Saturday, 30 April 2011

Friends and fellowship

I have had a busy week! On Tuesday we travelled down to London, partly to see our niece's baby, but  also to do some sight seeing - we did not go down to see the wedding, in fact we missed it while travelling back yesterday! Today I went to Manchester for a meeting of a fellowship group I belong to, only a few of us made it but we had a lovely time, great meal and some good conversations.

When we meet up we usually spend some time in a church, so we visited Manchester Cathedral for some quiet time to think and pray ( and take photos!), one member of our group was also from Zimbabwe, and there was a group outside the Cathedral asking people to sign a petition calling for the end to abuses of human rights in Zimbabwe. I spoke to one of the men a little about the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.

There are some photos above and more here for anyone not too bored by my snaps.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Blog notice

Blogging will be light or non existent for the next few days. Next month is likely to be a difficult one for me and I am taking a little while out to find time for myself and my family.

Wedding blues

 I hope the devout monarchists amongst you will forgive me for not providing wall to wall coverage of you- know-what in a few days time,  I shall be otherwise engaged! I recommend logging on to Anglican Mainstream to benefit from their views about the upcoming nuptials; some recent speculation has focused on  whether the event will encourage lots of Brits currently living in sin to decide to get married instead. I just hope none of the  slags, hussies, already sampled brides will follow Ms Middleton's example of wearing a white dress or omit the all important promise to obey their husbands- the state of the world nowadays!
Below is  a training video giving women hints on remaining pure and finding a husband.

Surprised by Joy

A report here on what sounds to be a lovely Easter sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury. I love to see genuine joy in people at Easter, or indeed at any time. I agree that a part of faith is to be open to it and that it can come at the most surprising times and in the most unexpected circumstances.
"The Christian, the Archbishop said, was not someone who had accepted a particular set of theories about the universe but someone who “lived by the power of the joy that is laid bare in the event of the resurrection of Jesus”.

“Ultimately, joy is about discovering that the world is more than you ever suspected, and so that you yourself are more than you suspected."
“The joy of the resurrection has a unique place in Christian faith and imagination because this event breaks open the shell of the world we thought we knew and projects us into the new and mysterious realm in which victorious mercy and inexhaustible love make the rules."

And he also wrote this lovely letter from God. Fantastic! Let's hope Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion can  find a way to be governed by joy and love more than by fear and division.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Friday, 22 April 2011

Doubting

 A reader of this blog sent me this link today in response to the post below about a God of flesh and blood. It is a passion written and performed on Good Friday.  I am always really touched when people respond to my posts, especially if what I write recalls personal thoughts or  memories.  I've transcribed some of the words of this passion below, it is rather beautiful and worth listening to, especially if listened to on Easter Saturday -  a day marked by failure, vulnerability and doubt.

                Let me see your hands and feel that they're real      
                Let me see your side, pierced by steel.
                               
                Oh Lord, I want to believe
                But I've only a human heart
                Beating in my breast.

God of flesh and blood

Were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
(T.S.Eliot : Journey of the Magi)


  Good poems and writings about the incarnation usually anticipate the crucifixion and in the same way our understanding of the crucifixion should be linked to a God who took on human flesh and all its concomitant woes of suffering fear, vulnerability, hope and despair. T. S. Eliot depicts Christ’s birth as “bitter agony, like death, our death”, a total contrast to the saccharine depictions of the Nativity as a sweet smelling scene of fragrant hay and cute lambs and donkeys when it would have been a place of blood, sweat, shit, pain, disease, exhaustion, all in a setting of extreme poverty and followed by the threat of persecution and death.

The problem of coming to terms with the idea of a flesh and blood God is shown in some of the early “heresies” of the Church; the heresy that “Christ flowed through Mary as water through a pipe”, may show a sense that a completely flesh and blood deity is somewhat sacrilegious, an idea certainly held by Muslims who, I believe, find the idea of the Son of God profane. Eliot’s linking of birth and death works on several levels, not only that Christ was born to die, but perhaps that this is the fate of all humanity and that it is in its appeal to our humanity that Christianity can speak most profoundly. Edward Young wrote that “Our birth is nothing but our death begun / as tapers wane the moment they take fire” – to be born is to die, God being born brings the inevitability of death, as it does for all. Birth and death frame our existence, we often talk of the miracle of birth, we speak much less of the miracle of death, yet both events are shrouded in mystery. None of us remembers anything of our birth and none of us knows what it is to die. These common, everyday events are shrouded in unknowing.

The narrative of Christ coming to earth to die is mythic as much as anything. The birth and death of Christ, as Eliot conveys, takes us into areas we do not fully understand, into the borderland of our experience as human beings and challenges us to confront ourselves as creatures that are constrained by flesh and struggle with the knowledge of our mortality. In crib and cross the universal is found in the particular, metaphor is embodied in flesh in a way that allows us to make meaning. That meaning is complex and so Christian mythology works predominantly through paradox. God’s fleshly intervention in human life leads not to the polarity of birth and death that governs our lives, but offers us resurrection, in all its forms. Death dies, hope comes from despair, God becomes man so that man may know God, we lose life to gain it, we die in order to be reborn eternally. The shock of a God of flesh rends apart the rules that govern us as flesh.

There is another strand to the concept of a God of flesh- the message that our humanity, the element of us which is flesh and blood, is to be embraced rather than denied. If God participated in our ordinary life of flesh, then meaning is to be found in the things of this world, in talk and meals and friendship, in laughter and in despair, suffering and disease, in short in our humanity, for which God is an advocate as much as, if not more than, he is a judge.

We have seen a year already marked by suffering, flesh that is at the mercy of natural disasters or oppressed by tyrannous regimes. This Good Friday I know that I still struggle to understand this world and all its joy and sorrow as much as I struggle to understand – or want to understand - the world beyond. This Good Friday I am all for a God of flesh.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

20 things to do with Matzah



A church that I used to attend had a Pesach meal every Maundy Thursday, we would do all the stuff with the matzah, maror and charoset, along with explanations and follow it all up with a nice lamb casserole and some wine. I was quite amused by this little video suggesting twenty uses for leftover Matzah.
H/t Liturgy

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Humanly speaking


Further to the post below, we don't expect certain people to swear do we? Like Kings or vicars (ha ha ha ha! How funny is that, huh?) or - Jesus? I am not meaning to cause offence, but if Jesus was fully human, did he swear eg, "fucking Pharisees", or even, "sod it -  crucifixion tomorrow!"? Of course, there are lots of other problems which arise around the concept of Christ as fully human and fully divine, not least whether this is possible, or whether you personally believe in Christ's divinity.
 One of the things I heard touched on in a sermon this week was whether Jesus had doubts about his own divinity, whether he would have been confident that he would rise again, or whether in the Garden of Gethsemene he wondered how far all of his perception of God's will for him and his identity was an illusion.
How human was Jesus?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

WTF?

As Good Friday draws nearer and our minds turn to the problem of suffering (or how many Easter eggs you are going to get, depending on your lights) you can forget all that pious stuff about the need to suffer in silence! According to a study at  swearing is good for you. The research involved people putting their hands into very hot water while swearing or refraining from swearing and the result was that the swearers coped better with pain - something to do with the bodies capacity to produce endorphins while swearing. But before the profane get too complacent, those in the study who didn't generally swear much derived a greater benefit from the expletives than those who swore as a matter of course.

So, now you know, like a glass of wine, swearing is good for you, but only in moderation.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Just a bit silly?

Well, it looks like we have another story about the "persecution" of Christians in our secular society.Colin Atkinson, a 64-year-old electrician in Wakefield, West Yorkshire faces the sack for displaying a palm cross in his van.  It all started when his bosses at the Wakefield and District Housing complex received an anonymous complaint about the cross.
Now, let's be clear that Mr Atkinson is not facing "persecution" for his Christian faith, he is facing disciplinary action because he refused to remove a personal item from the van at his employer's request. It is not a stipulation of the Christian faith that you should display a palm cross in your work vehicle, the vehicle is not private property and I guess the employer has the right to call the shots on this one.
That said, the complaint does seem extremely petty! I am not keen on anonymous complaints anyhow and there really are more important things in life than whether your builder has a palm cross on his dashboard! Such a complaint is arguably vexatious (especially as it was anonymous ) and it is ridiculous that such a trivial matter should be allowed to escalate to the level of disciplinary action involving termination of employment.
That said, it often takes two to tango; some might suggest that the mature way to respond might be for the employee to  remove the cross. This is not to say that either Mr Atkinson or the employer tried to escalate the matter instead of finding reasonable ways to resolve it- it is for the courts to decide the rights and wrongs.

But, what a fuss and waste and time and money over an entirely trivial matter!

Spring Lambs

Very Easter-like! Beautiful weather yesterday, so we embarked on a long country walk and saw some of the lambs grazing, bleating and bounding around - fortunately well out of the way of our very daft dog.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Analyse your blog style


I write like
J. D. Salinger
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

I found the above blog analyser on The Vernacular Curate (aka Margaret Atwood,  feminist writer and poet!) I wanted James Joyce, or Emily Bronte - yes, I do know they are completely different, but apparently I write like J.D. Salinger and I can live with that quite nicely. However, it is a complete scam, I seem to have a bit of a split personality as different blog posts brought up different authors.  Probably the most common was H.P. Lovecraft - and I must confess that this literary genius had escaped my knowledge; after a little research on the Internet uncovered the fact he was a horror writer, I  conveniently ignored it. Further submissions suggested a similarity to Dan Brown - now that's just silly! The whole concept of analysing a blog for similarities to authors is entirely ridiculous anyway as most blog posts are not fictional writing and do not share the same sort of  structure, creation of narrative voice or draw on the literary techniques you would expect to find in a novel.

Good fun though!

Palm Sunday

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Manawa o te Wheke rejects Covenant

Manawa o te Wheke Diocesan Synod in the province of Aotearoa- New Zealand and Polynesia  has unanimously rejected the Anglican Covenant; it is the first diocese to vote on the matter. I have to admit that, despite reading and commenting on a number of ACANZP blogs ( Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia), I know very little about the attitudes and approach to the Covenant in this province and had thought it was somewhat conservative.
Incidentally, I was referred to as a "Covenant denier" (along with others) on such a blog just this last week  by someone for whom I have a lot of respect, the connotations of the term, and the fact that we might start inventing labels and insults around a document intended to bring us together, did take me aback.
Speaking of bridges, let's remember how important our language is. Even when we strongly disagree it is unhelpful to invent terms, or  make sweeping assumptions or imputations on either side.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Approaching Holy week

When we have let ourselves go and no longer belong to ourselves, when we have denied ourselves and no longer have the disposing of ourselves…we begin to live in the world of God himself, the world of grace and eternal life. (Karl Rahner, Reflections on the Experience of Grace)

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Bridges not walls

I don't suppose this will come as much of a surprise to anyone, but the diocese of LA has rejected the proposed Anglican Covenant. Conservatives on the other extreme have also already rejected it. In short, the Covenant has little or no chance of uniting us, my main fear is that it will just prove another focal point for division and bitterness. In spite of that, I think there is a good chance that it will be adopted in the UK, mainly out of loyalty to Rowan Williams. I am divided as to whether I think adopting the Covenant will cause us to stagnate as a Church (what more than we are at the moment?) or whether it will not make a blind bit of difference and simply prove a colossal waste of paper!

The report is worth reading, it lays out the reasons for rejecting the Covenant and hopes that we can emphasise the positive, not the negatives, and build "bridges not walls."

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Banning the veil

Amnesty International has condemned the detention of several people, including two women wearing the full-face veil, who were protesting against the new law banning the burka being worn in public in France. Police said the people were detained for joining an unauthorised protest in central Paris.

John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International said of the ban:

“Women in France have the right to freedom of religion and expression. They must also be free to protest when this right is violated. This law puts France to shame – a country that prides itself on the human rights it claims to promote and protect, freedom of expression included.”

I would support heavy penalties for anyone who coerces a woman to wear the veil, and I think there are certain jobs for which it cannot be worn and situations where it is necesssary to show the face (especially in the interests of security.)  I personally object to the concept that a woman must cover her whole body and face in the interests of modesty, I have never heard anything which suggests to me it is a necessary part of Islam, but at the same time I cannot see how an individual's choice to wear the veil in public poses any threat to human rights or civil liberties.  It disturbs me to hear of people being detained for what seemed to be peaceful protest. What do people think?

Nick Holtam next Bishop of Salisbury

News today that Nick Holtam is to be the next Bishop of Salisbury. He will be the first bishop married to a divorcee to be appointed, although I think there are those who have married divorcees after their appointment. Nick Holtam is  Liberal Catholic, a member of Inclusive Church and his appointment has been welcomed by liberals. He supported Changing Attitude in holding their 10th anniversary at St Martin's in the Fields and welcomed Gene Robinson to attend. Not everyone is happy, but I pray he sticks to his principles.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Euro Pride



 Someone sent me this video this week. It was made to explain why  "Nuova Proposta" (New Proposal) will be at Euro Pride.  LGBT christian groups in Britain are allied to groups elsewhere in the world through various organisations such as the European Forum for LGBT Christians. I was asked to share this as it is a "kind of manifesto" and an attempt to change hearts and minds as well as to encourage Christians, regardless of orientation, to show a  supportive Christian presence at such events.

Rob Bell refutes critics


Just a short clip in which Rob Bell refutes  claims that he is not a christian. I've said before that I think the furore tells us more about his critics than about anything else. I like his last line - has anyone actually read "Love wins out" by the way (I haven't.)

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Comfort food

Feeling a bit down after some news on Friday - don't ask because I can't say - so decided on food therapy. First of all my son cooked pancakes for me at lunchtime, and then I repaid him by whisking up this coffee and walnut cake, which went down a treat with a cup of tea. I did also go down the gym later, but I am unsure if that is enough to atone for the high calorie count.

 Easy Coffee and Walnut Cake

2tbsp chicory and coffee essence
175g (6oz)  softened butter or baking margarine
175g (6oz) caster sugar
3 medium eggs
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
100g (31/2 oz) walnuts, crushed up

Filling:

125g (4oz) butter, softened
250g (6oz) icing sugar
1-2tbsp chicory and coffee essence
6-8 walnut halves

1. Cream the margarine and caster sugar until fluffy
2. Beat in the eggs a little at a time
3.Add the coffee essence
4. Sift in the flour and fold into the mixture
5. Place in two 7inch baking tins and cook for 25-30 mins at 170c
or 150c for fan assisted  ovens.
6. Turn out and cool
7. Cream the butter, icing sugar and coffee essence together
8. Spread half as filling, half as topping and decorate with walnuts.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Compassion


I quite liked this video and thought it had some relevance to my last post. It is from Bosco Peter's wonderful Liturgy blog - now fully back up and running following  a three weeks hiatus after the Christ Church earthquake.

Question for the day -  is God more interested in how we treat others or in what we believe?

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Beauty and brokenness


I don't watch many of those quasi- documentary programmes that focus on the extreme and sensational. I try to steer clear of titles such as "Fat kids camp", "Britain's most embarrassing body parts" or "World's ugliest people" as I worry that they pander to the freak show streak in human nature. I do think that they are almost purely entertainment and I am not sure that we learn much from them - other than perhaps that it is inadvisable to gorge on pizza and chips around the clock - and most of us knew that without having to watch a 60 stone man winched out of bed. Last night, however, I did sit and watch an episode of "Katie Piper, my beautiful friends" and, although I had all the usual reservations, I was moved by the story of  twenty five year old Amit who suffers from neurofibromatis.

Amit's condition is incurable and since he was a little boy he has undergone many operations to de-bulk the tumours on his face, which will never stop growing. At 14 Amit's left eye had to be removed, damaged irrevocably by the tumours. He now has a prosthetic eye in its place. His father, who was an inspiration to him and always called him "the brave boy", died last year. Amit said, "I think he was the one who taught me to be brave."  Close to the end of the programme Amit saw his spinal surgeon who told him that a curvature of his spine needed to be operated on - and that this operation might well leave him in a wheelchair and incontinent. Amit went very still as though he was concentrating and steadying himself,  but he received the news calmly, only saying later at the bus stop, "I sometimes wonder why I don't cry", briefly mentioning that he sometimes wonders "why me?"

Many of those who face the most extreme difficulties often do so with a phlegmatic courage that I find inspiring.  I am not suggesting for one moment that that is true of everyone who faces extreme adversity, but  it often seems to be. I sometimes wonder if there is something in extremity itself which allows those reserves of courage, resilience and wisdom to be released and if there is something in ease and comfort that makes us complacent, expecting life to hand us everything we ask for? It made me think  of that text in Romans, that suffering brings perseverance and perseverance brings character. I think it then goes on to say that character brings hope - I am not so sure about that one and may need to ponder it a little longer!

 The idea that suffering is somehow good for the soul  can take us into dangerous territory - it is only surpassed by the idea that God chastises those he loves as one of the most detestable and smug ideas ever peddled. Suffering is usually just bloody awful and not much fun or good for us at all, if that is love, you can keep it! I never know how to respond in any rational or coherent way to the theological problems raised by the brutal fact of suffering - and so much suffering - in human existence.  I've experienced some suffering in life, though not on the scale that someone like Amit has, and I find my greatest solace in promises of comfort, such as that line in Deuteronomy that "underneath are the everlasting arms", or the promise in Revelation that "every tear will be wiped away", or in Jeremiah that God has "plans to give us a future and a hope."

The lines above express love, and when we are faced with suffering, honesty and acceptance and love seem very precious. I know this goes very little way towards providing any sort of answer to the problem of why a loving God would allow suffering, but if anyone has a better one then please tell me!

Has made a good start...

I was quite pleased to see another mention on Lesley's blog this week. Lesley very kindly submitted this blog to the Wiki UK religious blog rankings on my behalf last month. Now, I don't really understand about the rankings seeing as I am  a woman (ha ha, only joking darlings...) but it is always nice to get a mention in a postive context and at number 64 I was reasonably proud, especially as there was a little arrow next to the blog title and the legend "going up."
The whole thing vaguely reminded me of my school reports. Do you remember back in the days when teachers were allowed to be ridicule you using sarcasm or worse and the school reports mercilessly gave you a class ranking? The self same person was always first in the class (that would be Church Mouse then) and a few hopefuls jockeyed for second and third positions. Presumably some poor soul was almost always 39 or 40 out of 40 and is now attending the low self esteem class. (None of those jokes about "please use the back door" now.)
It might be nice if Wiki rankings could introduce evaluations along the "tries hard, lacks ability" line. We have a wonderful collection of report comments in our family including Mr. M's mathematics teacher, "teaching M Mathematics is a singularly unrewarding occupation", which I would personally have prefered to the more kindly intentioned, "Sue is an aimable student who struggles with numbers" - which patently meant "nice but dim."
So,  "excellent progress","must try harder", "room for improvement" or even "insolent oaf." The main thing at the end of the day is that you know who you are...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Like a fish needs a bicycle?

 Hot on the heels of my post yesterday about the need to tread lightly when it comes to our sacred texts comes the news of A.C. Grayling's secular/ humanist bible. The idea of an atheist's bible doesn't fill me with apoplectic rage, I feel no urge to denounce it as heresy, on the contrary it seems a rather whimsical idea, they've got a perfect right to it and I am already hoping we don't hear any cries of outrage or indignation from various quarters. However I do wonder why on earth an atheist wants or needs a bible? If  they are interested in religious, philosophical and theological ideas, then they would be much better advised to read the unexpurgated versions of sacred texts, myths and legends and see the unsavoury bits for what they are- part of the tendency within religious belief towards the violent and punitive. 
It sounds as if what Grayling has produced is a kind of compilation of  myths, Christian or otherwise  and key ideas in philosophy and ideologies. I have a bit of a problem anyhow with rewriting myths and stories in a more palatable and anodyne form -they are meant to be full of bloodshed and conflict, or they lose the visceral nature of their message. I wonder if Grayling has tampered with the philosophy in the book , or with the Darwinism in it, by the way? I haven't read Grayling's offerings, of course, and his book may be a great read and might even take the hard work out of reading certain texts for yourself - but is it really a bible - isn't it more an encyclopedia or a compliation of texts and ideas, one you might turn to but which wouldn't take precedence over any other text in shaping your thoughts about the world or your relationship to it?
After all, to borrow a phrase, surely an atheist needs a bible like a fish needs a bicycle?

Monday, 4 April 2011

Religions of the book



Religious fundamentalism, of whatever ilk, shows us all that is worst in human nature, an ignorance, insensitivity and cruelty that inhabits its own closed system and is often deaf and blind to reason or compassion. I quite like this little video, which points out the irony that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all religions of the book and share much of their sacred texts in common.

Sacred texts are dangerous things in hateful hands. As we have seen in the last few days people will not only die for the ideas within their holy texts, but kill for those ideas as well. Even when we do not kill, some of the ideas in sacred texts, when not seen in context and interpreted through the lens of sense and humanity, can cause great misery in people's lives. Fundamentalism relies on its holy texts to provide a mandate for its hatred and cruelty. We should all recognise that the holy texts of all religions need to be handled with care.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mothering Sunday - caring and sharing

Mothering Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to value mothers, but it can also be a very painful day for some. A friend of mine confided in me only this week that she dreads this weekend because it brings to mind the years of IVF, the longing for a child, the disappointment which slowly turned to grief, the feelings of failure, the memories of the way it has affected her relationship with her husband, the way it has made it hard for her to be natural and happy for fertile friends and family members. She tries to be cheerful, she visits her own mum and gives her flowers and cards then goes home to her own childless house and can't block out the pain.

There are other people for whom Mother's day can be painful, those who have lost children, or whose relationship with them is broken. Having children can make you very vulnerable - bearing their pain and coping with their problems often brings greater anguish than bearing your own! Then there are those who feel let down by their mothers, or whose childhood or upbringing has not been particularly happy or healthy. Finally some of us may feel rather rather ambivalent about Mother's Day and the way motherhood is idealised on mothering Day cards can irritate us or perhaps just make us feel we don't quite match up to that perfect ideal!
I am not suggesting that we replace "Mothering Sunday" with some politically correct monstrosity such as "Carers Day", but I do think the focus could be more on the fact that we can all "mother" and that we have all been "mothered" by those who care for us, encourage us, teach us and help us to be strong - at any stage in our life. St Augustine wrote of the God who is mother as well as father to us, and of course other Christians are brothers and sisters. Churches can be like families as well, sometimes they extend a welcome to all and live with each others faults, and sometimes something very different happens and churches can be places where we are broken down, controlled or even abused, not respected or valued or built up.
This Mothering Sunday I pray that our individual churches, and our Anglican Communion can operate like a good family, where we may not be able to agree on everything, but where we still manage to assure all that they are loved and welcomed.