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.

Synod and Women Bishops!

Few will be surprised to hear that there was one topic that dominated the conversations at York Synod this weekend! Everybody is waiting for tomorrow's business on the draft legislation on the admission of women to the Episcopate and tensions are certainly running high in some quarters. Friday evening's questions saw a certain amount of , well, frustration might be the word at the increasingly centralised actions of the House of Bishops in amending this legislation at the eleventh hour.
Yesterday, after  being present at the presentation of the petition on same sex marriage, I attended the WATCH lunch where Miranda Threlfall- Holmes spoke of her disappointment and dismay at what had happened and considered some of the ramifications. I don't want to say too much about the WATCH lunch because it was a meeting essentially for WATCH members, I just want to say how very difficult and messy something which might be thought to be relatively simple - the opening up of full ministry to both genders- has been and continues to be.
Although I did witness the thoughts and feelings of those of us who long for the full inclusion of women in the Church, I did not have the opportunity to speak with anyone opposed. I was, however, handed a leaflet called Better Together which seemed very inclusive and touch feely but, when I examined it later, turned out to be signed by Bishop Ebbsfleet who is Chairman of Forward in Faith. You can look at the website on the link; it sedulously avoids any of the usual tactics and does not in any way rehearse the arguments of those opposed. Is couched in the most vague and general terms and just basically asks - well - for everyone to be a lot nicer to those who cannot recognise the ministry of women. I felt it might be an indication of how outnumbered those opposed feel if they must address members of General Synod using these tactics.
I am very sorry that I cannot be at Synod tomorrow, but I will definitely be keeping up with developments throughout the day!

Saturday at Synod- Same sex marriage petition

On Saturday morning, supporters of Changing Attitude met the Rev Ian Stubbs outside York Minister to accompany him on the last leg of his journey to present a petition to the representatives of the Archbishop of York. The Rev Ian Stubbs decided to launch the  Not in my name petition in response to the House of Bishops statement on same sex marriage which was published last month. The statement attracted criticism from many within the church.
Ian Stubbs is the parish priest of All Saints in Glossop and was reported as saying,
‘I am bitterly disappointed by the Church's shameful and outdated response to the proposals for gay marriage, it shows a lack of moral courage and risks further undermining the credibility and relevance of the Church of England in modern life."
Presenting the petition
He collected 4,000 signatures in only two weeks and said the response of the majority of people had been positive.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Being whole

This is a powerful video clip to show to students as part of a PSHE programme. It teaches the importance and power of wholeness of spirit and mind. Nick Vujicic makes his audience consider their lack of wholeness, hesays that it is "scary" how many girls have eating disorders, how many people feel they are worthless, how many of those who on the surface seem whole, lack inner wholeness.
Today's reading contains the account of two healings wrapped around each other. On the way to heal a sick child, a woman touches the hem of Jesus' garment and is healed. Jesus feels power go out of him and calls her in front of him. She is clearly afraid but he says her faith has made her whole. The news then comes that the child has died, but Jesus says she is only asleep and he raises her from the dead.
In the first healing, the woman would undoubtedly have suffered great shame and been ostracised due to her condition. Perhaps this is why she tries to get herself healed unobtrusively, without anyone knowing, without Jesus knowing. I wonder if Jesus speaks to her directly because she needs more than physical healing, she needs reassurance that her need for healing was not shameful, that she  herself was not a shameful secret.Then, after publicly drawing attention to the first healing, Jesus, having raised the child from the dead, tells people to keep that healing secret and not to tell anyone.
One of the problems is that human nature has an (understandable) propensity to be impressed more by sensational acts of physical healing than the less visible healing of the mind and spirit. The first woman went away healed of more than her physical ailment; she went away vindicated as a human being. Jesus also shows in both healings his lack of concern about being made ritually unclean, either by a bleeding woman or a corpse. As he once taught, it is the things that come from within that make us unclean, or pure, damaged or whole. The crowds had a lesson to learn from the first healing, that healing is not just about the spectacular, it is about the whole person.
Both healings involve touch and speech, and the way we reach out to others and what we say to them are a part of healing and wholeness. These healings demonstrate the way that Jesus can touch and speak to us in ways which heal the slow painful haemorraghing of rejection and shame, and reach the self which we thought was dead but was asleep and waiting for his call.