world in which human happiness  is blighted not just by man's inhumanity but by disease and natural disaster.
What would Jesus's answer be to the question about how he dare to allow a child to have bone cancer?
Well, I think he might explain that he was that child with bone cancer. That he was the man whose sight was destroyed by the parasite. That he was and is each and everyone of us who faces poverty, exclusion, cruelty and suffering. He might ask where were we when he was hungry, helpless and naked- in fact I think he has said he will? With regard to the child with bone cancer,  I think he might ask us how much we truly cared? Did we give all of our money away, as he exhorted us to, and do everything we could to eradicate the disease? Or did we keep a fair bit back to fund our pension pots? He might ask us if we sat by complacently not bothering to look for a vaccination to Ebola until we felt personally threatened? He might ask if to consider our disregard for our planet and the huge amount of suffering we are likely to be inflicting on future generations- our own children and their world.
We would do well to reflect that the world we live in has been made a thousand times worse by our actions. What a suffering world does give us is the opportunity to reach out to others and to heal and offer hope. Jesus came to earth to model this to us - have we followed his example? He taught us that we are blessed if we are poor in spirit, humble, peacemakers, yet haven't we persisted in egotism, selfishness and greed?
 So I think Fry's rant, although I accept is it his truth, is a little limited. I am never going to be complacent about suffering, and yet it is true that much of our greatest literature is tragedy, the exploration of human pain is deeply connected to our search for meaning in life.
I believe that we are put on earth partly to ponder meaning and to think about the answers to questions which are by no means easy - and that we then go back home and tell what we have learnt.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Libby Lane and the theology of taint

It really is good news that the Reverend Libby Lane will become Britain's first female bishop tomorrow and I think that it is a really positive move for the whole church and for so many men and women, but particularly women, who have waited so long for this.I feel a bit guilty that there is a conspicuous lack of detail on my blog about the politics and events in the Church of England, it is just that I have simply lost interest. Back in November 2012 I took some time out to think about where I was going in terms of all Church related things. I decided to pull out of some of the activities I had been involved in, such as representing groups at Synod, not just because I was appalled at the impasse over women bishops but also because I could not see much hope for the inclusion of gay Christians, given the global nature of the Anglican communion and some of the tensions seen there.
I'd also become increasingly disillusioned with what institution does to religion. It is a terrible cliche to say you don't believe in institutionalised religion, I would prefer to say that I rejoice in the way that grace, the Church's best kept secret, manages to do its work despite the strangle hold of institution. From a personal point of view, the decision to bow out was absolutely the right one and , although it was precipitated by the vote of Synod, I had reached that point well before and it had been a long time coming.
Anyhow, there has been a bit of a kerfuffle (predictably) because Philip North, who holds traditional Anglo-Catholic views on the ordination of women, will be consecrated in February and Sentamu has said that he will exercise "gracious restraint" and not lay hands on the said Father North because Sentamu will have laid hands on Libby Lane and Sentamu's hands may not now be able to impart the real McCoy in terms of making North a real, genuine, no-kidding bishop in the tradition of male, apostolic succession (or some rubbish like that, I don't know, I wasn't really paying attention...)

 I suppose I should be outraged at the theology of taint or something like that but it is possibly a mark of how completely I have disengaged that I am not feeling terribly exercised over it all. It is, of course, the theology of taint, and it seems to me to be the complete opposite of what we learn from Jesus, who would touch anyone. I also think that those who believe in this sort of "pure blood bishops" stuff are a bunch of weird crazies- having said this,religions are generally full of weird crazies, it attracts them. So what did you expect? The best thing about indifference is that it lends you a wonderful objectivity and an amused shrug of the shoulders is much better for your blood pressure than getting worked up.

But indifference, rather than internal difference of opinion, is the Church's real problem at this moment in time. With increased secularisation, the British public lost touch with its faith decades ago and we now see the working out of this in falling numbers and emptying pews. The tragedy of this is that when people stop looking to and listening to the Church, they no longer hear the message of the gospel. Perhaps the Church should think harder about the fact that those it needs to reach are largely ignorant of, rather then indifferent to, the good news it has to share.