Friday, 29 March 2013

Sorrow and Love

Good Friday is the day on which my faith makes most sense to me. This is because, although I have never heard a completely satisfying intellectual argument as to why a loving God would allow so much human suffering, the image of a God who suffers along with us seems the most compelling emotional answer to that question. The cross is a rich metaphor; it does not really matter that it means different things to different people, more that we are prepared to search for meaning in it. In the clip above, Justin Welby describes how when he faced his daughter's death, he had a strong sense, alongside his grief, of the presence of Jesus that filled the room. That image of the simultaneous presence of love and grief recalls the words of Isaac Watts:
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Or as it says in the liturgy,

“He opened wide for us his arms on the cross.”
Or in the words of William Blake:

“Until our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.”

The type of love which stays with us when the chips are down, when have reached rock bottom, when nothing can really be said or done other than to offer love itself, is something very precious. It is precious because it is then that we realise that love is valuable, not because it can sort our problems out, but because love affirms our dignity as human beings. Love asserts that our human life, even in its last futility of weakness, pain, despair and death, still has meaning and value.

The triumph of the cross is not a triumph over weakness but a triumph through weakness. It holds the message that an all powerful God loves us enough to be totally defenceless and that this in itself is triumph and power.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Brick walls

Giles Fraser, who only recently announced he was giving up anger and moving on, has now managed to upset a lot of people with an article about banging his head against a brick wall over "Cheesus Christians" which shows a level of evango-phobia which unfortunately doesn't seem to be tongue in cheek or satirical. I have to say that I do think the offence Fraser has caused is justified in this instance, he does peddle some appalling stereotypes about evangelicals, describing them as, "patronising, superior and faux caring all at the same time." Perhaps even more toe-curlingly, Fraser makes some apallingly sweeping statements about what he refers to as the theological illteracy of evangelicals, saying that their theology has no capacity to address suffering and pain.
 I suspect that Fraser fully intended his readers to understand that he is talking about a certain type of evangelical or a tendency that can sometimes be found in some strains of evangelical thought. If so, he doesn't make it clear, he just seems to lump the whole evangelical world - which is a very broad spectrum anyway-together as Cheesus lovers. I also didn't feel that Fraser's observations were particularly theologically literate themselves. He criticises evangelicals because  "the cross of Good Friday is actually celebrated as a moment of triumph", and not, as Fraser describes it, as failure and crisis, without pausing to take breath and consider whether the work of the cross, a work that involves embracing the failure and despair of humanity, is not the paradoxical strength-in-vulnerability that lies behind the power of the Resurrection. Seeing the cross as a work of triumph is not necessarily theologically illiterate.
But leaving aside the fact that the theological comment might have been more nuanced and astute, what that really made me want to  bash my head against the wall is that Fraser is president of Inclusive Church - and God loves and uses all sorts of people, not only men and women, black and white, gay and straight, but also liberals and conservatives. Also most people really do defy labels. Most people who might be described as "liberal" (such as myself) don't like to be characterised as not-beliving- in-the-bible, anything-goes-types any more than most evangelicals like to be characterised as either ranting -bible-basher or cheesy-fake-and-shallow.We have to get beyond the sort of "them and us" labels that can cause us to fail to see and relate to others, because that way we might just have a chance of bringing down the walls that can divide us rather than just bruising our heads on them.

Prayer for Holy Week

God as we walk through Holy week may we remember,
Beyond sin there is love inexhaustible,
Beyond death there is life unimaginable,
Beyond brokenness there is forgiveness incomprehensible,
Beyond betrayal there is grace poured out eternally,
May we remember and give thanks

From Godspace

Monday, 11 March 2013

Down memory lane

I was a Forces child. I was born in Singapore in 1966, my father had gone there to work as a teacher in a forces school. He may well have  gone as a response to seeing this video or one similar to it. Life was pretty good for British Forces personnel in Singapore; I think the pay was quite good as was the social life. I still have faint memories of the place, in particular my Amah (who was called Ar-Wah, although I guess this means her real name was “Wah”.) The Amah looked after the children, rather like a nanny nowadays. My husband always teases me about this and says I was born into the twilight of Imperialism.

When I was five, my dad decided to train for the priesthood and we went to a deprived area of South Wales with high unemployment, we lived in an icy cold house with no central heating. Only a few years later though he decided to return to work in a Forces school, this time in Germany. The above promotional video will be of little interest to anyone who was not a Forces child, but for me it features many of the scenes of my childhood, for example I remember the rubber plantations and I am sure some of the later clips show my school in Germany.

My mum will also no doubt be interested, so it could be a sort of belated Mother’s Day gift... Yeah, we did get flowers as well...

Rubber plantation

Street scene Hong Kong

Slums close to where we lived. There was great poverty for many

Street altar in Singapore
My Christening day- the ears are still the same!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Women Bishops Plan B

As I understand it, Parliament is  to debate whether it should force through a bill which will enable women to become bishops- presumably simply on equal terms to men- but I have to say I am unsure on this point.
A report from WATCH runs thus:

On Wednesday 13th March Diana Johnson, MP for Kingston upon Hull, will introduce a bill under the ten-minute rule that would enable women to become bishops in the Church of England. In this way she will remind the Church of England that it lies within Parliament’s power to legislate for this, if the Church cannot do so quickly and in a way that is acceptable to Parliament.

After the disastrous vote last November when General Synod failed to support women bishops legislation, bishops were called to Westminster to explain to MPs how they planned to bring a speedy resolution to the problems this vote had caused. A House of Bishops Working Group has now consulted widely, and from the responses to the consultation that have been made public it appears that there is even less common ground than before between those in favour and those against women bishops. Nevertheless WATCH remains committed to the Church of England’s process of reconciliation and continuing conversations.

WATCH believes that Diana Johnson’s bill is timely in reminding the Working Group, and the House of Bishops, that legislation for women to be bishops must be passed by the Synod sooner rather than later, and in a form that allows no discrimination against women.

I am so out of patience with the Church of England on this point that I hardly care whether Parliament force through a bill or not - except that I would be glad for the women I know who are priests. For the Church it would be humiliating and embarrassing. Why can't it see that the writing is on the wall?