Thursday, 31 December 2009

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

It's just begun

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
— Howard Thurman

Thurman had a great influence on Martin Luther King and this short reflection was read out close to the end of a midnight mass service which we attended this year. The extract below is from Thinking Anglicans,taken from a series of daily reflections which I hope will continue until Epiphany, and reminds us that Christmas is just a beginning, not an ending and in no way a sentimental story to be packed away with the nativity scene.

Within three days of the good news, comes the bad news. Yes, the Word has become flesh and is dwelling among us; but there seems to be a catch: the process of full redemption and recovery is to be accomplished within human beings, resistant materials that they are, step by step. As Robert Frost once observed ‘the best way out is always through’. Indeed the whole logic of incarnation is that God’s reaction to our evil is to meet it head on, not to steer round it. If this is the nature of the operation, the fullness of any redemption brought us in this holy child is bound to be a process that works from the inside out, needing to take flesh in real people through the seemingly random and cruel processes of the world, not a magic wand job.

Picture above is Breugel "The Census in Bethlehem" which I love for its sense of all the effort and chaos of human life and endeavour.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Reason for the Season

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He's making a list and checking it twice...

Isn't the internet wonderful, you can do all sorts of amazing things! This NORADsanta website allows you to track Santa in his journey around the globe tonight and keep tabs on exactly where he is and which landmarks he is passing.

Last time I checked he was in Russia, hope he doesn't drink all that vodka they've left for him!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!"

Longfellow wrote this poem in response to tragedy in his personal life. He had been filled with sorrow at the death of his wife in a fire in 1861. Two years later he heard that one of his sons had been seriously wounded in the Battle of the Potomac, where many young men tragically died, and on Christmas day he wrote this reflection on the Christmas message

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Blessed are the light-fingered, they shall have spaghetti

Sometimes we all open our mouths and say the wrong thing , don’t we? I do have some sympathy with Father Tim Jones who says that some people shoplift out of desperation, undoubtedly he is a compassionate man and it may well be true that,
"Burglary causes untold harm and damage to people in a way that taking a can of spaghetti rings from a supermarket doesn't. “
However, as a general principle, it is probably best not to dig an even deeper hole by continuing,
My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift”, nor to go on and tell your congregation that it is preferable if it is a national business and that, “ I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses” because it just starts to sound too much like advice and encouragement!

I wonder if the collection plate did the rounds and came back rather empty?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Seeker Of Truth by E. E. Cummings

seeker of truth

follow no path
all paths lead where

truth is here

Advent is about waiting but also about journeying and therefore about seeking, searching and wondering. Cumming’s poem, Seeker of Truth, is well suited to Advent because it raises so many questions. The first question the reader asks is, “Is this poem addressed to me - am I really a seeker of truth? Is every human being a seeker of truth? What is truth? How come I must “follow no path” when “all paths “ lead to truth? How can we lead to something that is already “here”? Do we limit truth by following defined “paths” anyhow? Why is the poem so short? Why does the grammar seem to break down at the end? Why is there no punctuation? Why is “truth here” and not somewhere else? Why does the poet tell us “truth is here” when he has told us no real “truth”?

I hope you don’t think I know the answers? That's not the point of this poem!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

O Sapientia

A short section from Rosemary Hannah's reflections on Wisdom in "Thought for the Day." You can find the rest on Thinking Anglicans if you missed it. I heard it this morning on the way to work and found it moving and thought provoking:

Wisdom does not lie in dodging conflict, or trying to escape it. It lies in just how you confront it. Jesus does not confront conflict by blaming others. It is striking how rarely in the Gospels he ever blamed individuals. He blamed that which creates false barriers between people: the mix of closed minds, impossible purity standards and bumptious self satisfaction which has people hiding behind masks which disguise their inner failings, and their inner selves. Faced with individuals, typically he asked for hospitality, or offered forgiveness, without ever seeking an admission of guilt. So Jesus accepted Simon’s hospitality (Luke 7.36ff.). Simon failed to offer Jesus the usual courtesies, and Jesus made no accusation then. Later, he took an opportunity to comment on what actually happened.

Jesus’s very reaction to others sparked more anger and more controversy. In my experience, it still does. When we are hurt, or despised, we very naturally want to hit back, to prove our worth, and to point out the failings in our attacker. To be pulled up short in the enjoyable pursuit of seeing all the failings in the other is painful. Naturally we want to aggrandise our own virtues by contrasting them with their failings. To forgive, and to advocate forgiveness, is generally misunderstood. People think one is condoning the failing, or admitting one’s own guilt.

Naming sins, wrongs done to self or others, is healthy. It always needs to be balanced by an awareness of the humanity of the other and a lively sense of one’s own weaknesses. Otherwise one gets dragged into a spiral of accusation and counter accusation. You don’t even need to believe that Jesus is the wisdom of God to see how pointless that soon becomes.

Jesus avoided tit for tat, dodging it by wit, or evasive answers or silence. He did not do much spelling out of what is and is not the right moral code, and gave his followers few chances of scoring against others. He did not give simple, clear and easy to follow moral codes. He would not make his people into ‘the good guys’ and he would not turn any of the expected figures of hate into the bad guys. On the other hand, he was impossible to turn from what he believed to be true. He would not keep silent and he did not take a path which lead to appeasement. He kept right on speaking the truth. He had no discernable interest in keeping others on board, and less in keeping any faction of the Jewish faith together.

He saw the need of the people, and also their desire for him to be a leader and a ruler of a kind he had no intention of being, and he refused to fulfil it. He took his own chosen and principled path. That is how one acts out the Wisdom of God.

He sparked a huge anger, and a mix of disappointed hopes and unreal expectations. Mere common sense suggested his death, which was facilitated by one of his own followers whom he had failed to keep on board. O Wisdom. He died in agony.

Christian leaders would do well to bear all this in mind. Easy moral codes are not wisdom. Wisdom lies in taking a principled path, which does not blame others, but holds to what is true.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Pure poetry

Mary's Song
by Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigour hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves' voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

This poem by Luci Shaw imagines Mary’s wonderings. I particularly like the way this poem explores the paradox of might choosing vulnerability. As the poem progresses, the use of words such as “nailed”, “caught”, “brought to this” and “torn” hint at the suffering and pain of the crucifixion.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Festive warning for all vicars

Yes, it may be nearly Christmas, the season of goodwill and all that, but the vicar pictured here has simply gone too far. It is bad enough to have to help assemble countless Christingles and bore yourself rigid with the talk about what the orange and sweets represent while the little blighters stuff themselves. There is no need, repeat, NO NEED WHATSOEVER to actually dress up as a giant Christingle yourself.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Do dogs have souls ( part five)

The Supreme Being is not called TAC now, is he?

Dogs are definitely made in God's image. A small hint is that "God" is "dog" spelt backwards ( it is no crazier than those people who do the bible and number/ verse co-incidences - sorry God incidences.)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I can give this one a miss...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

California dreaming

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For any of you who are feeling that the Church of England is increasingly becoming a wintry place, buffeted by the cold winds of conservatism - well - I couldn't resist this. Enjoy!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Child Abuse Scandals in Ireland

I received this information via two emails from James, a dear friend in Ireland, who writes about how the Roman Catholic Church is reeling from the recent report into the sex abuse scandals and has given me permission to post this contribution:

I hope I don't start a new 100 years war by giving the Roman Catholic point of view on the different issues - and just when you were thinking that the Anglican Church was in need of some reforming! Church wise we are having an extraordinary time in Ireland after the publication of a report on the behaviour of the RC church and the authorities in dealing with claims of child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese. The RC archbishop of Dublin has said this week that he doesn't want to go in to a meeting with fellow bishops this week until they have answered for their behaviour in dealing with priests who were accused of abusing children. There are calls that at least one bishop should resign ... the Bishop of Limerick for "inexcusable behaviour" in not following up on claims of abuse in a thorough manner. The church in Ireland really has reached a turning point where the old ways will not be tolerated any more but the future remains unclear. It could be a catalyst for genuine reform or it may also result in many giving up on religion completely. The single point of hope is that the current Dublin archbishop has for the most part dealt in an honest fashion with what he has inherited, even to the point of standing up to the previous holder of the office, a cardinal and getting him to drop a legal action to maintain the secrecy of official documents. This archbishop says that there are now only two other bishops in the country who are on speaking terms with him!
I think it would be fair to say that the continued existence of the Catholic Church in Ireland rests in the hands of the archbishop of Dublin, without him the institution would have lost all credibility and the jury is still out on whether the institution can regain any credibility in the future.
Many of the abuse victims ... who are now in their fifties and sixties ... were incredibly brave people who have fought in some cases for a quarter of a century for their story to be heard. Apart from anything else, some were people of incredible faith and some have said the response of the bishops has been so poor that it has hurt them more than the original abuse (which in many cases was horrific.) The link to the latest official report is: 04 or
a google for "catholic archdiocese Dublin report" will bring it up.

It’s over 700 pages long dealing with 46 sample cases in Dublin (how a sample of 46 accused priests were dealt with), in particular it shows how the authorities dealt with accusations of child abuse, previous reports dealt with the activities of the abusers, this one investigated into how a sample of them were dealt with.

A summary in paragraph 1.15 in part 1 states ...

"The Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State."

It goes without saying that the behaviour of the church in the Dublin diocese was typical of the behaviour in dioceses countrywide. A TV current affairs program dealt with a case in Donegal where a priest was transferred to a new parish within the diocese every time accusations were made about him and there were about 10 transfers made over the course or 20 or 30 years leaving that individual free to repeatedly abuse over that period. We can't begin to grasp the evil inflicted on so many children’s lives by that one person. The Dublin report notes that one priest admitted to abusing over 100 children and another to abusing on a fortnightly basis during his 25 year ministry. But again not to lose sight of the fact that the scandal this time was the churches response and how it facilitated that abuse by the way it dealt with complaints and that the church was aware of what was happening but that its almost sole priority was protection of the institution and its assets, which meant that those who were abused were seen as the enemy and were treated as such rather than reaching out to try to heal their pain.

Finally it wasn't just the church, in many cases the authorities in the police ( the 'garda' ) and in the Dept of Justice were just as anxious to protect the church. Previous reports dealt with abuse by religious orders and the Dept of Education came out badly as well. The situation now is much better (it could hardly be worse) but there are many bishops still in office who were in positions of authority when these bad decisions were made. This report states that the current bishop of Limerick made bad decisions and on one occasion his behaviour was inexcusable. But he hasn't resigned ... presumably because he knows that just about every bishop in Ireland behaved the same way ... and thought they were right in so doing.

So where does that leave us, the people in the dock this time aren't the usual suspects but being Irish and living in Ireland I have to admit that the bishops response wasn't untypical. In Irish society in the past, those who made allegations of sexual abuse were regarded with deep suspicion and perhaps even hatred. It's uncomfortable to note too that in many other respects these bishops were 'good' people. In other areas they were kind, humane, affable, intelligent, educated people, some were regarded as capable theologians or were professors of sociology, they took great pains over moral issues and yet when confronted with the "worst crime" as it is described in Church law their behaviour directly allowed the sexual abuse of more and more children. Abuse is a mild term for the rape and horror those children went through ... in some cases over a period of many years.
So please God this may mark the beginning of the end of a bad era for the RC church in Ireland and the beginnings of a more humble church. The reform won't happen unless there is a large number of bishops resigning over the coming months otherwise the RC church in Ireland will be destroyed.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Riverside, California

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected the first female bishop in its 114-year history yesterday but ended voting for the day with one of two openly gay candidates still vying for the second bishop's position.
Rev. Diane M. Jardine Bruce, rector of St. Clement's-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente, was elected yesterday at the diocese's annual convention, but there is still a second post to fill and balloting will continue today.
This election is significant because two of the six candidates vying for the vacant positions are openly gay and, if you scroll down, you can read the thoughts of one of those involved in the selection process a few posts down.
Of the two gay candidates, one, the Rev. John L. Kirkley of San Francisco, withdrew late Friday. The other, the Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, of Baltimore, was one of the top two vote-getters in the first two rounds of balloting for the second position and is considered a favourite.
Last July, the Episcopal General Convention, the church's top policy-making body, voted to make the ordination process more “open” (resolution D025) and many saw this as paving the way for the election of another openly gay bishop in “defiance” of the moratorium following the election of Gene Robinson. Watch this space!

Do dogs have souls ( part four)

...and they give generously to the Church...
(OK, I made that up, but it is a lovely dog)

Do dogs have souls ( part three)

Many dogs have been known to have a counselling role..