Friday, 30 March 2012

Running on empty

On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day…
seize the goods…
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit;

You come
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children at the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come … fleshed … in Jesus
And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.

We watch … and we take
food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.
It dawns on us, late rather than soon, that
You give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

By your giving,
break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance...mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and evasiveness...
all things Easter new...
all around us, toward us and by us
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation...
in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

An Easter Prayer by Walter Brueggemann (Thanks to Blue Eyed Ennis)

I haven't met a single person who will admit to being one of those who rushed to the pumps to fill up their car these last few days. Or if anyone did admit to it, they explained that they were almost empty and otherwise they would have resisted. I didn't fill up, but then I'd filled up the day before the panic started. I did get stuck in traffic jam caused by a queue for petrol and sat and thought about the needless delays, not to mention extra fuel consumption, that other people's anxiety was causing me! I also thought of when Northern Rock crashed, causing a "run on the banks". Fear and greed are at the root of selfish behaviour.This Easter Prayer by Walter Brueggemann made me think of the recent fuel-crisis-that-wasn't and how it was only a symptom of what is wrong with us all.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The hijacking of Rowan Williams

Gene Robinson told us long ago that Rowan Williams has actually been abducted by aliens and replaced with a clone, but that is not what this blog title refers to! Rather it is about my weariness at hearing that he has yet again said something that he actually hasn't. I'll be driving along or browsing the internet and my attention will be caught by some outright condemnation - usually of gay rights, or women's ministry - and I think to myself, "That doesn't sound like the sort of thing Williams would say." Then, lo and behold, I read the full text of the speech  and discover he actually didn't. It's getting quite predictable and must be so annoying for him.

It happened again today. Apparently, Williams said that society is fragmenting because of an obsession with gay rights and women's rights. "No", I thought, "that's not a description of society, more the Church." Then I thought, "But he didn't say it anyhow!" Sure enough, although I can't find the full text of his address to teenagers at the Welsh Assembly today, Williams  never uses words like "fixation"or "obsession" in any quote I can find. As for the fragmenting society bit, he says,“Once we start saying this is my identity and that’s it then I think we are in danger of really fragmenting the society we belong to.”  It is true that once we allow an identity to prevent us, in William's words, "discovering what is good for all of us and sharing something of who we are with each other so as to discover more about who we are" that we do all lose out. I think that William's words apply as much (if not more) to Christians who define their Christian identity almost entirely in terms of feeling persecuted and at loggerheads with others as to any other group in society.
Thinking of the good of all of us, thinking in terms of all of us, rather than in terms of "them and us" is a foundation stone for equality and harmony. I really can't see what others do in Williams very measured words. It  is claimed he was denouncing gay rights and feminism, but despite the fact that he also refered to, "the politics of ethnic minorities " in the same breath, there has been no suggestion that he was attacking racial groups or Islam (after all he is still Mr-introduce-Sha'riah law, isn't he?)
It makes me wonder what else Williams will not say before he leaves office?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Church of England rejects the Covenant

I have just got back from a day of friendship and fellowship in Bristol and am pretty shattered, so this will be brief. Mr M picked me up and the station and practically greeted me with the words, "The Anglican Covenant has been kicked into touch!" There are now too many dioceses which have rejected it for it to gain a majority. The defeat of the Covenant in England is, of course, a bit of a body blow. It is somewhat embarrassing to have the Archbishop's key proposal to help assauges the difficulties which face the Communion rejected on home ground.  It is not exactly a vote of confidence. It is also a strange thought that the Archbishop is integral to Anglicanism, one of the Instruments of Communion, and yet the understanding is really that provinces which vote against, although not exactly to be excluded are a second tier (read second rate...) part of the Communion.
Bet he's gladder than ever to be off to those dreaming spires.
 Anyone really want the job?

Lynda Rose and Gene Robinson


Interesting discussion above. It starts about ten minutes into the clip.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

God-seeking

God-seeking thou hast journeyed far and nigh.
On dawn-lit mountain-tops thy soul did yearn
To hear His trailing garments wander by;
And where 'mid thunderous glooms great sunsets burn,
Vainly thou sought'st His shadow on sea and sky;
Or gazing up, at noontide, could'st discern
Only a neutral heaven's indifferent eye
And countenance austerely taciturn.
Yet whom thou soughtest I have found at last;
Neither where tempest dims the world below
Nor where the westering daylight reels aghast
In conflagrations of red overthrow:
But where this virgin brooklet silvers past,
And yellowing either bank the king-cups blow.

William Watson (1858 – 1935)

 As usual, I'm having a busy week and a busy term and I am conscious of the need to still myself a bit and stop thinking and striving. This poem seemed to fit in with the theme of finding God in unexpected places, in simplicity and in peace.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Archdruid predicts the next Archbishop

The Archdruid predicts a riot - sorry that's a song title - she brilliantly predicts all the qualities likely to be found in the next Archbishop of Canterbury(enjoy!)
I thought the last quality on the list was a bit radical by the way... It is also worth noting that the next ABC will, of course, be a man. If it is Sentamu, given his age, that would give us eight years maximum before the next shortlist for ABC. Surely, once we have women bishops, the Crown Nominations Commission will have to include a woman as well as a man in the names for consideration? It's just a thought - but then that is something else for everyone to squabble over next time...

Friday, 16 March 2012

Rowan Williams moves on

 Well, it has certainly been a busy time of late. We've have all the continuing furore about the Government's proposals for gay marriage, with various members of the RC and Anglican Church intervening, not always in particularly helpful ways. Then voting on the Anglican Covenant has been moving apace and not looking as it is going to be very successful on home ground, which led to Rowan Williams putting together a little appeal in which he looked a bit teary if you ask me... Talking of tears, we have had further instances of child abuse being uncovered, both at home in Chichester diocese and evidence of more abuse in Ireland. Meanwhile Rowan Williams and the Pope have been praying together and we have heard that more priests are planning to leave for the Ordinariate (is it only me who thinks a lot more of them talk about going than actually go?) And speaking of going - well, as you all know, Rowan is hanging up his mitre and in favour of the academic's gown as he takes a post as Master of Magdalene college.
  I heard about William's resignation in college today and my first thought was that much as I love all the drama (stifles yawn...) I  hope that we won't see too much bitching and in-fighting. Then on the way home I heard someone from Reform saying how we needed a chap who would uphold biblical teaching (about women and gays, obviously...is there any other kind of teaching?) and someone from Inclusive Church saying that we need someone who can engage in a relevant way with the issues of today ( those would be issues about women and gays then?)
It seemed particularly apposite that Rowan Williams chose to bow out, wise man, on the very day that the Government launched its  consultation on gay marriage. The Government seems to be quite clear that it is not consulting on whether to have gay marriage or not, it is just consulting generally, then it will go ahead no matter what. Whatever my own views on the whole subject, I can't help but feel that this railroading on a matter which many people have such strong views on may be unwise. There is already a great deal of anxiety (paranoia?) amongst some Christians and the Government's apparent disregard is likely to just fuel the sense of marginalisation and the sense that faith is being "driven out of the public square". Some of the more inflammatory statements by people such as Cardinal O'Brien will also serve to feed a growing public perception of people of faith as bigoted. There is some stereotyping of Christians in Britain. It is not a happy state of affairs.
Some might say it is a difficult time to be a Christian and others that it is difficult to see the way forward for the Church. Williams has faced a great deal of criticism while in office, but I think we might miss his gentle and nuanced approach. I guess Rowan Williams, as he contemplates his future, might think that for him things can only get better. I am not sure the same can be said for the Church.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

What's in a name - it depends who you are!

I am currently listening to Radio 4s the Moral Maze on the issue of gay marriage tonight. It seems we have heard about little else recently and it is all starting to get a bit yawn worthy. My own view on this is simple; the same sex couples I know seem to me to be every bit as "married" as anyone else. I consider friends in civil partnerships to already be married. Friends/ colleagues in long term relationships I also consider married. It seems to me that marriage in a spiritual sense occurs when a couple decide to commit to each other and a wedding ceremony is really a formalisation of something which has (hopefully) already occured. This is of course a comment on the spiritual/ emotional element of marriage, marriage as an agreement conferring legal rights and responsibilities does require a formal contract. On that issue, CPs have the legal status of marriage; the whole of this debate really is over the ownership of a word/ concept.
One of the problems around the gay marriage debate is that there are so many different views, and there is no doubt that many people of faith do feel very strongly that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman, that it involves the coming together of genders whose complementary biological function is to procreate. Some gay people feel discriminated against and feel that the view that marriage can only occur between a man and woman is "heterosexist". Other gay people feel that civil partnership is preferable to marriage and that marriage is a tradition with its roots  in the ownership and subjugation of woman. I don't believe that the move to introduce marriage for all is accompanied by an intention to get rid of civil partnerships - this does beg the question as to whether, if marriage is extended to same sex couples, that civil partnership should be extended to opposite sex couples?
As someone who is married - and very committed to that marriage- I would prefer it if the institution I am in did not exclude same sex couples. I  also agree that marriage as a historic construct has its roots in patriarchy and oppression - although I am not sure this really matters if one does not feel oppressed or controlled! I consider that my relationship is an equal partnership. If I was in a civil partnership with my husband, our relationship would be exactly the same. A while ago I asked Mr M if he would consider converting our marriage to a civil partnership if this option were to be extended to all in society. He wasn't sure at the time, but yesterday he told me that he would prefer us to be in a civil partnership than a marriage.
Isn't he a sweet old fashioned thing? You'd better watch this space!;)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Infinite zero


I don't really like a lot of the devotional and study materials that are generally available in Christian bookshops and on the net. I am not keen on "Alpha type" evangelical expositions of theology and can find bible reading notes don't do much for me.  I am certainly not Anglo-Catholic but strangely I do often find Catholic writings and materials more satisfying and thought provoking than most of the other stuff out there (weird, huh?) I am still following the Ignatian prayer Lent materials and have been looking at some of the writings of Thomas Merton.  I find the ideas in this reading  about nothingness and everything challenging and have to grapple with them.  The thought that,
"There is a point of nothingness in the midst of being, the incomparable point"
reminds me of  a line from  one of my favourite poems, Eliot's Four Quartets, in which he describes the, "still point of a turning world", a point where there is nothing yet at the same time there is the infinite.

I leave you with a longer section from the poem I was reminded of:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Faith is sometimes found in certainties and in "answers" but it seems to me that we also need to seek it in the wilderness of unknowing and paradox.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Indifference

I have been reading and thinking about the Ignatian principle of indifference this week. It may seem contradictory given my last post about the grief felt in Christchurch at the loss of the cathedral to write about indifference, but let's say that it is a concept that I think is important and valuable at the same time as I struggle to understand it. Ignatian teaching tells us that we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created. These are hard teachings, which have elements in common with the Buddhist idea of relinquishing our human desires in order to achieve happiness. Indifference gives us a distance from things that allow us to choose without prejudice. Transcending our own limited wants, needs, fear and doubts confers freedom and self knowledge. Achieving distance allows vision. It is rather mystical  philosophy,very much a life time endeavour and one we are only likely to partially succeed in.

 Ignatian indifference does not mean being callous or unfeeling, but rather aiming to put our lives in context and focus on God's perspective rather than our own. One of the messages of the Ash Wednesday service I attended this year is one vital lesson we need to learn is that we are not important. This message runs contrary to all our modern day ideas about  self esteem, the deceptive mantra that we deserve the best because we are worth it. We are, of course, worth it. So is everyone else. We need to know this. At the same time, paradoxically, if our whole thinking revolves around how much we deserve from life then we are going to find it hard to cope when bad things inevitably happen. I would suggest that, even if we live a relatively happy life, such an approach can encourage us to be shallow, unappreciative and can destroy happiness. Indifference is another of those topsy turvy messages that is  simultaneously profoundly conceptual and very practical, that sounds like it will deprive us but actually enriches us.

Christchurch

 I was interested, although also saddened,  to hear Bishop Victoria Matthew's talking about the plans to take down and rebuild Christchurch Cathedral in the wake of last year's earthquakes.This link is to a news item on the plans to take down the remains of Christchurch cathedral and to begin rebuilding a new and safer building. I believe it has been decided that the cost of repairing the building would be too great. The decision to demolish the cathedral has been a heartbreaking one for those involved, and some remain opposed to the move. Bishop Matthews said, "We are now looking to the future and creating a beautiful, inspiring, safe new cathedral but we understand it will take some time for any of these decisions to be made"
The demolition will proceed in a way that it appropriate and respectful. Peter Carrell from Anglican Down Under reports on the grief  and conflict caused  by the need to recognise that a much loved place of worship could not be salvaged. I am sure the thoughts and prayers of many will be with them at this time.