Thursday, 26 August 2010

Jesus with HIV

My attention was caught by an article in Ekklesia yesterday, it was about a South African pastor, Xola Skosana who has caused some controversy by preaching a sermon entitled “Jesus was HIV positive.”
The point was not to suggest that Jesus was promiscuous, as most of Skosana’s critics have assumed, in fact, the sermon was not even meant to be taken literally, or as a factual statement, but as a message about Christ attitude to suffering, shame and stigma and his call for compassion.
Skosana, whose two sisters died of AIDS, said he wanted to break down the stigma which deters people from being tested in the country with the highest rates of worldwide infection. He also wanted to demonstrate that Jesus came to earth to participate in human shame and suffering. Using the quote,
“ I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”,
Skosana explained that God put himself in the position of the marginalised. From the beginning to end of his life, Jesus dwelt among poverty, fear, stigma, shame and disease. He not only touched the leper, he was himself suspect; he was born to shame and illegitimacy, lived amongst the poor, and died an ignominious criminal.

Why can’t people cope with challenge to their ideas about God and humanity? In Open to Judgement Rowan Williams writes,
“This is the solitude of truth, the solitude, finally, of God; God as spastic child who can communicate nothing but his presence and his inarticulate wanting.”
This comparison of God to a disabled child provoked anger among some, but I don’t know why. Don’t people understand that analogies and metaphors are not meant to be definitive statements, much less deliberate insults, but that they are meant as starting points to make us struggle and search for meaning – to challenge us?
Jesus constantly challenged people by using analogies that shocked or surprised. Perhaps we are too familiar with the gospels to see how shocking the whole thing is. The Christian story is not polite or sanitised. The idea that God would be born in all that blood and shit, be touched by lepers and whores, tried, found guilty, spat upon, tortured, broken, and killed is pretty shocking! Just as shocking is the act of bursting through the stench of decay of death, not imaginary death, but real, visceral, physical death.
Perhaps we do need to be shocked a bit more; perhaps the idea of Jesus with HIV is just the kind of positive message we need.

(Above: Guido Rocha's sculpture "The tortured Christ"
Left: South African schoolchild's red AIDS ribbon picture, the text reads "Love them all equal HIV positive or not.")

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Good news!

We have really needed some good things to happen this year, and today they did. After the dreaded wait for the GCSE results, our elder son has got the grades he needs to go on to do his A level course.

A bit of a mish...

“The Devil will find work for idle hands to do”, or so Morrissey intoned in "What Difference does it Make". It was partly with this in mind that I “persuaded” my sons that for the duration of the summer we should make one day a week “Dad’s night off” and they should take responsibility for cooking and washing up after the evening meal. (I should explain at this point that Kev does the cooking; without him we would live off toast and takeaways.)
We got off to a cracking start with a chilli con carne lovingly prepared and cooked courtesy of younger son and the dishes sloppily washed up, or at least dunked in a bowl of water, by his brother afterwards. After that endeavour, there was less enthusiasm.
Tonight saw the turn of one of them to cook again. I had planned a staggeringly simple affair consisting of some chicken, a few vegetables and a jar of readymade sauce, but was still told that that it was “a bit of a mish” and he wanted to go on Facebook.
Apparently, “mish” is an abbreviation for “mission” and roughly translates as “too much effort.” Something can also be “a bit of a trek”, “a bit of a quest”, and even, “a bit of a pilgrimage” (at least they have a range of synonyms in their vocabulary.)
Son in question was eventually persuaded to come downstairs and half heartedly prod some vegetables around a pan for almost a minute, before the lure of FB won out.
So I finished off sautéing the chicken and veg and bunged in the sauce. It was a bit of a mish, but it tasted alright...

African Bishops Conference

The Council for Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) will convene the 2nd All Africa Bishops Conference tomorrow in Uganda. The Archbishop of Canterbury will be present and, according to the Changing Attitude blog, Henry Orombi is likely to put pressure on Williams to take a harder line on the issues of sexuality dividing the Communion.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

ASBO Christians go to church..

Following my last post on Anne Rice's decision to leave church "in the name of Christ", the fantastic ASBO Jesus site has featured a number of very pertinent cartoons about church, and I thought I'd treat you to them! The first is my favourite, if I ever got ordained I know it is how I'd feel:

It is great to see the ASBO Jesus site up and running again, particularly following this news in June.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

ASBO Christians

I read with interest this article about how Anne Rice is giving up Christianity but keeping Christ. Rice posted her reasons on Facebook,

"In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen"

Now,there is nothing in Christ's teaching that requires any of those things, and I think Rice is more "Christian" than she thinks. She is a little unjust in her blanket condemnations, not all churches are homophobic and bigoted, and I do worry that her declaration will fuel the far too common perception that all Christians are made in this mould. On the other hand, there is also a lot of truth in what Rice says. When it comes to the complexities of sex, sexual identity and human relationships, most churches don't even deal very well with straight people, let alone gay ones!

It is also true that sometimes, just sometimes, church can be a place where you find Christ, and sometimes grace breaks through, as I wrote in this post about ASBO Christians last year.

So, if you are tempted to give up church, why not stay and be an ASBO Christian ? You don't have to put up and shut up, you could be a challenge, irritation, embarrassment and a thorn in the flesh instead. Jesus always was.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Link to Lesley's blog

Another excellent post from one of my favourite blogs. Rev Lesley has written on several occasions about sexual and emotional abuse. Here she gives her thoughts on the lifelong consequences of childhood trauma. We are much more focused as a society on "stranger danger" and child protection as it pertains to official places and institutions, we are conveniently quiet about the fact that the majority of abuse occurs within the family, we forget that it is not just a tragedy in childhood, but also a blight throughout adulthood.

Papal designs

I expect quite a few people have already seen this, but I was quite taken with Andrew Brown's competition to design a T shirt for the Pope's visit to the UK. Designers had to attempt to do better than the banal "Pope /Nope" slogan on offer from the National Secular Society ( admittedly not a difficult challenge.) The winners represent a range of pro and anti Pope slogans. Apparently not all of the entries and posts on comment threads were in the best possible taste...

Bitter divisions over Prop 8

I have only been vaguely following this story, due to being away on holiday, but someone has just sent me this information just this morning:
Today Judge Walker gave the anti- same sex marriage folks another week to argue against a permanent injunction--"permanent injunction" meaning until this case is ultimately decided at the highest court level it reaches. Most pro-marriage legal minds expect that if Walker does not invoke this injunction (continuing the ban on gay marriages for the meantime), the 9th Circuit will immediately do so--in part to keep any of the Supreme Court judges from getting involved.
So, we should hear that same sex marriage licences are yet again vetoed in California, until this decision has been appealed, as it very likely will be, and the case heard.

You can read a little more about the details of Walker's ruling here.

The email I received followed on from one yesterday, which reported on a demo in Indianapolis, organised by a fundamentalist Christian group, the National Organisation for Marriage. One demonstator allegedly carried this poster:

When bitterness and hatred unite, it is an ugly combination. A petition is to be sent to NOM asking them to disavow this poster and its incitement to murder.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Bitterness

There has been a lot of talk on blogs (or at least some of the ones I read) about the “bitter” divisions within the Church of England. I don’t actually think there is that much bitterness at the grassroots, but it is true to say that certain groups and individuals feel excluded and marginalised by Synod’s vote last month concerning the nature of provisions for those opposed to women bishops.

In some ways the drama seems rather disproportionate, the proposed legislation still has to go to diocesan synods and then return to a completely new General Synod; we might well be back to square one, and then those who have waited so long may well find themselves experiencing resentment and frustration.

I have been thinking lately about the nature of bitterness, not just around this issue, but in life generally, and how bitterness is one of the most futile and destructive of emotions, but also one of the hardest to overcome.

Bitterness is, of course, a reaction to being hurt, rejected or disappointed, a feeling that we have been hard done by. In many cases this may be true, and feelings of anger and indignation are understandable and can be healthy responses where we have suffered great wrong. Bitterness goes further though; the bitter person dwells often obsessively on their sense of being wronged and often wants to evoke an emotional response - usually of guilt - in the perceived wrongdoer.

One of the most important lessons you can learn is that it is very difficult to influence other people’s behaviour or emotional state through bitterness (unless you are very close to them.) Others have their own lives and emotional concerns and will simply walk away if they can. The only person hurt by bitterness is the one suffering from it, the bitter are their own worst enemies. Bitterness is also deeply unattractive; it is an emotion that can make the sufferer seem selfish, self obsessed and childish, even ridiculous. A bitter person is rarely admirable.

Once bitterness takes hold we can become completely and utterly irrational, particularly if we blame other people for their actions without admitting that would have little or no compunction if the boot was on the other foot. The tiniest details can assume huge proportions in the mind of the bitter person, and we can waste a lot of time and emotional energy literally “feeding” bitterness.

I think resentment is a more common emotion that most of us like to admit – I know it can be for me. We all have people in our lives who have hurt us, things that we just can’t “let go”, people we dislike, for reasons that we know are beneath us, situations that irk us, and times that we ask “why me” and feel that we have deserved better. Bitterness never enhances our lives, and genuinely letting it go sets us free – and yet letting go is one of the hardest things to do.

I really do pray that we can overcome divisions in our faith and problems in our lives, without too much bitterness; it is not an emotion that speaks of Christian witness.

British summer



These two pictures were taken outside my door five minutes apart. We have had downpours, including some hail, this afternoon. Bessie has been totally distracted, barking at the thunder and lightening. She seemed convinced the world was about to end...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Link to Liturgy

Another great article from Bosco Peter's Liturgy offers an alternative list for the Pope's book for children about the ( entirely male) friends of Jesus.

For your bookshelf

Here is a sneak preview of my reading plan for next year's vacation...


I have already warned Bessie that she may be featuring as my stylish Autumn knitwear.

A chance to extend my knowledge of polymorphous perversity is always welcome.

... and of pregnant Spanish men...



I like to take some light theological reading away with me, so that I know how to answer my children's burning questions in a way that is helpful for the whole family.

With A level results day and the start of a new term looming, this one has a certain appeal. ( I know you'll all miss me...)

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Truth and fiction

One of the nicest things about being on holiday is that it frees up lots of time to read. Every year we try to find a selection of books that might suit all four of us, which is not always a straightforward task, and this year we did take some good stuff.
One of the first novels I read was The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry. I won’t say too much about this one as it is our book club novel for September, but I do recommend this as well worth reading, cleverly crafted, although it has its flaws. We also took Life of Pi, a novel that I have been intending to read for some time. I must say I absolutely loved this, I was hooked after the first few pages and devoured it – devour being quite an appropriate verb since the narrator spends the majority of the book on board a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger...OK... sorry...
I found both Life of Pi and The Secret Scripture moving, particularly the ending of each novel and the themes of the reliability of memory and what we mean by “truth” in storytelling – and life?
Strangely enough, the third novel I read, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, drew on similar themes, exploring the idea of private and public identity and the discrepancy between the “facts” of someone’s life and the more tenuous, but indispensible, “truth”. I am ashamed to say that, although I found this book readable, I couldn’t see where it was going until a fair way in and then, suddenly, all its meaning opened up and I couldn’t put it down.
Set in Mexico, the lacuna is an underwater cave, hard to see, full of treasures and danger, to which the narrator returns. The lacuna is itself a metaphor for the book, the idea of a missing piece, a missing notebook, parts of the protagonist’s life that are only hinted at, but which are the most moving and essentials parts, as Kingsolver writes, “the most important part of a story is the piece of it you don’t know”, (or as Eliot says “all significant truths are private truths”!)
My final novel was Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. This was written in 1946 and has only just been translated into English. It tells the story of the inhabitants of an apartment block in Nazi Germany. It is a story of resistance to the Nazis by dropping subversive postcards around Berlin. It may sound pretentious, but this book reminded me of reading Dostoyevsky (admittedly a long time ago.) There seemed to be the same detailing of minute motives, often in quite mundane, petty events, and this was used as a way to reveal the extremes of baseness and atrocity and heroism and goodness within human nature.

Oh, and I am back from holiday now and contemplating a large pile of washing as my entertainment for today...