Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Living life to the full

I have recently been exposed to the situation whereby a young lady, beset by cancer, will perhaps not make it into her teens. Contrast this with the situation where a couple who were essentially well but have chosen to leave this world having, "chosen to peacefully end their lives!"
Sorry, but I understand from a news item on the radio that the couple did this because they wanted to see a change in the law relating to assisted suicide. Well, of course even if there is, they most certainly won't be seeing it will they? Seems that the couple didn't want to reach a stage in their lives where they would have their quality of life 'diminished'.
Of course those who support euthansia point to the fact that many people have this concern and want an alternative to suffering unnecessarily whilst those against it make their stand voicing the opposite opinion. But what is the reality?
Being involved in palliative care in the dying and seeing what can be done with those who have the 'inconvenience' of growing old I don't see too much merit in this, "Well-founded fear," (to quote a supporter of euthanasia). Still let's change the objective and look a little closer and see if we can spot anything interesting.
A while back a young man was hailed as a hero because, having been paralysed in a rugger accident, he took himself off to Switzerland and killed himself. He couldn't cope with the loss of his 'standard of living' and so took the 'brave way out'. Another hero to stand alongside our latest couple of brave people.
Now contrast this with Matt Hampson, a young man who had achieved his dream of wearing an England Rugger shirt for real (under -21) only to find himself injured on the pitch, leaving him with the same injuries and paralysed from the neck down. Did this young man reflect upon the loss of his 'quality of life' and weel his way to Switzerland. Did he decide that he wanted to leave before the going got too tough. Not on your life!
This young man has pulled his life back together and now coaches and has chosen to get busy by getting on and living. I have met young men who have lost eyesight, limbs and been horribly injured in the service of their country and to be honest their guts and drive make me look like a big girl.
Life is life as long as we have it and people have within them the ability (regardless of faith affiliations - some or none) to get it on and bring life in all its fulness. Look at Phil Packer, a man who having been told he'd never walk again managed to complete the London marathon course in thirteen days. Not a world record but yet another testimony to life being lived out in all its fulness and these two men are not alone.
All this tosh about choice and quality of life - I was father to a boy who brought much into the lives of others even though he had cerebral palsy and a myriad number of other problems besides. He managed to smile for much of the time and obviously still found some quality of life - O.K., he didn't ever bring in any money, never got any examination certificates and died before he reached ten, but he managed to give life a dignity because of what he  brought out in others.
The good news is that I was pro-life before he was born and what I saw in him (and others) only convinced me that this was a right position to take.

Psalm 139 - "all the days numbered for me were written . .  ." convinced me that we take our number at birth and wait to be served. Those who seek to queue-jump, like those who do the same with queues for clubs, will have to discuss their actions with the man at the door. I hope they find Him more accommodating that the big blokes we have outside the clubs here!

Another Bloody Easter

Or something clean and sanitised?
For the children Easter is fluffy chicks, Easter bonnet parades, chocolate eggs and daffodils.
Easter is not for children is it?   After all, how many of us have been to Easter plays at our children's schools? How many of us will have seen or heard about an innocent man dragged before puppet kings and rulers placed by occupying forces this year? How many of us will have seen the blood and the gore of a crucifixion? It's not like Christmas with the angels, wise men and stables is it?
Living the shortest life in history Jesus comes at Christmas and exits at Easter - job done. Many of us know nothing of the thirty-three years in between. We know nothing of the fact that we were all separated from God by the wrong things that we do, by the lives that put us first and the possessions that possess us until Jesus died in our place.
God wants to be part of our lives and wants to help us take the right paths and have the best we can in our lives and by the Cross, an instrument of torture, pain and death He beings for us peace, healing and eternal life.
Christians, like Jesus, seek to serve, restore and renew others, copying Christ, through programmes, interventions and good works. They give their time and money to bring relief, to show love and to bring healing but this is not enough. It's great to bring relief to troubles, but what the world cries out for is a cure, an end to the pain and the emptiness and confusion.
For all of humanity Easter is an invitation to have a relationship with the Creator of all that is. To find a peace that the world cannot take away and that never ends. For each of us, Jesus, the Christ, goes to the Cross and dies there for us. He takes the bullet for us and we, if we accept this reality, have a new life within us and before us.
Which will we choose - easter eggs and fluffy bunnies or a man upon a cross for us and life filled with God and good?
Hallelujah! Sunday's coming :)

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

And behold the bag returns

Well, it's going to be on its way shortly, but the bag that has once was lost has been found and surely the owner rejoices. Yeah, sort of, but the bag is actually unimportant other than to be the catalyst for a series of actions and reactions that have got me thinking about being 'customer facing' and about 'knowing before speaking'.
The first area of concern is that  somewhere miscommunication occurred and this is not good for any of the parties involved.
The second concern-making bit  is that, whether intended or not, the buck was fairly and squarely shifted onto the person who took the bag. Whether this was done with sloping shoulders aforethought or accidentally because the person didn't know the full story, this is what occurred.
The third and most worrying thing is the customer facing element. The customer is always right regardless of whether they are right or not and whether or not you're happy, sad, tired or distracted.
The remedies are simple really:
i. We always need to engage by taking the other person's issue and treating it seriously and professionally. Perhaps a bit of 'matching', whereby we mirror the concern, animation, frustration or whatever of the person with whom we're dealing, would come in handy here. One of the greatest wind-ups is to appear to diminish or make light of another person's problem (real or perceived). A good counselling rule applies here - whether or not the problem exists, if the other person thinks there's a problem, then a problem exists!
ii. Be honest. If we're approached and don't fully understand the situation, seek clarification from the other person and others, even if this means putting things on hold for a few minutes. We need to explain that we're not sure about the situation and make sure we can work from facts and not supposition. To do so and portray things as they are not is to foster an untruth - yep, you're lying (whether or not you intended to).
iii. Putting up our hands and accepting that something has gone wrong and that we recognise this, accept the fact and having done so will see to remedy the situation. This is essential, for there are so many sloping shoulders in our world today. Everyone can tell me why it wasn't their fault and most can point to another person who is the person responsible for everything from post appearing in our hedge through to world peace! Integrity demands that we accept that often, the buck does indeed stop with us. Accepting this says so much about a person and even though there might be fallout there will also be the reality that we can look ourselves in the eye. finally,
iv. To be customer facing means that we take those whom we seek to serve, service or provide for, seriously! The customer is always right, even when he is wrong, is not a bad premise to operate from. Of course there are times when they are obviously wrong, but starting off in the right manner means that this can be conveyed in such a way that they will see it. One of my niggles with Church and many other activities is the bleating comment, "But you're getting it for free!" or worse still, "Do you know how much I do for you people?" No one ever said it was going to be well received and the question has to be, "Who are you doing this for?"
Been an interesting situation, I have realised how easily we can shrug off things and shift blame, mishandle situations and cause grief by ignorance, mismanagement and being customer focussed. A lesson here for all of us in whatever walk of life, whatever community engagement and whatever place we find ourselves dealing with others.
Perhaps we need to copy those notices on many of the company vehicles these days.
Now - how's my ministry - telephone . . .

I see no ships

Only hardships!

I have just been berated (by email) by someone asking me why I have put aside my orthodox Christian views and why I do not seek to campaign and make public the naughtiness that is abroad within the Church. I have a number of answers to this and rather than engage by email I wish to put them out in the open (so I don't ever need to answer them again):
1. I have not ceased to be orthodox and I have never directly (or indirectly) opposed any orthodox groups or a proper (meaning complies with Biblical requirements) response to any situation.
2. I do not see my blog as a place to 'raise awareness' of issues facing Christians today. To engage thus would merely mean that I join the many others who regurgitate the same old news items, placing spin where it suits and engaging in subtle put downs (my put downs are never subtle) and misinformation (I merely write in error from ignorance, not design).
3. I am not, as I understand it, a 'liberal' but then neither am I a book-burning fascist either. I see myself as an open evangelical who believes in the fundamental truths of the Bible, the endless and amazing Grace of God (Easter's coming) and the three pronged datum that is Scripture, Reason and Tradition.
So there we have it. I'm not universalist, I'm not pro anything but God and I seek to see where God is acting in people's lives and bless that.

This is a site where I dialogue with myself (and increasingly others too) and look at life, its challenges, the Wallies and the joy. If you want campaigning - change the channel. If you want intelligence - visit Rowan or Tom Wright's sites. If you want coffee, buy Fairtrade!

Amazing Grace

Not the song (or my God Daughter) but Grace, that gift from God, which is truly amazing.
With the question a couple of entries back still aforethought I have to say that there is an incredible difference between the baptism of an infant and communicating an elderly person and yet there is also none. The 'none' being that element which is 'Grace'. The mechanisms are different and yet both are an invitation to 'be with'. Baptism being the entrance (or the recognition of having entered in the case of those who come themselves and also for those who stand for the child) and communion being the means by which we continue.
Another common link here is the fact that both (infant baptism and elderly communion) are initiated, commissioned and supported by an adult who is in possession of their faculties, which leads me onto . .
One of those people I both dialogue with and respect asked what the thinking would be on people who were impaired and restricted by dementia.  How do people in this situation ask for forgiveness, especially if they have no concept of wrong and resort to primal urges and living. Are they to be regarded in the same way as children who have yet to reach the age of cognisance?
My answer was that I seek seek out places where those with Alzheimers/dementia are to be found as often the communion services bring people back, or at least unlocks previously stored memories, and this is a source of blessing and sustaining release for them. They seem to surface for a brief moment and then are gone again but there is something touched by the service that defies psych explanations. The mind has gone but the soul continues to function.
The answer, as I see it, is that they don't need to physically (i.e. outwardly) 'ask' because God sees and knows what we cannot see and they cannot say and, being a God of compassion, I believe that for them God's grace far outweighs the legalism and conditions we set and pardons those so afflicted (and many others who are in the same boat for different reasons).
A thought - repentance is not only the initiator of relationship but also the response to it and sometimes even when understanding and repentance are hard to come by the love and relationship do not become diminished. God's grace is unchanging and constant - so I see them as continuing in a state of grace.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Pausing for a dip!

I return to the thought that baptism is for 'us and our children', something that means that since the very earliest days of the Church, we have baptised children (which includes infants). Acts 2 is perhaps a little helpful here:

“Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 

Now, some cry when they hear this, " Aha! This means adult children!" The subtext of course being that I'm wrong to baptise sprogs and they're correct in only doing adult (or believer's baptism). Of course the Didache and other sources would show this to be incorrect. What infant baptism has done for us is to see us continue to offer the same product to a very different consumer. Confused? (then my work is done . . )  Let me (try to) explain.

Whole households were baptised and later when more children were born into a Christian household, they were also baptised. What we were seeing was an addition to the family, temporal and spiritual. The parents were believers and the children, being part of an ethnic group called 'Christian' were also going to be Christian too! Look at any of the 'ethnic' groups and you'll see in them what we were and also see in them the route towards becoming what we are. I met some interesting people this weekend, one was born Islamic and lives his faith pretty much according to it. Another was born Islamic but has become secular. He calls himself Islamic but eschews dietary and alcohol prohibiting laws and lives in the same way as those who call themselves 'Christian' yet live as if they are not.

We have lost the 'ethnic' status of being Christian. It is regarded as being what we choose to do rather than what we actually are and this has a bearing for us in relation to communion too!

If we believe that baptism actually does something, regardless of age, in that it is an imposition, a 'gifting' of God's grace upon a person then why would we kick up and complain that we were blessing  anyone. After all, if it were a life-saving innoculation (which is surely what it is supposed to be, the life being eternal in this case) would we stay our hand. Now I have to be honest, I have problems here because I don't want to refuse God's grace but I am troubled by the 'folk religion' and the mumblers who bring their sprogs for a 'nice day'. If the parents aren't ethnic Christians then does the baptism still have worth? Well actually, I think it does because me, God and sprog are still doing the business and I think God can bless despite the unknowingness of the parents and sponsors. (but that's for another day).

The same is true for communion. If I am bringing something that will bless and heal who would complain that I am administering it. for those who don't understand, but did?  It is the administration of grace to a flawed and broken brother or sister, not much different from when I receive it (except that in having understanding I am in perhaps a less favourable position). 
Do they have to understand still for Christ to die for them? I don't think so. Mind you, I still try to sort out whether or not they were communicant members before their faculty loss just to avoid crossing the line and communicating where they have declined through decision and choice - partnership and family not imposition of the other kind!

The loss of a Christian ethnicity makes both baptism and communion a little more difficult - but at the end of the day we're administering grace and if Christ died for all, I am sure that He can cope with administrative errors and the reality is that both baptism and communion are something vibrant, valid and real and so I continue, knowing He is love, grace and compassion.

HTH (more later - rushing out)


Sunday, 28 March 2010

Taking the bullet or passing the buck?

I was more than  little miffed to find that one of my sprogs had taken my sleeping bag to a Scout camp and returned without it. Not your ordinary run of the mill 'el cheapo' bag, this was a smart, warm and expensive version. Just what daddy needs when dug in somewhere cold  in the field.

Mummy goes to pick up our scouting hero and upon finding that he is bereft Dad's 'good' bag enquires of the Scout Leader the where's and why's of the situation.

She is informed that the Scout's property is their own concern and that if one has left stuff behind it is their own fault.  Each is responsible for his own load (a good Biblical precept in part) and none other (so who is my brother's keeper and is this how BP saw Scouting in terms of teamwork and Christian endeavour?).

Mumsy goes back to Scout and asks why he left bag behind only to be informed that all the Scouts were instructed to leave their stuff in their rooms (by the Leaders) so that they could collect and pack the vehicles properly. Better still, the person who has passed the information about responsibility appears also to be one of the leaders who told them to leave the stuff in their rooms for collection - memory laps or something more concern-making?

Isn't this a great example of what Scouting should not be about? Accountability or passing the buck? The wonderfully sloped shoulders of leadership demonstrating the paucity of integrity, honesty and conveying something that perhaps accounts for some of the comments I hear (and have tried to defend Scouting against) versus self-reliance, honesty, integrity and the Scouting code.

Still, our little Scout has had his training for the  'passing the buck/shifting the blame' and the 'not my problem' badges I guess - thought BP wanted to equip good citizens, not more of the same. Seems the best way when faced with a problem is to resort to pointing and passing the blame - a great lesson which I hope will not be well learned. Are you listening Bear, you have a lot of work to do me old mate.

Very sad indeed :(

Thursday, 25 March 2010

What about those who don't understand?

An interesting question has been posed: "Is there a fundamental difference between giving the sacrament of baptism to an unknowing infant on the say-so of a parent, and giving the sacrament of communion to an unknowing elderly person on the say-so of a care home nurse?"
This is a really challenging question, two sacraments applied to (unknowing) people at the opposite end of life. One before the age of cognisance and the other having reached and passed it (I'm assuming those under consideration had no perception problems during their life). Both are examples of grace and this is where the discussion really begins.
I have my ideas and thoughts, but I will save them for a little later . . . . 
The floor is all yours . . . . .
tootallburd contributes this to the discussion:
"Oh this could be interesting. I was christened and baptised by immersion! But God didn't seem to mind, and I and the congregation benefited from it. However the man in my life who is Lutheran/Episcopalian thinks I could be bound for hell. 
I read David Wrights book "What has Infant Baptism done to Baptism?" which gives a good balanced argument for both adult and Infant baptism. I am looking forward to hearing your views."
UKViewer  adds:
"An interesting question to pose. I understand that Infant Baptism became a custom from the Early Church, which is now difficult to discard. 
I was always taught that in an emergency, anyone can carry out a Baptism in "The Name of the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit". Particularly if life is in danger. But the intention of the Parents for their child have to be considered. If they are not practicing Christians, how do you cut across their beliefs (or lack of them), to satisfy the need to have an infant freed from Original Sin.
The Catholic doctrine of Limbo springs to mind as one real issue that I had with them - the idea that a loving and merciful God would condemn an unbaptised baby, to remain in Limbo and never to see the face of God, is so cruel, that I could accept it then, let alone now. So, my idea is that God will suffer them to come to him anyway, baptised or unbaptised.
I am aware that the Bible says that the children of 'Believers' are God's children, and I suspect that on that basis, I would feel free to baptise if was understood that the Parents were believers and would have wished for baptism. I would think that Baptism of someone elderly, who has lost the functional ability of being able to think rationally or to communicate their intentions, must be much more problematic?
If they had stated an intention to be baptised or a wish to come to Jesus prior to losing their faculties, than it could be done in good conscience and faith - but if they had never stated that wish when able, can the word of a family member or nurse be relied on to carry out that action?
My mind would be set on Baptism if asked in those circumstances as whether Infant or Elderly, they remain God's Children."

ps. I would like to extend this a little further, but I will wait until we have developed stuff here in case I queer the pitch.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Being First - A finger on the pulse!

George Carey has rushed in to be the first to comment upon the vote in the Lord's (3rd march) by writing to the Times. well, alright not the first but he's probably not the last (+Winchester having said everything George is now saying!).
The fears that civil partnership ceremonies in churches could result in some clergy being prosecuted or face discrimination if they 'fail' (which I think means refuse) to conduct ceremonies. This, even to my limited brian is a stone bonking certainty and only confirms Michael Scott-Joynt cautionary words.
In the Times George asks, "How long will it be before church ministers are threatened with legal proceedings in they perform marriages between a man and a woman, but not civil partnerships?" The answer is simple, it's about one minutes after they've said, "No!" Now wasn't that easy?
Let's consider Rowan for a sec. For a bloke with so much intellectual wit he's so incredibly dense at times. He doesn't appear to recognise that his inactivity and his 'working behind the scenes' (which has been so good at seeing TEC maintain their position of restraint regarding you know what) is not only fuelling schism but leaving us in a bad light with other 'orthodox' Christian groups.
He's managed to push the Resolution 'C' boys into a place where Rome is attractive and Bennie, seeing a wounded animal rich for the pickings has taken the opportunity that Rowan has created makes offers that entice. After all, how could the CofE General Synod vote that those who opposed women's ordination and consecration were not true or faithful Anglicans? Shame on those who voted for it - laity, clergy and especially bishops - who make themselves appear to be hypocrites who will still take their (FiF, Res 'C' chaps) parish share and yet denounce them!
Anyway, back to the original issue. Let's get real about this - Frank And Earnest (which is what a couple should be) arrive at the vicarage and ask for a Civil Partnership. The dog collar (DC) issues Anglican-like apologies and says that they couldn't do such a service within their walls, blah, blah, blah. Immediately  we have a situation whereby the 'rights' of one person to live and act as they choose collide with the rights of another to believe and act as they choose. Who has the greater rights here? If it were an issue of colour, we would gasp should someone say that they wouldn't provide a service of someone on the grounds of colour. The same applies these days regarding the sex of an individual (which by the way is not the same as gender, a popular confusion on the part of many).
Can we force someone to act against their own belief, values and standards? I don't think we can. If this premise is wrong than I must have the right to make a friend of mine eat meat because I'm a meat-eater and I can force another to drink alcoholic drinks. Personal values and standards can be washed away to please . . .  er, please who? 
Those who choose to enter into homosexual relationship are free to do so, it's a minority sport, but it's their minority sport. Should they wish to have a civil partnership done in church or engage in a 'gay marriage' service, that's not a problem because there are many others, especially those with no real integrity and a self-seeking publicity streak have been doing this for a long time just pop down to the City of London (and other places besides)! 
I choose not to enter into this lifestyle and therefore we take different paths as a matter of choice. I don't expect homosexuals to 'bless' my heterosexual choices and don't see why I am expected to act any differently. I choose not to pillory or vilify those who have made their choice and in return expect the same consideration. This is what civilised society is about - we make choices and take paths that neither cross nor need to be made to do so.
But it's about more than this, this is really about control and having the upper-hand and this is why some will seek to threaten and display the very attributes that deny any reason to be doing anything in church, for it's not a place that glorifies the world but God. As a parting thought, I would deny anyone the right to have a marriage in church if by doing so it would bring the Gospel into disrepute, would cause anxiety to the community (local and Christian)  or would have the potential for controversy.
If a man and woman came asking for a marriage service and it transpired that they had previously been married and each was the reason for the other's divorce, then according to the rules, I couldn't marry them. I would merely seek to be consistent and maintain my integrity and that of the Church locally, universally and historically. So, if they're are going to be people coming knocking and threatening to burn the church down if they don't get what they want (any issue or area) then I will tell them now, I am prepared for them . . . . 
I've bought a couple of pounds of chestnuts!

Caption Contest - 5

To satisfy those who like to think of great captions. How's about:

My starter for ten has to be: Rowan was sure that they'd realise he wasn't a purebred Hobbit before they reached Mordor!

Communion - more considerations and thought

Helegant posted these three 'broad positions' on her blog regarding the receiving of communion:
1. Anyone who wants to take part may receive communion at the Lord's Table "This is not my table but the Lord's". I've seen this more at the evangelical/free church denominational boundary, and it is also where the purpose and value of confirmation is least understood/accepted.
2. All who communicate must be confirmed members of that denomination/church and occasionally a person who is not may be specifically invited for pastoral reasons to partake (as a gift) "This is the community of the faithful and we celebrate our shared beliefs and values". I've come across this at the Anglo/Roman Catholic boundary.
3. Confirmed members of the Anglican Church plus those communicant members of other churches that are in good standing with their own church-the current Anglican position.
Depending on which of these flags you stand closest to, the practice of other churches can seem to trivialise or to exclusivise Communion.
Which leads us to two questions?
What does Communion mean? Is it a memorial of things past, a celebration of the present (and presence), or a foretaste of the heavenly banquet? Or some combination of the above? We each have our own answers and I like Vic's tardis analogy.
Second, what does it mean to take communion with, to be in 'koinonia' with those around you-physically in that place at that time, and representationally with all those around the world, past, present and future?
Yes, it is a tardis-like honour to preside at the Table.
So far I have not refused communion to anyone, and can't imagine doing except in extremis.  Despite what I have been told by some people about their faith or understanding or lifestyle I try not to judge, but to love and pray for each person when I communicate them.  Beyond that though, I do ask myself how I can help individuals and groups to grow in that faith and understanding so that they can each exercise their own judgement with integrity, within the limits of their ability (children, alzheimers, disabled etc).
Just as belief can follow belonging, so I have seen that learning comes 'after' doing, "Act 'as if' and it will become so" is sometimes a good maxim to follow. If I recall my scriptures correctly, there are precendents... 5 'goody points' to those who can quote their favourite examples. 

Thank you helen - articulate and challenging in one.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Being able to give an answer

One of my favourite bits of the Bible comes from 1 Peter 3:15, this is the bit that tells us that we should:

"Always be prepared to give and answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
We need to realise that here we (Christians) are being called to be apologists ('apologia' meaning to give an answer or defence of who we are and what we believe). An 'apology' is not a an excuse but, in the classical sense, is something which can be quite an aggressive statement of where one is. It is a real 'in your face' encounter with another person.

We are called to give an answer to 'everyone' who asks. Seems to me that, according to Paul, we just don't have an option, if they ask we have to give an answer, and this is tough for many of us. Talking to other people, especially about our faith, is one of the most fear and stress inducing bits of being a Christian and let's be fair, it's just not British now, is it? So where can we get some guidance?
My starting point is the kerygma (KerUgMa), that is the Gospel preached by the apostles and the first century Church. Taking its name for the word for 'Herald' (Gk 'kerux'), a person who proclaimed the news much like a town crier in the past UK setting, this is about proclaiming the 'Good' News ('Good News' being the Middle English 'göd spell' from whence we get Gospel). The word we translate into 'Gospel' in the Bible actually being 'evanggelion' - still I digress (sorry).

So where can we see one of these kerygma thingywotsits in use (I hear you shout)? Let's look at Acts, chapter two for an example (the first example I would have to say). The setting is Pentecost and the Holy Spirit has descended upon them, Peter has explained that this is a fulfilment of Joel 2 and continues thus:

"Men of Israel, listen to this:
Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. [sets the scene using what the hearers knew about Jesus]
David said about him:
“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' [Ps 16, which would have been known is used to address resurrection and fufilment of prophecy]

"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”' [Ps 110 is used to confirm what they knew in the reality of what the speaker believes and knows to be true]

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” [Identifies Jesus as the Christ - bish bash bosh - job done, answer given]
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” [And when we do this, people do respond, not always there and then, but they do respond]

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Here we have the kergyma of the first century believer. It uses that which the hearer understands (in this case using Jewish Scripture which the hearers would have known, they were in Jerusalem for pentecost, it was full of Jewish believers!!!) and the experience and understanding of the speaker. A deadly (or more accurately 'life enhancing' combination) :).

Each of us merely needs to develop our own version of this using our own words and at our own level of understanding. It doesn't need to be clever, merely yours. How's about:

God making man to be His friend. Sin and separation. Way back through the Cross of Christ. Jesus dying for us and should we accept this we can have a restored relationship with God. New life  - repent, Believe, Be Baptised, receive the Holy Spirit!

Just as early Christian believers memorised the kerygma, so too should we write and learn our own. I have and use it as a basic means of answering people

I hope this helps

Communion - reaches the parts other . .

Meals cannot!

Last year I was privileged to be present at the end of a wonderful Christian lady's life. She had battled gamely against cancer but it had, as is too often the case, beaten her. I had agreed that I would come and communicate the whole family with her at her bedside.

I arrived at the side ward to find the family chatting normally around the bed, our heroine having slipped out of consciousness. Having been told that the family still wished to take communion I set out my stall and went through the communion service. Having communicated the family I took a small piece of wafer and dipped it in to the wine. As it touched her lips, the woman opened her eyes, smiled and said, "Thank You Vic," opened her mouth and was communicated and the slipped back from consciousness.

This was startling, for I had never done this before and didn't know what to expect other than the elements, being placed in her mouth, would dissolve and she would be communicated with her husband and family. This was thought-provoking, for in the very elements that represent to us the body and blood, she had 'come back' responded, rejoiced, been blessed and blessed. What had happened and why?

Obviously I haven't been able to run a controlled experiment on this one, with a control group receiving bread and Ribena or macd's and Coke so I can only assume that there was either something present in the elements of that communion or that she'd been conning us all and wanted to play a trick. A nurse who came in minutes after we'd finished to take her ob's commented to me (outside) that the lady was on the last stretch and probably wouldn't regain consciousness now. She didn't, apart from that one moment of recognition, lucidity and reception and the smile on her face was beatific!

Now, tell me communion is merely a memorial - not sure where this leaves some of us with our theology (do I hear 'real presence' people cheering out there?) but my experience was real, shocking, blessing and was surely an encounter of the real kind!


Monday, 22 March 2010

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin . .

Hans Küng on peace, "There will be no (global) peace among the nations without peace among the religions. To have peace among the religions there must be dialogue between them." I would continue . .  To be able to dialogue we need both a common framework of ethical standards, mutual trust and respect (haven't even touched upon theological interpretation or practice).

Moving from world peace to a smaller scale consideration; If those who claim to be Christian (let's not even extend this to other faiths) cannot agree ethical standards and exist in a state of limited trust and respect  regarding other groupings or denominations what chance is there for the world?

I have spoken with people who tell me that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them (meaning their fellowship) to be in partnership with the CofE because of the goings on in American Anglicanism (by which they mean the ordination of homosexuals) and the lack of leadership and by this they mean 'Biblical leadership' from the über pointyhead (i.e. Rowan Williams). Not only that but others, who they assume will be doing the leadership thing at local levels, seem to be either saying nothing relevant about Biblical Christianity or are taking positions which cause even more distrust and unease.

The time is coming when some fellowships will, I am sure, look at the CofE and its excesses rather than the local clergy and their fidelity to the Word, and act against it. Many of the BOPS (Bums on Pews) are beginning to find a marked and obvious distrust of the CofE and feel that it stands against the faith that they have and weakens the position of Christians and Christianity.

The time has come to cease issuing comments over 'regrets' and begin to issue clear and Biblical directions. To have pointyheads claiming that two views supporting totally opposite realities can exist coherently in one body is to misunderstand that great theologian Montgomery Scott (AKA 'Scotty') in that, "You can't mix matter and anti-matter!" We can have a broad church but it needs to be a Christian church as well.

Perhaps Williams needs to consult that other religious leader, Arsene Wenger, who is doing a fair job of having a team who are up there and doing something attractive. Oh that we could say that!

Right, third meeting of the day done, tea finished - off we go again . . . .

Communion - Understanding and unworthiness

One area of concern coming out of my earlier experiences was that if people didn't understand, was I right in communicating them? One of those with whom I correspond has offered this thought:
"If they do not understand what they are doing, they can not understand that it is wrong, so there is no condemnation," 
Now whilst this sorts out the communicant, where does this leave the  person communicating?
Having looked at remembrance, I wonder how many people see the Tardis that I see when doing communion? How many will see in the bread and wine the 'real presence'? How many will see this as merely something that we do as a memorial to Jesus?
There are so many thinking and unthinking states present in an average communion service. A few days a go I was speaking with a member of a church in the area, they'd been singing in the choir and been confirmed and taking communion for ages. As we talked they suddenly stopped me and asked what they needed to do to become a 'Christian'. I went through the basics and they replied that they'd need to go and think about that because they hadn't realised that there were so many things to believe! No one would have refused this person communion because they had the choir robes and the confirmation certificate but they were, in terms of faith issues, totally ignorant and unknowing.
Now, if by our not knowing we, "Eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner (we) will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." Not my words, but the words of Paul in 1 Cor 11: 27. According to Paul, participating in an 'unworthy manner'  brings judgment, does not knowing fit this category?
I met a man whose churchwardens/greeters asked people whether they have been confirmed so they can be given a blessing or communicated! We can get silly over this topic, after all, my understanding might be different to yours and you might know more about what communion is and how it operates than the next person, who merely sees it as part of the service, and they might be better placed than the next who thinks its about being family and nothing else! But what if all the parts of the jigsaw make a picture that is right? Should we issue a test to check whether or not you can be communicated? Could you imaging the scene if you turned up next Sunday and you were given three questions:
1. What do you understand by the Atonement?
2. With regard to the communion, what does this signify?
3. What happens to the bread and wine upon consecration and how does this fit in with Acquinas' concept of transubstantiation.?
How many of us would be taking communion? John 6 (53-56) tells us:
"I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him"
Surely then the unworthy manner relates to the attitude in which it is taken not the knowledge or understanding although these do influence the manner in which it is taken. This surely means that all of us, in our varying stages of knowing, are welcomed at the table. That said, I do try to check in case, as was the case in one place I was asked to visit, some of those present (who could not communicate their intent or desire) were actually rampant atheists during their earlier days and it was fair to assume remained so. Mind you, what if they'd recanted and wanted it in their latter years? Still - better to try and be sure that you didn't impose communion upon people either!
Regarding this thread, some have told me that I should merely ensure that the people I was to communicate had been confirmed, this was all that was required. That said, the BCP tells me that baptism is a 'full and sufficient' sacrament by which all other sacraments are made available to us - so there's another area of difference and consideration in the pot!
Another consideration. If by giving communion we are giving another the means of grace, would we in any other setting withhold blessing from our children, from those who through impaired or limited understanding or old age could not fully understand? In everything outside of communion I'm sure most of us would gasp and say, "Of course not!" So why do we do this with communion, withholding blessing because of a piece of paper or our own sensibilities.
I think therefore we come to God and ask that through the communion we are bringing, that He would bless and pour out His grace and that we should perhaps think on the words of proverbs 3:
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;"
Looking good so far . . . 
"In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."
Let us make this our prayer and reality and let us seek to bring blessing where it is needed.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Communion - doing it with them

As I did more old folk's home communions I began to notice that even when well advanced with Alzheimer's, some people were able to take part in the service, not just by being present but by actually saying words from memory. The most obvious of these was of course the Lord's Prayer (traditional form of course) but I soon realised that some of the more common elements were also embedded deep into memory.

Words and memories could be unlocked by the words of that service and familiar hymns and songs. What at first appeared to be 'doing to them' slowly evolved into 'doing with them' even though there were times when one week's star was the next week's dullard. The reality was that communion presented and unexpected remembrance, recovered memories and experiences of church perhaps dating back into childhood some eighty years previous.So my first question was answered in that, despite the first impressions I did seem to be doing communion with them although I still had to combat the understanding question.

The following words fit in with my own experience:

"I found your post resonating with me. I work in in Lay Ministry in my Parish to take Holy Communion to 4 care homes within the Benefice.

This Ministry is one, which I regard very much as a privilege - and I find it very moving to reaffirm people, some of whom suffer from dementia that they remain members of our Parish and Community remains valued and respected. We regularly pray for them at Holy Communion and make efforts where possible to bring them to church if they wish.

Yes, there can be occasions, where things happen unexpectedly. Initially, I was surprised, but you learn to cope and to overcome this. I have never been discouraged by this, rather encouraged and I know that I am blessed to be permitted to do it.

Surprisingly, many moments of lucidity can occur, if we play music and sing a hymn together - even those who normally cannot communicate seem able to recognise the music and words and try to join in.

Like other aspects of Ministry, the care and compassion we have for those most vulnerable in our communities shapes and forms our Ministry - and perhaps brings other benefits as Care Staff and family members who may be visiting regularly join us in prayer and Holy Communion, when they might otherwise not attend a service in the church."


Anamnesis - Remembrance

I love anamnesis ('remembrance'), it's a word for me that's up there with metanoia ('a change of knowing' generally used with God choosing not to remember our sins) when it comes to important words.

Remembrance is not a passive thing and although some would say that the element of anamnesis in the Eucharist results in our having something that is merely a memorial. This is to diminish what anamnesis is.

The best example I can give of anamnesis perhaps comes from the Seder (Passover) meal where the youngest child (traditionally youngest boy) present asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" The child will then ask the 'four questions' regarding eating only unleavened bread, bitter herbs, dipping and reclining. What takes places is an active remembrance, the actions signifying and recalling parts of the story. It's not play acting and it is not something that becomes a parody - it is an active reliving and remembering in one act in the same that that family stories become part of the reality of all the members, even though they were not even born during the original event!

Our son once recounted a story about a childhood episode with my sister. He told the story and remembered how funny it was when it first happened but, of course, he was born some thirty years after the event he so vividly remembered as being part of his experience. the reason for this? Anamnesis. The story had been told and had become part of his experience and reality. This is what the Seder meal is and this is what we find occurring at the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the place where we share with the oppressed captives in Egypt that last meal before the Angel of Death 'passes over'. It is also the place where we share that third cup (of blessing) in the Passover meal with Christ and His disciples. Not only that but it is the place where we share together that celebration where we break bread and celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb, His coming again. Lastly all the timelines come together in the present as we share with those with whom we live, love and worship.

Anamnesis is an especially important part of the Eucharistic consideration and raises the valid and, in the setting we are considering, valuable question, "Can this act of anamnesis be stretched to cover the memories that have gone such that they too are remembered?" My limited theological self slowly came to the conclusion that indeed it could and so the scene regarding my initial questions began to take shape.

I have to say that had I had these words from Christine Bryden, my initial journey would have been easier (thanks tootalburd):

"Christine Bryden, an Australian Anglican who has Alzheimer’s disease, speaking at a conference said: ‘Where does this journey begin and at what stage can you deny me my self-hood and my spirituality? . . As I lose an identity in the world around me, which is so anxious to define me by what I do and say, rather than who I am, I can seek an identity by simply being me, a person created in the image of God. My spiritual self is reflected in the divine and given meaning as a transcendent being. . . As I travel towards the dissolution of my self, my personality, my very “essence”, my relationship with God needs increasing support from you, my other in the body of Christ, don't abandon me at any stage, for the Holy Spirit connects us, it links our souls, our spirits—not our minds or brains. I need you to minister to me, to sing with me, pray with me, to be my memory for me’.

Later, she continued, ‘I will need you to be the Christ-light for me, to affirm my identity and walk alongside me. I may not be able to affirm you, to remember who you are or whether you visited me. But you have brought Christ to me. If I enjoy your visit, why must I remember it? Why must I remember who you are? Is this just to satisfy your own need for identity? So please allow Christ to work through you. Let me live in the present. If I forget a pleasant memory, it does not mean it was not important for me. .’"

Still, they confirm my first stop on the journey as being in the right direction.

Communion - What is it?

In order to answer my questions, I first need to understand what I think communion is all about.

My first question, "Was I doing communion with them or to them?" is something that I assume (or at least hope) all who preside, distribute or are otherwise engaged in the Eucharistic process have asked themselves.

Sadly, I find that for most of us, this is not the case and that many 'just do the stuff' unquestioning and unthinking. Oddly, many of these will be the same people who get bent out of shape should someone be communicated because they're not confirmed - an interesting tension and reflection perhaps?

To set the scene and ensure we're using the same language, the Eucharist, as I have come to understand it goes like this:

The President (that is the one who 'presides') comes from the people to take up this role. This signifies that the President is one of the people and has come from the people to perform the role. It is, for me, important to note that the person 'doing' communion is not the Celebrant. Theologically speaking, the people of God 'celebrate' the Eucharist - each and every member partaking is therefore a celebrant.

Communion (or Eucharist) has become a 'family meal' and this brings with it very different tensions, requirements and attitudes (being perhaps more akin to our concept of agape meal).

Some of us are more aware/concerned with the anamnesis aspect (that is 'remembrance', but more than just remembering as in memorial might bring) whilst others are concerned with the 'sharing'. Others will be concerned with the penitential and absolving value of the Eucharist and see in it healing of person and Church. The rite we use is important and the two main paths before us, BCP versus CW communion services, there are additional considerations. BCP being very much (as I see it) a personal penitential affair, eyes averted, head bowed, awareness of our unworthiness to the fore; CW being less penitential and more corporate and celebratory focussing on unity and often 'party'. Generally though, the shape is this (communion being a game of four halves):

Welcome - Confess - Absolve - Collect

Word (read and preach) - Creed - Pray

Unite (share Peace) - Prepare - Partake

Thank - Blessed - Leave

Having got ourselves to the 'leave' element something important (for me) should then happen. The president returns to the people from whence he (in my case) comes. This actively demonstrates that regardless of role, we are all laos (God's people) and is the reason that the procession in  and out is part of the service for many. Mind you, when they process out and disappear into the vestry rather than the back of the church this point is lost. The choir can continue to the vestry but the President should remain in the people!

Hopefully something to think about here during dull moments, but now it's time to go - daily office done and dusted (Joseph of Nazareth - Ps 25, 147: 1-12; Isa 11:1-10; Matt 13: 54 - 58), tea drunk, mail answered - day to engage with. catch you later.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

communion - the beginning

When I first started in my title parish I found myself being charged with visiting a care home to administer communion by extension. One of my earliest experiences doing this went like this:

I arrived and was shown into the two rooms that make up the day room and dining room. In these two rooms there were around a couple of dozen elderly people. Some had come by choice and others, it appeared, had remained because they couldn't understand the question, "Would you like to stay and take communion?" Even if they could, they couldn't communicate their choice and so they still remained regardless.

So there I was, service sheet handed out and elements on a table before me. I share the peace and begin the opening sentence, "The church of God, of which we are members . . ." only to hear from the other room, one of the ladies there leading her congregation in the general confession. Resolutely I continued trying not to let the schismatic element in the dining room throw me off only to hear my rival absolving her little flock.

I managed to continue and reach the distribution, even though by now my rival in the dining room appears to have blessed the congregation and is discussing the TV programme (the TV is of course, still on at that end of the room!). I start distributing the wafers, only to find that the first person I communicate takes the wafer and, opening her purse, puts it in telling me that she, "Will save it later for the bus!" I continue distributing the wafers wondering what on earth I'm doing here and why did I ever leave the wonderfully safe world of banking and finance. The rest progresses fairly well and I come to the wine.

I hadn't made it more than a few people down the line before the communicant, eschewing the more familiar, "Amen," responds with, "Who's birthday is it? Cheers me duck!" Downing the lot (I later learned to spot the 'downers' and ensure that I set up a pattern of distribution that left them until the end of the line). Thankfully I reached the end of the service with little other distress (well, apart from the lady who took her top off that is!) and packed up my one-man communion by extension show into its little box and prepared to withdraw.

As I reached the door, I turned back and gave my farewells only to see one of the recipients of my act of grace waving good-bye, a wafer fairly and squarely affixed to her forehead.

Needless to say this raised more than a few questions and a number of doubts surrounding taking communion to such an institution. I'm going to leave you with the first three of my questions from that visit and engage in them later (have to do a Start course now):

i.     Was I doing communion with the residents or to them?

ii.   If they didn't understand what communion was, was I right in communicating them?

iii.  If they didn't understand, was I encouraging them to take communion in an 'unworthy manner' and if so, was I condemning them by my 'good works'?

Catch you later

Drunk in church

No, not not me! Mind you I did get the amount of wine need for communion wrong in my early days of being a priest!

Last night during our Parish Lent course I became aware of a shape in the shadows in the sanctuary. Walking into to the main body of the church building I saw a man standing before the high altar with his arms aloft swaying gently in the breeze. I sat on the side for about five minutes before he stopped and returned to the choir. Spotting me he informed me that this was 'his' building and that having family ties which stretched back for hundreds of years, 'had more right to be in the building than me!'

I took him around the building (the course were doing the discussion bit) and pointed out the reredos, the Ford Maddox brown windows, the Norman dogtooth arches and some of the other treasures. As i did he softened and became even more engaged with the building. After we broke for tea he decided that he'd join one of the groups - the topic was about not being judgmental and not treating people differently because of their situation, dress or circumstance, so the addition was a fitting reminder and test in one.

At the end of the session, as we turned off the light, our new friend came to me at the door, shook my hand, gave me a kiss and left.

I think it is important to realise that we don't only have the cure of all souls where we find ourselves but also find ourselves in the role of 'curator of corporate memory' too. The buildings we occupy have memories and stories attached, even our modern offering, and we need to realise that they are not the property of the Christians who inhabit them but of the community in which they exist.

Today, when we see the 'scare in the community' member doing their stuff in town, or perhaps encounter the town drunk or some other unfortunate, will we be be thinking about 'showing mercy' and will our response be 'pure in heart' or will be increase our pace and perhaps cross the road?

Another part of selling the image I guess - the way we respond to people we encounter (inside and outside the church building).

The man last night was sure he'd be thrown out and instead found a welcome, tea (refused the choc chip cookies so obviously not yet saved), and some new friends. Sounds just like my first experience.

It's not November - a response

Having been challenged over my blog entry (the opportunity for dialogue being gratefully received) I have the following response:
Having previously attempted to engage with JB over the material broadcast or published and having no success I have written as I have. I’m sorry that you choose to condemn what I have written as seeking to humiliate anyone by means of maliciously making false statements and regarding the ‘sarcasm’, I think you’ll find I apply it to myself more that I did to JB, perhaps this merely indicates that he takes himself a little too seriously?
As this blog is merely my musing, venting my spleen or laying down internal dialogue with myself, the only 'tribal' element would be that relating to my own multiple personalities I’m afraid. I speak for no others and to be honest, writing as I did to answer a question, I’m astounded to find that other people actually read the thing! I haven’t engaged with any other person or group to make a stand against Ekklesia and to find that I’m part of a wider group is surprising, but not a surprise. But I am still an individual and neither wish to take up pitchfork and tumbrel nor rabble-rouse, just put my own views. 
I’m not sure what you imagine my writings are supposed to ‘stand for’, this is an interesting take I’m sure. Read the label and you’ll understand that this blog is exactly what have said it is (and JB read the blog entries and you'll see your words fall hollow and, once more, incorrectly to the ground).
Regarding caricature and Remembrance, I’m sure that you didn’t intend to “offend veterans,” but the reality is that you did and not only that but the ‘new’ report made in 2009 seemed very much like the same stuff dragged out again, albeit with the Harry patch reference and the ‘telling it like it is’ additions. Add to this the continued condemnation of those who flew or supported Bomber Command (which today would see us looking at LOAC and the Conventions of war, proportionality being way up there as an issue along with 'protected status') personnel, who did as they were ordered.
Would that all those engaged in times of conflict had decided not to engage the enemy or that the women, Lysistrata like, had kept their underwear on. But of course this is not the case and a great many men and women, airborne and in uniform and civilian and on the ground died. We don’t need to lionise or gloss over but we do need to recognise that many of this, however unhappy at the command, obeyed their orders because this is what members of the forces are taught to do.
I have written my own piece and taken my own position and this was not meant to offend either, it was merely tongue in cheek. Mind you, it seems that my causing offence is real to you in the same way that causing offence to veterans (and service personnel) is unreal (for which I am indeed sorry). Just because some have written endorsing your words does not mean that all do and neither does it confer rightness, after all, if this were the case, then the BNP could claim the intellectual and moral right with much of their writings. I work with both past and current members of our armed services and I found no voices to support your position, must just have been unlucky I guess?
I have to point out I didn’t include the DT quote and have not endorsed it so any problem you have with him is solely yours.  I do seek to engage with people in a positive manner and I laugh at what I find funny (and that includes me a lot of the time). Please don’t think you’ve been maliciously singled out, but looking at it from my side, I don’t think I’ve been that unfair either - merely written in my own style, which is at least consistent and honest.
That said, I am grateful for the opportunity to dialogue and it has at least made me think that there are some positives to be gleaned in that at least you engaged whereas others merely continued as I'd have expected! Mind you, Ekklesia assigns itself a rather high billing which, sadly, appears not to be achieved, but if your goal is to get people talking and thinking then this blog is obviously what you desired. If you were hoping for universal acceptance and general applause I think you're in for a long wait - mind you I'm sure those who love you will continue to love you and as for me, I weigh each offering as it comes. I do agree with the "love, courtesy and justice," stance and at least you have embodied that!
I rush in, get up, go to bed or whatever and use the blog to merely, as I have said, focus and at times internally dialogue whilst externally scratchpadding. Take a look at what I have generally written and you’ll see loads of love (pity JB can’t see that, but merely confirms my fears regarding the man I'm afraid).
Don’t actually have time to read any of your stuff at this time, but I will when  it hits my consciousness (I promise), neither do I have time to write more (taken twelve minutes to dash this off and I only had ten to start with ).
Again, Simon thank you for the engagement, I look forward to more discussion at a later date,
A postscript.
Be honest, if JB wasn’t your friend I suspect you’d probably recognise the pointed toes in the 2009 broadcast as such!
Excuse the typos which I am sure will exist - busy Thursday ahead and rushing!