Friday, 31 December 2010

A light to lighten us all

For Christians the events that follow the Nativity should be as significant and meaningful as that event itself. The angel, it is true identifies Christ as coming for mankind, but Simeon makes this universality explicit when he identifies the child as a light to lighten the gentiles. The arrival of the wise men at Ephiphany also symbolises that Christ came for all peoples and cultures.

  It is worth noting that Christ's divinity is instinctively recognised and confidently proclaimed by prophet servants of both genders,  Simeon and Anna. The age of Simeon and Anna denotes their wisdom, but also their singleminded dedication waiting for prophecy to be fulfilled and the rewards of a life of service and ministry - surely to gaze upon the face of Christ.

In the days following Christ's birth into a culture full of barriers and divisions he is nonetheless recognised, worshipped and proclaimed by a diverse range of people.  Rich and poor, male and female, gentile and jew, learned and illiterate, saints and sinners; he came for all, with no exceptions!



(Above The Presentation in the Temple, and Simeon's canticle.)

Monday, 27 December 2010

Sorrowful Christmas

Yesterday I blogged about how Christmas is surrounded by days and feasts commemorating those who have died violently or sacrificed much as a result of religious hatred and persecution. Yesterday was St Stephen's day and tomorrow is Holy Innocents. At the same time as Michael Scott-Joynt  takes up the slightly wearying refrain that Christians in the UK are subject to various hardships, we might do worse than remember the very real violence and atrocity which Christians in Iraq are facing. Many Christians have fled Baghdad after the attacks back in October, and those who remain have celebrated Christmas in deep grief and in fear for their lives, unable to openly express their faith. This  article , a short news report from Youtube, is well worth watching.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

St Stephen's Day

SAINT STEPHEN was a clerk
In King Herod’s hall,
And servéd him of bread and cloth
As every king befall.

Stephen out of kitchen came 
With boar’s head on hand,
He saw a star was fair and bright
Over Bethlehem stand.

He cast adown the boar’s head
And went into the hall:
‘I forsake thee, Herod,
And thy workés all.

‘I forsake thee, King Herod,
And thy workés all,
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Is better than we all.’—

‘What aileth thee, Stephen?
What is thee befall?
Lacketh thee either meat or drink
In King Herod’s hall?’

‘Lacketh me neither meat ne drink
In King Herod’s hall;
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Is better than we all.’—

‘What aileth thee, Stephen? 
Art wode or ’ginnest to brede?
Lacketh thee either gold or fee,
Or any rich weed?’—

‘Lacketh me neither gold ne fee
Ne none rich weed;
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Shall helpen us at our need.’—

‘That is all so sooth, Stephen,
All so sooth, I-wys,
As this capon crowé shall
That li’th here in my dish.’

That word was not so soon said,
That word in that hall,
The capon crew "Christus natus est "
Among the lordés all.

‘Risit up, my tormentors,
By two and all by one,
And leadit Stephen out of this town,
And stonit him with stone.’

Tooken they Stephen 
And stoned him in the way;
And therefore is his even
On Christe’s own day.

I am not really one for saints' days and the like, but I am rather fond of this 14th Century poem that presents an entirely unbiblical version of the legend of St Stephen. The unknown author makes the story more accessible to his readers by depicting Stephen as a medieval page in Herod's castle. However the prophetic element of the biblical story remains and Stephen's reiteration of the phrase, "there is a child in Bethlehem born/ is better than we all" shows the single minded nature of his message. The theme of Kingship is present in the poem, with the paradox that the divine King does not possess the wordly pomp that Herod has, but offers, as Stephen knows, riches that Herod cannot match. Also evident is the  idea that following Christ is a form of madness to wordly minds, Stephen is asked if he is "wode" (mad) or "ginst to brede" (rave.) Following Christ is also a renunciation, Stephen apparently has everything he needs supplied by Herod, and involves sacrifice.
It is worth noting that Christmas, far from being surrounded by sanitised images of the crib, angels and wise men, is followed by feast of martyrdom and violence, St Stephen's day being one and Holy Innocents another. Close on the joy of Christmas comes the cost of following. Stephen is the first martyr, he gives and does not count the cost and so  St Stephen's eve is, "on Christe's own day."

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Messages


I was rather taken when I first saw this Christmas Advert. It did not occur to me in any way whatsoever that it had an overt or covert pro life message and I was surprised when I heard complaints that this was the intention. After all, Christmas is about a  miraculous conception and joy at a baby's birth, isn't it?!
A friend who is an atheist, but very accepting of people of faith and very positive about my faith, mentioned this advert recently and said that she had immediately drawn the conclusion that it was pro life propaganda and found it offensive. She said she particularly worried about the emotional effect of this type of Christmas message on women who had had terminations.
I did a bit of reading around and, as far as I can see, the advert is not intended in that way. I personally cannot see why an ultrasound scan of a baby in the womb should be  automatically construed as designed to make women who have had terminations feel guilty, and I would be very surprised if any  mainstream Christian group or church would want to target such women in this way as a Christmas message.

But the strength of my friend's reaction made me wonder if I was wrong? Or if it tells us something about the assumptions that are made about Christians - perhaps that the message we wish to convey (at Christmas and generally) is more about guilt and blame than love and redemption?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Nativity

I am rather enjoying the adaptation of the Nativity on BBC 1, and I think it is good that there seems to be more religious broadcasting from the BBC after the dearth that we saw for a while.  The story begins on the road to Bethlehem with a somewhat bruised and resentful Joseph and understandably anxious Mary, and is told through flashbacks to the early days of their betrothal. The relationship between Mary and Joseph is rather movingly portrayed and I like the fact that doubts about each other and themselves are explored, for example in tonight's episode where Elizabeth and Mary seem to find it difficult to grasp the unlikely nature of their pregnancies and have no difficulty grasping the likely disbelief of others.

I wasn't quite sure about the characterisation of Herod, he seemed to be mainly lounging in bed being terribly self pitying and letting his eyeliner run in a shocking way. I also thought that, if I were Mary, a voluminous shawl would be a great asset in concealing the bump when meeting with Joseph after a few months away at Elizabeth's...
Yes, I suppose it might not have had quite the same dramatic effect...

Monday, 20 December 2010

Truly Christmas

Eventually we approached our last house high up on the hill, the place of Joseph the farmer. For him we had chosen a special carol, which was about the other Joseph, so that we always felt that singing it added a spicy cheek to the night.

We grouped ourselves round the farmhouse porch. The sky cleared and broad streams of stars ran down over the valley and away to Wales. On Slad's white slopes, seen through the black sticks of its woods, some red lamps burned in the windows.
Everything was quiet: everywhere there was the faint crackling silence of the winter night. We started singing, and we were all moved by the words and the sudden trueness of our voices. Pure, very clear, and breathless we sang:


'As Joseph was walking
He heard an angel sing;
'This night shall be the birth-time
Of Christ the Heavenly King.


He neither shall be borned
In Housen nor in hall
Not in a place of paradise
But in an ox's stall .....

And two thousand Christmases became real to us then; The houses, the halls, the places of paradise had all been visited; The stars were bright to guide the Kings through the snow; and across the farmyard we could hear the beasts in their stalls. We were given roast apples and hot mince pies, in our nostrils were spices like myrrh, and in our wooden box, as we headed back for the village, there were golden gifts for all.


"Cider with Rosie" by Laurie Lee

I don't know if anyone else finds it difficult to experience Christmas at Christmas (or indeed to experience Easter at Easter?) We all know when we do suddenly sense Christmas, that feeling of wonder, peace or joy, the sense of a connection between heaven and earth. Too often Christmas is about muscling through crowded shops, worrying because we just have too much to do, or just feeling oddly flat about the whole affair.

I love the way in the above extract that what started out with an element of schoolboy prank (that they had chosen to sing a song about the real Joseph to Joseph the famer) suddenly turns into a moment of beauty and awe, where "two thousand Christmases became real to us", and there is truly a message and a connection between earth and heaven.

Hoping you manage to feel Christmas this year!


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sensational Spiced Sprouts recipe

Ingredients

Onions
Coriander seeds
Cumin seeds
Brussels sprouts
Unsalted butter

Method

1. Fry 2 peeled and chopped onions in a pan over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until just tender.

2. Crush 2 teaspoons cumin seeds with 2 teaspoons coriander seeds and add to the pan.

3. Cook for a further minute, then stir in 500g Brussels sprouts, sliced, and cook for 8-10 minutes until soft.

4. Stir in 30g unsalted butter and serve for a tasty seasonal side dish.

The recipe above is from Sainsbury's. It is easy to make and has proved popular in the M household even amongst those with a known sprout aversion. We commend this recipe to you, and  are even considering having sprouts served in this fashion on the  big day.

Dreaming of a Brussel Sprout Christmas...



I nicked this amusing little ditty from The Vernacular Curate blog. I quite like brussel sprouts, although they can be an acquired taste. If you, or some members of your family, are not keen fans, try the recipe above. It is absolutely delicious!

H/T The Vernacular Curate

Saturday, 18 December 2010

God of infinite variety

It started snowing here last night and we woke up this morning to be greeted with a blanket of snow while the presents were being uwrapped (it is our son's birthday - we haven't time warped forward one week!) During breakfast more flakes started to drift down and it made me think about snow generally, especially in the light of the post last week about James Joyce's The Dead.
So, when I logged on later and had a browse around some blogs I read, I was delighted to see this beautiful image of a snowflake on the eChurch Christian blog, with some links to other blogs.
This photography of snowflakes amaze me. The designs are geometrical, echoing the laws and rules of physics that govern our world, but also so beautiful and infinitely varied, suggesting ( to me anyway) the creativity of God, his energy and abudance. If you do have faith, then the thought that such care to attention goes into even the tinest fragment of creation does make you stop and wonder and rejoice.
It also made me think that if God lavishes so much care and personal attention on each snowflake, how much more care and thought goes into the crafting of each human being, each of us unique and  individual. The images brought to mind two passages from scripture, the first from Matthew 10:30,  where we are told that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing, and that every hair on our head is numbered, the second from  Psalm139:
                    For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that well, My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
                                         
So, if you are tempted to curse the snow over the next few days, do at least think. On the one hand it can be difficult, dangerous, annoying, slushy stuff, but like life itself, behind it lies a creative energy, and a beautiful design!
You can read more about snowflakes here and see some of the infinitely varied designs.


Friday, 17 December 2010

Animals of Youtube sing "Deck the Halls"!



I don't send a lot of this sort of stuff, but I did inflict this on colleagues this morning as a little Christmas farewell. H/T What's the Story in Dalamory.

All bishops should blog!

The appointment of Nick Baines as Bishop of Bradford has been announced. Nick is also a blogging bish! I am all approval. 
If you are interested, you can find his blog, which he describes as the musings of a restless bishop here. At the moment he is (unsurprisingly) discussing his new appointment, but I did have a browse and  I was particularly interested in this post on why Christians are sometimes afraid to engage with the media.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Joseph the role model

We don't often hear the nativity story from Joseph's point of view, but the birth of Jesus and the events surrounding it must have involved huge emotional upheaval : fear, doubt, anxiety, anguish and joy must have been felt by him as well as Mary.  Joseph was chosen to parent Christ, just as Mary was, and I think it is well worth looking at what sort of man he was.
Perhaps the most revealing comment about Joseph is that he was an upright man, but not upright in the sense of wishing to condemn others. Doubtless the first news of Mary's pregnancy was an enormous blow to him - what must he have felt? Shock, disbelief, anger, grief, jealousy, humiliation all spring to mind. I think it is so telling that Joseph's main concern, in spite of all these  undoubted emotions, was for Mary's welfare. Had he wanted to take revenge, or to make a point, or to bolster up his wounded pride, then the society  he lived in, where a disgraced woman was cruelly vulnerable, would have offered him ample opportunity.

Instead Joseph seems to have quickly decided that he would  put Mary away quietly and not expose her to public disgrace. Where else did Jesus learn his tenderness for women who faced disgrace, shame and  condemnation other than from his earthly father, someone who was chosen as the kind of male  role model God had in mind?

Fortunately we do not live in a society which stones women to death, but I do not think we live in a society which particularly respects women. I do not think we live in a society which is tender towards those who find themselves in difficult situations, are vulnerable or easily singled out. You only have to watch our reality TV shows to know you only need to scratch the surface to find that contempt and the desire to ridicule and humiliate others, when society tells us we are free to do so, is alive and kicking. Moreover we do not live in a society which holds up an image to men that tenderness, gentleness and respect are strengths, too often the message they receive is that these are weaknesses.

What Joseph gave was largely unseen, he must have had his worries, doubts and private anguish. He is often an unsung hero, not really a central figure in the story. But to Mary and to Jesus, Joseph was very much centre stage, he was a key player and he was undoubtedly a bit of a hero! So, perhaps one of his messages is that our  unseen contributions are deeply valued, not by a shallow public, but by those who  really count - and by God.

That is why I think that we should think more about Joseph's story, and, like Jesus, have the humility to learn from  his example.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

How should we approach scripture?

The Washington Post is publishing a series of articles by Gene Robinson on the subject of sexuality. The first  article  looks at how we read and interpret scripture. I have to say that I read this article and it was very much in line with how I approach scripture. What I always find amazing is that some Christians contextualise, minimise or even largely ignore, certain parts of scripture, but then complain that "liberals" pick and choose when they use the same approach to texts on certain issues, homosexuality being the main one.
I shall be reading the rest of these articles with interest.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Link to Doorman Priest

A wonderful blog post in which Doorman Priest grapples with some experiences at the heart of Christmas. It starts off with a wonderful description of the horror of being subjected to the School Christmas Bazaar for yet another year.  Enjoy!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Back to the Covenant

I have been listening to and reading the transcript of Michael Perham's speech, reproduced here on Lesley's
Blog. In it he says something to the effect that he does not agree with the Anglican Covenant, but he is going to vote for it reluctantly, firstly because if he doesn't it will weaken the hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury and secondly, that "the Covenant process keeps us talking, keeps us all in Communion through challenging times."
I am not sure that feeling sorry for Rowan Williams is really a good enough reason to vote for something as momentous as the Covenant may be. It is also clear that Michael Perham is not convinced that the Covenant process will "keep us talking" and that it will further the indaba process, he simply hopes it will.

All this week, whenever I feel down about Synod's vote on the Covenant, I think of James Jones. Thank God for him, because his abstention gives me faith that some people act on their convictions. And feeling that way about an abstention seems a bit sad!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Are Christians persecuted?



I've been reading a lot of articles on the thorny subject of whether Christians are *persecuted* in Britain. It is a subject I find frustrating because it is so often presented in limited and shallow ways and relies upon anecdotes, half truths and extreme examples.
The headline "woman is sacked for refusing to remove cross" is shocking, for example, but less so if it is explained that her employers were perfectly happy for her to wear the cross tucked under clothes, and also banned all other jewellry. Headlines that shriek about how Muslims burn poppies stoke anger in many people, but they don't take into account that the majority of Muslims do not engage in such actions any more than most Christians burn the Koran. Complaints that Islam is favoured over and above Christianity in this country present a skewed picture when tabloid newspapers run regular articles presenting Muslims in a negative light and when you are much, much more likely to be physically attacked on our streets for being a practising Muslim than for being a Christian.

And then, as always, there are the truths behind the rants. The role of Christianity has declined over the last few decades, we have become an increasingly multi cultural society and Christianity , quite rightly in my view, can no longer impose itself as the only legitimate faith in Britain. Increasingly it is not acceptable to act or speak disrespectfully to those of other faiths, or none, or to other minority groups. There is, in some people, an increasing hostility to Christianity, and there can be a perception that Christians are narrow, bigoted, irrational. Sometimes there is a grain of truth there too - but not always - and Christians too should be treated with respect and not subject to assumptions and stereotypes.

I've said before that I don't think Christians are persecuted. I do think the Christian faith has been marginalised, I do think we are often stereotyped. I think some Christians are in shock that our privileged status in society no longer exists, that we are not above the law in any respect,  that we are derided for our faith more often than we are respected for it.

It does sadden me that our culture sees faith as a threat rather than as something that can enrich society. It also saddens me that the divisions described in the clip above lead some faith groups to view each other with suspicion and hostility. Instead of complaining that Islam will soon overtake Christianity as the faith of Britain, why don't we join together, as seen at the start of this clip, to show faith as a force which can unite, to demonstrate through our actions that faith has something to offer each and every one of us?

Worse!

I did warn you that there was worse to come! I strongly suspect that this is a spoof, especially given the  name is suspiciously similar to the "amazon" twins. I did google it and found their profile on some seemingly bona fide websites though...
They look amazingly like my Aunt Flossie after she had over indulged on the starches once too often BTW.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The sound of Christmas Angels

Here is a cover featuring two of my Aunties delighting the congregation with their heavenly mastery of an accordion at the Pentecostal Church last Christmas.
(What do you mean you don't believe I have any Norwegian aunties? Not all my relatives live in Grimsby and keep ferrets you know.)

PS: There is worse to come...

Corrie as it used to be...



I stopped watching Coronation Street some years back due to lack of time (and now I am so boring that all I do is blog) but even I may have a sneaky look at the 50th anniversary episode on tonight. A colleague sent me this wonderful clip from the early days of Corrie featuring the first appearance of Ena Sharples. It is truly wonderful, a sort of Oscar Wilde meets Alan Bennett - if I am not being too fanciful- and the timing and delivery is spot on.
I love depictions of strong Northern women, in fact a few of my  female relatives and their friends from my childhood  could  fit the Ena Sharples  mould and wouldn't have thought the questions "Are you a widder woman?" and "What's your place of worship?" at all intrusive or personal. As for the phrase, "it's very bay window down there"...well, I'll leave you to enjoy...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

All I don't want for Christmas...

That time of year has come around again. No, not just the season of goodwill, but the chance look at all the stuff out there that you wouldn't inflict on your worst enemy. Here are two things that are not on my Christmas list:
 I think I might be able to live without the crusaders (but I do have worse up my sleeve, just wait and see.)

And this "Jesus soap on a rope" was withdrawn last year not because it is tacky, overpriced and a lurid blue colour, but due to its sacreligious nature (well go figure...)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows



We went to see this today, but our eldest declined on the grounds that he "had homework" which I took to mean that he has grown out of watching Harry Potter films since having homework never seems to stop him doing anything else he really wants to do! I have so many memories of reading the books to the boys while they were growing up, they used to snuggle up in bed with me and take it in turns to read a page each when they were little. And they were so excited to go and see the films or any films. I suspect my fourteen year old accompanied us today largely for old times sake.
The film was good though, much darker than the others. "Harry Potter has grown up" proclaimed one of the reviews - hmmmm, he's not the only one!

Drifting

It has been over a week since I last typed the words "Anglican Covenant". I decided this week to focus on faith rather than the church and to think about the things that make my faith and my life matter and which feed me rather than draining me. I have, however, been reading about the Covenant, about how it was spoken against in Synod, and then voted for, and whether this was a loyalty vote for Rowan Williams. I have also read of how GAFCON, the very people whom the Covenant aimed to appease, have firmly rejected it. I have read a range of reactions from the view that the Communion is now dead to the suggestion that liberals, if their allegiances do not tie them solely to Anglicanism, should walk away , to the view that the GAFCONITES have perhaps been right to do what they do - leave a "bad marriage" rather than stay.

I do not feel sanguine about the Church of England. Jeffrey John sermon at Colin Slee's funeral spoke of Colin Slee's fearlessness, and this seemed moving but poignant in the face of a church that seems more and more cautious, expedient, dishonest, fearful and less and less real or relevant. I've noticed that those who are disillusioned choose from three broad options, to stay , to stay but seek some kind of "respite care" or to go. Those who go either change their allegiances to another church or invent their own self styled "anglican" church. Those who stay either do nothing or seek respite care, for example through societies such as St Hilda and St Wilfred. Liberals have tended to stay so far, although I suspect many lay people have just quietly left congregations and churches.
I do not want to walk away, although sometimes this decision is necessary, but I do not honestly feel I belong but rather that I have been drifting along recently. If the Anglican Covenant is adopted by the Church of England, I wonder if there might be a greater role for organisations such as Inclusive Church to operate as a form of "respite care" offering pastoral support and a voice for individuals and parishes that have become a part of the second tier? If the Anglican Covenant is adopted by the Church of England, when I am so opposed to it, I will immediately feel that I belong to the second tier of Anglicanism. I really feel that I belong there anyhow. Perhaps I should relax and not be afraid, knowing that Jesus would have been in the second tier and I am always in good company.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The beauty of snow

Yes, I am glad that the white stuff is starting to disappear. The pavements ( here at least)are covered with a treacherous slush and the ground is all soggy. However there is no doubting that snow is beautiful and I was rather moved by this lovely post from the Colophon blog run by the nuns of East Hendred last Sunday, in which they liken the snow to Advent, something that descends softly and gently into our hearts and souls, silencing and transforming the world with its impossible purity.

The post made me think of other writers who have seen snow as a symbol of something beyond us, perhaps the beauty and fragility of mortality. I leave you with the ending to James Joyce's short story, The Dead, it is also beautifully written, read it and feel your "soul swoon" with Gabriel, the central character. ( And don't say we don't educate you on this blog :)

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Beer and Bessie

There is nothing Bessie likes more, especially in this cold wintry weather, than to take me down the pub for a companionable pint of ale.
That's why I was delighted to hear that the Horse and Jockey pub in Chorlton, South Manchester has won the Kennel Club award as 2010 most dog friendly pub. And this award is well deserved. Although Bessie and I only manage a trip there on rare occasions, she has a very good canine friend who is a regular and sings (barks?) its praises. The Horse and Jockey is not only inclusive of dogs, it also serves a lovely pint of doggie ale and this year hosted a dogs and owners Halloween party.
Last year I treated Bessie to a "bible believing dog T shirt", but this year she has requested a crate of real doggie ale.
I have no problems with this particular present, but I have warned her not to over indulge as in the picture below!

(No Bessies were harmed while making this blog post...)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Simplicity

I clicked on Rosanna's blog Considertheway this evening and read these words,
God sent Jesus to grow up in a simple family
to have simple needs
AND his message was simple.

That God knows us and God wants us to know him.

We do over complicate things, don't we? But God did not over complicate things, he just came to live among us, to speak to us in words and ways we could understand, to simply be with us.

I hope that I will be able to wonder at the simplicity of the Christmas message this Advent.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel



It's not really Advent until you hear this hymn, is it? Apologies to anyone who automatically associates Aled Jones with Songs of Praise, but he does sing it beautifully here.

A blessed Advent to everyone who reads this blog.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Forget happiness and you just might find it

David Cameron is going to measure our happiness, according to the latest reports, and this has led to some interesting reflections on whether it is possible to objectively measure or even define something which is a concept, and arguably a wholly subjective state of mind.
Having already inflicted upon you my deep thoughts on one abstract noun, namely freedom, I am going to base this blog post around the thoughts of much wiser people on the topic of happiness – or rather the much more Christian emotion of joy.

The first is from 2 Corinthians 6:4-10,
" Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

I find it hard to say how moving I find this passage. For a start it is so beautifully written and structured and the integrity of the lived experience and the message Paul has to convey literally breathes from the page. The long list gives a sense of the enormity of the problems Paul faced but also the sheer power of the faith, hope and joy that no difficulty could destroy. The parallel structures at the end convey the paradox that absolute joy is to be found in the midst of sorrow, that with faith it is possible to simultaneously have nothing and everything. Individual words in this passage are enough to blow your mind away, for example when he writes that he is “sorrowful, but always rejoicing”, it is that “always” that amazes you. Paul was often in chains, but always rejoicing, not sometimes, but always. This passage is challenging, exuberant, irrepressible. I find it inspiring and although it was written nearly two thousand years ago, each time I read it I feel it has been written for today.

Another piece I find inspiring is by written by Julian of Norwich,
" He wants us to accept our tarrying and our suffering as lightly as we are able and to count them as nothing.For the more lightly we accept them, the less importance we ascribe to them and the less pain we shall experience from them. In this blessed revelation I was truly taught that any man or woman who voluntarily chooses God may be sure that he too is chosen."This is fantastic advice from a very wise woman. Take your sufferings lightly she says, do not dwell on them and rest in the knowledge that God knows you and all your circumstances and has chosen you. As with Paul, this offers a logic and a view of how to achieve “happiness” that is alien unless you have tasted the peace and joy of faith.

Finally the key to joy and contentment is service to others. Service is central to the Christian faith, in fact service is central to achieving happiness as a full human being whether you are Christian or not. Not a lot of people know this, but Leo Tolstoy did when he wrote,

"Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness."
So, if you want to find happiness, forget it. It is buried deep in the heart of other things and it isn't served up as a dish in its own right.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Proclaiming liberty

I was going to blog on Synod's affirmation of the Anglican Covenant and all the shenanigans of GAFCON. Well, you can read about them by clicking on the links if you like, but his week is National Prison’s week, a campaign to raise awareness of those in prison, their families and victims and the role that churches and people of faith can have in reaching out to all affected by crime, and I thought this was a more important topic.
The slogan of National Prison Week is “Be with me” and their text is Luke 23:32 , a reminder that Christ too was tried, found guilty and executed between two criminals. Imprisonment and freedom is a theme that runs like a life giving river through the bible. A passage that literally sends shivers down my spine is Luke 4 ; 16-21, where Christ reads in the synagogue that he has come “proclaim liberty to the captive” and then announces that his listeners have witness scripture fulfilled. These passages offer a real challenge to all of us to be liberated by our faith and to liberate others, indeed it is hard to know how anyone could be a Christian and not think that Christ’s message had relevance to those in prison – whatever form that prison takes.
Back in June this year I nearly blogged about faith and prisons after reading this article by Naomi Phillips at The Guardian Comment is Free. Phillips argues that prisons should be secular zones and faith has no role in them. I can understand where Phillips reservations, but I don’t agree with her. It is true that prisoners are particularly vulnerable perhaps to proselytizing, but I strongly believe in the power of the cross to transform lives in all situations no matter how desperate. The Christian message is relevant to anyone who has been condemned, who may feel written off , because it offers a new start, the slate is wiped clean and sins are forgiven. It is also non discriminatory , or should be, redemption is available to all, it is not dependent on intelligence, class, wealth, race, education, background, social status, or your previous track record. In fact, all the things we commonly use to define worth and value, and which we use to define our own worth and value become irrelevant in the light of the cross.
There is some debate over the statistics and claims made for the redemptive power of faith in the lives of former offenders. Some organisations, such as Kainos, which last year made a bid to set up the first purely faith based prison in Cornwall , boast that their interventions slash reoffending rates to 13% against the average of 60%.These claims have however been disputed by The National Secular Society.
I have to admit that my knowledge in this area is shaky – and I am willing to hear from anyone who knows more. I believe that the possibility of redemption – not just social but spiritual- is badly needed in prisons. We are told that in Christ we are a new creation. What could be more relevant to the prisoner than that promise, bought by one who was degraded and executed in order to offer dignity and life to all no matter who they are or what they have done?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Queen talks sense

I've always loved the bit in in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights where Joseph, the cantakerous servant, is described as,

" the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours."

I've noticed for some time now that a lot of the Christians I meet - on the web mainly - hold views that they promote as moral but which I see as rather immoral. What's more some of them seem to think that their view of right and wrong is incontrovertible - usually because they have ransacked the bible in the manner described above. So I was rather delighted to hear that the Queen has opened General Synod with a speech about how Christians do not have a monopoly on morality and a reminder that we live in a diverse society. She even seemed to suggest that the difficult issues facing the Church might lead to renewed growth and vigour.

Well said, Ma'am!

I hope it went down well with the Vogons.

A time to be silent

I have just heard again on the news that Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden has been suspended, although Church Mouse seems to know differently. I am unsure if he has been withdrawn from public duties, withdrawn voluntarily or has been suspended. In any case, he has been censured and most of you will know why by now!

It seemed to me that while the bishop's remarks were certainly unacceptable, and could be seen as showing an arrogant and dismissive attitude to those whose marriages break down, his main error seemed to me his lack of wisdom in expressing them in a public context.

I personally do not really want to see him pay a heavy price, but the media is alert at this moment to any scrap of detail or coverage around this wedding and, if there is public interest, might well ensure he will.

Perhaps he should have put aside his republican sympathies and simply allowed himself to be cheered up by the thought of a public holiday - just like the rest of us.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Vogon alert



Researchers have discovered the alien species that is most likely to be taking over the Church of England.

BTW has anyone ever noticed the strange flying saucer shaped arrangement of the Synod chamber?

OK, I know that's enough!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

No new developments in Archbishop abduction horror

Further to the post below, I have unearthed this site Abduct Anon? It has a helpful question and answer format, for example : Q: Am I going crazy? A: No, you are not crazy, many people have been abducted by aliens.

Perhaps the Archbishop might benefit from Abduct Anon.

Oh, I forgot. Latest reports suggest they've still got him...

Newsflash:Archbishop abducted by aliens...




Sorry, I need a little light relief and I couldn't resist...

What Gene Robinson says is that people who studied and trained under Rowan Williams say that his views and approach seem to have changed so much that it is as though, "he has been abducted by aliens and they've left in his place someone who just looks like him, but they don't recognise."
Hang on...didn't we recently have the director for Unity, Faith and Order (UFO) speaking up for the Anglican Covenant?


Why does the Anglican Communion have a UFO director anyway? Hmm... I feel a conspiracy theory coming on and it is all starting to make a lot more sense.

Worth listening to this interview, if you can be bothered! (The alien bit is at about 3 mins 40 secs!)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Covenant cont...

For those of you following events to do with the Covenant, here are two potentially interesting articles, a strong and comprehensive defence from Andrew Goddard (no, I don't agree with him, but he puts forward a reasoned case and certainly knows his stuff) and another piece by Chris Sugden which condemns the Covenant as "weak" and "substituting conviction for truth."

Ah well, even the conservatives can't agree.

This is a house divided against itself (complete the saying...)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

LInk to Cranmer

I occasionally read Cranmer's blog and usually find myself either strongly disagreeing or agreeing. I want to say a big "Hear, Hear" to the sentiments expressed here about the atrocities carried out against Iraqi Christians, and the way it puts squabbling over you-know-what into perspective.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Read it and weep

There has been a plea from The Anglican Communion website to look at what the Covenant really says before judging it. Well, that seems fair enough, except that I have read the text of the Covenant several times and have come to the conclusion that there is no knowing just what the Covenant really says - or at least what it will really do - until we see the damned thing in action. I didn't think anything could actually make me more uncertain or dubious, but I was wrong, this peculiar missive actually did.
First of all the director of unity, faith and order tells us that the Standing Committee is "not new" and then helpfully explains that it would have,

"no power other than proposing to the Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting) steps to be taken to encourage discussion and discernment about disputed questions among the Provinces, or, if processes of mediation have broken down, what the relational consequences might be."

Oh well, that's all right then... no power at all really -and we have still no idea what the "steps to be taken" or "relational consequences" might be...

We are then told that,
" The Covenant explicitly says in section (4.1.3): “Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction."
and this, of course, should be noted. The Covenant does not alter the Canons or existing laws of any church, it might however curb their powers to pass new legislation or make changes, particularly if this legislation just happened - as a completely random example - to relate to the ordination of gay priests or the blessing of same sex relationships.

It continues ,
"The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case."

No, it's not at all clear that this would have been the case. Neither is it at all clear that it wouldn't have been the case. In fact, let's just say its not at all clear what effect it would have had in the past and thus it is not at all clear what effect it would have in the future. Or to simplify matters, let's just say - "it is not at all clear."

It continues with its - er- faultless logic,

"The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ. That is exactly the kind of discernment that is needed when any new matter emerges:"

Well, if the consultative processes actually resulted in the correct discernment on the issue of women's ordination - why not use those same processes again? Why use something that may or may not have hindered this process?

Section 2 of the Covenant clearly speaks of the need for a "shared mind". The director of unity, faith and order speaks of the Covenant's ability to bring about "discernment of (an) issue on which we are free to differ." You know when people say "we'll have to agree to differ?" Well, now it will be -"Ah no, you can't agree to differ until I agree that you can agree to differ." Well, that sounds like a recipe for harmony to me!

Does all this reassure you? Because it sure as heck didn't reassure me!

If it had confidently said, "the Covenant would not have held back the dignities and rights of women in the Church", I might have been reassured. If it had said, "this Covenant will not hold back the dignities and rights of gay people within the Church", I might have been reassured.

Because, boys and girls, that is what it is all really about.

Gay people have been marginalised, despised, derided, condemned, driven to suicide and worse for centuries. The Church has played a part in that role, and continues to do so. Some people would like that status quo to continue.

So, read the document now, ask yourself what it really says - and weep.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembrance

I went to a church service with Kev today for the first time since last Christmas/ New Year. Kev currently classifies himself as "almost an agnostic" and saves church for special occasions. One of my sons is also agnostic, the other is a passionate atheist whose bookshelf boasts a number of works by Dawkins and Hitchens.

Twelve years ago, when we moved to this area, things were very different. The boys both attended a faith school and we worshipped as a whole family every Sunday. I remembered this today because the church we went to was the one we all attended back in those days, Kev maintains some links with it and he is still responsible for sending out cards to the next of kin at funerals. He used to offer a "listening service" for anyone who would welcome contact with a church member following bereavement.

Because of this, the vicar asks him every year to attend the memorial service and to read out the names of those whose funerals have taken place at the church during the last year. I know Kev values this role, the service draws to the church many who are not regular attenders but who wish to remember, pay tribute to, possibly pray for loved ones who have died.

I often go along, as much as anything to support Kev, who has been very closely touched by bereavement in his life and can find such services difficult as well as meaningful. The service was moving, with the hymns, readings, candles and so many people visibly affected. It made me think of the importance of remembering the past and remembering the dead, whether lost through war or other circumstances, but also the importance of valuing the life and love that we have here and now, and not taking it for granted.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Perfect solution



Clearly the perfect solution to a lack of time and too much to do is for me to train Bessie up to these standards. Beeesssie...where is that dog when you need her!:)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

When two or three are gathered...

I was quite interested to note that Rowan Williams has apparently suggested suspending the Primates' Meeting, in favour of small group meetings of like minded bishops. I think this must be thinking along the lines of the Indaba principle, or perhaps more that when two or three are gathered there is less likely to be an almighty showdown? I'd say that given David Anderson's advice last month, the Primates' meeting in Ireland in January is more likely to end up more like an overwrought tantrum at a toddler's birthday party than a meeting of sage and reasonable elders! In the face of those attitudes, Rowan's Indaba hopes might not be universally popular.

Blessed are the peacemakers? You can forget that, Archbishop! Certain people out there are ripe for a fight and won't want you being a spoilsport. To show my age by quoting Morrissey again, " Love, peace and harmony? Oh, very nice, very nice, very nice... but maybe in the next world?

(Watch that fudge, could just boil over.)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Anglican Covenant fudge (please heed warnings)

Ingredients

A large quantity of extreme bitterness.
A variety of cultures and theologies .
Several demands for action .
Genuine concern about impaired relationships and a desire to find real solutions.
¾ of a cup of language about our “unity and common life.”
¼ of a cup of more ominous language about “relational consequences.”
Love and grace.
Prayer.


Method

1. Following the ordination of a gay bishop, place the large quantity of extreme bitterness in a bowl.
2. Add the mix of different cultures and theologies – be careful, it is extremely acid, volatile and potentially explosive. Try not to get your fingers burnt.
3. Add the demands to “do something”. The mixture may seethe, fizz and give off steam – try not to choke.
4. The next step is to try to neutralise the bitterness, this is essential if you are to produce a successful Anglican Covenant.
5. Take the genuine concerns about impaired relationship and desire for real solutions and stir very carefully into the seething mass with a lot of prayer
6. Now add the ¾ cup of language about unity and common life with ¼ cup of more ominous language about relational consequences while keeping your fingers crossed as the mixture reacts.
7. Realise that what you wanted to make was a covenant, and the basis of this is love, grace and mercy.
8. Look for the love, grace and mercy – realise you simply don’t have enough to hand.
9. Put the fudge through several readings, committees and submit to Synod anyway.
10. Add some more prayer, hope for a miracle.

Warning: Making this fudge is a thankless task. It requires skill, luck or a miracle. Few will like it, some won’t buy it. We cannot guarantee whether it will be tasteless, insipid, bitter or toxic. It may cause further discord, suspicion, nausea, indigestion and disaffection. It might hit the spot or it might just disintegrate.

HAPPY BAKING!

Diagnose your theology

I don't like labels - but I couldn't resist doing this quiz about What's your theological world view? Apparently I am Emergent Postmodern, which sounds like a slowly incubating disease, and in fact I know a few people who think it is!

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern
82%
Neo orthodox
68%
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
61%
Classical Liberal
57%
Modern Liberal
50%
Roman Catholic
46%
Charismatic/Pentecostal
36%
Reformed Evangelical
29%
Fundamentalist
0%

Well, suppose I might be. I can't agree that I am alienated from the older forms of church though. Hat tip to Lesley, who was also diagnosed as emergent postmodern and got it from Pluralist (the quiz that is, not her emergent postmodernism )

Go on, take the test, you know you want to ...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Five bishops resign

I guess everyone will have heard that five bishops are to leave the Church of England and join the Ordinariate. A quick hunt around t'internet yielded this article, What will Rowan Williams do now, by Riazat Butt.
Despite his "regrets", the issue that faces the Archbishop and the rest of the church is not so much what to do about those who go, but what to do about the vast majority of traditionalists who will stay. It is worth noting that, despite the election of a new synod which might be more sympathetic to their wishes, these five still chose to go. I would hazard that that is because they would be unhappy with any compromise, the very fact of the existence of women fully in the ministry of the church was the issue for them.

This is not to say that such a decision is easy, I am sure it is not. However, Broadhurst has spoken of being "nervous but excited" about the prospect, and I wish them well as they make the most of their own opportunities in ministry at the same time as many women in the Church of England look forward to new horizons and opportunites for which they have served, worked, prayed and so justly deserve.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Gene Robinson to retire

Gene Robinson is to retire in 2013, apparently he has announced this now to give plenty of time for the diocese to approve the decision and make preparations. Who needs my thoughts on the matter when Colin Coward writes so movingly on the Changing Attitude blog.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Friends and fellowship

I travelled down to Birmingham today to spend some time with a group of Christian friends that I have met at retreats and conferences over the last few years. It was a bright Autumn day, and after all meeting up at a venue near the station, we went on to St Martin's in the Bullring for a period of silent prayer.

I must say I had rather stereotypical ideas about Birmingham, but it did look good in the sunshine. St Martin's was a beautiful church which, judging by its website, literature and displays, seems to have a mission to reach out to everyone. There was some debate about the origins of the name St Martin's in the Bullring, some of us thought it must refer to bull fighting having occurred in the past, others thought this sounded too Spanish and that it was a reference to a part of the market where bulls were sold. Of course I googled "Bullring" when I got home - that's how sad I am!

We then went for a meal, and it was truly lovely to catch up with people and hear what had been happening in their lives. We hope to meet again in the New Year, possibly in Manchester this time. In a world where so many people I associate with are secular, I do value Christian friends. I also love doing faith and fellowship in different ways than simply through church, and do feel ministered to in these kind of contexts.
I don't like to post too many pictures of individuals on the blog, but above are some pictures of the interior of St Martin's in the Bullring.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

To fight or appease?

I am sure I am not the only person to be shaking my head over Wallace Benn's silliness in comparing the situation for traditionalists to 1939 with the storm clouds of war gathering. I am sure the thought of being invaded by Hitler was much more terrifiying to the average Britain than the thought of a woman wearing a mitre. On the other hand we have Tom Wright ( I am afraid he has never impressed me much) using the language of appeasement and saying we should back down from consecrating women as bishops at all.

I do not particularly like the language of warfare, but sometimes it is important to stand up for the right thing when the right time has come - maybe long come! I do not believe we should, or will, back down from consecrating women as bishops. We do not live in an age when it is in any way acceptable for women to be discriminated against. How can the Church oppose discrimination in other spheres when we so blatantly practise it ourselves? Leaving aside leading by example, it would be insupportable to deny women the chance to be bishops when it is so clearly the wholehearted desire and mind of the Church of England to proceed with this matter. It would attract hugely negative publicity, and the issues would not be resolved, for the sake of a minority they would fester. We would have to confront them time and time again, and that is not something that any of us should contemplate.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

No Anglican Covenant Coalition

I'd suggest everyone reads this post from Lesley's blog. It gives some interesting information about the coalition against the Anglican Covenant which Lesley is involved in.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Foster parents seek exemption

I have mixed feelings about the case of foster parents Eunice and Owen Johns who say they have a right to foster children despite being unprepared to remain silent about their views that homosexuality is wrong.

The issue in cases such as this should always be the interests of the child. It is clearly not in the interests of a child who is, or may be, homosexual to be fostered or adopted by a couple who actively promulgate such views. It could be described as an infrigement of the child's right not to be discriminated against, and the authorities placing such a child could be failing in their duty of care.

What is interesting in this case is that the prospective foster parents were offering respite care to children aged five to ten. I do wonder how likely it is that the issue of homosexuality is going to arise with children of this age, also, as respite carers they would not be the main influence on the child, the biological parents would. Perhaps then the ability of the foster parents to offer loving respite care should be much more important.

However, it also occurs to me that this case could be very easily resolved by the foster parents agreeing that, in the unlikely event that such a topic arises, they were to say that they preferred not to discuss the topic and suggested the child asked the parents at home. The couple say that they do not wish to lie, but this is not lying!

Mr and Mrs. Johns are not alone in the expectations placed upon them. It would not be acceptable for a teacher, or social worker, or coach, or probation officer to tell a young person that homosexuality was wrong. As a teacher, I am not allowed to say, for example, that it is "wrong" for couples to cohabit, or that I think Muslims are infidels, or atheists are going to hell, or that fat people are just greedy and lazy, or that people on benefits are scroungers, or that Christians are stupid, or that Jehovah's Witnesses banging on the door are intrusive and annoying.

This is entirely right, however strongly I may hold these views. My students may have parents who cohabit, they may be Muslims, or atheists, or fat, or on benefits, or Christians, or Jehovah's Witnesses. During the recent election, we were reminded that we should not attempt to influence our students' voting choices, some members of staff believe that, even if asked, a teacher should refrain from revealing how they personally vote. This is not to say that discussion is not allowed. When asked what I think, I tell students if it is appropriate, but I always say that it doesn't matter what I think, what matters is what they think! In certain cases, I might even have to refrain from expressing my views.

Foster parents are not just private individuals, they are employed in a professional capacity. It is right and proper to expect them to behave in a professional manner.

The Brick Testament

I don't know if you've noticed, but I often simply don't find the time to blog during the working week! However, in the light of all the budget cuts and consequent anxiety, I thought you might like these gospel message concering the poor and the rich, from the wonderful Brick Testament.
I particularly like the camel in the illustration above!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Pumpkin Massacre



These are the horrors in store in our household today (see post below.) Please do not watch if you are of a sensitive disposition...

In defence of Halloween

David Cloake at The Vernacular Curate explores the dilemma of Halloween and whether or not Christians – and in particular clergy families - should celebrate this festival. In our clergy household we did not do Halloween, anyone who rang the doorbell was greeted with the standard response, “We are a Christian family, and we do not celebrate Halloween.” In my teens I increasingly found it all rather embarrassing, especially as some despondent little kid headed down the vicarage path, no doubt thinking, “I only wanted a lollipop, mister.”
To be absolutely fair to my parents (will my mother ever forgive me for this post?) I enjoyed several Halloween parties in my teens, and went out trick and treating with friends and my parents never really interfered with this. I really think it was more a personal matter and maybe that they didn’t think it entirely appropriate for the Vicar to be encouraging a pagan festival.
It may a reaction, or it may be a reflection on my parlous state, but I really enjoy Halloween now. I don’t have a problem with it, although I respect the views of those who do. I think it is great fun for children, it is wonderfully spooky and fuels the imagination, I love the costumes and it adds a splash of colour to the beginning of the dark days of the year.
Halloween also reminds me of the old superstitions and traditions, and of our roots in pagan beliefs and festivals. My mum grew up in a tiny hamlet, Feizor , in North Yorkshire. We often visited as children and my parents pointed out that the house she grew up in had a witches’ seat on the chimney stack. Witches’ seats or stones were simply ledges left jutting out so that the witch could rest during her journey and would not cast malevolent spells upon the household. Many of our forebears would have had some belief in witches, even if this did as usual involve women getting the blame. In 1603 King James wrote his Demonology, considered a very erudite work upon magic, witchcraft and sorcery.
I love the link to that bygone age, it is part of our heritage (yes, I know trick and treat is an American invention – who cares – you get free sweets!) Also a lot of our best literature draws on the supernatural, Macbeth, Faustus, The Crucible and The Turn of the Screw all use witches, ghosts and magic, partly as an aid to explore our moral choices and questions of good and evil. It may be a pushing it just a little to try and claim that Halloween still keeps in our secular consciousness a sense of the opposition between good and evil, but I do think that some of our modern day children’s literature with supernatural themes, most notably the Harry Potter series, often frame such questions.
So, this Sunday afternoon we shall carve the pumpkin and later light it and put it outside. Anyone calling for sweets will get them with our blessing.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Anglican Covenant as ecclesiastical naughty step


A great post from Not the Same Stream helps clarify matters for those of us struggling to understand the possible legal scope and possible ramifications of the proposed Anglican Covenant. I also particularly like the explanation that if a church steps out of line the other churches will send it to the "ecclesiastical naughty step", now there's an idea to conjure with:)

Friday, 29 October 2010

How Anglican is the Anglican Covenant?

Inclusive Church and the Modern Church Union have both spoken out against the proposed Anglican Covenant. General Synod is to be asked in November to approve this document. The Anglican Covenant represents the most formal response yet to the problems and divisions in global Anglicanism, adopting it could have far reaching implications and yet very few people know much about it at all.

The Anglican Church is currently facing a crisis that some have likened to the Reformation, one that might well split the Church irrevocably. I have to say that I do not agree that we are facing division on this scale, our current squabbles are likely to be a blip in a graph compared to the profound and seismic shift that was the Protestant Reformation. However, I think we will see huge changes, for good or ill, in the way the Anglican Church looks and works over the next decade. The Covenant is a document spawned from fear, anger and expediency, in that something official needs to be seen to be done.I do not think the Covenant will be effective in resolving problems and I think it will have a detrimental effect upon the Church - two good reasons to oppose it.

There are ironies in the comparison of the current situation to the Reformation. The Church of England has from its inception been a church of compromise and breadth. Elizabeth 1, above all a realist, saw that, although sedition could not be tolerated, at the same the bitter divisions between Catholicism and the new religion could not be allowed to tear apart the nation. As a result the Church of England allowed a certain lattitude of quietly held theological belief, and it may explain why there is such a diversity within Anglicanism.

The irony is that the very strength of Anglicanism - its capacity for breadth, tolerance, flexibility and compromise, and sometimes even to fudge matters in the interests of a quiet life, is seen by some as a weakness. The issues of sexuality and women's ordination have brought into sharp relief the other differences that exist, different approaches to scripture and tradition, the question of orthodoxy. There have been calls in some quarters for a confessional unity, there have been cries of "heresy", we have even returned in some places to the language of the Reformation, with TEC described as "gangrenous", shades of Moore and Luther's exchanges about the "shit house of all shit." Added to this, we now have individuals who play a key role yet who come from cultures whose understanding of the key issues is so diametrically opposed that they do not share the same paradigms, they are coming from completely different premises.

The threat to Anglicanism comes not from the issue of sexuality or gender in themselves, the greatest threat comes from those who wish to impose a very narrow understanding upon the Church, to force a confessional unity and remake it in their own image. It is ironic that it is those who crow over the troubles of TEC and claim that it faces a slow but inevitable death and decline, are those most intent upon disciplining it. If TEC were dying, the question must be asked as to why the church seems intent on tearing itself to pieces over its actions and beliefs?

I think that the answer is that the big threat is not TEC, nor indeed the Church of Canada, which some see as waiting in the wings. The big threat comes from outside, from a world which is rapidly changing, where human rights are coming to the forefront. Even in Uganda and Nigeria those battles are coming. Religious belief itself is also under attack from rationalism, science and the new atheism, although religious fundamentalism is on the increase, so is opposition to it, and in secular societies religion itself is often seen as a baddie, narrow, oppressive, inimical to human rights and freedoms. TEC and its action are a symptom, they are not a cause, and the real fears of those who oppose it run deep.

I do not think the Anglican Covenant is particularly - Anglican - nor do I think it is particularly Christian. I have said before that I especially dislike the term covenant, a word which speaks of a gracious compact of love and mercy, being used to describe a document which aims to discipline, or at least to give the impression of that intent.

Inclusive Church is running this advert in the Church Times tomorrow. I must admit that, despite being the IC representative in my area - a role in which I actually do very little - I had not read this until I saw it on Thinking Anglicans, but it is well worth reading as it outlines some of the ways the Covenant could affect the Church of England. For anyone who does value human rights, tolerance, freedom of thought and belief and who passionately believes that religious belief can encompass tolerance and humanity, old style Anglicanism is well worth speaking up for and the not -very -Anglican covenant is well worth speaking out against.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Lakes

We headed up to the Lake District on Tuesday in the pouring rain. The weather was truly awful! Forget lakes and mountains, low cloud, driving rain and poor visibility put paid to that. We stopped off at Sizergh Castle, which was absolutely packed with damp people who might otherwise been walking on the fells. It really was standing room only, but we fought our way through and decided to give the National Trust tea room- crammed with people in raincoats eating butternut squash soup - a miss. As I was explaining to someone, the place we were staying at fortunately has a spa and fitness centre attached. After the gym, sauna and swim, we headed out to a local pub, which is a proper old fashioned type pub, with real ale and a fire (although I haven't quite forgiven them for introducing deep fried milky way and ice cream onto the menu last year.) Yesterday was much brighter and we managed a scenic ride and short walk in the morning. Later we visited Brantwood, John Ruskin's house. Matthew is very keen on art and actually showed what might have been described a glimmer of interest in Ruskin's paintings and gardens. We spent quite a while in the house and longer in the gardens, where we took some pictures. Pictured below is the Zig-Zaggy , a garden which is meant to represent the journey of the soul through purgatory - don't ask me, I never understood those weird inventions, sorry doctrines, of the Roman Catholic Church. Anyhow, you can read it all on this helpful poster. After we had escaped through purgatory, we went to the tea room, where people without raincoats were eating bowls of butternut squash soup...
We would really have liked to go for a walk this morning, but Matthew talked us into the gym and swim option again. Just as well really, it had been quite bright but the clouds soon threatened and we came home the way we set off - in the driving rain. A description of purgatory above,and the purgatorial garden below (looks nice, doesn't it?)


We returned home to find that our elder son(whom we had daringly/ trustingly/ rashly left behind on his own) had survived and so had the house. Result.