Monday, 29 November 2010

Simplicity

I clicked on Rosanna's blog Considertheway this evening and read these words,
God sent Jesus to grow up in a simple family
to have simple needs
AND his message was simple.

That God knows us and God wants us to know him.

We do over complicate things, don't we? But God did not over complicate things, he just came to live among us, to speak to us in words and ways we could understand, to simply be with us.

I hope that I will be able to wonder at the simplicity of the Christmas message this Advent.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel



It's not really Advent until you hear this hymn, is it? Apologies to anyone who automatically associates Aled Jones with Songs of Praise, but he does sing it beautifully here.

A blessed Advent to everyone who reads this blog.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Forget happiness and you just might find it

David Cameron is going to measure our happiness, according to the latest reports, and this has led to some interesting reflections on whether it is possible to objectively measure or even define something which is a concept, and arguably a wholly subjective state of mind.
Having already inflicted upon you my deep thoughts on one abstract noun, namely freedom, I am going to base this blog post around the thoughts of much wiser people on the topic of happiness – or rather the much more Christian emotion of joy.

The first is from 2 Corinthians 6:4-10,
" Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

I find it hard to say how moving I find this passage. For a start it is so beautifully written and structured and the integrity of the lived experience and the message Paul has to convey literally breathes from the page. The long list gives a sense of the enormity of the problems Paul faced but also the sheer power of the faith, hope and joy that no difficulty could destroy. The parallel structures at the end convey the paradox that absolute joy is to be found in the midst of sorrow, that with faith it is possible to simultaneously have nothing and everything. Individual words in this passage are enough to blow your mind away, for example when he writes that he is “sorrowful, but always rejoicing”, it is that “always” that amazes you. Paul was often in chains, but always rejoicing, not sometimes, but always. This passage is challenging, exuberant, irrepressible. I find it inspiring and although it was written nearly two thousand years ago, each time I read it I feel it has been written for today.

Another piece I find inspiring is by written by Julian of Norwich,
" He wants us to accept our tarrying and our suffering as lightly as we are able and to count them as nothing.For the more lightly we accept them, the less importance we ascribe to them and the less pain we shall experience from them. In this blessed revelation I was truly taught that any man or woman who voluntarily chooses God may be sure that he too is chosen."This is fantastic advice from a very wise woman. Take your sufferings lightly she says, do not dwell on them and rest in the knowledge that God knows you and all your circumstances and has chosen you. As with Paul, this offers a logic and a view of how to achieve “happiness” that is alien unless you have tasted the peace and joy of faith.

Finally the key to joy and contentment is service to others. Service is central to the Christian faith, in fact service is central to achieving happiness as a full human being whether you are Christian or not. Not a lot of people know this, but Leo Tolstoy did when he wrote,

"Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness."
So, if you want to find happiness, forget it. It is buried deep in the heart of other things and it isn't served up as a dish in its own right.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Proclaiming liberty

I was going to blog on Synod's affirmation of the Anglican Covenant and all the shenanigans of GAFCON. Well, you can read about them by clicking on the links if you like, but his week is National Prison’s week, a campaign to raise awareness of those in prison, their families and victims and the role that churches and people of faith can have in reaching out to all affected by crime, and I thought this was a more important topic.
The slogan of National Prison Week is “Be with me” and their text is Luke 23:32 , a reminder that Christ too was tried, found guilty and executed between two criminals. Imprisonment and freedom is a theme that runs like a life giving river through the bible. A passage that literally sends shivers down my spine is Luke 4 ; 16-21, where Christ reads in the synagogue that he has come “proclaim liberty to the captive” and then announces that his listeners have witness scripture fulfilled. These passages offer a real challenge to all of us to be liberated by our faith and to liberate others, indeed it is hard to know how anyone could be a Christian and not think that Christ’s message had relevance to those in prison – whatever form that prison takes.
Back in June this year I nearly blogged about faith and prisons after reading this article by Naomi Phillips at The Guardian Comment is Free. Phillips argues that prisons should be secular zones and faith has no role in them. I can understand where Phillips reservations, but I don’t agree with her. It is true that prisoners are particularly vulnerable perhaps to proselytizing, but I strongly believe in the power of the cross to transform lives in all situations no matter how desperate. The Christian message is relevant to anyone who has been condemned, who may feel written off , because it offers a new start, the slate is wiped clean and sins are forgiven. It is also non discriminatory , or should be, redemption is available to all, it is not dependent on intelligence, class, wealth, race, education, background, social status, or your previous track record. In fact, all the things we commonly use to define worth and value, and which we use to define our own worth and value become irrelevant in the light of the cross.
There is some debate over the statistics and claims made for the redemptive power of faith in the lives of former offenders. Some organisations, such as Kainos, which last year made a bid to set up the first purely faith based prison in Cornwall , boast that their interventions slash reoffending rates to 13% against the average of 60%.These claims have however been disputed by The National Secular Society.
I have to admit that my knowledge in this area is shaky – and I am willing to hear from anyone who knows more. I believe that the possibility of redemption – not just social but spiritual- is badly needed in prisons. We are told that in Christ we are a new creation. What could be more relevant to the prisoner than that promise, bought by one who was degraded and executed in order to offer dignity and life to all no matter who they are or what they have done?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Queen talks sense

I've always loved the bit in in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights where Joseph, the cantakerous servant, is described as,

" the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours."

I've noticed for some time now that a lot of the Christians I meet - on the web mainly - hold views that they promote as moral but which I see as rather immoral. What's more some of them seem to think that their view of right and wrong is incontrovertible - usually because they have ransacked the bible in the manner described above. So I was rather delighted to hear that the Queen has opened General Synod with a speech about how Christians do not have a monopoly on morality and a reminder that we live in a diverse society. She even seemed to suggest that the difficult issues facing the Church might lead to renewed growth and vigour.

Well said, Ma'am!

I hope it went down well with the Vogons.

A time to be silent

I have just heard again on the news that Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden has been suspended, although Church Mouse seems to know differently. I am unsure if he has been withdrawn from public duties, withdrawn voluntarily or has been suspended. In any case, he has been censured and most of you will know why by now!

It seemed to me that while the bishop's remarks were certainly unacceptable, and could be seen as showing an arrogant and dismissive attitude to those whose marriages break down, his main error seemed to me his lack of wisdom in expressing them in a public context.

I personally do not really want to see him pay a heavy price, but the media is alert at this moment to any scrap of detail or coverage around this wedding and, if there is public interest, might well ensure he will.

Perhaps he should have put aside his republican sympathies and simply allowed himself to be cheered up by the thought of a public holiday - just like the rest of us.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Vogon alert



Researchers have discovered the alien species that is most likely to be taking over the Church of England.

BTW has anyone ever noticed the strange flying saucer shaped arrangement of the Synod chamber?

OK, I know that's enough!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

No new developments in Archbishop abduction horror

Further to the post below, I have unearthed this site Abduct Anon? It has a helpful question and answer format, for example : Q: Am I going crazy? A: No, you are not crazy, many people have been abducted by aliens.

Perhaps the Archbishop might benefit from Abduct Anon.

Oh, I forgot. Latest reports suggest they've still got him...

Newsflash:Archbishop abducted by aliens...




Sorry, I need a little light relief and I couldn't resist...

What Gene Robinson says is that people who studied and trained under Rowan Williams say that his views and approach seem to have changed so much that it is as though, "he has been abducted by aliens and they've left in his place someone who just looks like him, but they don't recognise."
Hang on...didn't we recently have the director for Unity, Faith and Order (UFO) speaking up for the Anglican Covenant?


Why does the Anglican Communion have a UFO director anyway? Hmm... I feel a conspiracy theory coming on and it is all starting to make a lot more sense.

Worth listening to this interview, if you can be bothered! (The alien bit is at about 3 mins 40 secs!)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Covenant cont...

For those of you following events to do with the Covenant, here are two potentially interesting articles, a strong and comprehensive defence from Andrew Goddard (no, I don't agree with him, but he puts forward a reasoned case and certainly knows his stuff) and another piece by Chris Sugden which condemns the Covenant as "weak" and "substituting conviction for truth."

Ah well, even the conservatives can't agree.

This is a house divided against itself (complete the saying...)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

LInk to Cranmer

I occasionally read Cranmer's blog and usually find myself either strongly disagreeing or agreeing. I want to say a big "Hear, Hear" to the sentiments expressed here about the atrocities carried out against Iraqi Christians, and the way it puts squabbling over you-know-what into perspective.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Read it and weep

There has been a plea from The Anglican Communion website to look at what the Covenant really says before judging it. Well, that seems fair enough, except that I have read the text of the Covenant several times and have come to the conclusion that there is no knowing just what the Covenant really says - or at least what it will really do - until we see the damned thing in action. I didn't think anything could actually make me more uncertain or dubious, but I was wrong, this peculiar missive actually did.
First of all the director of unity, faith and order tells us that the Standing Committee is "not new" and then helpfully explains that it would have,

"no power other than proposing to the Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting) steps to be taken to encourage discussion and discernment about disputed questions among the Provinces, or, if processes of mediation have broken down, what the relational consequences might be."

Oh well, that's all right then... no power at all really -and we have still no idea what the "steps to be taken" or "relational consequences" might be...

We are then told that,
" The Covenant explicitly says in section (4.1.3): “Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction."
and this, of course, should be noted. The Covenant does not alter the Canons or existing laws of any church, it might however curb their powers to pass new legislation or make changes, particularly if this legislation just happened - as a completely random example - to relate to the ordination of gay priests or the blessing of same sex relationships.

It continues ,
"The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case."

No, it's not at all clear that this would have been the case. Neither is it at all clear that it wouldn't have been the case. In fact, let's just say its not at all clear what effect it would have had in the past and thus it is not at all clear what effect it would have in the future. Or to simplify matters, let's just say - "it is not at all clear."

It continues with its - er- faultless logic,

"The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ. That is exactly the kind of discernment that is needed when any new matter emerges:"

Well, if the consultative processes actually resulted in the correct discernment on the issue of women's ordination - why not use those same processes again? Why use something that may or may not have hindered this process?

Section 2 of the Covenant clearly speaks of the need for a "shared mind". The director of unity, faith and order speaks of the Covenant's ability to bring about "discernment of (an) issue on which we are free to differ." You know when people say "we'll have to agree to differ?" Well, now it will be -"Ah no, you can't agree to differ until I agree that you can agree to differ." Well, that sounds like a recipe for harmony to me!

Does all this reassure you? Because it sure as heck didn't reassure me!

If it had confidently said, "the Covenant would not have held back the dignities and rights of women in the Church", I might have been reassured. If it had said, "this Covenant will not hold back the dignities and rights of gay people within the Church", I might have been reassured.

Because, boys and girls, that is what it is all really about.

Gay people have been marginalised, despised, derided, condemned, driven to suicide and worse for centuries. The Church has played a part in that role, and continues to do so. Some people would like that status quo to continue.

So, read the document now, ask yourself what it really says - and weep.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembrance

I went to a church service with Kev today for the first time since last Christmas/ New Year. Kev currently classifies himself as "almost an agnostic" and saves church for special occasions. One of my sons is also agnostic, the other is a passionate atheist whose bookshelf boasts a number of works by Dawkins and Hitchens.

Twelve years ago, when we moved to this area, things were very different. The boys both attended a faith school and we worshipped as a whole family every Sunday. I remembered this today because the church we went to was the one we all attended back in those days, Kev maintains some links with it and he is still responsible for sending out cards to the next of kin at funerals. He used to offer a "listening service" for anyone who would welcome contact with a church member following bereavement.

Because of this, the vicar asks him every year to attend the memorial service and to read out the names of those whose funerals have taken place at the church during the last year. I know Kev values this role, the service draws to the church many who are not regular attenders but who wish to remember, pay tribute to, possibly pray for loved ones who have died.

I often go along, as much as anything to support Kev, who has been very closely touched by bereavement in his life and can find such services difficult as well as meaningful. The service was moving, with the hymns, readings, candles and so many people visibly affected. It made me think of the importance of remembering the past and remembering the dead, whether lost through war or other circumstances, but also the importance of valuing the life and love that we have here and now, and not taking it for granted.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Perfect solution



Clearly the perfect solution to a lack of time and too much to do is for me to train Bessie up to these standards. Beeesssie...where is that dog when you need her!:)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

When two or three are gathered...

I was quite interested to note that Rowan Williams has apparently suggested suspending the Primates' Meeting, in favour of small group meetings of like minded bishops. I think this must be thinking along the lines of the Indaba principle, or perhaps more that when two or three are gathered there is less likely to be an almighty showdown? I'd say that given David Anderson's advice last month, the Primates' meeting in Ireland in January is more likely to end up more like an overwrought tantrum at a toddler's birthday party than a meeting of sage and reasonable elders! In the face of those attitudes, Rowan's Indaba hopes might not be universally popular.

Blessed are the peacemakers? You can forget that, Archbishop! Certain people out there are ripe for a fight and won't want you being a spoilsport. To show my age by quoting Morrissey again, " Love, peace and harmony? Oh, very nice, very nice, very nice... but maybe in the next world?

(Watch that fudge, could just boil over.)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Anglican Covenant fudge (please heed warnings)

Ingredients

A large quantity of extreme bitterness.
A variety of cultures and theologies .
Several demands for action .
Genuine concern about impaired relationships and a desire to find real solutions.
¾ of a cup of language about our “unity and common life.”
¼ of a cup of more ominous language about “relational consequences.”
Love and grace.
Prayer.


Method

1. Following the ordination of a gay bishop, place the large quantity of extreme bitterness in a bowl.
2. Add the mix of different cultures and theologies – be careful, it is extremely acid, volatile and potentially explosive. Try not to get your fingers burnt.
3. Add the demands to “do something”. The mixture may seethe, fizz and give off steam – try not to choke.
4. The next step is to try to neutralise the bitterness, this is essential if you are to produce a successful Anglican Covenant.
5. Take the genuine concerns about impaired relationship and desire for real solutions and stir very carefully into the seething mass with a lot of prayer
6. Now add the ¾ cup of language about unity and common life with ¼ cup of more ominous language about relational consequences while keeping your fingers crossed as the mixture reacts.
7. Realise that what you wanted to make was a covenant, and the basis of this is love, grace and mercy.
8. Look for the love, grace and mercy – realise you simply don’t have enough to hand.
9. Put the fudge through several readings, committees and submit to Synod anyway.
10. Add some more prayer, hope for a miracle.

Warning: Making this fudge is a thankless task. It requires skill, luck or a miracle. Few will like it, some won’t buy it. We cannot guarantee whether it will be tasteless, insipid, bitter or toxic. It may cause further discord, suspicion, nausea, indigestion and disaffection. It might hit the spot or it might just disintegrate.

HAPPY BAKING!

Diagnose your theology

I don't like labels - but I couldn't resist doing this quiz about What's your theological world view? Apparently I am Emergent Postmodern, which sounds like a slowly incubating disease, and in fact I know a few people who think it is!

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern
82%
Neo orthodox
68%
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
61%
Classical Liberal
57%
Modern Liberal
50%
Roman Catholic
46%
Charismatic/Pentecostal
36%
Reformed Evangelical
29%
Fundamentalist
0%

Well, suppose I might be. I can't agree that I am alienated from the older forms of church though. Hat tip to Lesley, who was also diagnosed as emergent postmodern and got it from Pluralist (the quiz that is, not her emergent postmodernism )

Go on, take the test, you know you want to ...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Five bishops resign

I guess everyone will have heard that five bishops are to leave the Church of England and join the Ordinariate. A quick hunt around t'internet yielded this article, What will Rowan Williams do now, by Riazat Butt.
Despite his "regrets", the issue that faces the Archbishop and the rest of the church is not so much what to do about those who go, but what to do about the vast majority of traditionalists who will stay. It is worth noting that, despite the election of a new synod which might be more sympathetic to their wishes, these five still chose to go. I would hazard that that is because they would be unhappy with any compromise, the very fact of the existence of women fully in the ministry of the church was the issue for them.

This is not to say that such a decision is easy, I am sure it is not. However, Broadhurst has spoken of being "nervous but excited" about the prospect, and I wish them well as they make the most of their own opportunities in ministry at the same time as many women in the Church of England look forward to new horizons and opportunites for which they have served, worked, prayed and so justly deserve.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Gene Robinson to retire

Gene Robinson is to retire in 2013, apparently he has announced this now to give plenty of time for the diocese to approve the decision and make preparations. Who needs my thoughts on the matter when Colin Coward writes so movingly on the Changing Attitude blog.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Friends and fellowship

I travelled down to Birmingham today to spend some time with a group of Christian friends that I have met at retreats and conferences over the last few years. It was a bright Autumn day, and after all meeting up at a venue near the station, we went on to St Martin's in the Bullring for a period of silent prayer.

I must say I had rather stereotypical ideas about Birmingham, but it did look good in the sunshine. St Martin's was a beautiful church which, judging by its website, literature and displays, seems to have a mission to reach out to everyone. There was some debate about the origins of the name St Martin's in the Bullring, some of us thought it must refer to bull fighting having occurred in the past, others thought this sounded too Spanish and that it was a reference to a part of the market where bulls were sold. Of course I googled "Bullring" when I got home - that's how sad I am!

We then went for a meal, and it was truly lovely to catch up with people and hear what had been happening in their lives. We hope to meet again in the New Year, possibly in Manchester this time. In a world where so many people I associate with are secular, I do value Christian friends. I also love doing faith and fellowship in different ways than simply through church, and do feel ministered to in these kind of contexts.
I don't like to post too many pictures of individuals on the blog, but above are some pictures of the interior of St Martin's in the Bullring.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

To fight or appease?

I am sure I am not the only person to be shaking my head over Wallace Benn's silliness in comparing the situation for traditionalists to 1939 with the storm clouds of war gathering. I am sure the thought of being invaded by Hitler was much more terrifiying to the average Britain than the thought of a woman wearing a mitre. On the other hand we have Tom Wright ( I am afraid he has never impressed me much) using the language of appeasement and saying we should back down from consecrating women as bishops at all.

I do not particularly like the language of warfare, but sometimes it is important to stand up for the right thing when the right time has come - maybe long come! I do not believe we should, or will, back down from consecrating women as bishops. We do not live in an age when it is in any way acceptable for women to be discriminated against. How can the Church oppose discrimination in other spheres when we so blatantly practise it ourselves? Leaving aside leading by example, it would be insupportable to deny women the chance to be bishops when it is so clearly the wholehearted desire and mind of the Church of England to proceed with this matter. It would attract hugely negative publicity, and the issues would not be resolved, for the sake of a minority they would fester. We would have to confront them time and time again, and that is not something that any of us should contemplate.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

No Anglican Covenant Coalition

I'd suggest everyone reads this post from Lesley's blog. It gives some interesting information about the coalition against the Anglican Covenant which Lesley is involved in.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Foster parents seek exemption

I have mixed feelings about the case of foster parents Eunice and Owen Johns who say they have a right to foster children despite being unprepared to remain silent about their views that homosexuality is wrong.

The issue in cases such as this should always be the interests of the child. It is clearly not in the interests of a child who is, or may be, homosexual to be fostered or adopted by a couple who actively promulgate such views. It could be described as an infrigement of the child's right not to be discriminated against, and the authorities placing such a child could be failing in their duty of care.

What is interesting in this case is that the prospective foster parents were offering respite care to children aged five to ten. I do wonder how likely it is that the issue of homosexuality is going to arise with children of this age, also, as respite carers they would not be the main influence on the child, the biological parents would. Perhaps then the ability of the foster parents to offer loving respite care should be much more important.

However, it also occurs to me that this case could be very easily resolved by the foster parents agreeing that, in the unlikely event that such a topic arises, they were to say that they preferred not to discuss the topic and suggested the child asked the parents at home. The couple say that they do not wish to lie, but this is not lying!

Mr and Mrs. Johns are not alone in the expectations placed upon them. It would not be acceptable for a teacher, or social worker, or coach, or probation officer to tell a young person that homosexuality was wrong. As a teacher, I am not allowed to say, for example, that it is "wrong" for couples to cohabit, or that I think Muslims are infidels, or atheists are going to hell, or that fat people are just greedy and lazy, or that people on benefits are scroungers, or that Christians are stupid, or that Jehovah's Witnesses banging on the door are intrusive and annoying.

This is entirely right, however strongly I may hold these views. My students may have parents who cohabit, they may be Muslims, or atheists, or fat, or on benefits, or Christians, or Jehovah's Witnesses. During the recent election, we were reminded that we should not attempt to influence our students' voting choices, some members of staff believe that, even if asked, a teacher should refrain from revealing how they personally vote. This is not to say that discussion is not allowed. When asked what I think, I tell students if it is appropriate, but I always say that it doesn't matter what I think, what matters is what they think! In certain cases, I might even have to refrain from expressing my views.

Foster parents are not just private individuals, they are employed in a professional capacity. It is right and proper to expect them to behave in a professional manner.

The Brick Testament

I don't know if you've noticed, but I often simply don't find the time to blog during the working week! However, in the light of all the budget cuts and consequent anxiety, I thought you might like these gospel message concering the poor and the rich, from the wonderful Brick Testament.
I particularly like the camel in the illustration above!