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.