Monday, 31 December 2012

Incarnation and atrocity

Of all the stories in the news this Christmas period, the news of the student who died after being raped in New Dehli, and  that of the church organist who died after an attack on his way to church on Christmas eve, must surely rate as among the most harrowing and disturbing.  I wrote earlier of the impossible message of peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, and perhaps it is to temper this message that straight after Christmas we have Holy Innocents and St Stephen's day;  human cruelty and atrocity continues to flourish in spite of Christmas.
To attack another human being, someone simply going about their business and living their life, and to so to end their life in a violent and traumatic way bringing untold sadness to their friends and relatives, creates a sense of revulsion in most people. We might wonder what the message of the Incarnation- of God with us- says to the perpetrators of evil as well as to its victims. I believe that the Incarnation dignifies humanity. God becoming human speaks to us of a God who sees in human kind, in spite of its fallen nature, a place where the divine can reside and where love can transform our tendency  to seek to have power over others, to the point sometimes of brutality and hatred.
What of those who perpetrate acts of cruelty against others? They certainly lack empathy, they lack a sense of others as human, but more than this I think they lack a sense of self, a sense of themselves as human beings and of the dignity inherent in this. My hope for this coming year is that we might have a sense of the dignity of being human and to see in all others and in ourselves whatever it is that God sees in us that makes Him love us so much that He chose to do the unthinkable and incomprehensible and make his dwelling with us.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Prince of Peace

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

I heard this poem on Radio 4 this morning and thought about  the impossible but lovely Christmas message of peace on Earth and about how sometimes we need to  believe in and to rest in the grace of the world. The picture above was taken at  a place I go to when I need to feel peace.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Risk of Birth

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine Engle

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christ the tiger

This interesting post from the  i-Benedictine blog asks whether we live in a society which is too angry for its own good. We do live in times when instantaneous comment on events can be immoderate and show a lack of wider awareness or a consideration of different perspectives or other’s feelings. However, anger is not necessarily always a negative or an unchristian emotion and I think we have to avoid straying into the trap of thinking that Christianity does not or cannot involve a range of emotional responses. In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist presents Christ in terms that are far from sweet and gentle. John says that Christ will come with a “winnowing fork in his hand to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”, and Jesus was certainly more than capable of anger, he overturned the money tables in the temple and spoke out when he saw injustice – and when he saw religious abuse and narrowness he used immoderate terms such as “brood of vipers” and “whited sepulchres.” Today’s reading brought to mind for me a quote from T.S.Eliot’s poem Gerontion,

In the juvenescence of the year, came Christ the tiger.”

So what are we to make of a Saviour who was not afraid to show anger and who wields a winnowing fork? The Catholic Church proclaimed anger to be one of the deadly sins, yet it is an emotion that is not wrong in itself but only in how we deal with it. It is true to say, in fact, that when we do not acknowledge anger then it can cause us most harm. We need to understand that there is a time for anger just as there is a time for forgiveness. Anger which is suppressed can ultimately boil over in irrational and excessive rage, anger which is not controlled can lead to hatred and violence, anger which we hold on to but feel impotent in the face of can cause us despair and bitterness. Anger which is not well managed is destructive to ourselves and others.

I think it is important to acknowledge anger as this can in itself be healing, then we need to decide whether we can use our anger in productive ways to bring about change or whether, if the situation is outside of our control, we will ultimately have to let that anger go. I love this hymn written by John Bell of the Iona community, and I don’t know why churches don’t sing this more often, because it gives us a challenging and realistic picture of a Christ who could encompass the extremes of emotion – from righteous anger to a healing compassion and tells us that, in this Advent season, that he came to be with us fully, and to rage as well as to suffer.
( the lyrics are so meaningful that I have posted them below.)

Jesus Christ is waiting,

Waiting in the streets
No one is his neighbour
All alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger,
Fit to wait on you.

Jesus Christ is raging,
Raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals
And real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes
Let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing,
Healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer,
Touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I have pity too.
Let my care be active,
Healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing,
Dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred
He, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard
Let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling,
Calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus,
Let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me;
I will follow you.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Padlocked freedom

OK, OK... I said I wasn't going to blog about women bishops or gay marriage - and I won't for long- but I can't help mulling a few thoughts about the latest announcement that it will remain illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to conduct same sex ceremonies.

1. First of all, I do feel relief on behalf of those priests I know who would not want to carry out same sex marriage ceremonies as I  do agree that it would be appalling if anyone should face legal threats as a result of acting on their conscience in respect of  refusing to conduct a same sex marriage.  Overall, I think this is a sad decision but the right one given the circumstances and I  sincerely hope it will offer reassurance.

 2.  I can't help feeling  the Church has been sidelined; it has been granted the protections it requires and will be regarded as having less stake in the whole issue. I also can't help feeling that the Church doesn't belong to us all - but then I felt that already.

3. Mrs Miller promised a "quadruple lock" to protect religious freedoms. The image of a quadruple lock is not an appealing one and the language of a padlocked freedom seemed strangely paradoxical and the image of that lock immediately made me think of that Advent theme of prisons.

God of justice and mercy, we look to you to teach us your way of love that offers us the only key which can release us from the prisons we create for ourselves and the prisons we inflict upon others. Amen.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Advent Prison

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today's reading from Philipians is so upbeat, so full of thanks, praise and confidence that the God who "began a good work in us with carry it on to completion"  that it is easy to miss the fact that Paul wrote it "in chains". There are many kinds of prisons in our lives, those we create for ourselves and those we create for others out of our abuse or privilege. We only have to read the news to see on a daily basis the fact that humans are often better at creating prisons than in allowing freedom to flourish. Part of the promise of Advent is the promise of freedom, or as Isaiah put it, " to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness  the prisoners." Light in darkness and freedom from chains when seen as metaphors for a release from worldly woes create an inspiring ideal -  one which a cynic might well reject as pie in the sky.  Paul's words are those of a man who may be physically captive but who has achieved a mental and spiritual freedom because of his dependence on God. The next paragraph goes on to explore the paradox that Paul's chains advance the gospel and might make us consider that the Good News does not promise us freedom from our difficulties but rather freedom in spite of them. Paul's imprisonment is a metaphor for Advent because he waits with hope, with trust in God and in the knowledge that ,even while held captive to difficulties and constraints, God can still complete a good work in us if we rely on Him.

Advent Prayer

As streets fill with shoppers
Bright lights and tempting offers
Christmas songs and children’s laughter
You lead us along a different path
To a desert river and a Prophetic voice
A call to repentance
A call to service
A call to immerse ourselves
In living water that will never run dry
A call to prepare a way in our own lives
For the Saviour of the world to enter in
To know the touch of tender mercy
And rest in your forgiving love
For your faithful prophets
And your Living Word
We give you thanks. Amen

Attribution : Christian prayers and resources

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Peaceful Shepherd

I am not going to blog this Advent on anything to do with women bishops, gay marriage or the conflicts within the church and between church and state. These things will still be there and still be being fought over long, long after the angels have brought their tidings of great joy!
You may know the works of Robert Frost, one of his best loved poems is The Road Not Taken , this one below may be less familiar but I though of it when a  recent Advent calendar door bore the message, "His name shall be called the Prince of Peace."

The Peaceful Shepherd

If heaven were to do again,
And on the pasture bars,
I leaned to line the figures in
Between the dotted starts,

I should be tempted to forget,
I fear, the Crown of Rule,
The Scales of Trade, the Cross of Faith,
As hardly worth renewal.

For these have governed in our lives,
And see how men have warred.
The Cross, the Crown, the Scales may all
As well have been the Sword.

At Advent, John the Baptist exhorts us, although in less than peaceful terms, to take the road less travelled, while Mary's Magnificat shows a God whose power is not simply a grander and cosmic reflection of human power but something entirely different.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The risk of trust

The almost embarrassingly common recurrence of barren women in the Old Testament is a brilliant metaphor for “I can’t do it, but God can—and will!” This is summed up and personified in the Virgin Mary, but it is still the same Jewish symbol. In Mary, and in us, we see our own incapacity to make spiritual things happen by our own devices, by our own intelligence, and with our own bodies, but we can receive, trust, and allow God to do it in us and through us.

Many translations of Luke’s Magnificat use the wonderful phrase “God has regarded me in my lowliness” (Luke 1:48). This French-based word regardez means to look at twice, or look at again, or look at deeply. Mary allows herself to be looked at with God's deeper and more considered gaze. When we do that, God’s eyes always become more compassionate and merciful. And so do ours if we regard anything.

The reflection above was written by Richard Rohr and it seems to tie in with the idea  I've been pondering this year of  Advent as teaching us about our dependence on God. Mary is often depicted as  passive in a rather sappy looking way, which is strange as anyone who accepts the commission she does would have to be made of pretty tough stuff. Preparedness or receptiveness is not quite the same as passivity but is rather about openess, and part of that is openess to intimacy with God, openess to change and to transformation. “The Incarnation”, has been described as, “not only the work of the Father, of His Power and His Spirit: it was also the work of the will and the faith of the Virgin” (St. Nikolas Cabasilas). And so for us as well, reliance upon God is not a spineless passivity but rather  a conscious act which engages us heart, mind and soul and involves courage and risk.

Monday, 3 December 2012

This dark world's light

    "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light"
So read the scripture verse behind the first window of my Advent calendar on Saturday. I love the season of Advent with its awe, mystery and promise and I thought what a lovely verse this one is to begin with and to proclaim the hope of Advent. I've been thinking about that verse from time to time since then and the line, " I heard the voice of Jesus say, I am this dark world's light" from the hymn below came to mind. I thought about how the hymn reflects a longing for Christ in the face of weariness with the world.

This evening I also read  this reflection on light in the darkness from the i-Benedictine blog. I hope you find it meaningful.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Advent stillness

Advent is sometimes described as a time of preparation but the word preparation can often suggest a state where we are very active and in control and in many ways Advent should be the opposite of this, it should be a time of waiting for something that is beyond our control. The preparation of Advent involves repentance and an openess to joy and hope, but part of this is a recognition that we are waiting for an event whose nature and timing lies entirely in God's hands. Perhaps this is why Christmas hymns such as Silent Night or Little Town of Bethlehem start off with images of silence and stillness, the world holds its breath as we wait  for a deliverance and salvation that we are powerless to achieve ourselves.
     The first verse of Christina Rossetti's In the Bleak Mid Winter offers a beautiful winter's scene that is undoubtedly very English - but I wonder if the earth as hard as iron and the water like a stone is also a metaphor for the world paralysed and held in the grip of sin, a concept similar to that used by C.S. Lewis when he describes Narnia where it is always Winter and never Christmas. Isaiah writes, "Oh that you would tear down the heavens and descend". Advent is about a state of longing and looking, about being receptive. It is more about  a preparedness that involves stillness or even passivity than a preparation involving hustle and bustle.
     I am going to be very busy this Advent because there is a lot of preparation for Christmas left to do! I think will also have an Advent that will be very reflective. We are told to "Be still and know that I am God" and the preparation of Advent is to contemplate with a sense of awe a God who is infinitely huge, powerful, wise and in control before we see him tiny, naked and vulnerable in a manger.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Same sex marriage by Christmas?

 There are reports in the media that the Government may push through the laws on same sex marriage before Christmas.  I must say that I really do doubt that things could be resolved, or indeed should be resolved with that sort of break neck speed- but then maybe I've just got too used to the pace of  Synod...

 One thing is clear though and that is that the Church has hardly left itself in a strong position to speak up with any shred of credibility on matters involving discrimination or equality...As Tony Baldry said in Parliament,
 "I suspect that every right hon. and hon. Member has recently had representations from Church members on same-sex marriage. If the Church of England thinks that Parliament will listen to it with considerable attention on moral issues such as same-sex marriage and so on when the Church of England seems to be so out of step on other issues of concern to Parliament, it is simply deluding itself."

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Women bishops legislation and the presence of God

I didn't hear this news until on my way home at gone six thirty, which is a daft time to be coming home when you've been up since six, but that's another story. I wasn't conscious of anything other than a profound relief that for quite some time now I have considered myself very much a child of God but not really a member of the Church of England. I attend church services in the same way that I attend Quaker meetings; I am not a Quaker, but I am happy to worship alongside. My main dilemma is whether I should continue to be an attender in the Church of England when I feel so uneasy with the discriminatory attitudes that are institutionalised in the church as a whole. I honestly don't know. I go because the church I attend is a place where I feel the presence of God, I like the people, I enjoy the hymns, I benefit from the preaching. The last time I left the church, I did find it was more of a struggle to maintain my faith and my walk with God.

But I have my Quaker worship now, and although I would miss so much about the Church of England,  I have found in the silence of Quaker meetings a strong and sure sense of God. Having to be silent for a whole hour in the presence of others has taught me to move beyond prayer as a recitation or a list (I am a bit of a list person...) and to be still and know God. Quakers do not have creeds or a fixed set  of beliefs. I do not think the believer is less accountable as a result, I think they are more accountable because the accountability is to God and their  conscience, not to what someone tells them to think and do. At the same time, Quaker worship does throw people back on their inner resources and I suspect it works best for those who  already have a strong spirituality. It occurs to me that maybe I am being patronising here - maybe we all have this capacity if we only take time to find it?

 One of the things that I've understood more fully this year is that any religious group is just a group of human beings whether it is Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Quaker. There is no "church of God" because God resides not in structures but in human beings themselves, and certainly doesn't limit himself to human beings of any creed, race or religion. God is not defined by us and yet God  chooses to make his- or her-  dwelling within the human heart. This is the main lesson that my sense of disillusion with the Church has taught me. I think it was a lesson worth learning.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Into Africa

 There is some interesting comment in this article  on the challenges posed by the African Church and the advantages Justin Welby  may have in dealing with them. It notes that the incoming archbishop has worked as a crisis negotiator in Africa, working with separatists in the Niger Delta and negotiating with Islamists in northern Nigeria, all experience which will be helpful. The article also claims that under Rowan Williams there has been very little real dialogue with Africa on this issue. It is hardly surprising that Williams might shrink from this - compare the hard line statements from Okoh with William's gentle tolerance - but I think this is a nettle that has to be grasped if Anglicanism is to reach a place where it is less dysfunctional.

Anybody who thinks this is not an immense challenge with the potential to cause greater rifts would be foolish though.This piece covers the anti-gay rights bill due to be introduced in Nigeria apparently before Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Giving -and counting the cost?

 I heard in the news today that giving to charity  is down  by 20%, a statistic that is not perhaps surprising given the current economic climate. I do wonder though if it is just those who are suffering financially who are more reluctant to give. Every year we run an appeal in college where tutor groups are invited to put  together a shoebox to be sent to a poor family or orphanage in Romania. This project used to be undertaken with great enthusiasm by the students, but over the past few years I've noticed an increasing reluctance to contribute and I don't know if this is due to hardship or just to a general "why should we give to others"  or even "what a load of scroungers" attitude that is becoming more common nowadays?
Giving does, of course, bring its own problems. We may be aware that few of our acts are purely altruistic, we give because it make us feel good. I've been thinking about this recently and I am not sure this is so much of a moral problem, perhaps we are designed in such a way as to make us get pleasure from giving - not just financially but to our friends, our work, our loved ones. Is it so wrong to give because it completes us as human beings? There is the more complex problem of whether our giving really benefits others. If we give to food banks, does it encourage dependency?Iif we give to a shoebox appeal, should we check that that charity does not simply have its own ulterior motives? There has been criticism and unease about the fact that some charities include christian tracts and leaflets in their shoeboxes and accusations that this is simply a form of evangelising wrapped up with emotional blackmail rather than purely with love.
The reading last Sunday was about the widow's mite, a story which is open to a variety of interpretations and often used as a way of inducing guilt in those who are reluctant to give! I'm not sure it should be used that way, but at the same time I don't think it is acceptable to opt out of giving - when we are able to give- simply because of these issues and complexities. We certainly should be aware of the complexities of giving, we should also be aware that our criticisms of the act of giving can also be part of an excuse not to give at all. I have started to show the above youtube clip to students before I get them to put together a shoebox. I find it dramatically increases the amount they give. Perhaps sometimes we fail to give out of a lack of imagination. Perhaps it is a failure to really see other people? I read a quote by Jeanette Winterton recently that really struck me, it was an article  about poverty  in which she wrote that the poorer we are materially, the more we need inner resources. I think it might be equally true that the richer we are materially, the more we need inner resources - and it is our  inner resources and imagination as much as our money or our means that allows us to give freely and cheerfully.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Watching and listening

When in doubt, listen carefully to what people say and  then watch carefully what they do. So far, so reasonably good. Interesting that he mentioned Nigeria. I sometimes wonder whether Africa is more the elephant in the room than sexuality is.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Oh well, it's Welby

I would say that the Church of England has finally got off the fence and decided on a new Archbishop, but that doesn't really describe what happened, does it? It's more like the fence collapsed a while ago- even the bookies cancelled all bets on the next Archbishop out of sheer ennui- and the bunch of sorry losers remained sitting on a collapsed fence for a while and then, realising they looked stupid and the fence was beginning to rot and disintegrate, they chose the one they thought might be the least unpalatable to everyone concerned.
It's not inspiring, or admirable, or decisive, or courageous and there doesn't seem to be a jot or whisper of the joy, power, grace or daring of the Holy Spirit around the Church of England, but heigh-ho! I wasn't keen on any of the proposed candidates anyhow, but Welby is probably just as good as the next man and better than some. I think he's been chosen as the most likely to be able to pacify both liberals and conservatives. Giles Fraser has good words to say about him and the evangelical conservative right seem happy with his stance on issues such as gay bishops, but he certainly isn't a foam-at-the-mouth-bigot. It could be worse, I suppose. To quote Morrisey again, I'm not happy and I'm not sad.
I am sorry to sound so unethusiastic; I've been feeling that way for a while. I can't even summon up much interest or enthusiasm over the likely prospect of the voting to allow women bishops (that hasn't happened and I've missed it, has it?) Might I have slept through it all like Rip Van Winkle? To be honest, I feel that I could go to sleep and wake up in a thousand years and find the church wouldn't have moved on that much.

So this appointment, at the moment, seems neither good news nor bad, and it doesn't matter which it is anyway! The only thing that really matters is that we know the real good news. The real good news lives within us and is in no way dependent on bishops or archbishops of any ilk or gender.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Post partum depression and psychosis

 I found the account on the news of Felicia Boot who was convicted of the manslaughter of her nine week old son and fourteen month old daughter absolutely harrowing. The judge said the killing of the children  was the result of psychological forces that were "beyond her control" and that it was "an indescribably sad case.

Post natal depression is an extremely common illness but one which is often not well recognised or well treated, yet the way this illness is dealt with can mean the difference between a living or dead baby,  mother or both.  Post partum psychosis, which is an extreme and delusional form of post natal depression is one of the most severe psychiatric illnesses known and can develop very rapidly, often over the space of days rather than weeks. This account from the mental health blog, Time to Change, offers a powerful story but one with a happier ending that the tragedy described in the news yesterday.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Listening to God

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
  It has been a busy but productive half term. I spent the first few days working and then, as is our custom, went away to the Lake District for two nights at the end of the week. We were lucky in that it didn't rain while we were away; although it was cold, it was also crisp and sunny with the sort of deep blue sky that reflects in the water and brings out the sheer beauty of the autumn reds, greens and golds. We spent a good part of yesterday walking and just drinking in the peace and glory of the scenery.

It is hardly surprising that poets and writers have so often seen in the landscape evidence of something or someone above and beyond us. When we look at the majesty of a mountain, or  wonder at the intricate beauty of leaves and flower,  or listen to running water, it calls forth responses such as awe, joy and peace, all things associated with God's presence.   We usually observe nature in silence, and yet the psalmist describes how in reality the silence of nature is a form of speech. Silence can pour forth speech and wisdom. Psalm 19 tells us how the silence of nature  is a universal language, one that can be listened to and understood by all peoples and ages:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

In contrast to yesterday, today is grey and rainy, the sort of murky weather that hardly lifts the spirits. But  knowledge of God lies within, the beauty of nature simply speaks to us of a force we already know and  carry around with us always. We lift our eyes to the hills, but the voice that speaks to us comes from within because we are also made to be a part of all that glorifies God and proclaims his message.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Reliance on God

by: Michelangelo (1475-1564)

The prayers I make will then be sweet indeed,
If Thou the spirit give by which I pray:
My unassisted heart is barren clay,
Which of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
Which quickens only where Thou say'st it may;
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way,
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
Do Thou, then, breathe those thoughts into my mind
By which such virtue may in me be bred
That in Thy holy footsteps I may tread;
The fetters of my tongue do Thou unbind,
That I may have the power to sing of Thee,
And sound Thy praises everlastingly.

 Those of you who still bother to read this blog may have realised that I have been rather busy recently and blogging, as well as some other things, have rather fallen by the wayside. I always think that posting a poem is a good way to get back blogging; one of the rules of blogging is that the more you blog  the easier it is to blog!
I rather like religious sonnets, and  this seemed to hit the spot today. This beautiful sonnet has within it the idea of a God who, like the artist, is the source of all growth, creativity and being.  It reminds me of those times when we feel too exhausted or busy to pray, or those dry spells when  the " unassisted heart is barrren clay." There is a beautiful dependence on God in this sonnet, and all that matters is that we do keep looking to him and walking in his way and finding it in us to sound his praises as he unbinds the fetters and  breathes new life into us.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Walking cheerfully

Today is the final day of Quaker Week 2012 and, although there have been various events running, I am sorry to say that I have been too busy to take part in any of them, unless you count turning up for the lunch organised at someone's house today and eating the food lovingly prepared by others, while bringing my own contribution which was rustled up on a trip around Tesco! Work, as you may gather, is very busy at the moment. I know it always is, and I am not wanting to complain, but it has been hard to fit things in of late.
Weekends are important to me, and I think it is essential that I try to do something every weekend that gives me space and time just to "be" rather than to "do". This may be a long walk,  worship, a visit to friends, a meal out with my family - anything that brings peace and joy and nurtures the soul. Friendship and fellowship today gave me that chance to feel peaceful and ready to face the week, and my mind was drawn to the following advice:
              "Walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God   in everyone."
                                                                                                   (George Fox)
I am not sure I spend enough time being walking cheerfully and I am not sure I spend enough time answering that of God in everyone. It is something that I try to do, but sometimes I get caught up in bitterness, or anger, or disillusion,  or a sense of the injustice or ugliness of life, or just sheer weariness. Of course, it would not  be good  for us to be oblivious to these things or to deny that we can have negative emotions. At the same time though, we  do need to balance them against the good, we need to recognise that bitterness against something means it has power over you, and we need to find a place in ourselves where we can be at peace with others and with God.
This week I shall try to walk cheerfully and answer to God in everyone, and I feel better simply at the thought that that is what I want to do!

Friday, 5 October 2012

WATCH and wait

I've really been too busy recently to follow the developments over Clause 5 of the Draft Measure. I did have a quick look at thing this evening and discovered that Reform is not happy and will vote against the "Appleby amendment" , while WATCH says its members are divided between those who can accept it in the hope that it will offer a way to compromise and move on and those who feel that Clause 5 is still  "too discriminatory", and should be removed.

I've got a few things to say about this:

1. I don't think there is much point in anyone within the Church of England pretending it is not  a discriminatory institution. The Church is exempt from sections of the Equality Act and it is able to discriminate, in particular against women and gay people. The Church IS discriminatory, that is the main reason I cannot call myself a full member of it. If you are going to stay within the Church at any level, you need to accept that it discriminates in ways that would be considered unjust and offensive and which are actually illegal within secular society and the secular workplace.

2. With or without Clause 5, the Draft Measure is discriminatory. Churches are going to be able to opt out from the authority of a female bishop whether she "delegates" that authority or not. Now, you can take the view that this is outrageous- it wouldn't be sanctioned in the "real" world- or you can agree with the Church that those who agree with the ordination of women and those opposed, are "both loyal Anglicans." Alternatively you may think that the prejudices of those" loyal Anglicans" still shouldn't be pandered to, but you have to accept that the Church's understanding is  is that some sort of provision should be made to allow for the theological belief of loyal Anglicans who are opposed.

3. Some people feel that, when being asked to "respect" theological beliefs opposed to women's ministry, they are being asked to respect discrimination. Would we agree to "respect" racism for example?  Those opposed would say that they are NOT sexist or discriminatory.  I am not sure "respecting" a belief means agreeing with it, or pretending you don't think it is wrong. It is possible to argue that you can respect the fact that someone genuinely sees their beliefs as rooted in theology and not in sexism or discrimination, even when you feel their belief is offensive and misguided. It is a difficult line and too tenuous for some people though.

4. Part of the problem, if we are honest, is the sheer level of bitterness the debate has engendered. There has to be a place for some sort of grace, healing or living together in the future but it is difficult for people to know if the measure will provide that in any kind or simply prove a focus for more bitterness and division.
That is the dilemma facing WATCH and it is seen is this paragraph:

The Amendment appears attractive because it may provide a form of wording that is vague enough to keep all sides happy. However the wording has not been subject to any sustained scrutiny and does nothing to resolve the fundamental disagreements at issue, As such it may serve to prolong the struggle to achieve equal treatment of women in the Church. The Act of Synod has often been used as a springboard for separatism and any ambiguity in the Measue which now effectively goes futher than the Act of Synod will again be used to shore up practices that are damaging for women and for the Church in further years.

Well, yes, sure it will!  So, where do we go from here? Fortunately it isn't my problem! If it was, I don't know how I would square it with myself. I think I would compromise. I would have grave doubts about doing so yet I would know that the alternative could be stalemate and more and more delays.
Can those who want women as bishops bear any longer to watch and wait?

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The race (?) for Canterbury!

This clip  is only marginally more exciting and productive than the deliberations of the Crown Commission. Gosh! Those snails look keen!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Choosing Canterbury

This article on the BBC website is a handy at-a-glance-guide to some of the contenders for Canterbury. The only one who really appeals out of their hot favourites is Christopher Cocksworth on the basis that he hasn't said what he thinks about anything (we're used to that).  Then there's his name...(see final link.)  Meanwhile the Church of England has published a prayer for the Crown Nominations Commission. It has lots of auspicious sounding words in it such as steadfast, united, grace, truth and love, which means it's nothing like my version which goes
a. Please don't let them appoint some utter **** (insert expletive of choice) and
b. God help the poor **** (insert expletive of choice) whoever he is.

You can take your pick which to pray.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has published this brilliant interactive guide, I do hope the Crown Commissioners have access to it because it is just as effective as eny-meeny-miny-mo and a lot more fun.
(Speaking of fun, you have to see this!)

Monday, 17 September 2012

Those annoying spiritual folk

I enjoyed this post by Nancy at Seeker, but at the same time it made me smile. It made me smile because I think a lot of vicars feel irritated when people say that they are "spiritual but not religious" or , "you don't need to go to church to be a christian" or "you are closer to God in a garden than in a building. I think it annoys them in the way that teachers feel irritated  when we are told, "you learn more outside a classroom than you ever do inside one." This is a point at which I want to retort, "Yes, but you don't pass your exams that way!" Sometimes we hate hearing things that relate to what we do but which have more than a grain of truth...It also made me smile because it reminded me of this clip. I know I've posted it before, but just in case you haven't seen it... Enjoy!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Guest post: What do we mean by "acceptance"?

The following is a guest post by a friend of mine who has not always found churches to be very accepting places. It is worth reading and mulling over what you understand by acceptance.

A few times over the course of recent months I’ve heard or read sermons or articles referring to the acceptance of homosexuals in church congregations. Church leaders are quick to state that there are all sorts of ways that homosexuals can be part of the church community, and that we are welcome amongst the body of Christ. I get the sense that the writer/preacher feels quite happy that they’ve managed to demonstrate to their audience that they’ve gone against the media-portrayed stereotype of “anti-gay Christian” by saying the words “gays are accepted in church”. Unfortunately this usually precedes a report from the Church of England about its stance on marriage equality... oh dear.

In addition to this brand of acceptance you’ll also find that “homosexuals” will often be quoted in a list alongside the words addict, prostitute, alcoholic, swindler (tax collector), thief, and murderer. The priest will eagerly say “all these people are accepted in church!” In an effort to portray a position of grace and acceptance the preacher has simply lumped me with the archetypal “outcasts” and made me feel like I should be examining my “alternative lifestyle”.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not trying to rank my wrong doings in some sort of order in a list of sins. My issue is that the preacher has put my identity amongst a list of behaviours. I’m gay because I was born this way, not because of circumstance. I could take this further and argue why do we have these lists anyway? I don’t think addicts are addicts out of choice, or prostitutes are prostitutes out of choice. Life happens, and God knows, nobody would choose a path like that if they could avoid it. But, putting me in a list like that makes me feel like the preacher thinks being gay/being me is a behaviour that can be repented from or, given the right circumstances, be fixed in someway. How can I repent from an attraction? How can I be forgiven for being the very thing that I am?
Gays are accepted in church.
I almost feel like I should put an asterisk after the word “accepted” and have a footnote at the bottom of the page saying “subject to terms and conditions. Fair usage rules apply.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be accepted just as you are. As a Christian you hear a lot of cute, trite phrases. One I’ve heard (and quite like, actually) is “God loves you as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you that way.” I like it because I’ve found it to be true. Perhaps not in the way some conservative Christians would like, but God has changed me drastically over the course of the last two years and, as you’d expect, it’s all for the better. One phrase you hear a lot as a gay Christian is “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. Tony Campolo has been quoted as saying we should change the phrase to “Love the sinner, hate your own sin.” And I believe Jesus would have said something much more akin to the latter of those two than the former.

This leads me on to what I’ve been mulling over the past few months, and I think I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough. What does it mean to “love” somebody? What does that look like and how does it feel compared to some of the emotions I feel when I’m in Church. Also, what does it mean to be accepted? What does that look like to me, and what do other people think it looks like? People use these words quite a lot, but I’m not sure we’re reading the same definitions!
I’ve recently read a book that’s helped transform my thinking and nail down what’s going on with my emotions when I’m confronted with certain language used by church leadership. The book is called The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Dr Brené Brown. She speaks about her research and says that in the course of her many interviews she has observed that certain words are often talked about in pairs. Sometimes a pairing happens so frequently that you come to realise it’s no accident, but actually this intertwining of words is an intentional “knot”. “Love” and “belonging” is one such pairing.
Brené says: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men and children. We are biologically, cognitively physically, and spiritually made to love and be loved; and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick... the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.”

She says, “Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” This approach is no different when I want to feel like I belong in a church. The reason I hurt sometimes when I’m at church or listening to the words of a church leader on TV or radio is because the words I hear don’t make me feel like I belong to this entity called “church”. Their words make me feel shame because of the person I am, or because of the things I hope to have in my future; like a wife. Church leadership says it accepts me for who I am and says I can be part of church life, but it’s always followed by hidden (or not so hidden) conditions; live a life of celibacy, or be against equal marriage, or agree with me and say that you think it’s wrong, or at least say you’ve tried not to be gay. And in an effort to seek approval and “fit in” I think I’ve tried to adhere to all of the above at one time or another. Thankfully I’m now realising the detrimental effects of such a strategy and am moving towards being more authentic in life and in church.
But gays are accepted in church.
Brené’s definition of belonging is as follows: “Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us; because this yearning is so primal we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it, because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance.”
Wow. Just writing those words makes me want to cry. I’m not sure whether its sadness at the amount of time I spent “hustling” for acceptance and approval, or because of the joy at finding the words I’ve be searching for all this time. In a time when I’m more accepting of myself than I have ever been, I understand now why I’m struggling to belong in church; the one place where my level of acceptance is questionable. And it also makes sense why it hurts so much when I feel like I don’t belong.
Let’s see what Brene has to say about love: “Love: We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow; a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
To feel loved I must feel honoured when I reveal my true self. To feel loved I must feel respected; I must trust the other person. Can love be cultivated when I’m not sure the other person loves all of who I am? The fact that I’m gay will determine the outcome of some of my greatest life choices; the biggest being who I choose to spend the rest of my life with, marry and raise a family with. That sounds like a large part of who I am. Can a member of church still say they love me if they disagree with these parts of who I am?

At the moment I feel like I’m beginning to at least understand why I feel like the church’s version of “love” and “acceptance” isn’t stacking up against the definitions I believe to hold true. You see, actively seeking to prevent me from having the right to marry is not something you can do and then still expect me to feel loved afterwards. Using coded language like “lifestyle” or reducing me to a “homosexual” does not make me feel understood or accepted. Hearing church leadership say I’m “grotesque” or my partner and I are “encouraging one another in sin” is definitely not a loving thing to say. Comparing gay marriage to sexually immoral acts during a sermon does not make me feel like church is a spiritually safe place to be. It makes me feel like church is a spiritually damaging place to be. Just saying the words “gays are accepted in church” does not make it true.
I guess the biggest struggle as a gay Christian trying to fight it out in church is figuring out which “church” is more important to me. Do I think every member of church feels the same about same-sex issues as the church leaders hitting the headlines? No I don’t. I know for a fact that there are many Christians in leadership roles who think that gender does not determine whether God can bless you in your relationship. Do I think the whole of my congregation feels the same as my Pastor does about same-sex marriage? No I don’t. I can’t believe all of the young and vibrant congregation would hold steadfastly to such an opinion. But, crikey, it’s hard to remember all of that on a bad day. When it feels like you’ll never belong, when you see the number of my gay friends in churches diminishing by the month, when you hear of friends doing all they can to just fit in and live up to the requirements set by church leadership, when you hear the heartbreaking stories of the bruises and scars people acquired in church; it’s hard.

But I am so glad- so glad - that I will always belong to my Jesus. And He’ll always love me. No caveat. No small print. Just oceans of his unending love.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Make your own fudge!

Some readers will remember that in a previous blog I described one of the  earlier attempts to resolve the Women Bishops legislation in terms of a classic Church of England fudge. If I were to describe this new clause in those terms, it would roughly translate as "make your own fudge" and it would go like this:

Make your own  fudge kit (respect flavour)
Can be made by both sides

Your opponents' theological convictions.
Your own anger and bitterness.
As much respect  as you can muster
Season with love, grace, tact

1. Try to put your own anger and bitterness to one side.
2. Place your opponents' theological convictions, whether for or against women bishops, in the bowl
3. Add as much respect as you can muster.
4. Season with love, grace, tact and pray for more if you don't have enough.
5. By this stage you should be seeing your "opponent" as your brother and sister in Christ. If not, the fudge might have a bitter taste and cause indigestion.
6. Pray that your brother and sister in Christ responds in kind -  but remember you have to set the example.

Remember the fudge is yours and theirs, you share joint responsibility for whether it is bitter or sweet.

The notion of respect

I've just got home from work and have read the Archbishop's statement on the new draft legislation on women bishops. To summarise briefly, it proposes replacing the controversial Clause 5. 1(c) with the following wording, which was suggested by the Rev Janet Appleby:

"the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3"

It is worth reading the Archbishop's words in full; his focus is not upon what the legal understanding of the word "respect" might be (more on that later) but upon the idea of respect as a moral and spiritual concept and a quality which will be essential if the Church is to move forward on this issue:

"The bishops were deeply impressed by the moral and spiritual and relational content of this word ‘respect’, and they were eager to go for a form of words that had the advantage of simplicity and directness about it.  They believed it was also very important that this had come not from themselves, but from the process of consulting the wider Church."

Well, it is simple and direct, it also has the advantage of the moral high ground - no-one on either side can really argue against the notion of respect. It also has the advantage that it cannot really be said to be enshrining in law the notion that discrimination against women is permissible or acceptable.

It disadvantage, it seems to me, is that it is vague. It is hard to know what constitutes, "respect(ing) the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request" in actual legal and practical terms. It is for this reason that the opponents of women bishops will argue against it. We may see bitter disputes over what is meant by "respect" - oh, the irony!

I sense a certain weariness though about the whole matter. We need to move on and to find ways forward. This wording is by no  means ideal, but there is no ideal solution and I have an inkling that this will pass.

And perhaps we should pray long and hard for the ability to truly exercise respect for each other - more so when we differ than when we agree.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Alive and doing

The Daily Meditation (by Richard Rohr) that arrived in my inbox yesterday was worth sharing as having some relevance to today's reading and to the reminders in James that good works should arise out of faith and that faith without works is a dead faith. Rohr writes:

 It seems to me that it is a minority that ever gets the true and full Gospel. We just keep worshiping Jesus and arguing over the exact right way to do it. The amazing thing is that Jesus never once says, “worship me!”, but he often says, “follow me” (e.g., Matthew 4:19).

Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, inclusive, and loving. We made it, however, into a formal established religion, in order to avoid the demanding lifestyle itself. One could then be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain at the highest levels of the church, and still easily believe that Jesus is “my personal Lord and Savior.” The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.

Adapted from the CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate action

I do see so many churches involved in good within their communities, I think this is something which the church at the grassroots often excels in. I know that there is some amazing involvement in the community in the area I live in, and this work arises out of faith and love- the royal commandment- as today's reading put it. I was interested, however, in the idea that we actually create formal, established religion in order to avoid the genuine call of Christ. That challenging idea is worth pondering. It made me think of some of the Quaker ideas about avoiding hierarchy, systems and power as far as possible in faith structures, meanwhile emphasising the need for simplicity in our own lives and practical service to the world.
Dead faith is that religiosity that is wedded to power and prestige and all that the world values - hence the reminder not to favour the wealthy within church circles. Living faith looks at life through a different lens and wants to serve others, not to further its own power base.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Truths and half truths

The Archbishop of Canterbury has given an interview - or maybe several if the amount of coverage on the Internet is anything to go by. Headlines report various things, from a quote that he has "not cracked it" when it comes to unifying the Church during his office, to reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury's role will in future be divided among more than one person (this report has now been corrected as an inaccurate distortion of the ABC's words by the Anglican Communion office.)
One of the things Rowan Williams does seem to have said is that the Church got it wrong in the past on homosexuality. Presumably this means that the Church only got it wrong in the past but is bang spot on in the present? Hmmmm. Don't think so. Isn't it strange how it is much easier to be wrong in the past but never, ever wrong in the present? And we have to remember that when we were wrong in the past, we thought we were right - and no doubt said as much. You'd think someone of William's intellectual calibre would have reflected on that? Maybe he did - but just didn't mention it? Is that dishonest? Well, I dunno. I'll leave you to think about it.
On the subject of honesty and dishonesty, there's Jeffrey John's latest contribution in the Church Times - published in Thinking Anglicans with permission (Friday 8th Sept). He tells us about how a great many of the bishops  and the church hierarchy are actually gay and gay accepting but how they don't admit it in public.The article is called, "Time to tell the truth", which would be great, except that we've heard this before! We've heard it ad nauseum. We know it. Why are you telling us - again? Jeffrey John also says that he nearly resigned twice but stayed in spite of all the hypocrisy. Apparently those who persuaded him to stay said it was because they needed people who were honest. Well, maybe, but I can't help wondering if it  there is much point telling the truth in an institution which has stopped its ears while the outside world shrugs its shoulders in disbelief and gets on with life?
Perhaps I'm being harsh. I'm not really displaying much long-suffering, which, my friends, is one of the fruits of the spirit. I've had a hard week and I just think I might be fresh out of long suffering this morning.

I suppose it's good that Jeffrey John still has his, even if it is a little frayed round the edges, but I have to say that when it comes to all the worn out conflicts, lies, hypocrisy and well worn argument and counter argument you hear on this topic from the Church, he's welcome to it.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Nobody's fool

A fantastic mystery worshipper review from the Ship of Fools website. Anyone who has at some point in their lives been involved in, or coerced into, attending this type of church will find it strikes a chord. Stuart, whose blog I've shamelessly nicked it from, was particularly taken with: "What part of the service was like heaven?" Answer: The five minutes smoking outside.
My personal favourite was this:
"Toward the end of the sermon, Ian Andrews asked who in the congregation, when speaking in tongues, favoured the letter S or K. A few people raised their hands. He then asked one lady who had raised her hand to stand up and speak in tongues, but to favour the letter L. The poor lady look horrified but obliged."

This reminded me of someone who told me that his tongues strategy consisted of repeating the phrase, "Monica's got an anemone" very rapidly, just occasionally throwing in the name of the group "Chaka Khan" to add a little variation. (...I'm not sure he was joking...)

Read. Enjoy. I bet the congregation are lovely, lovely people - but just get down on your knees NOW and thank God now for all those with common sense, a dry sense of humour and a little cynicism!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Journeys of transformation

Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who died on Friday, aged 85 years, apparently "lashed out" at the Roman Catholic Church prior to his death saying it is "200 years behind" the times. I had a read through the Cardinal's remarks and it seemed to me that, rather than being an excoriating attack, suggested by the rather salacious sounding headline "Cardinal lashes the Church", Carlo Maria Martini's words were spoken more in sadness than in anger.

He suggested that Roman Catholicism needed to be less ritualistic and pompous, and that the changes should begin with "the Pope and his bishops."
"Our culture has grown old, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our religious rites and the vestments we wear are pompous."

 He also asked that the Church adopt a more generous attitude to divorced persons and should not focus on excluding the divorced from communion but on helping in complex family situations. He also commented on the child sex scandals which have particularly rocked Catholicism but which are not entirely unknown in other churches - witness the current condemnation of the "dysfunctional" attitudes and practice in Chichester dioces. Cardinal Martini said:
                   "The child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation."
Sometimes people are given a message to speak to others (we used to call them prophets) and I can see nothing in the Cardinal's message that is not  wise,deeply Godly and Christian. This is why I was particularly saddened to read that the Pope is now, "faced with a difficult choice of whether or not to attend the Cardinal's funeral on Monday." Difficult choice??!!! I would suggest that if the Pope does not attend it would be a tangible proof of the truth and veracity of Cardinal Martini's remarks , whereas if he does we would see a  more Christ like humility and grace in evidence and perhaps the funeral procession could mark the beginning of a journey of transformation.

Monday, 20 August 2012

How unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us; no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us.

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Belief and behaviour

Someone posted this on Facebook the other day. I hadn’t read it before although I am sure it is quite a well known saying. It is generally true that how we behave is much more important than what we believe. The measure of people’s Christian faith is more easily gauged by how they treat other and whether they exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control, than whether they subscribe to a particular set of theological tenets. I hold a fairly distinctive set of beliefs, some of them conventional, others less so, but I don’t see why others should necessarily subscribe to my understandings. As someone said to me today, God is so huge that it would be strange if we did not all have different understandings because we can all only glimpse a little part of God and maybe it takes many different views for us to grasp him/ her. This acknowledgement does not prevent anyone from sharing their particular view of God. There is no point believing you have good news if you do not wish to share it. Enthusiastically sharing a belief is not the same as insisting someone else must accept it is valid.

The statement about belief being unimportant and behaviour all important is not, however, that simple. It does not address the problem that what we believe changes what behaviour we consider right or wrong. One individual might see certain behaviour as inappropriate or wrong which another sees as right and good. Behaviour which in the past was seen as acceptable, such as enslaving other human beings, is now universally condemned as a moral evil. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet concludes, “Nothing’s good or bad but thinking makes it so.” To some extent a post modern world grapples with the question of whether good and evil are moral absolutes or simply social constructs, at another level it settles for the easy belief that the prevailing view is right and views held by different times and by dissenting individuals are manifestly wrong.

Furthermore, it is difficult to say that what we believe does not matter because belief and behaviour is usually linked. Beliefs are powerful. Beliefs can be dangerous. If beliefs did not matter, people would not fear and oppose them. Our beliefs can lead us to act in ways which are selfless or selfish, to perpetrate acts of atrocity or sacrifice. Even if we do not act directly on our beliefs, holding and expressing certain beliefs might create a climate in which either hatred or justice can flourish. We should generally try to respect the beliefs others hold, even when we disagree. We should always ask ourselves, “Could they be right and could I be wrong?” Sometimes we do have to oppose a belief – the wisdom is knowing when to do so.

I think Jesus taught more about behaviour than anything else. He linked belief and behaviour, because to hear his words and not act on them is like building a house on sand, not rock. His teaching was about a way of life, a revelation of the nature of God and the Kingdom of Heaven rather a list of  theological tenets. Also, if you believe that He was the Son of God, or as in today's reading, the bread of life, then Jesus himself was the embodiment that linked belief and behaviour. Jesus was a “doer”; he touched, healed and transformed. In Jesus the distinction between concept (belief) and concrete action (behaviour) melts away because he is a living embodiment of belief - the word made flesh. Jesus did not just bring a revelation; he was that revelation and its practical application in the world.

And, to my mind, still is.

Tell tale signs your parent/s may be clergy

The Archdruid reveals those Tell tale signs that you may be clergy. I was particularly amused by numbers 13 and 14. I think it would be interesting to see "Tell tale signs your parent/s may be clergy". These could include:

-Your mother thinks that one of the perks of the job is getting first pick of the jumble sale clothes. This one is perhaps not so relevant today as the church jumble sale seems to be in decline, but it was certainly true in the 1970s when my dad was a curate and  it seemed my mum dressed us almost entirely in  church jumble sale items. (Apologies to my mum if she considers this to be a calumny...)

-People whose teenagers never  ever attend church expect you to be there every Sunday without fail. (This was true in the 1980s. My dad's reply to "Where's your son/ daughter today?" was, "At home. Where's yours?")

- All your friends give you the religious Christmas card in their assorted pack and explain you got it so that they could get rid of it. (Yeah, thanks...)

- When university friends find out your parental occupation, they say, "You don't look/ seem/ act like a vicar's daughter." You feel a sense of deep gratitude.

-When they then meet your parent, they say, "S/he doesn't look/ seem/act like a vicar, does s/he?" ( Most clergy act like themselves, not a stereotype. Anyhow, to their children they are not really "a vicar", they're dad/ mum!)

Any others?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Coping with failure

The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.

A Level Results Day can be fraught with emotion.  I still develop nerves the night before and convince myself that this will be the year of spectacular failure! During twenty plus years of teaching it is inevitable that your students will sometimes get disappointing or even devastating results, but generally the grades reflect what you expected they would achieve - although not always what they hoped they would get.
This year my nerves were exacerbated by hearing on the radio that the exam boards had been instructed to mark the papers more rigorously. Given the state I get into, this translated at some level in the less rational part of my being as, "They will all have failed". I was well aware that this was entirely unlikely! A quick check of the results at 8am this morning was reassuring. My wonderful Lit group had all done really well and the vast majority had got the grades they needed and wanted. Some of them obviously share my angst ridden approach though as a very able student told me she had been shaking with nerves and anticipating a U grade. She got an A*.
Now that I also have responsibility for pastoral and discipline, I get to see many students who really have missed getting the grades they wanted or needed. I always feel for these students (even when they haven't worked very hard) because it is very difficult to cope with failure and disappointment, especially when you are young and so many of your friends are celebrating or thrilled about  going off to university and you feel you have nothing. Failure is difficult to cope with and can provoke emotions such as shame, anger, fear, hopelessness, guilt.
I once read that failure is simply an event and not a person, it is vital to take this approach when dealing with students who have got disappointing grades because they can feel that they are summed up by their results. They may feel what they are, or what their future will be, is defined  solely by those grades. On Facebook tonight I read many messages from proud parents whose children have done well. Spare a thought for those students who will go home without good news and who will feel left out of the general celebrations.  I do find it hard to leave the memory of them behind.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Do dogs have souls (Part twenty one)

I've noticed that when Bessie does something wrong, she is able to assume a look of innocence that I am sure is contrived. Her expression says, "What! Me?"
It's the Garden of Eden all over again...

Friday, 10 August 2012

Space for self

We've just returned from a week in Corfu, a much appreciated chance to rest and relax. A week didn't seem long enough, we did manage a boat ride around some caves and beautiful coastline and a visit to the island of Paxos, but did not manage much else in terms of seeing the island. What we did do was to spend a lot of time swimming and soaking up the sunshine, something we felt quite deprived of given the UK weather this year.  Holidays are also a chance to read. I averaged a book every day or two this holiday and particularly recommend Patrick Gale's A Perfectly Good Man and Chris Cleave's The Other Hand.

Swimming around the caves
Another unexpected boon this holiday was the chance to spend time with our younger son. There is a bit of a history to this as he wasn't overly keen on the idea of coming with us. Our decision to only go for a week was partly based on consideration for the boredom factor for him and the having-to-deal-with-a- bored-teenager factor for us. He was, however, surprisingly good company, full of chat and laughter and we had several interesting conversations with him (yes, really!) It was a contrast to last year when he was polite enough but fairly uncommunicative.I thought to myself that he really must be growing up and also how good it would be to have a positive memory of what may be our last holiday as a "family" rather than a couple.

We really didn't want to return, but it was a bonus to come back to find some sunshine in the UK. I've been resisting the impulse to get on with the pile of ironing that holidays alway produce and am spending time walking the dog, reading, and pottering in  the garden while the summer lasts! Sunshine doesn't last forever, nor do holidays, or children, or  the peace and space just to be. It is important that we savour gifts like that while we can.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Welcoming all

I like this welcome notice taken from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community Church:

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

H/T to E-Church blog and Stuff Christians Like.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Discrimination or fair enough?

I have to say that I am really not a fan of the Christian Institute and can't bear it when they bang on about being a persecuted minority.On the other hand,  I can't be the only person who thinks that the National Secular Society's attempt to ban free Sunday parking for church goers on the grounds that it infringes the 2010 Equality Act seems just a tad bitter and mean spirited?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Are you low or high maintenance?

This blog post has been partly inspired by the comment by Peter in the post below about individuals living beyond their means, and partly because I've been thinking and reading articles recently about austerity given the economic crisis.

I've blogged before about the fact that my two sons are like chalk and cheese. They seem to be different in so many respects, one is always on facebook, the other doesn't even have a facebook account, one has a wide circle of friends, the other has a few trusted friends that he's known since primary school, one loves to shop, the other has to be talked into buying new clothes - and one of them is always asking for money while the other once handed his pocket money back and said, "I just don't need it." ( No, I am not making this up. Yes, I know it's not normal...)
The chair above belongs to the son who hands back his pocket money. It is very old and shabby and I announced that I was going to provide a new one. A conversation then occurred that went like this:
Son: There's nothing wrong with it.
Me: Yes, there is - look the stuffing is coming out. You need a new one.
Son: But I like this one and I don't care about the stuffing coming out.
Me: I do, it will be all over the bedroom floor. We can get you a new one.
A few hours later, said son called me to his room and proudly showed me the chair which he had "repaired" using an old pair of jeans and cotton and thread thus avoiding the unnecessary expense (and trauma?) of having to have a new chair. I am still on a mission to replace it and I still haven't managed.
Our other son is not at all averse to buying new things, he will spend more money on an item of clothing than I would. We sometimes joke that he is high maintenance and his brother is low maintenance  - you might remember the clip from "When Harry met Sally" where Sally places a complicated order,  Harry later tells her that she is the worst kind of woman - one who thinks she is low maintenance but is actually high maintenance. Are you, I wonder, high or low maintenance?

Friday, 20 July 2012

Thrift and abundance

I enjoyed this article on the BBC News website exploring the idea that  Eurozone conflicts over how to deal with the financial crisis find their roots in religion and whether, culturally as much as theologically, countries and individuals identify with Protestantism, with its emphasis on austerity, self discipline and work ethic ,or  Catholicism, with its unreformed and more indulgent approach to matters fiscal. It is quite amusing to imagine, as Stephan Richter has suggested, that the addition of Luther as one of the negotiators of the Maastricht treaty, deciding which countries could join the euro, would have solved the entire debt crisis!

Our attitude to money itself and our attitude to those without money is of great importance in Christianity. On the one hand, the management of money (stewardship as some churches like to call it) is a practical matter; despite the existence of the prosperity gospel, we are called on to treat money with caution, indeed to eschew riches, and, rather radically, give it all to the poor- not that you see many Christians. rushing to do this! So many of Jesus' parables concern themselves either directly or indirectly with the idea of money, abudance, gifts, debts, payment, generosity or lack thereof. In most of them it is not money itself which is the issue, rather money is used to illustrate a much deeper attitude to life, to ourselves, to others and to God. It is hardly surprising that money is a theological concept - at the heart of a Protestant understanding of salvation is the idea of a debt cancelled, however, beyond this, there is also a message about what we want, how much we are prepared to give, where our treasure lies.   I left school in the eighties, during the Thatcher years and the loads-a-money culture. One of our teachers gave this parting advice, "BE RICH",  he scrawled on the board, there were sounds of surprise, approval or disapproval accordingly, then he added, "in the things that matter."

 Harry Enfield and loads-a-money has now been relegated to the history books and things look much more bleak. It is impossible to determine whether Luther could really solve the debt crisis, perhaps it is really a way of saying that a return to an austere and Calvinistic scrupulosity, hopefully just when it comes to business and economics, is the way forward. But we should not forget that a Protestant work ethic can lead  to a place where we count our pennies, give cold charity to our neighbour, justify amassing great wealth in the name of religion or even see wealth as a sign of God's approval. The life Jesus lived wasn't one you would recommend to a young person starting out. Forget thrifty or  penny pinching, going into ministry without financial backing  wasn't even a sensible plan. The life of Jesus was not one of austerity but rather one combining poverty and abudance; the God who created the universe and who tears up the accounts book in favour of an amazing grace can hardly be characterised as a bean counter.

Austerity will continue to dominate the news; David Cameron has announced that he sees no end in sight (surely he's said that before...) Meanwhile, we should not forget that we are not asked to be austere, we are asked to give without counting the cost, and to be rich - in the things that matter.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Latest on the draft measure

This press release at lunchtime announced that the Steering Committee on women bishops intends to seek permission to move a motion asking for an adjournment. Synod will vote on this tomorrow and, if they vote for an adjournment, the legislation will be sent back to the House of Bishops to reconsider (although nobody seems to want to guess what they will or won't do with it then!) The earliest it will be looked at then  is November.

Frustration - and bread down the chimney

I went to York Minister this morning, a moving service in which the Archbishop preached on frustration, linking this to  the frustrations of the prophet Ezekiel, Paul's thorn in the flesh and Jesus being frustrated at the unbelief in his home town. Frustration, said the Archbishop, affects individuals, society and the Church. It was a clear allusion to the difficulties which have dogged the Church during his tenure and an allusion to the current frustrations over the women bishops legislation.
In a nutshell, Rowan Williams said that we must remember that frustration is actually a product of our human ability to think and feel strongly about issues. The human mind, he said, cannot be forced and so our frustration arises from our freedom as human beings and so should be acknowledged as having arising from a positive and not seen as something wholly negative. The human mind cannot be forced - but it can be broken by love. He reminded us that Jesus could not do work among those of his home town because of their lack of faith and belief, sometimes, he said, we too need to let go of our resistance and allow God to do his work. Towards the end of the sermon, Williams told an anecdote, which he said he had been struggling to "fit in" to the sermon. It was the story of an impoverished Welsh farmer's wife who, when asked how she coped with the frustration of struggling to make ends meet, said that, "bread comes down the chimney."
I wondered if William's "offering" of the metaphor of bread down the chimney, a strange manna from heaven, was a final consolation for a Church for which he has no solution. Williams time and time again has offered to the Church the message that a "solution", if there is one, lies in love, trust in God and consideration for each other. It is in a way a helpless message, but I do not think it is an unholy one, in some ways very much the opposite and in some ways the only way forward in the face of seemingly irreconcilable divisions. For many, Williams has been too gentle and too vacillating; he has disappointed liberals and conservatives at different times and in different ways. But perhaps his message that somehow it will be alright, just wait, see, trust and don't lose sight of the bigger picture of love, is the wisest message going.