Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Mrs Beamish

I'm loving this!

Do dogs have souls ?(part twelve)

Following my doggie's misdemeanours, I was quite taken with this - h/t Creedal Christian.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Strumming my pain with his fingers

I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style.
And so I came to see him to listen for a while.
And there he was this young boy, a stranger to my eyes.
Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words.

Today's gospel reading of the Samaritan woman who has a life changing encounter with Jesus at the well always brings  to mind for me the song below. The emotions conveyed, of an intimacy that is almost unbearable and of a feeling of being completely known and understood, sum up what might of been the response of so many of the fallen women of the gospel to someone who reached out in complete knowledge and love.
I think that the Samaritan woman at the well would have faced a lot of pain in her life and that she lived with "dark despair". Those who met her would not have seen the pain or the despair, but only have seen those things which they felt made her unworthy and perhaps less than human to them. I expect she tried to conceal her past as much as she could, that she lived with secrecy and fear of others knowledge being used as a weapon against her.
The moment at the well when Jesus tells her all the details of her life and yet reaches out to her is so intimate it is almost sexual, although the love shown is completely  pure and holy. Many mystics have portrayed God as a lover, it is not for nothing that his suffering and death have been termed the passion, and in this encounter Jesus woos the woman's soul with knowledge, power and love - and I think a certain audacity and panache!

Warning: your faith could make you fat!

According to an American study, going to church can make you fat. Now there are some reasons put forward, such as blaming it on all the social gatherings, your average Church barbeque can rack up 3,000 calories per person, but I am not terribly convinced. There's all that fasting Christians do for a start - you are all fasting aren't you? It is Lent, you know :)  I also suspect that  secular folks also socialise and snack on biscuits, and staying in bed on a Sunday morning rather than hoofing it to the local place of worship can't be  calorie burning - though I suppose it does depend what you do while you stay in bed...
Anyway, for anyone whose congregation is looking a bit porky a short aerobic workout at the start of every service should get the faithful to limber up fast. Come on now, let's have a little enthusiasm...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Justice and mercy

While covering the A level syllabus I find that the older texts, written in an age steeped in Christian teaching and theology, are the most enjoyable and challenging to teach to twenty first century teenagers. Shakespearean and Jacobean drama presents challenges, not only in terms of understanding the language used, but also in grasping concepts and ideas which are now quite alien. Yet good literature, although written for a very different society, tends to deal with issues and truths which transcend any moment in history. Measure for Measure, which we have been studying this term,  has provoked some interesting debate about whether we emphasise retribution or reformation in dealing with transgressors, whether we take account of mitigating circumstances, the intention or the consequences of our actions and how it is impossible to get "justice" right.

Angelo, one of the central characters of the play, is a puritan who has no doubts about pursuing justice at the expense of mercy. He is also guilty of greater sin than those he condemns and the play seems to swing towards mercy as the greater and more divine attribute. Rather  than being a wholly modern and woolly liberal sentiment, this sense of mercy as most truly divine was evident in former times. The contrast between human and divine justice is also key; God's justice is perfect as he sees the heart, human justice is of necessity flawed. It has amazed me recently to read many conservative blogs discussing Bell's universalism and harping upon hell as "justice for all."  Just as strikingly there is  a seeming obliviousness to the Christian concept that judging is best left to God, we judge at our peril. I think Shakespeare would have smiled and thought that across the centuries puritans do not change their spots.

I leave you with Isabella's plea to Angelo to  realise his own frailty and humanity, and in that  knowledge of his own vulnerablity to find the divine quality of mercy. It is a good message for Lent and Easter as well.

                                          Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once;

                                          And He that might the vantage best have took
                                          Found out the remedy. How would you be,
                                          If He, which is the top of judgment, should
                                          But judge you as you are? O, think on that;
                                          And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
                                          Like man new made.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Guilty conscience?

The rest of the chicken tikka masala you left on the side has gone? Someone must have eaten it? Sorry, I've absolutely no idea...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Remember kids, hell is hot!

A fantastic post from Clayboy, the sort of stuff that I read and find myself nodding in agreement throughout.
I think the wisdom of this response is that it doesn't try to do away with hell, but it acknowledges the problems it raises about a God with a time limit on his love and redemptive powers. I particularly liked this section:
"I’m an agnostic about what exactly the metaphor of hell might refer to, other than a promise that injustice, and hate and hurt will be swept away, and no-one will do evil any more. Whether that is achieved by an extinguishing punishment of the evil-doers, or the transformative re-inscribing of goodness in their hearts, I do not know.

As I’ve said before, I lack the imagination to envisage how God might transform the truly evil. If I’m honest, I also probably lack the love to want him to do so. Then again, I’m part of what God needs to change. My limitations are not necessarily God’s. That’s probably a good thing."

Bell is not alone in finding that his personal insight into a loving God has led to doubts about hell. 1700 years ago, St Origen suggested that even the devil would be saved at last and Julian of Norwich in her visions also had a glimpse that the plan of an all loving God went further than angrily hurling the rejects into an ever burning furnace.

"It appears to me that there is a deed that the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures under Christ, and shall be until it has been done. -- This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.

"And I wondered greatly at this revelation, and considered our faith, wondering as follows: our faith is grounded in God’s word, and it is part of our faith that we should believe that God’s word will be kept in all things; and one point of our faith is that many shall be damned, -- And given all this, I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time.~ And I received no other answer in showing from our Lord God but this: “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well.”

What I have found rather disturbing is the sheer fury of some evangelicals at  Bell's doubts, and the shouts of "heretic". How reluctant some are to be deprived of the thought of  God sending sinners - and they are usually thinking of sinners other than themselves -to hell. I suspect some would hate to be deprived of the ability to threaten (on God's behalf of course) sinners other than themselves with eternal damnation.

If I were to define hell, I would say that hell is separation from God and from the divine within ourselves. Julian of Norwich wrote that "no greater hell was shown to me than sin." Once we start to long to send each other to hell we are a little closer to that place where we cannot see God ourselves.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Going ga-ga

Have to say that I was rather amused by this parody of Lady Gaga's Born this Way song -  they keep playing it in the gym, so it has been visited on me too many times without my consent, this feels like revenge!

Bell and Hell

I've been toying this week with whether I can really be bothered to blog on all the amazing fuss about Rob Bell and his thoughts about hell (or lack thereof.) While I am still mulling it, you can enjoy this wonderful sketch from Rowan Atkinson. (Wouldn't it be fun if Rowan Atkinson rather than Rowan Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury.) Nothing in life is as it should be...

Lift high the cross?

 I have been reading the European Court ruling that crucifixes are allowed in public school classrooms. I  know I keep wading in with my strong opinions ( that's part of the fun of blogging!) but I have to say that I do think secular schools - as opposed to faith schools - should be free of religious icons.
Let me make it quite clear that I do not think that individual pupils or teachers should  be banned from wearing religious icons or items of clothing, provided these are in line with a general school dress code/ safety regulations, nor do I have any problem with religious icons appearing as part of an educational display, for example. However, I do think that to have a cross or other religous icon prominently displayed  in, for example, the school hall or the headteacher's study sends out a message that the ethos of the school is governed by that faith rather than another.
Some people may argue that Britain is a "christian country" (I am not so sure it is anymore) and so it is acceptable for a Christian symbol to be displayed rather than any other. This is a fair point, but I am not sure it is enough - would adults want crosses prominently displayed in a secular workplace in Britain, for example? I know also that making crucifixes "illegal" is going to provoke strong headlines. I don't particularly  buy into the argument that crucifixes should be banned because children may find them distressing. I am much more concerned about the levels of violence children are exposed to in video games for example - but I am happy to be proved wrong if anyone has been traumatised by the sight of a crucifix in their classroom!

 This year I received a calendar from a Christian charity I support. I needed a calendar for my office and briefly considered using this one. I felt I couldn't because it had bible verses and overtly religious pictures on it. Students sometimes come into my office to talk about potentially sensitive areas - such as an unplanned pregnancy - and I did not want anything on the wall that might, however wrongly, give a student the impression that they were not in a neutral space where people of all faiths or none and with different beliefs and perspectives and experiences would not be treated equally.

This is not to say that my faith does not have an impact on my job, I hope it informs how I act and behave in every aspect of life. Faith entering into every aspect of your life is not the same as it being worn as a badge or ostensible symbol - and for what, and with what effect on others? Sometime it is the more Christian thing not to wear our faith on our sleeves, as long as we have it in our hearts.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Solid ground

Prayer written for the Haiti earthquake  from Liturgy

Lord, at times such as this,
When we realize that the ground beneath our feet
is not as solid as we had imagined,
We plead for your mercy.

As the things we have built crumble about us,
We know too well how small we truly are
On this ever-changing, ever-moving,
Fragile planet we call home.
Yet you have promised never to forget us.

Do not forget us now.
Comfort us, Lord, in this disaster.
Be our rock when the earth refuses to stand still,
And shelter us under your wings when homes no longer

Pierce, too, hearts with compassion,
Who watch from alongside,
Move us to act swiftly this day,
To give generously every day,
To work for justice always,
And to pray unceasingly for those without hope.

And once the shaking has ceased,
The images of destruction have stopped filling the news,
And out thoughts return to life’s daily rumblings,
Let us not forget that we are all your children
and they, our brothers and sisters.

We are all the work of your hands.
For though the mountains leave their place
And the hills be tossed to the ground,
Your love shall never leave us,
and the promise of peace will never be shaken.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth,
Blessed be the name of the Lord,
Now and forever. Amen

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

On a positive note

The Diocese of Birmingham voted on Saturday in favour of women in the episcopate of the Church of England. This was the first Diocesan vote on the law that will allow women to become bishops in the Church of England, and it was carried by 75 to 4 in favour of the legislation with its accompanying provisions for those who will not accept women as bishops. To make that endorsement even more clear, two motions that asked for even more provisions for those opposed were defeated, with only a small minority of people voting for them.

Other excellent news is the first diocesan vote on the Anglican Covenant also rejected the proposal.  Both clergy and laity (the latter overwhelmingly) rejected the Covenant at the Wakefield Diocesan Synod meeting on Saturday 12th March.

It is early days, but there it is nice to have some good news on the inclusion front, let's hope it continues!


Apologies to anyone who is finding the content of the blog a bit depressing and heavy recently, but I keep getting sent these videos, and I keep thinking that I should share them. The petition referred to is here if you are interested.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Discrimination in Kenya

I thought some of you might be interested in this  video about HIV/AIDS in Kenya.
It was issued yesterday by Christian Aid and The Guardian newspaper jointly, the first in a series of 6, one appearing each Monday, on tackling poverty in Africa. This one shows how discrimination against gay men, or men who have sex with men, means they don't have access to HIV/AIDS testing, counselling and treatment. It speaks of the very strong discrimination against sexual minorities in the churches of East Africa - but also shows the Rev. Michael Kimindu, who long ago challenged the discrimination, and started Other Sheep East Africa  as a positive ministry for sexual minorities and to encourage Christians to re-think their attitude.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Bearing with one another

I was rather taken with Rowan Williams letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion, and it is well worth reading. It struck a chord with me partly because he starts off by focusing upon the suffering and tragedies that we have seen globally these past few weeks, he makes fleeting reference to the assassinations in Pakistan, the attacks on Christians in places such as Nigeria (among others) and the suffering in Christchurch, New Zealand, followed by the awful events unfolding in Japan. There is a real sense as the letter continues of the way in which suffering both moves and troubles us. We are troubled by the human cost of these events, and also troubled by the role humans play in atrocity, we are moved by the human suffering and moved by the role humans play in alleviating that suffering.

I have struggled to know what to write about events recently. On Friday I watched the video of the tsunami sweeping onto Japan's coastline and crumpling houses, trees and cars, carrying them - and the human lives caught up in them -  effortlessly forward in a tide of debris. I almost posted the video, except to do so  felt like voyeurism, I guessed people had seen it already anyway and I didn't know what I could say that would not sound inane and futile. We often forget what the scriptures tell us, that our lives are like grass, we can be swept away and our place remembers us no more, we forget, in the preoccupations of our lives that human life itself is fragile.

 I am not at always very good at bearing with other people! I don't  always have a lot of patience and can be easily irritated, or jump to conclusions about others too quickly. On the other hand, most of my hostilities melt away when I get to know others and see their vulnerabilities.  A lot of us are like this, so the message of bearing with each other, and bearing each others burdens is not a bad one for this Lent. It is a scriptural lesson, and  a lesson that needs to be learnt by the Church but it is also a message of universal relevance. It requires a change of heart - not a signature on a supposed covenant. It requires relinquishing power and replacing it with a genuine concern for the other, and it is as valid for individuals in their private and personal lives as it is to institutions, nations and movements. It focuses our hearts on the only thing we really have in an uncertain world which is our love for each other and God's love for us, which is reflected in human love when we see it at its most generous and self giving.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The green shoots of Lent

Lent is often seen as a time of self denial and self discipline; it can be approached with a mindset that emphasises the mortification of sinful desires and an attitude of mind that “oe’r its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.” On the other hand, and just as bad in my opinion, Lent can be reduced to a kind of formula for self improvement, a chance to detox the body and mind and feel rather good and self righteous into the bargain.

I do not like the idea of self imposed suffering, but I am glad we have Lent as a metaphor to express the deserts and wildernesses that we often experience. At the heart of the Christian faith is a focus on suffering, pain and anguish and this is powerful quite simply because suffering in all its forms is the greatest theological quandary. At the heart of Christianity there is a suffering God, one who experienced both intense anguish, but also the bleakness of the wilderness, hunger, loneliness and the temptation just to take an easier option.

Metaphors are all fine, but when it comes to the actual practicalities of Lent, I don’t approach it as a time of sackcloth and ashes. There is plenty of suffering in life without it being self imposed, I have learnt my lesson and I never give anything up and don’t spend a moment weeping with self loathing! I see Lent as a time for making room for God and an opportunity for growth. It also coincides with spring, and the idea of retreat to somewhere remote brings thoughts of peace and profound healing and, after so much turbulence, a still small voice of calm.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Perfect technique!

I hope you've got your wrist action sorted. Enjoy your pancakes tonight!

Monday, 7 March 2011

The price of equality

I was talking to the students today about the new ruling that it is gender discrimination to give women cheaper car insurance on the basis that we have fewer accidents - please don't start telling me that we cause more...
I am actually all in favour of this ruling. It may indeed be the case that men, and young men in particular, have statistically more accidents, but individuals are not statistics and I can't see why responsible drivers should pay more because of the behaviour of others who just happen to be the same gender.

I will miss those Shelia's wheels ads though, don't you just love this one?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Visions of Glory

An interesting post from Lesley's Bernwode blog in which she outlines the similarities between the transfiguration and the crucifixion. The sermon at church today looked at the fact that the disciples were told not to speak of the transfiguration, and also that although it must have made a powerful impression on Peter it did not stop him from feeling fear, from losing heart, from running away and betraying Jesus. Our own personal moments of transfiguration are similar, firstly we do not perhaps fully understand them, secondly, although we may feel inspired and awe struck when experiencing them, they can fade and even be forgotten in the humdrum reality of life.

The disciples are also told not to tell people about the transfiguration, perhaps because life and faith is not about the miraculous, dramatic, awe inspiring, but  more about the ordinary, the humdrum, human relationships, suffering, failure,  rather than visions of saints. Perhaps Jesus did not want people to seek for him so much in grand visions up mountains, but in quiet moments, mending the fishing nets, or walking on a long road. I think we do need our moments of transfiguration, but  they are better and more authentic when kept private and pondered in our own hearts and minds when we are trying to make sense of it all or to find the strength to carry on.

Calling all Scumbags

 I love this church notice from the e-ChurchChristian blog, as it certainly puts the concept that Christ came for sinners into modern langugage. The concept of unworthiness/ sinfulness is not a very popular one in our society, we don't encourage people to put themselves down, or wallow in their sense of their shortcomings - and quite right as well because this can increase feelings of despondency and low self esteem. And yet, low self esteem, depression, addictions, broken lives and difficult situations are as common in our time as they ever were, I suspect. I am sure that, in spite of the mantra that "you're worth it", just as many people feel that they are maybe a scumbag.
The problems remain the same, the human need remains the same, the problem is finding the right language to express a timeless message that nobody is outside the love of God.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Not religious?

The British Humanist Association is apparently running an advertising campaign to encourage people to declare themselves as having no religious faith, rather than ticking the box and putting the ubiquitious "Religion: Church of England" response just because they were christened 46 years ago.I am not terribly interested in the census, and apparently the Government are planning for this to be the last time they conduct one (hurrrah!) but I am actually pretty much in favour of the honest and direct approach commended by the BHA.

The trouble is that questionnaires only tell you so much. I am reminded of one I was given by my son's  Roman  Catholic Primary school which asked me if I was  "Roman Catholic" "Muslim", "Jewish" "Atheist/ Agnostic" or "Other."  I was perplexed as to know quite how to answer this. I asked the receptionist who didn't understand, but suggested I ticked "other", I duly ticked this and wrote down "Christian" in the space provided. 
"We want to know which  specific religion you are", explained the Receptionist politely.
"But the Church of England is not a religion", I explained, "it is a denomination."
I remained "other" and "Christian".

 The BHA wanted to urge us:"If you're not religious, for God's sake say so"  but that was deemed  offensive by the Committee of Advertising Practice, and so the slogan was changed to "Not religious? Then say so."So now I have another problem: I am a Christian, but  by my understanding I'm really not very religious.
And I have met some people who define their faith in very interesting ways, I've even met one who feels he is  a postmodern evangelical Christian Sikh  as he was born into a Sikh family and feels the faith runs in his bloodstream, converted to Christianity, is evangelical but believes multiple perspectives have validity.

Looks like they'll need some categories saying "other", or maybe just one that says "bloody-minded."

More of the same...

It's a bit more-of- the-same I'm afraid, but I thought some readers might be interested by two recent items in the news, one about a leaked report from the Church of Scotland on the "threat to unity" cause by vicars in same sex unions, the other a case that I have not seen mooted in the UK media about an openly  gay Methodist minister in Wisconsin who is facing expulsion after informing the church that she has entered into a civil partnership and conducted a blessing for another couple.

What struck me with both cases is that, despite the more moderate reaction of the majority, it is the extremes that people focus on. It seems that in the Church of Scotland case,  19.4 % said they would leave the church if a ban on openly gay clergy was lifted, but then 10% would leave if it was not lifted - so I suppose a large majority sat somewhere between those extremes?  In the Wisconsin case the priest concerned  is, from what I have read, extremely well thought of and respected and has been praised for her "courage" even in the report which calls for her dismissal.

So, a priest who remains closeted but had "casual" sexual relationships would probably be tolerated  in both churches, one who is open and honest about a committed relationship has to be thrown to the lions. And that really is  more of the same...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

They're coming for our kids...

An excellent post about the recent case brought by Eunice and Owen Johns.  There has been an awful lot of misleading and hysterical coverage about this, including claims that Christians will be deemed unfit parents and have their children taken away.  This is not to say that parents with negative views about homosexuality do not damage their children, because it is my firm opinion that they do. However parents damage their children in all sorts of ways, and there has to be evidence of a fairly serious threat to the welfare of a child before it is taken away. For a start the costs would be prohibitive if social services took children into care because their parents were homophobic, racist, sexist, had an unhealthy diet, smoked etc, but rather different standards apply to care provided under the auspices of the state.
I blogged on the issue of foster parents here, and don't have a lot more to add other than that it is rather depressing to see the way in which the anxieties of fundamentalist Christians, who are certainly feeling beleaguered  in  our  secular society, have coalesced around this issue almost to the extent that you would think it was the be all and end all of everything it means to be a follower of Christ!