Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Prayer for Holy Week

We will step gratefully into this holy week;
We will tread softly for many things are already bruised;
We will go reverently for holiness is found in unlikely places;
We will walk lovingly for the love of the Crucified One is the key to all things on earth and in heaven. Amen

Monday, 29 March 2010

What is marriage?

I do not see Christians as a persecuted minority, more as a group of people who can feel outraged that we do not possess the freedom to impose our views on society in quite the same way as we did in the past. However, there is no doubt that many Christians are genuinely fearful that they will fall foul of the law of the land, particularly over the issue of Civil Partnerships. We saw recently the Lilian Ladele case (I have mixed feelings on this and am not going to blog on it here) and many Christians are fearful that priests may be prosecuted for not allowing Civil Partnerships to be celebrated in their churches. There is a clause in this legislation which specifically states that no institution or individual will be required to register such a partnership; an assurance that has clearly not pacified many of those who have concerns.
Some of the discussions around Civil Partnerships being allowed in places of worship have made me think about what we mean by marriage and how we can possibly define it - as a private relationship, a public commitment, a sacrament, or as all of these things? Some people feel that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. I do not hold this view, but I can understand that many others genuinely do.
I believe that the most important thing about a marriage is the personal, private and intimate relationship between the two individuals concerned. This is why I believe that two people who live together may be as “married”, sometimes more married, than those who have gone through a ceremony (I know not everyone agrees with me!)
I also believe that marriage is a sacrament, although in the Church of England baptism and communion are the two major sacraments. The act of marriage is an outward and visible sign of an inner, invisible grace. One of the problems when we decide who is really married is that we judge that inner grace when, as fallible humans, we do not have the wisdom or knowledge to do so.
I listened to a programme a while back on Radio 4 where a married couple were interviewed. One spouse was a male to female transsexual and had undergone gender reassignment surgery. The wife had stood by her spouse during her surgery and transitioning and accepted the fact that she was now married to a woman because, as she said, she would rather be with a spouse who was happy than one suffering the misery she had witnessed at first hand during their marriage. The male to female transsexual, for her part, had chosen to forgo the right to be legally recognised as a woman, because this would entail the couple divorcing. They could, of course, have divorced and registered as a same sex couple in a civil partnership, but they had always been married and that is how they wanted to stay.
I think this story encapsulates the way that human love defies easy categories and there are many other cases which do the same. An example might be a gay couple together for forty years where one nurses the other through a terminal illness. Compare that relationship to an opposite sex couple who marry but divorce shortly afterwards – which couple is or was ever truly “married”?
Human being like the security of rules, categories and tick boxes, but human beings are also the most amazing things and real relationships defy boundaries, categories and glib assumptions. Depending on your personality, your inability to really understand or police human relationships will either scare you or give you a sense of awe.
We are told that there will be no marriage in heaven. Someone who had lost a spouse once told me how deeply sad this verse always made them feel. I like to think we do not have to feel sad about the lack of marriage in heaven, marriage is something given to us for our mortal lives but relationship is eternal and I think relationship – and specific relationships- will continue in some form. The very concept of the trinity has relationship at its heart. Relationship is eternal. There will not be marriage in heaven, but there will be love.

Are British Christians persecuted?

Jonathon Bartley has written this article for Ekklesia in response to the letter, sent by several prominent Church of England figures and bishops to The Times, expressing the view that Christians are persecuted for their views and values. I blogged on the Shirley Chaplin case here and my views remain the same.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Palm Sunday

Upon the Asse that bore our Saviour.

Hath onely Anger an Omnipotence
In Eloquence?

Within the lips of Love and Joy doth Dwell
No miracle?
Why else had Baalams Asse a tongue to chide
His Masters pride?
And thou (Heaven-burthen'd Beast) hast ne're a word
To praise thy Lord?
That he should find a Tongue and vocall Thunder,
Was a great wonder.
But O me thinkes 'tis a farre greater one
That thou find'st none

Richard Crawshaw

Crawshaw here reflects upon the irony that Balaam’s ass is given the power of speech, but the beast that carried Christ on Palm Sunday is silent. Crawshaw describes the donkey as a “Heaven-burthened Beast”, and we might remember that a donkey carries Christ both towards his birth in fear and weariness and towards his death in adulation and transient glory.
To Crawshaw the fact that the donkey is silent is “a far greater wonder” than that Baalam's ass is granted the power of speech. His poem challenges us to think about its meaning. Is the donkey’s silence a “wonder” because, as we are told in Luke, “the very stones would cry out” in the absence of other celebration? Is Crawshaw simply chiding the donkey, or is he seeing in the silent, burdened beast a symbol for all those who are Christ-like victims; oppressed, voiceless – but obedient to God’s will and honourable in his sight? Is he exploring the Christian paradox that it is in poverty and obscurity - in silence - that God brings about redemption?
The sermon today focused on the probability that Christ's triumphal entry might have been a fairly low key event, certainly not sufficiently triumphal to concern the Roman authorities. It might have looked a fairly ridiculous and shoddy affair, a self proclaimed King with only a young (borrowed ) foal to ride and followers from the poorer ranks of society reduced to cutting down branches from the trees and laying down their own cloaks.
In Christ's journey towards his death we find the same themes as in his birth. God is at work among the poor and the unimportant, he does not use the human structures of power and authority, he does not announce his presence with "vocal thunder". It is the silence and vulnerabilty of the divine that is a "farre greater" wonder.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

How do you eat yours?

I think I got this picture and caption from MadPriest at OCICBW, hope he doesn't mind me posting it, it still amuses me. I also think the caption is quite perceptive. I can imagine Richard Dawkins finding it hard to eat the cross on a hot cross bun and this draws attention to an irrational and superstitious horror of religion that is evident in the most arid atheists.

At the heart of all fundamentalism, religious and otherwise, is fear and hatred, an inability to see past your own convictions and to acknowledge the good in others and their belief systems - even when they do not accord with your own.

Speaking of hot cross buns - does anyone subscribe to the idea that they are not to be eaten until Good Friday ( or is it Easter Sunday or Saturday?) I confess that I eat them freely and indiscriminately from when they first appear in Tesco - and I'd like to bet that I enjoy my hot cross buns a lot more than Richard Dawkins enjoys his!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Fulcrum tips the balance

Fulcrum has today issued a statement calling on the Archbishop of Canterbury to take decisive action over TEC’s selection of Mary Glasspool. There is a range of opinion found on the Fulcrum website, from moderate evangelical to a more hard line conservative stance. This piece is more “official” than many of the articles as it is published on behalf of the Fulcrum team.

I want to consider a number of comments made:

1.Fulcrum seems to be suggesting that TEC should not be allowed to sign the Covenant, or rather it says it is “incapable of signing the Anglican Covenant.” It does not really elaborate on what it means by “incapable.” I suspect it means that morally it is not in a position to do so, even if it so wished.

2.TEC is accused of backtracking and being dishonest in its pronouncements about “exercising restraint”. Fulcrum uses very strong language, TEC’s dishonesty is a “sickness” which has “infected” and might “destroy” the Communion. I personally think the point about TEC’s dishonesty is dubious. I cannot see that they ever promised that that “restraint” would be a permanent agreement, and they passed legislation and made statements that demonstrated that they were moving away from that position. I remember studying how Martin Luther’s convictions were clarified over time, arguably because of the very opposition designed to squash them. The role of opposition in crystallising beliefs and convictions came to mind as I read Fulcrum’s report.

3.Fulcrum calls for a mutiny from within TEC, a rallying call for orthodox diocese to revolt and to be wholeheartedly backed in this by the rest of the Communion. I found this idea astonishing- I don’t know if anyone else sees it as an extraordinary battle cry?

4.Finally, and more predictably, Fulcrum calls on the Archbishop of Canterbury to take “decisive action” (stop sniggering at the back, please.) Their final paragraph is a strange blend of affection for the Archbishop and frustration and disillusion, summed up in the bald statement that “some gave up on him long ago” and might be translated as “Rowan, please, please DO something.”

Well, I might be being too sensationalist, but this looks to me like a call to arms from what is usually a more moderate voice. Whether anyone is listening, and whether anyone will heed the rallying cry, is quite another matter.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Jesus was British

I am not sure I should inflict Mr. Griffin on you at any time, let alone during Lent, although he can have his comic potential. Here Griffin talks from a "Christian" perspective about his "traditional values and decency" ( I know, I know...)and informs us that, "Christianity is indigenous to these Islands" but that Islam is a foreign import.
So, there you have it, Christianity is inherently British ( nothing to do with the Jews?)and presumably Jesus was too! Even more amusing is when Griffin is asked "What is your Christian experience?" "I'm an Anglican", he promptly replies. I don't think he really understood the concept of a religious experience. If I ever feel that my most profound Christian experience is Anglicanism, then take me out and shoot me, someone...please...


So nice to know some people can make the ultimate sacrifice for Lent...

Monday, 22 March 2010

John Bell's Thought for the day.

A challenging thought for the day which I listened to on the way to work this morning. In the wake of the Pope's response to child abuse and cover up in the Catholic Church, John Bell, of the Iona community, speaks about the pastoral response, not to victims, but to those who have (unacted) attractions to children. The protection of children must always come first, but Bell deals thoughtfully with a difficult topic that we are tempted to shy away from.
( I couldn't download the player, so you will have to click on the link and may have to find the relevant day.)

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Expressions of faith

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

St Patrick's Day cat!

OK, we all know dogs are better, but it is good to know that some cat lovers make sure the whole family gets to celebrate St Patrick's day. I just hope it didn't get to drink any Guinness.

Ugandan update

Some interesting stuff on the Ugandan bill on Thinking Anglicans here and here.

I am too preoccupied at the moment to comment at length, but these are worth a look. It is positive to see respectful dialogue between the African and Canadian bishops and also the continued fruits of the ABC's "indaba" approach at Lambeth 08. As for the ICRCU, it does at least condemn the death penalty, life imprisonment and the prosecution of those who do not "inform" on gay people. Attitudes in Uganda and Nigeria are perhaps more complex than we think and hearts and minds can and do change.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Empty pews

A thought provoking video for anyone who will go to a church tomorrow and just see too many empty spaces - and I guess that describes quite a few of us.

( This is not necessarily an endorsement of Buckhead Church!)

Sex abuse and the Catholic Church

Child sex abuse within the Catholic Church has been in the news this week with fresh allegations of widespread abuse and cover up in the Netherlands, following on from very similar situations bringing confidence in the Church to breaking point in Ireland and Germany. I did say I would be focusing on the trivial at the moment, but two very different approaches to this painful issue have caught my attention this week.
On Wednesday, Rev Federico Lombardi issued a statement on behalf of the Vatican in which he said that, although abuse in the church is “especially deplorable”, child abuse is wider than the church and focusing on the church alone would not truly depict the problem.
I don’t know if I am the only person who thought this statement looked far too much like an attempt to minimise the seriousness of such a consistent pattern of abuse and cover up that it is apparent that it is a deeply ingrained aspect of the sub culture of Catholicism.
Frederico Lombardi also said that the church’s response had been “prompt and transparent” – really – since when exactly? The extent of the deception and cover up that has been seen so far has been described by commentator Lucetta Scaraffia as similar to “omerta” – the Mafia code of silence used to hide serious offences.
Yesterday, the Archbishop of Vienna (brave man) suggested that priestly celibacy could be one of the causes of the sex abuse scandals to hit the Catholic Church. In an article for Thema Kirche, his diocesan magazine, Christoph Schoborn called for an “unflinching examination” of the possible reasons for paedophilia within the church.
Schoborn’s position does seem to have more integrity than the “it happens everywhere, you know” response. All churches, whether Catholic or not, should recognise that abuse is as common, if not more, so in “Christian” contexts and resolve not turn a blind eye or to shirk responsibility.

(I know I said blogging would be light or trivial but I woke up early, this was on my mind and blogging is a great distraction from ploughing through a heap of interminable marking!)

Friday, 12 March 2010

Myer-Briggs your blog!

Fellow bloggers may be interested in this silly - but- fun typealyzer site which analyses the personality of your blog. I discovered the typealyzer about three months ago and when I entered my URL, I came up as INTP (Introverted, iNtuitive , Thinking, Perceiving)- basically "logical, analytical" but "arrogant and insensitive."

However, three months up the road my blog has apparently changed personality and is ISTP. An ISTP blog is"highly skilled and independent" but also likes "fun, action, adventure and risk."
(Maybe because it had more photos than text taking up the space the second time?)

I shall leave you to decide which is the more accurate description. I'd go for clever and arrogant everytime - if it wasn't for the fact that Anglican Mainstream came up as exactly the same type...

Notice in advance

Just a warning that blogging may be light and focus on the trivial over the next week or so as my mind is currently taken up with other matters - which are "unbloggable" but hopefully nothing serious in the long term.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Do dogs have souls ( part seven)

More evidence to support Luther's assertion that dogs have souls ( but there are many arid catheists out there...)

Link to James Jones speech

Text of the address by James Jones here. It is well worth reading, thoughful and very even handed, including comments on the need for the Church to support celibate gay Christians. I personally think those who have described Jones as having muddied the waters have been unjust.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Bishop James Jones and a diversity of ethical views.

I am not going to spend a lot of time outlining the comments of Bishop James Jones when Ekklesia has covered the story so comprehensively. I agree wholeheartedly with James Jones' approach and, to be honest, a generous agreement to differ seems to me the only sane way forward.
Many conservative groups and individuals have reacted with dismay or venom, perhaps because they feel betrayed by one of "their own", an evangelical who previously described same sex relationships in much more trenchant terms and was less likely to respect the rights of others to hold contrary views.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

End of an Era

I heard today, just as I was leaving work, that Michael Foot has died. The tributes, including the one above, were being aired on Radio 4 as I drove home. Someone who was a conviction politician has gone and socialism is truly a thing of the past. It depresses me that there seems to be little or no ideological difference between the main parties. All we have to look forward to between now and May is spin, policy and counter policy and a personality competition between Gordon am-I-a-bully Brown and David Posh-Pants Cameron. Oh joy!

Civil Partnerships allowed on religious premises

Well, Lord Alli's amendment passed! Some conservative commentators are very unhappy, seeing this as "gay marriage by stealth" while others say it will change little. Colin Coward, on the Changing Attitude blog speculates whether the amendment is really a "Trojan horse as some claim" and says,

"I very much hope so. There are many priests and parishes where civil partnerships are already celebrated and blessed in church and bishops who either turn a blind eye towards what is happening or positively encourage priests to contract a civil partnership. Conservatives would be surprised to know which bishops and how many there are."

Time will tell!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Equalities Bill update

The Lords tomorrow will debate Lord Alli’s amendment to the Equalities Bill (which has today been further amended) to allow Civil Partnerships to be registered in religious premises. Lord Alli’s proposal is actually in direct response to requests from some religious bodies, such as the Quakers, who do not want to be prohibited from registering Civil Partnerships on their premises. The amendment would not compel any church or religious institution to register Civil Partnerships and this has been made clear in the further clause added today:

53* Insert the following new Clause—
“(1) The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit section 6(1)(b) and section 6(2).
(3) In section 6A, after subsection (2), insert—
“( ) Regulations under this section may provide that premises approved for the registration of civil partnerships may differ from those premises approved for the registration of civil marriages.”
(4) In section 6A, after subsection (3), insert—
“( ) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.”"

The new amendment was intended to reassure but some groups and individuals are clearly still fearful that the amendment, if passed, would alter the nature of marriage, allow individual priests to register Civil Partnerships, even if ruled out by the Church, or open the floodgates to future litigation or claims of discrimination against religious institutions.
It is hard to know how far these fears are justified, the debate tomorrow should add clarification, but nothing that will be said is likely to appease those opposed. It will be interesting, especially given the recent defeat of the Government’s attempt to clarify the employment exemptions given to religious institutions, to see what will be said and what the outcome will be.