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...)