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?

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...)

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.

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!