Monday 30 November 2009

Away in a fairly stinky manger . . Real Carols for real folk!

The Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon  has come to the conclusion that the traditional carol cannot be sung “without embarrassment”. What we really have is 'blackmail', 'Victorian behaviour control' and misleading words and I suppose he's right! After all, what does a bleak midwinter look like in Bethlehem? Are there really frosty winds blowing and snow falling snow on snow?
These 'naff' songs, "Add to the confusion over the season’s real meaning and turn Jesus into a figure as fictitious as Father Christmas" +Croydon continues ('Why Wish You a Merry Christmas') "Carols encourage images of Christmas that have more to do with Victorian sentiment than the Biblical account of Christ’s birth. They have contributed to the story of Christ’s birth being seen “as just one more story alongside the panto and fairy stories”.
Taking the Bisop's words: "I always find it a slightly bizarre sight when I see parents and grandparents at a nativity play singing Away in a Manger as if it actually related to reality. I can understand the little children being quite taken with the sort of baby of whom it can be said 'no crying he makes’, but how can any adult sing this without embarrassment?”
I can but agree and so, with permission from the focus of Christmas and the reason for the season (Argos), bring to you the 'real carols' just like what Croydon wants us to have.
I present to you (shortly) the 'Croydon' revised Carol Sheet . . . .

Sunday 29 November 2009

Free - A Reptonian 'Merry Christmas' checklist

Some people are taking the Bishop of Repton to task over his words regarding the issuance of Christmas Greetings. Having read about him in the Torygraph, I think he's trying to say is 'be sensitive' and 'be engaged'. The problem with this is that to comply with what I think you're saying you need to be certain of a few facts before issuing a, "Ho, ho, ho - Happy Christmas," to anyone;

To assist, I have drawn up a quick checklist to ensure that those 'happy holidays' moments run smoothly and lose their 'hollow' status:  

A Merry Christmas Issuance Checklist  

Preface. Walk up to your intended 'target' and having read this word for word. This should ensure a full Christmas greeting is both transmitted and received .
Good Morming/Afternoon/Evening I see that we are fast approaching a time of Christian celebration called Christmas and wonder if you could answer the following questions to assist me in the issuance of appropriate Yuletide felicitations (you are free to translate this into colloquial or local dialect if it assists)?  

Note. If the person is not inclined to engage with the questions there are obviously not welcoming the festive greeting intended for them and one should shake the glitter from one's shoes and re-pocket the misteltoe taking neither mince pie nor anything else for the journey. Assuming they answer in the affirmative, continue.  

1. Do you have any member of your family, or close acquaintances, who might have been killed or injured in military operations anywhere in the world (best not to be explicit, there are special forces families out there too!)?  

2. Do you, or have you ever lived in any part of a community in the Indian Ocean or any other place which has been subjected to sudden flooding, tsunami, earthquake or any other 'natural' disaster (best to hedge bets here and go for all the 'rumours of wars and natural disasters) especially those which might be a direct result of 'global warming'?  

3. Have you, or any close family member or acquaintance, been the subject of bullying, ostracism or racial intimidation in your workplace or neighbourhoods or community? Do you need me to explain what ostracism is? Note. This has nothing to do with keeping Ostriches!  

4. have you, a family member or close acquaintance, lost your job, home or in any way suffered because of the actions of the bankers over the past year?  

Note. If at any time you receive an affirmative answer, terminate the discussion now and keep your Christmas happiness to yourself - better not to try and brighten their life by harping on about a coming Messiah and the hope for peace in the world through His death on the Cross. take it to someone who is obviously less challenged and in a better frame of mind to receive the Christmas blessing you have within you. Merely issue an, Oh, that's sad - goodbye," and leave (don't shake your legs, the glitter and tinsel won't harm you or them!  

You are now ready to issue a 'non-hollow' greeting in the sure and safe knowledge that you will be sharing your 'Merry Christmas' with another occupant of the same "Cocoon of happiness for ourselves and our loved ones" as you this Christmas. Easy - informed, balanced and better still, No hollow, insulting or obscene," Christmas greeting in sight and we can all, happily, carry on with the shopping, decorating and making of another cocoon (is this the new 'random'?) as we prepare to be 'happy'.  

But we know that Advent is all about judgement and what's wrong with the world," so shouldn't we be conveying the 'Jesus is Coming' message and warning people of the approaching judgement rather than issuing trite 'Merry Christmas' greetings anyway? Perhaps that was what +Humphrey meant to say but just got lost in translation! I'll leave the last word to him (see is you can spot the use of the word 'cocoon' yet again?  

"Those who choose to celebrate Christmas in a cocoon and ignore the plight of others are "like the people who took their ease in the Inn, missing entirely what was happening in the Stable just around the corner," he concluded.  

I think the poor PontyHatted gentleman just wants more than superficiality and for Christians to come out of their cocoon and engage rather than issue 'trite' Christmas greetings or blessings (see how many times you can use the word 'cocoon' today children) and getting a bit of flak for it - probably the way he was reported rather than said it (I hope).  

Now, on to Croydon and his wisdom for the season.

Friday 27 November 2009

Worse than the sinners . . .

I have had a few comments passed to me about this blog. Some come from people who see themselves as being above question and appear to inhabit a strange mirrored-glass world where they are free to point fingers and make judgements on others and yet are, of course, free from any similar treatment themselves.

Some have been hurt, which was never my intention, because they see what I have as an attack on them. I am looking at the issues before me, which some have brought into closer focus, and am trying to set my own limits and expectations. I have to repeat, these are the standards I am setting for my self and I neither condemn nor attack others for their views, but perhaps I do hope that they might dialogue and reason.

I encounter, from time to time, a very small part of the Christian world who assume they speak for the whole Christian body. A Christian pareto analysis where 75% have moderate views yet 25% raise their voices and claim the centre ground. Whether they raise these voices for or against orthodoxy doesn't matter, what matters is that they neither speak for the middle of the road (dare I say mainstream?) Christians and yet still speak authoritatively.

How do the 'middle of the road" gain a voice? How do we make this voice heard ? Most important, how do we make sure that the largely 'ignorant' and 'undecided' Christian population gain some Biblical perspective?

Got an answer? So what are you doing with it?



Tuesday 24 November 2009

It's so lucky we only work on a Sunday!

This has been an odd couple of weeks for me, not because it's been busy but because it's just been odd I guess!

It's a funny thing but people have suddenly started telling me that I must be coming up to my 'busy season' which is odd, because I never seem to have an 'unbusy season'! I continually come up against people who assume that services just magically appear and happen (hopefully seamlessly) with the music and other liturgy sorted, sermons written and church building laid out properly, communion wine is stock and candles all magically replenishing themselves. I come across people who fail to realise that my study looks like a bomb site because I'm too busy being 'out there' to be 'in there' tidying and doing stuff I fancy doing for myself.

On the other hand, I also meet people who tell me to take days off (which I do schedule - just don't seem to take them)    and who realise that the clergy role is legalised madness (for some at least) and a daily round of busy, busy, busy.

For those who don't have a clue about the clerical role, we have:

Funerals - which take a fair amount of time if they are to be done properly and are a real 'plus' and a great part of the vicar's role.
Assemblies - which need to be planned and done well if the kids are to avoid chattering or falling asleep.
Home visits - one of the best bits of the Vicar's role.
Hospital visiting - always expensive in terms of time and (thanks to parking charges) money and yet worth their weight in banana chips.
Meetings - Zzzzz. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, meetings - lots of them if you're not careful and yet most are essential.
Weekday services - the fun bit of the week when we have our Wednesday midweek communion.
Alpha - learn the stuff, arrange the venue, half to three-quarters of a day gone for each evening!
Foundations - the fun theology bit. Excellent value but another three-quarters of a day (if you're lucky) challenge.
Planning ahead - after all, these things don't just happen.
Church Meetings - DCC, PCC, Mandate Team, Staff Team, Chapter, Synods and lots more to make the day less boring!

Getting tired yet?

Service preparation. Praying about the service - selecting hymns and songs - practising (if I'm playing guitar) - putting together powerpoints - working on liturgy - reading the passages so service works with them - reading the passages so sermon works with them.
Meeting with friends - for all the congregation are my 'special' friends - door is always open (unless its closed) and there's always a welcome.

And that's the tip of the iceberg - so a word of advice:

When you see your dog-collar - don't tell him how lucky he is to have just to work on Sundays or that Christmas must be his busy time - He's already working on Easter ;)

Happy Advent - Jesus is Coming Soon (so look busy).



Sunday 15 November 2009

Worse than the sinners we seek to save?

I have been distressed and saddened by the actions and attitudes displayed by some as they sought to correct wrong as they perceived it. What I have seen only confirm the old adage that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions!

Some time back images of homosexuals engaged in various acts entered my consciousness. Although done for the best of intentions the reality was that had I had 'problems' in this area these images might just have caused me to stumble. Mind you, even if a woman is a Lesbian, am I to assume that the sight of her naked body might not still cause a heterosexual male problems too?

Again, some time back we had the case of a rather, in my humble opinion, sad and ill-advised (dare I say 'silly'?) old man who had taken to posting images of aborted foetuses to people. Understandable (but still not approved in my book) had he sent them to the people who are engaged in running abortion clinics (although they were just photos of another day at the factory and might have no real effect!). The problem was that this man was engaged in sending what the British Postal System (and me too) would consider 'pornographic' images to people at random.

I was appalled and disgusted that such an act of aggression and violence could be enacted upon 'innocent' people. Imagine your wife, child or grandparent opening an envelope and finding such material. Honouring God? Standing for what is right? Is this the way to win people for Christ? I Don't think so!

More recently the words of some homoerotic doggerel-laden scribbling were brought before me. Did I need to read them? Did they edify and uplift me or did they drag me into a place where God most definitely was not? The answer are 'No' and 'Yes' respectively!

These examples raise the question, "Do we have a right to drag people into hell to make them aware of sin?" 

Remembering the words of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, when he proclaimed that he would, "Rather see every one of his soldiers spend five minutes in hell, for they would return with a greater burden for the lost!" I wonder if this is not the misplaced intention behind the acts of some fellow believers? After all, those Booth would send to hell were already signed up as members of his 'Army'. Do we have the same right with those who are not signatories to some similar covenant?

Where does the impact of causing a weaker brother to stumble (1 Cor 8) actually hit home? Can we post and publish material which shows the depravity and falleness of mankind in such a way as to cause this to occur and remain 'Christian'? How do we employ some balance and perspective?

There is a difference between raising awareness and  putting a stumbling block in the way of others (Ro 14). If I publish with an intent to inform then I must still exercise caution, for as I have said, to make my point such that I condemn another to hell surely condemns me too! If I cause a weaker brother to stumble, even though my point be made, where does this leave me other than as the source for evil - for surely nothing good has come from my act, regardless of intention.

So what is the right way? We need to act with the balance and thoughfulness that demonstrates that Christ is alive and well. We need to demonstrate that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, for as Paul teaches us in 2 Cor 10:

"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
You are looking only on the surface of things . . . . . "

So, when we see images, hear of poems being read, find examples of places where 'God is not!' we need to pray. I see so few calls to prayer and so many calls to action and yet without prayer all our action is but inaction and merely soulish and selfish, which I am sure is not what is intended.

When we find sad little people reading sad and pathetic scribblings do we subject others to the very words that stand opposed to life or do we stand in the word with the Word and pull down those strongholds using God's own words to us?

The LORD will not be mocked and if He truly is God then He will not be confounded either. We need to learn that it is all about looking and being like Christ rather than thumping our same old tubs. It's about edification not dragging others down into the pit.

Can we can post things, publish things and bring satan into the eyes of the (hopefully) already saved and remain right?

Can we bring satan to people who do not know Christ and expect them to recognise him?

Can we portray Christians as embittered and reaction-seeking people who have no care for the individual, only our own cause? 

Do we have no care for the person who reads a poem, sees an image and stumbles as a result - is God honoured? Who is blessed? Who gets the victory?

Does being right mean so much that we will sacrifice the spiritual lives of others to achieve it? Obviously (for some) it does or else why would we be having this discussion?

Being right is not right if it is not done in the 'right way' (i.e.Biblically)! IT IS SIN and probably a worse sin that that engaged against as it causes others who were not sinning to stumble - STOP IT!

Dedecus, non rectum!


ps. Some will read this and see in it themselves condemned. This is neither the intention nor the reality. BUT it is a condemnation of the attitude that places some of us above challenge and question - none are above or outside the law - all have specks in our own eyes. All are sinners. Some are merely forgiven sinners.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Ekklesia - Knowing a failure when you hear one!

Remembrance Day approaches and so, as with last year, we see the Elves of ekklesia appear on Radio Four to make their annual offering.  And this year Jonathan Bartley brings us nothing new in the organisations 'new' report (or perhaps last year's with a new cover?).

Remembrance day, in JB's view, has been "Cheapened because we dishonour those who died whe  we don't tell the truth - we don't tend to focus or even acknowledge the more shameful acts of British Troops, for example, those in Bomber Command . . . ." yada yada yada." 

It's the same old, same old - exactly the same as last year and suggests that perhaps ekklesia have nothing much to say now (or then). Perhaps no one listened then and guess what (to quote Don Mclean's 'Vincent') I would assume that for many the reality is that, "They're not listening now!" Mind you - always good to bring in Harry Patch, a masterful stroke to try and validate your position with a celeb'!

It also seems to me that rather than support it, ekklesia dishonours and abuses the very act of remembrance and Remembrance Day by taking this slot every year to trot out their same old, same old stuff and I just wish they'd leave it out. There are many other weeks in the year when they can publish and make statements relating to this, but of course they want to be controversial as any furore they might generate is the publicity they appear to seek, otherwise I assume they're largely ignored (outside their own circles) - a pretty good situation asI see it!

But - It's November and so, just as father Christmas appears in December, Jonathan Bartley of the Ekklesia appears to make his annual 'Remembrance' radio appeal which as last year is another slagging off of Bomber Command. Not only that but JB wants us to acknowledge that some who have died in conflict have 'died in vain', a bit of a stupid move really as history and outcomes already do that for us. Better still, he thinks we should end referring to soldiers as having given their lives for the freedoms that we enjoy today and that Armisitice day should be a Bank Holiday - which is a great idea - then we could do the parades on the actual day (All shops closed I would hope?).

He argues that more resources should be put into 'peace building'! An excellent idea and something I applaud - problem is that I don't see JB or the ekklesia at the top of the list as being anything like able to contribute to this (actually I don't see them on any list worth speaking of)! Lots of words and yet, sadly, no substance. 

I teach about remembrance and the folly of war and the greed of people which destroys lives and destroys nations - this is all part and parcel of remembrance - just as is the old sweats having a day to remember their comrades and honour their 'Glorious Dead' - a term incidentally I have problems with and discuss with young people every year! Balance - perspective - intelligence. there is a great deal of integrity and honesty out there - perhaps ekklesia just need to get out more?

When asked about ekklesia being part of the Network of Christian Peace Organisations and whether this meant that they pacifists, JB wriggles and issues anything but 'yes' or 'no', which for me answers the question as a resounding yes! His actual answer to the question, "Are you pacifists?" was "We want a truthful and realistic perspective about war!"  It's a great thing when pacifists don't even have the cahunas to admit they are pacifists. So we have another try with the pacifist line, "Are you pacifist then?" and this time he answer that, "No, not everyone in the group is pacifist!" So another tack, "But you are?"  JB, in a stunning display of letting his 'yes' be anything he wants and his 'no' being apparently aimed at everyone else wriggles out in masterful escapological style, "Personally, I don't use that term, no I think you have to be realistic about these thing but the most important thing about these things is to be 'truthful'!' I bet everyone else uses this term though Jonathan! If you are it, wear the badge, if not say so - but JB didn't and thereby hangs an idea of who, or what, we are dealing with! Not a lot of honesty or integrity apparent.

So, whatever he calls himself, he sounds like a pacifist and to be truthful, like a bit of a plank as well with his annual outing to get his attacks on the Remembrance Day service and, as per last year, his attitudes regarding Bomber Command and 'carpet bombing'. This year's outing was little more than a cracked record repeat of last year (see my blog from last year - I'm not going to do an ekklesia here).

I am all for people engaging with Remembrance Day as they wish and as their conscience demands and I reserve the right to engage with it as I wish without others trying to interfere. Those who want white poppies (which have been around longer than the groups who seek to hijack them for other protests) are free to. Those who wish to pillory war and act against the memories of those who have fought are free to - just don't turn it into a fight on the day and when others are doing their thing - go do whatever you want somewhere else - this is the freedom that people did give their lives for, and would again if the need arose. This is a reality and not some jingoistic, war-glorifying, bravado applauding event. 

Remembrance is an important part in creating peace! And I ought to add that we know when lives have been lost in vain, we have brains, we have eyes and we have the warrant of history to confirm it. We know of the awful happenings of cannon fodder days during the first World War and we know what wasted lives are all about.

If ekklesia is a Christian think tank I see very little new thinking and if what they promoted on the radio is a shop window for them, I saw little Christian either! This was of course supported by their great use of Biblical passages and Christian attitudes, so not just my view perhaps?

Not only could I not see ekklesia as being any different from all the other secular organisations (including those very anti-Christian ones), most of all, I saw nothing that spoke of Christ or Christianity, just another secular group of self-righteous prigs I'm afraid. Please try and do better (or at least drop the Christian and 'Think' from your billing!!).

The one good thing that ekklesia has done is to get me off my backside to ask my MP why those who served and gave their lives in Bomber Command didn't get the medal that those left long for. I will actively encourage everyone who I know to do the same because ekklesia have highlighted a great injustice. These men served, they obeyed orders, they lost life, limb and sight to do their duty, which is all they could do (or should they have mutinied - a truly Christian outcome) because this is what those in charge decided needed to be done. It was disproportionate and contravened, as I see it, many of the Laws of Armed Conflict that today's forces comply with - but they did what they had to when they were told to - this is what duty commands.

We will still remember them (The Glorious Dead)  - but hopefully forget ekklesia ;)