Monday 28 February 2011

Protecting the Unborn - Tamworth Meeting

Just a final 'heads up' for those people who might like to come to hear the national director of SPUC (Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child) tonight.

The meeting will be at St Francis' Church, Masefield Drive, Tamworth B79 8JB and starts at 19:30pm.

Format will be information session for first half and discussion/questions from the floor for the second half.

Please pray for this event that it will be well attended and also that people will learn and be able to share and dialogue in a positive manner.



The Homeless - legally doing too little!

Where I find myself operating there is a policy whereby the homeless are supported by those in authority by them being afforded the 'statutory minimum' provision. What this really means is that the town considers itself to have no homeless and should any of these awful people arrive, they are given the fare to one of the large cities north or south of us, so that they can be hosteled.

When discussing this with a member of the council they continually used the term 'statutory minimum' and when challenged over this, the response was that anything less would be unlawful and anything more would encourage the 'wrong sort' of people to come to our town. Not only that, but offering them housing or other support would merely perpetuate the problem, the homeless need to be made to stop being homeless and settle down (somewhere else?).

It seems that this attitude also prevails within Westminister's bounds regarding the topic of soup kitchens with their, "If you feed them, they will come," approach to the homeless.

A couple of years after my discussion with the councillor, we had a well-known local tramp die of exposure whilst sleeping rough in a bus shelter. There was an outcry and the public were outraged and civic leaders postured and spoke out about 'doing something' and here we are, at the close of the 2010/11 winter with still nothing done and any public, or morally-driven, sense of purpose now gone.

About three years ago I approached the housing department and told them that I would organise a charity and bunch of volunteers to attempt to deal with homelessness where we are. All they had to do was provide a pair of down-at-heel houses and we would provide, and manage the funding, of temporary accommodation.

This was greeted rather negatively with various reasons (we don't have the housing stock) and various attitudes (if we did that, people would come here and we don't have a homeless problem at the moment) and loads of well-meaning inactivity (well, nothing has happened so it is inactivity whether those who read this and feel guilty/angry/whatever like it or not!).

So before people get on their high horses over Westminster, can I suggest that you stop and look at your own community and see what is offer there? I imagine that you will find pretty much the same, and if not 'Well Done' now take a look at the next place along the road from you and ask yourself, "How can I influence, aid or support them?

If we take one of the quotes from Westminster and change the name, I wonder how many of us could say the same for our place of residence or ministry?

My Town believes that food handouts only serve to keep people on the streets longer, damaging their health and life chances.

Well? rather than all the posing and self-righteous blog-writing, what are we going to do about it? Not Westminister (unless you live there) but where you live. An opportunity for a 'Churches Together' project. A need to get together and raise up candidates for our local councils.

We need to stop muttering, writing and being outraged and start being the difference!

Now, before the next winter


Sunday 27 February 2011

Role Models

I met a man a couple of weeks back who had been a referee but had given it up because of the language and abuse that he received during and after the game. the crunch came for him (literally) when he was assaulted following his awarding of a penalty. As the offending player was being sent off his mother stormed onto the pitch and punched the referee in the face, breaking his nose! Perhaps I should have mentioned that this was a junior league match, the players were all around ten years old.

The man said that the language, the fouls and the abuse from the parents was such that he'd already had enough and the smack in the face was the final straw. Asking him what had gone wrong, he said that the kids emulated what they saw in the senior professional game.

Wel  last week, despite claims by the FA that they were going to be tough on swearing and abusing the referees I didn't need training in the art of lip-reading to make sense of the expletives that were flying around!

Yesterday that icon of Premiership football, Wayne Rooney, diverted his runs to elbow a player and escaped with nothing more than a free kick and a pat on the shoulder from the Ref'. Perhaps the laws of the game are as variable as some fans claim after all, not only that but Alex Ferguson saw, "Nothing in it." I wonder if he'd have been saying that had the roles been reversed? Or perhaps, as the commentator says, "he's been a lucky boy, he gets away with one here (again?)"

Some scream for Rooney to face a lengthy ban whilst others justify his action as, "Part of the passion and fire that makes him a great player." The reality is that he, and those who dive in the box (a blue shirt is appearing here) or manage to engage in sexual relationships outside their marriage or long-term relationships are all excused because of the pressure upon them are thus permitted to continue in their lifestyles and attitudes as poor role models.

Watching the rugger yesterday I saw a very different set of sportsmen. Different in terms of language used, payment received and pride demonstrated.

Time to get football out of the gutter once and for all and make it a sport that teaches controlled passion and sportsmanship? I think so.

ps. Went to Villa yesterday and saw a clean and well-won match (4-1 against Blackburn) amongst a great bunch of polite supporters. Perhaps there's just something about certain clubs? Hey ho, time to do next service . . .


Saturday 26 February 2011

Akira Press - DEFCON 4

This blog entry has been retrospectively amended as a gesture of goodwill towards the press as they seek to move forward from their earlier teething problems.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.

May God indeed always be the builder in all that we seek to do.


The language we use

I was told the story of a man whose relative has come to work in the UK. This man has no English and so asked his brother for some basic vocabulary. He knows the words for 'please', 'thank you' and 'where is . . .' (toilet station,etc.).

After a few months, his brother visits him in the UK and teaches him some more words. He learns the word for fish and every day goes to the canteen where he has a job as cleaner and orders fish. This is fine but after a few weeks, the fish thing is beginning to pale a little.

The brother visits him again and teaches him some more words, one of them being 'milk'.

Keen to try the new word, the man goes to the canteen the next day and says, "Milk."

"Hot or cold," come the response. The man looks at the person behind the counter for a few second and then, knowing he's beaten, says, "Fish!"

I rather like this story because it speaks of more than vocabulary and foreign immigrants (well it does for me). It is a parallel tale of Christians with the secular world outside and the liberal/fundamentalist world around them. Seems that we can exist with very few words and yet if we do we are condemned to eat the same fare for ever. the trouble is that when we learn a new word we rarely realise that there are others than are required to define what that word will produce (in a glass or or in our church congregations).

So many people call themselves christian and manage to exist with a small vocabulary, not seeing that the word used might have variations within it. 'Church' is a good starting point. For some it is the building, for others the believers who comprise it. Some see it as Bible-believing whilst others see the Bible as a book of recommendations and an optional element. The list is endless and many of those in church have managed to build a minimum vocabulary that allows them to get by in their chosen place of worship because no one challenges them and, as long as the buzzwords, are in place the security of sameness is around them.

This has made me think about words and how they alienate or pait ourselves into a corner. A while back I should have said, "I don't care who you are but I do care about the way that you live your life!" I didn't and found myself attacked and labelled by some of those I was engaged with.

Seems to me that many of those outside have learned one of two words, 'orthodox' and 'liberal' (there are ruder varieties of same) and whenever they try out any new word quickly fall back to their original, secure, word as a safe label for themselves or an accusation for others.

How about we try to broaden our vocabulary and seek to understand what each new word, especially each new noun, means to us and to those who own them too? Might make our dialogue a little more profitable.


Friday 25 February 2011

Must we have a devil?

An email about humanists not being atheistsI led me to thinking about humanism (both secular and theist varieties)and exactly what they believe as I have always assumed that they were not theists. This narrative from the British Humanist Association seems to suppost this view:

"Humanists do not believe in a God or gods, or any other supernatural or divine entities. Humanists do not think that the universe needs a divine power outside of itself in order to have value. We, inside the universe, determine its value. We think that other people, for example, are moral concerns, not because they are made in the image of Something Else, but because of who they are in themselves."

So I have, most respectfully, to point out to those who have written (often moaning about the comments process on Google) saying that they were not atheists, "You're obviously syncretic humanists! You call yourselves humanist but in fact your merely agnostics in that you are obviously skeptical about the existence of any divine or supernatural power but you claim not to be atheistic!"

I'd like to pose a question. It's one I'm struggling to answer and would love any passing humanist (secular or theist) and anyone else to have a go at.

During my theological journey I was taught that having a 'god' was part of the psychology of religion. A tribe would create their god (or if we are considering things pantheistic, gods) so that they had someone to cry out to in their need, appeasing where supposed ills had made god (or gods) angry and praising when things were hunky dory. The god of choice was the source of all good and the focus of all praise and yet there was someone else (eneter the devil).

It seems to me that some people struggle to avoid having a god and yet find it easier to have a devil. For some it is a supernatural being, force or energy and for others it is America, consumerism, capitalism, communism or the Western/Eastern world.

We might not need something or someone to praise and worship, but we all create our own devils to excuse us from our failings. You know the stuff, "My father was an alcoholic and beat us kids up and so that's why I do it now - he's the demon behind my failings, etc, etc."

Seems to me as I engage with humanists (secular, rational and atheist) that whilst many struggle to reject a god they find it much easier to embrace a devil.

So (at last) the question:

Is it easier (and even more logical) to have a devil than a god and which do you have?

You can consider the question - 'and why?' as well if you like.

You may turn over your paper.


Wednesday 23 February 2011

Becoming holier by instalments

In response to my religious/non-religious humour stuff, Jake sent me something that made me smile and reminded me of some of the people I've known and their faith journeys in particular. But first the funny bit:

"I once knew a man in New York City, when I was a pastor there, and he was a former gang member. He came up to me one day and said, 'Yesterday walking down the street I was confronted by a man who pulled a knife on me. So I pulled out my gun and shot him in the knee caps.' Bursting into tears of joy, the man continued, 'But Praise the Lord! A year ago I would've shot him in the head!'"

Some of the people I have been privileged to lead into relationship with Christ have been, mmmm, let's say 'less whiter than White" with regards to their lifestyles and attitudes. One of them, having made a commitment, really struggled with the honesty thing. This person used to steal stuff and one day I met them on the street and asked how things were going. "Great, I'm only nicking cheap stuff now!" came the reply.

It took the person about five years to totally stop nicking stuff and eventually they became a full-time Christian worker.

The joke got me thinking about that person and the issue of faith, commitment and our attitudes and lifestyle as Christians. God doesn't ask us to do less, or lesser, sinful stuff but to stop doing it altogether. This is what those without the sin in question call the cost of commitment and those who engage in it, like the star of my story call '!?**! hard work'.

Got me thinking:

How hard am I (and you) working to stop doing the wrong stuff and how happy am I with less of it when there should be none?


Tuesday 22 February 2011

More Humour

This is one of my favourite jokes, sent in by one of my favourite atheists (I knew they had a sense of humour):

"An atheist is in a forest and is attacked by a bear. In terror, he prays, and say “I know that I have always been an atheist, and have never had time for you, so am not in a position to ask for help and would not expect you to try and convert me, but could you find it in yourself to help me and convert this bear into a loving Christian?”

The bear puts him down, places his together and says “For what I am about to receive...”

Another joke that has come in (from an RC member) is:

A drunk staggers into a Catholic church and after a few minutes disappears into the confessional.

The priest, having seen the man's perambulations around the building, gives the man a few minutes to compose himself and then enters the other side of the confessional. He taps on the separating wall to draw the man's attention to his presence only to be greeted with the words, "It's no use knocking mate, there's no toilet paper this side either!"

As I said, I've always known the sense of humour was there, but I wonder, do humanists, secular humanists, or just plain atheists, tell jokes about their beliefs (or lack of them?).

I wait to see what comes forward.

Thanks Fil and FT

Monday 21 February 2011

More Humanist humour

The teacher in a primary school asked her year three pupils about faith issues and seeking to gauge who might know what the fast-approaching Christian festival was asked if any of the children went to church. Only one hand went up.

She asked the child who put their hand up, why she went to church. Proudly she answered, "I'm a Christian, Miss!"

The teacher continued, "And can you tell the class why you're a Christian please?"
The girl responded, "That's easy. My Dad's a Christian, my Mum's a Christian and so I'm a Christian too!"

Trying to make a point about personal belief rather than being born Christian, the teacher stopped the girl and said to her, "That's not necessarily the case. If your Father was a moron and your Mother was a moron, what would you be then?"

"Oh that's an easy one," replied the girl, "I'd be a secular humanist!"

(Wow, two birds with the same stone - Thank you Peter!)

A Rabbi, a Priest, an imam and a secular humanist were engaged in a theological debate"

"My G_d is the G_d of Abraham," says the rabbi.

"My God is the God of Abraham," says the priest.

"My God is aso the God of Abraham for Abraham served Allah," says the imam.

"But there was no god for Abraham to have, says the secular humanist.

The Rabbi looks aghast and asks, "How on earth can you disagree with so many learned theological opinions?"

"I have no problems with the odds even though it's three against one, I am happy to be in the minority for I know I am right" says the humanist.

The men pray that God will send a sign to support their view and the room fills with a sense of peace and is ablaze with the shekinah glory of the Lord and a voice whispers into the hearts of all four men, "I am the God of Abraham!"

"O.K." says the humanist, "No change, merely four against one!"

(From George, a secular humanist - see, they do have a sense of humour - thought they would!)

One mail I have received says that we are not allowed to laugh at ourselves or others because it gives people permission to ridicule. made me think of this wonderful cartoon:


Psalm 14:1 "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God."

Humanist Humour?

Following my earlier post, I have been sent this:

A rather accurate assessment perhaps?

And a joke (thank you Dave):

"An octogenarian atheist is on his death bed, the end approaching swiftly. He turns to his son and tells him to get the local Catholic minister, he wants to convert. Totally shocked, his son reasons with his father, "You’ve always been an atheist, why change your mind now, what about your integrity?" But the father will have none of it, "Get the priest, now!"

The son continues to protest, "But you have taught us that religion is a con, that God doesn't exist and those 'people of faith' are nothing but hypocrites, why now?" Again the father demands that the son fetch the priest to which the son replies that he will if his father can give him one good reason.

"Well son," says the man, "I've figured that it's better for one of them to die than one of us and so I decided to bite the bullet!"

Five minutes later, the priest was there!

Any more?

(I wonder if humanists tell humanist jokes. I suspect not.)


Humourous Humanists

Having written about education yesterday I have received an email from an oxymoron, 'humanist minister' (no, the 'P' is not missing!).

This erudite gentleman is taking me to task for the fact that I clearly stated, "That humanists are a 'non-religious' bunch of often confused and fatalistic people who come under the classification of 'philosophy'." I have to admit that I am 'guilty as charged', thus far.

He continues to inform me that, "Humanists are not flawed, for their thinking is logical in that they assume there to be no supernatural force at work in this world, only those forces which we choose to exert ourselves! Respect for everything and everyone (including their religious beliefs?) is the hallmark of humanism and that those who choose to minister this are seeking to make meaning of life in all its fulness."

I have to say that humanist minister is, in my definition book at least, most definitely an oxymoron, but less about descriptions and more about what has been said.

I am sorry but unless something has changed with the way they do things, humanists are 'non-religious' and are merely a bunch of people who are concerned with living within their own philosophical parameters. This surely makes them a philosophy and therefore they fall outside of the label 'religious'. They are not theists, everything they have and do is centered on themselves, so how can they claim to be 'ministers' I wonder?

Some time back I found myself sitting in on a service at a crem' which was conducted by a person who would have been a clown if only they'd had the uniform. Still, undeterred by their lack of appropriate clothing, the conducted a three-ring circus of a funeral.

Act one.
Consisted of the 'minister' reading out emails and cards from friends and family. It went something like this:

"And here's a card from Uncle Albert and Auntie Kate who say, 'sorry not to be there at your big day but we both send our love!'. here's one from all the guys at the depot hoping that you find what you've been hoping for on the other side. Jean from accounts says your tea-making will be sorely missed and hope that today goes well . . . ." And so it continued for about five minutes, more like the bit with the speeches before the bride and groom (remember them, those were the days) cut the cake.

Act two.
The 'minister' read a poem about not being gone and how, like a ship the deceased had merely left harbour and was nestling just out of sight beyond the horizon. This was finished by the 'minister' telling us (from the script which they followed faithfully from their script) how this life was all we had and whatever we did in it was all that would be left to remind others of our passage through life. The lives that we left, the loves that we had and the things that we passed on were our heritage and the finally marker of a life that, having been extinguished, was no more!

Act three.
And perhaps the most bizzare element of the circus was the playing of 'Abide with me', a hymn that the dearly departed had loved all of their life. I had to wonder whether anyone had listened to the words because they spoke of a Christian hope and a victory over death and the grave. A musical summation to the fact that what had happened was merely a focus on self and an exclamation of no hope!

The Encore
Just when you thought you'd seen it all, the 'minister' came to the front and said something like:

"My name is Coco the Clown (name changed to protect the inanely inept!) and I hope you have found something within this service to help you reflect on N's passing. I am a registered humanist minister with the (something or other humanist association) and look forward to seeing you again one day. If any of you need my services I can be found in the telephone directory or in the (something or other humanist) association's directory.

I look forward to meeting you again one day."

And then he handed out cards to people whilst they were mooching around the flower crosses (obviously didn't tell the mourners it was a humanist bash!).

No, not flawed, something so very much worse!

ps. I have been told by some who have had 'humanist ministers' the clients felt they were getting a 'less religious' service than they would have had with a 'minister'. They certainly do Stanley!

Sunday 20 February 2011

Religious Education - Observations and potential solutions

It wasn't that long ago that Ofsted were telling us that the quality of religious education in schools was declining and that something like 20% of schools were failing and providing inadequate religious education.

If we ignore the inane mutterings and protestations of humanists and secularists who drone on, respectively and, endlessly about their belief (or rather lack of it) being included in the RE curriculum or made optional we can see their are some obvious issues and some equally obvious solutions.

Religious education is all about educating schoolchildren about matters religious! It is supposed to do what it says on the tin, couldn't be simpler. Now the first problem is that many of the RE teachers I have met at various functions, conferences and the like are people of no, or perhaps limited, faith. I have yet to meet any language teachers who are unable to converse in the languages they teach or dialogue about the finer grammatical points and the the culture of the nations what speak their lingo! I have rarely met anyone who, unlike the teachers when I was a child, was a practising member of any of the mainline faith groups and could dialogue regarding their faith or any faith with any degree of confidence.

Solution the first
Religious education teachers need to be people of faith and need to be specialists in their chosen subject. Religion is not merely a matter of geography - we're in England and so we're Christian, Anil is from India and so has to be a Hindu, etc. I don't expect theological degrees, but I do expect understanding of the core values, practices and outworking.

The next problem is one which if I understand the baccalaureate (B) correctly is set to increase. Religious Education might still be a 'core' subject, but it's points what wins prizes and there don't seem to be any attached to RE with regard to the IB. It might be a core subject but it, like assemblies which are now non-religious mumblings before the first lesson in many places, is is an observance rather than engagement role these days, and this appears to be likely to descend further rather than pick up.

Solution the second
Secularism is taught in every subject outside of the religious Education classroom. Everything is secular and this is naive and rather than supporting choice (which secularists claim to want but really mean 'their choice') secularists lay the seeds of dissent, conflict, misunderstanding and sectarian differences.

Regardless of the point-winning examination subjects, there is a need within a balanced society for people to have some understanding of the beliefs, attitudes and actions of others because of their faith. This is what brings peaceful co-existence. What point is there in having an intellectually equipped people who can't live alongside others (the secularist problem in a nutshell). So the solution is that we must teach faith issues - simple isn't it!

Humanists drone on about not being included in the RE syllabus, but in case they haven't realised it, they are actually a 'non-religious' bunch of often confused and fatalistic people who come under the classification of 'philosophy' (flawed or skewed philosophy more often than not, but hey ho - it's an 'ology'!).

One school I engaged with a few years back had an anti-Christian, alternative faith, head of RE. This person used the lessons to proselytise (unsuccessfully) and to attack and ridicule the beliefs of the faiths they were supposed to be teaching about. With this talk of 'Big Society' the reality is that 'Big Society' is what Christians are, and have been since we first set up shop - it who Jesus is!

Solution the third
Those of us who are trained in matters theological and are able to dialogue and discuss regarding other faiths, the differences and the similarities, who are equipped to explain the philosophy of religion and the realities of faith need to get off of our fat backsides and offer ourselves to the schools. I visit schools and do issues like the 'shoah' and genocide, other faiths, ethical issues, moral choices and whatever else they ask me to bring in. I do this from infant through to 'A' level and find that open and honest engagement is always well received, even when agreement might not be forthcoming.

So, if you are someone who complains about the falling standards of Religious Education in our schools here's the bottom-line (honestly it is):

Stop complaining and get out there and be the difference!

Saturday 19 February 2011

Church humour and a caption Contest

"A Catholic woman visits her Parish Priest and asks how she goes about getting her dog a Christian funeral. The priest, throwing up his hands, tells her that Catholics don't do that sort of thing and she'll need to go and visit the Anglicans, they'd be sure to do it. The woman asks the priest if he could give her one more pice of advice, to which the priest agrees. "Do you think that £1,000 will be enough for the Anglican to do the service?" she asks.

"Why didn't you say it was a Catholic dog when we started the conversation?" asks the priest, "Of course I'll do it!

Apparently it's an ongoing joke with some Catholics at least about the church and money and so this was one of many jokes I heard regarding it and them.

Not to be outdone, an Anglican told of a church near to him which had a problem in that the new, and much needed, roof was going to to be put on hold because of bats residing in the roof space.

The Archdeacon was called out and after assessing the problem said he'd need to call the bishop as he had a solution. "What can the bishop do, "asked the incumbent. "Well," said the Archdeacon, "we will get the bishop to come and confirm the bats!"

"How on earth will that help us with our problem?" asked the befuddled incumbent.

"It's simple," replied the Archdeacon, "Once the bishop confirms them we'll never see them again!"

Seems we tell the best jokes about ourselves after all!

Here's an opportunity for a caption contest with this picture of Rowan winning a raffle prize (I think that's what it is, what about you?)

Friday 18 February 2011

Ecumenical Aspirations

In dialogue with a couple of 'Ecumenical Officers' this week, one of them remarked that ecumenical aspirations were noble and to be applauded, but usually totally unrealistic.

We are in the long dark ecumenical teatime of the soul. Wherever one looks moves to be one were all running aground and some were choosing to remain but to no longer engage with members of other Christian groups. It is now better to be working in multi-faith groups than multiple denominational, but it is predominantly the ecumenical areas that foster the polite presence approach.

Apparently it is not polite to ask other Christians what they believe and even worse if, upon discovering a heresy within their make-up, to challenge them or ask them to explain their position and the way they have reached their opinion. "It's better to be together and avoid the areas of difference," said one person, "That way we present a positive image to those outside looking in."

This leads me to question what Jesus' words at the end of John where He prays that we would be one as He and the Father are one. Being one Church, as in denomination, is how some approach this. A Catholic friend tells me that all would be well if we 'just' all returned to the 'True Church' (which is of course, for them 'Rome'). An Orthodox friend says that all would be well if everybody, including Rome (who he considers to be the splitters), returned to the 'True Church' which is of course Orthodox!

My Pentecostal friends tell me that everyone should leave Rome and become 'proper Christians'! Interestingly they have no view on the Orthodox because they know nothing of them other than they're Greek (Aren't they? We saw them on holiday with their big hats and beards!!).

My Methodist friends (I have a few, can't be helped!) are basically of the opinion that everyone out there is far to concerned with the Bible and rules and doing the right thing and should just get down and engage in the social stuff around them.

Scratch a Christian, of any complexion, and you'll find a difference. Scratch some and you'll find stuff that others consider make them barely Christian (or ven non-Christian)! Scratch others and you'll find that they appear to assume that they are the only 'real Christians'.

Find someone who is a Baptist but joined from a C of E setting and ask them whether they moved because they had a change ion their thinking over baptism and then ask someone who was baptist but is now Anglican the same question. The answer I always get is that they moved because of the worship, the dogcollar and a host of other, non-theological, reasons.

Ask A Pentecostalist whether they are evangelical and they will most likely answer in the affirmative but ask an evangelical if Pentecostalists are evo's and they will probably answer with a negative.

Ask a Catholics what they believe and nine times out of ten they will tell you that they pray to Mary and that the Pope is the head of the 'true Church' and probably tell you all about Henry VIII and a failed divorce!

How can we expect to be together and find areas of common faith, to celebrate the image of Christ in each other and to dialogue when we don't even know who we are or what we believe? As the bloke said this week, "People love the idea of being one but don't understand what it means. It is more than sticking everyone in a room and shouting, 'look unity!', it is an engagement which comes out of being sure of who we are so that we are afraid of others taking that away!"

So here's a question for me, but you can play too, do I know who and am and what being an Anglican says about my Christianity?

One of the colleges I have attended, Ridley, had an exceptionally good summary of what being an open evangelical is all about. It is:

"Roots down - walls down!"

We grow in our own denominational and faith, putting down roots so that we are securely based and, having removed the things that separate us, let our branches reach out to touch, and be touched by, others around us.

I think this is the beginning of ecumenical aspiration!


Thursday 17 February 2011

Proclamatory, Apologetical Ecumenism

In my book, one of the best ways of doing ecumenism is to be loud and proud about who you are and what you believe. This is not to encourage dogmatism but it might encourage those who have a position to not only be able to spout it but also understand it from a theological/church history standpoint and be able to explain/defend it too! This is what apologetics is all about and ecumenical gatherings is one of the best arenas to engage in it because it requires dialogue.

There are some who think that ecumenism is about having the largest voice and deaf ears.

The problem with this is that those who refuse to challenge, or even ask, lead the shouters to think that this is the best way forward. The 'spiritual, silent ones' are never spiritual and rarely (once they get amongst friends) 'silent'!

A good example here might be the issue of (and I've taken one at random) 'Zionism'. Now, this is apparently an extremely contentious issue. The leader of one church that I know is not only 'anti-zionist', but is also a self-proclaimed 'pro-Palestinian'. Another leader doesn't give a hoot about Israel or Palestine and thinks they all need their heads banged together. Yet another leader thinks that we have to support Israel because it's what the Bible tells us we need to be doing!

The positions continue and eventually the decision is taken that rather than dialogue regarding the politics, study regarding the Biblical or engage with the varying positions and find out more, it is 'safer' to merely agree not to engage lest we fall out or find ourselves at odd with one another. Better to take the path of peaceful disagreement! We do the safe things like an Easter 'walk of witness' and gather to sing a few carol around a tree at Christmas and hope that the world assumes this means we are one!

What a load of tosh! Surely the Biblical solution is that we look at the important stuff, engage with the historical and political stuff, consider the humanitarian stuff, address Biblical issues and bring it all to the table (it might take months or years, but at least we would be engaging and working towards an informed, balanced and biblical consensus) so that even if we don't agree we might understand.

Would that we might stand up for what we believe and come armed with biblical, rational and honest arguments for the positions that we occupy. Would that we would bring our beliefs and opinions and share why we think, act, live and believe as we do.

Is it any wonder that Islam presents such a viable alternative to us when we are such milky, wishy-washy, lacking in faith people?

Study the subject

Think about and understand it

Explain it


And then one day everyone will clap and you'll become:

So come on then people, let's get started on the journey. Take something that defines you, your church, fellowship, denomination and understand what it means so that you can explain it to others as a valid, reasoned and (hopefully) biblical choice.

If you're Anglican then you have paedobaptism and if you're Pentecostal then it's the Anabaptist life for you - can you explain the differences and the reasons why or is it merely what you do?

If you're catholic then understand that you don't pray TO Mary (and if you do, you are wrong!) but can you explain where she fits in and what the snake is doing under her foot in the statues?

If you're pro-Palestinian, can you explain what you do with all the prophesies about Israel when you stand against that nation and vilify it?

If you're not pro-life then how do you reason with that one, what's the journey that took you there . . . and of course there's more besides (yep, there's even deep theology!!!). It's called apologetics


Wednesday 16 February 2011

Receptive Ecumenism

I have been reading a number of papers and articles on the rather high-sounding topic of 'Receptive Ecumenism'. This is an interesting journeying point for those seeking to be 'Churches Together' in that it looks at news ways of being 'One Church' and that the prime movers appear to be Catholics called into both action and response to John Paul II's 'Ut Unum Sint' ('may they be one').

The question before the Catholics was one of finding ways that the Catholic church could keep to its own beliefs (or as they put it, 'maintain their integrity') engage with, and learn from, other Christian traditions with regard to matters of faith, spirituality, worship, churchmanship and engagement with the secular world and yet not (my words) 'be tainted or changed'.

One of the popular expressions in this is, "From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy" (initially used by a paper from the SSJ).

The reality is that many within the Christian world are coming to the conclusion that the Church (universal) finds itself in an 'ecumenical winter' and that the days of people assuming that putting Christians, or their leaders, in a room and labelling it as 'unity' is drawing to a close. That said, a continued presence in the room with a desire to see ways in which unity could become a reality heralded (very early) signs of Spring and is perhaps one of the first stages of what might become a realised unity.

A key element of this is that rather than bring what we have, or push the position we occupy, we come to listen to what others have and from here begin the dialogue. We come and, creatively, explore how we might engage, not just at personal, congregational or other local levels but at wider and deeper (denominational?, now there's a wonderful, yet frightening, thought!)levels still!

Receptive Ecumenism seeks to (and I quote here):
"To extend Spiritual Ecumenism into an explicit exploration as to how Christian traditions might most effectively and genuinely learn, or receive, from each other with integrity."

Just to get you started with this, here's a link to Paul Fiddes' excellent paper: Learning from others - Baptists and Receptive Ecumenism


Tuesday 15 February 2011

Ecumenism - Silence is rarely golden!

Silence is golden, or so the old adage says, but of course this is not always the case for, whilst there are times when saying nothing is preferable to speaking, there are times when we need to dialogue.

I find many of my brothers and sister in Christ would perhaps like us to engage in that time honoured practice of not engaging. Keeping silenct over matters where we disagree in the hope that this would look like unity. But, having seen the effects of silence, would that some time we would have the courage and integrity to engage in discourse and open debate?

I recall a letter from Cyril to Nestorius where the author basically asks, "What kind of excuse can we find for thus keeping silence so long?" The issues were being raised because silence would only have permitted people to act wrongly for longer and the answer to the question was, "None!"

I was taken up by Hans Küng, the theologian, who writing to the 'Catholic Bishops' last year said of silence (I was so impressed with it that copied the letter and have it filed!) :

"By keeping silent in the face of so many serious grievances, you taint yourselves with guilt. When you feel that certain laws, directives and measures are counterproductive, you should say this in public. Send Rome not professions of your devotion, but rather calls for reform!"

Well, I'm not speaking of Rome but of the fact that we as ministers need to be the voices that open the debate on issues of ethics, demonstrate how that debate might be engaged with and taken up and demonstrate also the way that we live when we find that we cannot come to agreement on those issues.

This covers everything before us and includes political issues (I'm a purple!), matters of sexuality (I'm of the opinion that it ain't who (or what) you are but the way that you do it that matters!), Pro-life issues (abortion or termination, the words we use define the people we are!), Green issues (Save the Wales or love them? Camilla and Charles at large or just the ears and teeth?), Social issues (oh, there's so many of them), education (What we don't don't need no?) and more besides.

Christians need to be engaged in the world before them. They also need to be taking a view that is Biblical (for isn't it the Cross of Christ, the Bible and our traditional faith that shape us?), loving, supportive, honest, consistent and all the other things that show Christ as being the focus of our life and the model for our living.

Especially in an ecumenical setting, we need to celebrate the image of God in one another and to come to a place of reasoned acceptance of the other view and we can only do this by dialogue.

So, let's get down and get into the stuff before us, or should we remain silent and hope that everyone thinks we agree on everything?


Monday 14 February 2011

St Valentine's Massacre

I was reading about St Valentine's Day around the world and the figures said that the trade is worth something around $20bn in the US and £2.5bn in the UK.

All this in honour of a bishop who, against the will of the Roman Emperor of the time, secretly married the couples who came to him. There were no cards, chocolates, expensive dinners and the like, just a man who offered, because of his beliefs, Christian love and support.

Today has little to do with love, unless it's the love of money.

A florists I passed today seemed to have raised the price of their flowers in honour of the day. The local card shop had removed three aisles of birthday and other cards and replaced them with Valentine's day merchandising.

One of the people I spoke to today told me that people needed the flowers, gas-filled balloon, card, chocolates, expensive presents, meals out and the St Valentine's night 'two drinks for the price of one' evenings because they don't know how to say "I love you!" any other way!

And Hallmark (and all the other companies) say a big "Thank You!"


Akira Press - A Cautionary Note

This blog entry has been retrospectively amended as a gesture of goodwill towards the press as they seek to move forward from their earlier teething problems.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.

May God indeed always be the builder in all that we seek to do.


Sunday 13 February 2011

All Ages - One Church

We celebrated twenty-five years since the consecration of our building today and one of the nicest comments ever was made about the Church in that it was a great mix of all ages and everyone appeared to be ate ease with each other. This is a true observation and is one of the strengths of the Church I belong to and the people I serve.

It seems to me that so often the older folk in a church want to see growth and yet also want to see it on their terms in a sort of liturgical NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) approach. As they get older, and have more time on their hands, some of the older folk in other congregations I have known tend to get very pre-occupied with themselves and the errors and offences (real, perceived and imaginary) of others. The return to the playground is often a hallmark of older people and, as someone who ran an old-folk's lunch club once told me, the spats and falling out that happens amongst the older generation is often spiteful and frightening.

The young have much to teach as well as learn when it comes to the older folk and vice versa. Those who have years on the clock often have experienced the self-same problems, and made the self-same mistakes, as the younger members. They know what a muck-up looks and smells like because they've made a few in their time, and so they also know how to avoid, or come out relatively unscathed from, them.

All-age torture (sorry services) are something that people inflict upon congregations. This is a service whereby we talk down to the children and try to appease the grown-ups at the same time.

All-age church is a place where we speak to the child in all of us and ensure that milk and meat are both on the menu (fortunately, according to the thirty-nine articles, we are free from the dietary regulations). The older members enjoy the new songs and are as on fire as the younger. The younger members are looking to find something relevant and sustaining, so are the older members.

Age is not a source of division, attitude is, and I thank God for the people of all ages who have the right heart and attitude. May I be one of them as I get older.


Saturday 12 February 2011

Being a Missionary Church

I hear so much about 'missionary churches' these days and it seems that so many of the people who are speaking about them have almost as many ideas about what they are as there are people with the ideas! They range from putting on Alpha and other evangelistic stuff through to going outside the doors to bring people back and leafleting (telling them that the big pointy building at the end of their street is a church!).

Following a conversation today I thoughts I'd re-ignite the round that is Mission Action Plan (MAP) writing for the APCM (the Annual General Meeting of a church) where the MAP is supposed to be part of the proceedings by bringing people back to the five ‘Mission Values’ of the Church of England an a definition (of sorts) of 'missionary church'.

The 'mission values are

To proclaim the good news of the kingdom (Evangelism and Outreach)

To teach, baptise and nurture the of new believers (Teaching and Nurture)

To respond through 'loving service' to the (human) needs around us* (Justice and Care)

To transform unjust structures of society by our engagement (Justice and Care)

To work to safeguard creation and sustain and renew the earth (Justice and Care)

These are the five Marks of Mission of the whole Anglican Communion - in them we find three of the four 'Primary Purpose' groups, the only one missing being 'Worship and Prayer' which should be the hallmark, driving and responsive force for all that we do (so I will forgive them).

A 'missionary church' has five characteristics. A missionary church is:

Focused on God the Trinity
Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the orthodox understanding of the Trinity! It is therefore concerned with the Word, with keeping the laws and honouring God and celebrates the things of the Spirit (in a balanced and positive way).

Just as Jesus is God incarnate, so too are we to become, as Luther succinctly put it, 'little Christs' in that we take God into engagement, taking the initiative, with those who are 'not Church'.

Romans 12 tells us: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." we need to be transformed and from that position lead others into being transformed that they might have the mind of God, for from that comes the heart of God and from that the actions that take Christ into all places.

A disciples-making church
Matthew 28: "Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them ina the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." We go in obedience and reach out, celebrating God where He is to be found in the lives of those who are not 'Church' and we lead them, by example and by love, into a place where they come to know God and become followers of Christ, taking up their own cross and, denying themselves, follow Him.

as I understand this, we bring together God (and the Church), the world (all creation including humans) and 'self'. We are concerned with how these and 'I' connect. We seek to show how none of the elements exist in isolation but in relationship with each other and with God throughout creation celebrating the reality that 'man is most certainly not live alone'.

So here's a bit of an outline for some future thinking. There are so many buzzwords and so many interpretations and fine sounding theological considerations but the reality is this:

That we know God, three-in-one, and taking Him into places where He is perceived not to be see lives transformed such that they follow Christ and see Him entering into all of their realities such that they can know Him, three-in-one, and taking . . . .


* I love the way 'human' is stipulated, guess it stops us going off at a tangent and doing animal rights stuff though!

Friday 11 February 2011

Minister's Fees and Retired Clergy

I remember when rock was young . . . Well actually it's got nothing to do with rock, but a crematorium near to my home. This place found itself in the position whereby three very enterprising retired clergy got together and offered themselves to the undertakers and the Crem' on a rota basis should they not find someone to take a service.

These three did a roaring trade (no pun intended) and they found theirs services (still not a pun) called upon as the local ministers found themselves unable to cover all of the services at the Crem'. Everyone was happy, and then as is often the case, someone realised that there was but 'one small problem'! The problem was that because the people doing the bulk of the services were retired, there was n income for the diocese.

It wasn't long before there was a missive sent out from diocesan HQ telling the incumbents that they should endeavour to pick up the majority of the funeral services because it was both a pastorally and financially efficacious act. So they did and the three, really nice, old geezers went back to doing the odd service now and then.

many years later, there was the situation whereby retired clergy that I knew were being asked to give a percentage of the fees that they received to the diocese. A while back, if I recall correctly, there was a piece from Leslie Chadd regarding the same thing in Portsmouth diocese. He wrote to the local funeral directors to tell them that unless it was a dire situation or he'd known the person, he was hanging up his tat. His reason was that he'd been told to pay one third of the minister's fees (which as I understand it are £66 and so this is about £22) to the diocese.

Now I find myself positioned somewhere in the middle of this argument. My first thought is that you 'don't muzzle the ox that treads the grain' (Deut 25:4) and those who have served in holy orders and continue to offer themselves should reap the full reward, especially when those who find themselves in Church of England Housing appear to be paying more than those in comparable housing in the private sector (I know it's all to do with the Charity Commissioners and getting the maximum return, but the reality is that it's wrong!).

The other side of the fence upon which I am so uncomfortably pivoting tells me that without income we cannot keep the lights on everywhere and although many moan about the demise of 'a parson in every parish' as a reality, reducing income will only exacerbate that situation. But there has to be equity and care for those shown for those who have retired and continue to offer an incredibly valuable and effectively free service to so many churches and parishes.

I err towards giving retired clergy the lot whilst making sure that those to whom the task naturally (or should I perhaps say 'rightly' and if I do will it cause a furore?) falls pull their weight and ensure that those passed out to retired clergy are the lesser percentage of the whole.

We need to maximise the income streams whilst ensuring that we continue to service our 'core business' (gosh, sound like the old days before ordination) of caring for all within our parishes and districts, open all hours and coming alongside (with the other Paraclete) to minister God's grace, help people to live as best they can and die well too!


Thursday 10 February 2011


I was engaged in another one of the 'those' conversations whereby I was asked how much it cost to do a funeral in a church.

Smugly I pointed to the piece of paper on the wall that is the 'Fees table' for 2011 (feeling good that I had posted it there like what a good dog-collar should do).

"Here is is, 'Service in church, cemetery or crematorium', the main fee (as payable by law) is £102.00."

"So how come I have to pay £281 for the service we had,"
came the response (Not our church building by the way!).

"Well," said I (hoping I was right), "there are also 'extras' which need to be paid such as the cost of a verger, organist, choir, bells, flowers and other stuff that is relevant to the type of service you're paying for."

"So that means that you get the £102 then does it?" asked my inquisitor.

I knew what was coming next, the conversation about me profiting personally from the misery of others. It wouldn't be the first and probably not the last time I'd be engaged in this discussion.

"Well no, it doesn't," says I, "Clergy generally 'assign' the fees to the diocese and so basically it goes to them and not us."

So then I get asked why they had to pay extra again for them to play a CD in the church building. I suggested that it might be towards the cost of a copyright licence so that it could be done legally, or perhaps pay for the trained gorilla what puts the discs in and plays them when the dog-collar nods.

I start to explain all about the Ecclesiastical Fees Measure of 1986 and the Parochial Fees Order 2010 and how they are legally binding and how on top of that the church building needs to be heated, lit and insured and how so many other things need to be paid for.

Now I understand what was being said and I understand that on top of the church costs there are also cremation or burial fees, but I wish we would sort ourselves out a little in terms of being a bit more transparent over what people pay for and why.

Just when I thought I'd managed to communicate the situation clearly and was home dry, I was asked, "What about the offerings at Christmas and Easter, don't you keep them?"

"Oh no!"
said the dog-collar, "Here we go again!"


Wednesday 9 February 2011

Is it for a baby?

Walking past an undertaker's shop today I noticed in the window a model of a motorcycle hearse.

Next to the model, which is about two and a half feet long, was a notice:

"This is a model of a motorcycle hearse. If you would like to use the full-size version please ask inside."

I went in and asked why they'd put the notice up and this was what they said:

"First people came in and asked whether it was a hearse for a baby." No, I think not, for considering the size of the model, it would need a child to drive the thing and so I assumed they just weren't thinking and it was just a 'one-off', but no, upon asking further it transpired that they had received quite a few enquiries.

Now only that but other people came in and asked whether it was a hearse for pet funerals, after all it'd accomodate a Budgie, Hamster or Guinea Pig - and at a push (a big push) you might be able to get a Jack Russell in! Just need Bubbles the trained Marmoset to drive the thing (now there's a marketing idea - a pet funeral driven by a minkey! What's that you say Bubbles, it's already been done!

The undertakers had received so many diverse requests that they'd needed the notice to stop the people coming in, only they hadn't and as I left, another lady came in and asked whether the hearse was a special one for ashes! (another great marketing idea perhaps?)

I love it when people are much more [insert word] that one could ever give them credit for!

Mind you, would be great for sending your Action Man or barbie off to their final resting place - bet they never thought of that.

Thank you Paul for ten minute's entertainment today.


I'm not the cabaret!

Did a funeral today and was asked why I didn't 'sing up' like one of the other ministers.

I had to explain that I was conducting a funeral, not appearing as the star turn in a cabaret. If they wanted to hear me sing (solo) then they needed to pay the MU rates and I'd do a set or two.

"Ahem. Hi, here's a little song I wrote a couple of years back when I was on tour with Cliff . . . " (lights dim and I sing, unaccompanied, the 'Old Rugged Cross').

No, I din't think so!

Still the service itself was superb and the family, as is usually the case, were a lovely bunch (with a superb voice in the congregation to make my day sublime and make up for the fact that I wasn't up for some gigging).

It's funny but I often find that when I turn up to do a service the assembled masses (of people if you're low church) expect me to do a number of things. These include moving the 'altar' rails (or ir reformed 'table' rails), vacuum the crumbs from the 'kiddie's service' (I kid you not!) and at one service I was asked to move a baby burco boiler from a vestry to the back of the church building (an easy task made all the more interesting as it was not only full but boiling too!). When I pointed out to the lady in charge of the tea and coffee that the boiler was full and 'hot' she merely replied that she knew that, that's why she wanted me to move it!

I sometimes wonder whether people have mistaken me for Jesus' stunt double. For instance:

At one service a woman came in from the Trefoil Guild (It's a club for former pixies who have looked into a lake and 'seen themselves' as I understand it!) and demanded that I take something down immediately. Fortunately she continued with a clarification or else I would have undoubtedly found myself in the dock (I was having one of 'those' days!).

What she wanted was the standard that was to be found in a chapel within the church building. It wasn't until I entered the room that I realised that it was sicking out of a wall about ten feet in the air. Undaunted by the height she led me to a pair of steps which she quickly pointed me too and asked me politely ("Hurry up, my husband's waiting outside in the car!" Don't know why, he could have brought it in for a services, I'd even change the oli and water!!!). to expedite matters.

To make a short story longer, I found myself balancing on top of these wretched steps swinging from the mount that held the standard. Eventually (about three hours or so my shaking legs told me) I got the thing out and passed it to the woman who, without even a smile, left with the thing.

Enter one of the one of the parishioners who asked what I was doing in the chapel standing on a pair of steps. "I'm, trying to get closer to God," I replied. To this day I think they believed me!

Moving on I found myself engaged in a service where we prayed as 'Our Saviour Tortoise!'

Don't you just love the things clergy say.

One of the little kids at a school I regularly visit told me he'd been to a service where the Vicar had asked them to pray with one mind and accordion! Must have been looking for a new music team.


ps. Thanks to Thumper_Mark who reminded me of this great Larson cartoon (I have all his 'Far Side' books from old):

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Declining Language

Today is one of those days where spoken English language has taken a bit of a pounding.

There was the spokesman for an organisation which had received a financial award for its work. The reason they gave was that it was a recognition that they were one of many unique projects in that area!

This was followed by the head of a school which had benefited by spending by the DFE. One of the stated strengths of the school was that all the pupils received an education which meant all the pupils were above average. Surely if all were above average then then all were merely average (were there no above or below the 'above average' pupils?)! I assumed he meant the pupils were above some national average or other benchmark.

Yet another spoke of the majority of the people in the area their charity served were supportive of them. The chairman said that over a third of the community had signed petitions asking for a rethink of funding. Poor maths perhaps?

As I travelled it became obvious that many thing impacted (surely had an impact) on the lives of others.

All I needed was some football and the services of a summariser and I'd have been replete with a Colemanballs day of broadcasting.

Cherry on the cake is one of our children bringing home a letter with some interesting words. I asked one of the teachers (we're friends so I could) about a letter they'd sent out. "Oh yeah, English isn't my subject!" Obviously true of the author of the letter that we got this week too!

Star prize still goes to an American doctorate holder who, speaking of an exhibition she had arranged for her employer, the Tate Gallery, said that it had been then 'funnest' job she'd had since working there!


Monday 7 February 2011

Healing the sick

One of those very clergy days today with staff meetings, funerals, visits to schools, service prep and a bit of church maintenance thrown into the usual round of daily offices, praying for the sick, arranged funerals for the dead and more besides.

It's all gone green (ordinary time) and although some might consider it to be a period of journeying through the doldrums, the very opposite is true.

Today's reading (Mark 6) recounted Jesus arriving . . .no, why not read it yourself?

"When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognised him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well."

Two things hit me with this passage this morning: recognition and healing. Is Jesus recognisable in me? Why do some get healed and others (far too many others) not? This was something we touched on in out evening 'Thinking Theologically' service last night where we have been considering the issues of suffering, good and evil and the whole area that is theodicy (the very word casts chills into the hearts of some). We've done Epicurus and logical considerations for evil and suffering and all that when someones told how they found the very thought of praying for people to be healed to be 'tough'.

If where we go, the kingdom of God goes also (basileia) as the Holy Spirit (the homo ousious) is with and within, then we should be recognised and we should also see healing.

As a response to this we're about to start looking at healing, what it is, how much to expect and how we bring it into being a reality in our own experience and the community we serve.

Is it about the expectancy of those who brought the sick, the sick themselves or just about who Jesus is?

I'll let you know! (or better still, perhaps you could tell me - I need all the help I can get)


Sunday 6 February 2011

So this woman comes up to me and says . .

"I've heard two of your sermons, one last year and today's and they were great!'

"Don't come next year, I've only got two sermons," was my response! Oh how we laughed!

But seriously, one of the biggest curses is the 'nice' sermon. You study the passages, consider the situation in which they were set and the underlying cultural and social background and then try to bring something sound, fresh, and most of all, relevant, to the proceedings. Then up comes someone who can only say, "That was nice!". It's about being entertained and the sermon slot filled. Wearing another hat, a member of one church told me they were moving to another congregation because the sermons were always about money or doing things! Tough, but necessary subjects, but perhaps with the wrong focus or emphasis (or perhaps just too long?).

A friend is complaining because they have a new minister who preaches for almost ten minutes each Sunday. Concerned about the content or the scholarship, the direction the sermon was intended to take them? No! Concerned about the fact that the previous incumbent never did more than five minutes and there is linch to think about (isn't that what sermons are for - meal planning?).

When I was a young Christian we all took notebooks and scribbled furiously during the sermons, especially when it was St Helen's and Dick Lucas was preaching. It was what we did. Later when I was in the Pentecostal side of life, we also took notes and had our own Bible too! We made notes and discussed what we had heard, examining the words and wondering how they might relate, or how far from the mark, the wordswere.

These days it seems that the majority carry neither notebooks or Bibles and the words pass through, like trains at a disused station, noted but rarely remembered.

Now the service in question today was a civic service and I was grateful that so many were there to hear the Gospel, especially as for many it would have been an extra service added to Christmas and (possibly)Easter. It made me realise the privileged task we have to feed those who might otherwise never come into the building and also how when they hear, they are touched and find that the words 'make sense'.

More reason we should be taking it outside to feed the hungry.


ps. Just found this - hadn't posted, got stuck as an 'edit'

Saturday 5 February 2011

5 Before Lent

Been thinking about the Gospel tomorrow (Matthew 5: 13 - 20) and having had the Godspell song running through mind on and off all week because of it, thought I'd just read it before turning in for an early night:

"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world.
A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to abolish qthe Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Hallelujah for God's Word - always comes in at the right time and lifts you up.

Even the collect is a winner:

God of our salvation,
Help us to turn away from those habits which harm our bodies and poison our minds
And to choose again your gift of life, revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Fruit goes fourth!

Here's what I thought might be a simple one, but going by the responses so far, perhaps not!

Lady comes to the door wanting a baptism for one of her kids. She has a few of them, each has a different father and it appears that she is pregnant again. (turns out it's a different father from any of the others).

What do you do?
Tell her she needs to do course and attend for six months.
I know a minister who does this as it's a sure fire way to get the person enquiring to look elsewhere. If all else fail, include a baptism course and a few other hurdles and they are sure to vanish for ever.

But if we do this then any chance of engaging and building a relationship with the person and their family has gone. Any hope of bringing some acceptance and engagement on behalf of the Church, and hopefully therefore God, has gone.

Tell her I can't baptise the child because baptism requires 'true repentance on the part of the candidate'.
I've recently been told of a minister who hasn't baptised a child fro years on this basis! But of course if paedobaptism is good enough for the early Church . . .

A good starter for a group discussion this, will give it a try some time soon!

Shrug and give her a date to suit her.
If we do have clergy who do this, is it any wonder that we have so many people troubled by padeobaptism?

Engage and look at building a relationship to address the many spitiual, moral and practical issues before me - looking to be a friend?
I think this is what I did. My response was to invite her in and tell her that of course we'd be happy to do a christening (that's what they call baptism). We had the usual surprise that it was free and then we began to chat about the family and the journey that brought her to the church door. Step by step - no condemnation, just a willingness to dialogue. Why does she want the child baptised? What does baptism mean?

We can't ask if we don't engage, can we?

The engagements thus far are all contentious and potentially crisis-ridden. If we engage with integrity, honesty and love we can at least find a place where peace might be found and unity, even if it is perhaps a little tense at times, becomes a reality.

I hope the posts have served to help with the thinking of those who read and helped shaped their engagements, even if we differ theologically or otherwise.

Thank you for you for your comments - all are valued, even when I might disagree.


Friday 4 February 2011

Fruity and three

Today's issue deals with an approach by a man who 'has a calling'. He's a member of another church in the area and lives with a woman. They're not married and have no intention of it. He comes to ask my opinion about his domestic situation in the hope that the CofE wouldn't be bothered about it and would train him?

So what's the way forward with this one I wonder?

Do I explain that the CofE is not an 'anything goes' organisation and tell him to go and sin no more?
Of course, for me the first thing to explain was that one of the biggies when it comes to the Christian life is that of being in a position whereby one was playing by the Book! The fact that he was in a relationship with another person, albeit a woman, didn't change the fact that celibacy until marriage was the rule. He wasn't married and he wasn't celibate and therefore he fell at the very first hurdle! So the ball was in his court really.

He pointed out that this was a long-term relationship and felt that to be celibate would damage this and to move out would break the relationship. I asked why they didn't want to get married and the response was that they 'just didn't', it was a choice!

After some discussion he felt that it probably wouldn't be a problem in the CofE as his domestic arrangements weren't part of the 'calling', it was about God and Him. I had to explain that there had to be clear evidence of calling and the way one lived was part of the discernment of a call. I also had to explain that just popping in from another firm and expecting the CofE to send them off to college was a bit of a non-starter! He'd no track record with the CofE so why expect them to fund his training. His response was that this was what he'd been told the CofE did, pay for people to train.

I again had to explain that the living arrangements weren't satisfactory and that not being a Anglican would make make things difficult from the beginning. I asked why he wanted to be an Anglican and the bottom line was that he wanted to go to college and was told that we'd pay!

He left as sad and disillusioned man, especially when I told him that a couple of years with us and a wedding ring would start to put things on the right track to help test his calling. Don't think I'll be seeing him again.

Do I tell him that he'd be ok as long as he keeps his domestics to himself?
I sat in a Potty training session a few years back where a chap from Church House told us that if we were homosexual we didn't have to put it on any application forms and not only that, it was out of order for bishops to ask about it when interviewing.

Keep you 'arrangements' to yourself and things will be fine, they have no right to be told or ask. better still, the man continued, those who oppose women are obvious and so we can identify them and weed them out so that eventually they will be gone - no place for people like them in the Church of England! (Perhaps he's the founder of the ordinariate?) The same when for evangelicals who opposed homosexuality and other stuff that cramped the style and liberty of those in church, for they also always put their heads above the parapet.

My advice is that plain and transparent is always a good way forward, stops worrying at night about what people might know and how they might one day reveal it. The Oscar Wilde, "Flee, all is discovered!" telegram springs to mind here!

Do I start to outline how we test calling and explain that his home situation presents a problem which needs to be addressed regardless.
Of course I do! There's four states of sexual activity: Married (male/female), unmarried (and celibate), unmarried (and engaged in fornication i.e. not celibate) and adulterous (married but sexually engaged with someone outside the marriage relationship of either, or both, parties).

It's pretty simple, always has been and always will be really!

Outside of this there are the various ways that we personally test a calling on our life and the way that we offer ourselves to, and are tested by the wider Church. Living Biblically is a start on this road of discovery.

Do I tell him to leave his 'other half', and their kids for the sake of his eternal soul?
Many out there would say a big 'yes' to this and it is one of the tough questions that we encounter from time to time. We don't want to split families and yet we'd be wrong to merely look the other way to maintain the atatus quo. For my part, I'd rather engage with the person and from a developing relationship with them seek to lead them, rather than demand or condemn, them into the place that they should, biblically, be. It is, after all at the end of the day, their decision and they have the freedom to act as they please - that's the way it was set up. We choose how we act and whether or not we act regardless of the setting!

This, of course, brings us back to restoring gently and lots of not judging lest we are judged and myriad numbers of splinters and beams in the eyes stuff!

Do I tell him to talk to his pastor and/or contact him to ask him to talk to this bloke and sort him out?
The reality is that the man is a member of another church and therefore unless he asks me to work with him he's under the pastoral care and authority of someone else. If he does ask me, I'd have to contact his pastor as a matter of courtesy. I would of course tell the bloke that I would have to speak to his pastor and ask his permission. If it's not forthcoming then I couldn't act.

Asking the chap's pastor to get involved is a potentially difficult thing to do, after all he's apparently comfortable with the bloke living in a wrong relationship, but I might try to find out what his 9and other people's) take on the situation is so that at least I might pray intelligently and perhaps discuss it should the opportunity ever naturally arise.

I find the big problem with this area is that many have no issues because it's heterosexual sin which almost sanitises or leads people to ignore it. But of course just as homosexuality is not the defining sin, neither can anything involving heterosexuality become the the invisible sin.

Is it me, or do many people who claim to be Christian live in a world where as long as they don't know, they aren't troubled? Is it more or do many not want to know so the previous sentence can apply?


ps. We will also need to consider the issue of 'calling' at time, but we have time. Thank you for those who are engaging with me - I'm happy to consider other viewpoints and dialogue.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Fruity second thoughts too!

Now I knew that when I posted the 'fruity' thoughts that I would be treading where some might fear to tread, but also know that unless we dialogue and understand how others would deal with an issue then we have no comparatives or remedies against our own methods of engagement. After all, the object is not to be prescriptive but to engage in a dialectical discourse. Seems this goal might be achieved.

An area for a later revisit surrounds the issue of homosexuality being a choice, but that's for another time.

What is interesting is that I, like all pastors, clergy, ministers of leaders represent the communities they serve (and are themselves part of). This raises an interesting point, made thus:
"Whether this man and his partner would be welcome in the building depends not only on you but the reaction of other members of the church community. How do you go about ensuring that any welcome you personally may give is as widespread as possible within your congregation?"

This is an extremely valid question and one which I feel may be different from congregation to congregation. One congregation I know would be split into three distinct groups, those vehemently opposed, those passionately for and a larger muddied and either ambivalent or even apathetic centre.

There is a potential issue always lurking in the background in that what the dog-collar believes or promotes has the potential to be at variance with the congregation (and of course, vice vera) and I think that this is best dealt with by transparency and by cross-fertilisation between dog-collar and congregation. My goal is to lead the people such that they grow as disciples and that we have the same DNA as me. My opinions and ideas are tempered, developed and matured by the people I seek to serve. If it works as it should then we have the unity that Church should be. The journey to this requires loads of listening and dialogue. It needs loads of respect and tolerance, especially with some of the tosh that is thrown up (often from the dog-collar as well as the members!) and loads of prayer, study, teaching and love. If we did this locally, nationally and globally we would find that even though we had areas of difference, we could at least share where we can and not act so awfully where we can't.

It's about respect, love, looking and being like Jesus and celebrating Christ in the other person.

I hope that makes sense and perhaps takes us forward a bit. It's not easy, but it is doable.

Moving on, we have:

"I am unsure how widely this aspect has been thought through, but I am aware of differing views in my own parish. Unfortunately, there is no half-way house here. It seems to me that we need to welcome all, without judgment and allow them to be Christians in the light of Christ.

I don't believe that anyone is asked to agree with another's lifestyle or sexual orientation, rather to accept people for who they are. It just seems wrong to me to condemn or to turn away anyone who comes to the Lord's house."

The answer is that it has been quite widely thought through but my attitude is to be always willing to consider and think through more than I have! Dialogue with me!

I don't want a half-way house. I don't think the 'Let's just agree to differ' approach does anything except fuel schism and dissent and worse still, the awful distrust that so debilitates the Anglican Communion as it stands today. Christ died for all and therefore all may come to Him. Anyone who calls themselves Christian and restricts God's grace to the few that they consider to be acceptable choose only those who are acceptable to them, choosing to speak for God. My approach has to be what does the Bible say (in the light of the 39 Articles perhaps as clarification of our doctrinal bits) about the situation?

The difficulty comes when we start to engage with others and find that they have an area which denies that which God commands. The pain is that for so many this is about sexual sin and homosexuality in particular, but of course (as I keep saying) this is not the defining issue. We are concerned with sin it all its poverty and undermining glory!

I would have to take a differing view in that those who are not against something may very quickly find themselves consider to be for it! That I oppose a number of things in the lives of those in, as an example, the fellowship I am a member of, is only to be expected. That one of those with whom I have problems is me should be a certainty and my greatest area of conflict. Sadly this is not always the case, splinters and beams! We need to engage in relationship with those around us. If we do this then we see people who sin rather that sin with people attached.

the key comes in that it is the enemy (the devil, satan, whatever you'd like to call him) who is the accuser of the brethren. It is he who condemns and therefore is we do the same can we claim to be children of the light? Don't think so!

Regardless, I don't think I could turn away someone because of what they'd done (I've included paedophiles and others elsewhere despite criticism) because sin is merely a binary state, '1' or '0' and we all have the switch set to '1'!

I am in a very blessed and wonderful position in that we are a small fellowship (phone box almost full now) and we are a close-knit family. I know this is not the same for others - but I am only speaking from where I am and will benefit from hearing the accounts, and views, of others in disimilar situation and realities.

That's the first couple engaged with. I'm (obviously) not an expert, merely someone trying to dialogue and also stimulate some of the people I engage with outside of cyberworld to challenge their thinking with regard to pastoral engagements and personal opinions.

Thanks to RevSimmy and UKViewer for helping me move the dialogue forward.


(more soon)

Fruity Answers - A Second Thought!

Having started to consider some pastoral engagements and the ways we might respond, here's the second scenario for us to consider:

I am approached by a man who informs me that he and his partner are hopefully moving in to the area and wondered whether they'd find a welcoming place within our building. His partner is another man!

Do I tell him that he and his partner are going to burn in hell and leave in case I catch a dose of homosexuality?
I do understand that this is the method of choice for a fair number of people. It works better if you can perhaps have a placard with 'God hates Gays', and a megaphone, close to hand so that the point can really be made forcefully. After all, we are called to be watchmen and at the end of the day it's only 'being right' that matters, not being 'righteous'.
I don't know the bloke and if I haven't found out and at least gained some idea about him (them) and he (them) a bit about me, what he actually have is the potential for a shouting match and polarised positions doing the talking (shouting) for us.

Do I tell him I don't consider homosexuality to be a compatible Christian lifestyle but also explain that he's a brother and that was the place we needed, honestly and in dialogue, to work from?
Indeed I do, but it was not the first thing I did! It would be wrong for me to pretend that I supported the relationship for this would be hypocrisy at one extreme and weak, and unbiblical, at the other! But it would have been wrong to open dialogue in any way other than to say he (they) would of course be welcome.

One of the things that we appear often to fail to do is seek or celebrate the image of God in others and instead look for that which separates rather than that which unites. This, like withholding Communion, serves only to make a point and keep the 'religious' pure, just like the Pharisees of Jesus' time. Homosexuality, if I understand it correctly, is not contagious nor genetic but is a choice and so I will deal with it as such. After all, what of those who choose other things, do I exclude them?

Do I tell him he's welcome but 'no communion for you'?
Aha, the parody of Seinfeld's tragic,"No soup for you!" 'Soup Nazi'! I'm not sure who this damages most, but my money is on those who refuse rather than the refused person. Not only that, if people want to play the 'victim' card, this act of refusal (like ejection) is a real winner in the garnering of the 'sympathy vote and actually hardens support for the liberals rather than solidify opinion against!

Another aid here are the lyrics of an old song:

"It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it - That's what gets results!"

Do I, looking to avoid conflict, merely smile and say nothing?
In this response we find plentiful supplies of the principal road-building material for the highway to hell, that is 'good intentions!'

We are called to let our 'yes' be 'yes' and our 'no' be 'no'. If we don't agree we should say so and dialogue, correct or be corrected. Silence is for cowards (I do accept that is the 'time and places' consideration here) and those who consistently disagree but smile and remain silent need to join the rest of the hypocrites and weak-kneed individuals in their local ecumenical gatherings! We seek unity but we do so honestly - with differences understood and lived with.

Phew, this is one of the 'difficult' issues because there's more politics and a fair deal of what appears to be, to be blunt, entrapment and engagement of a duplicitous kind apparent (or of course, because it's entrapment,not apparent!). If we respond honestly and without malice or nastiness then we live by our conscience, maintain our integrity and honour God (the most important bit!).

Wise as . . . . Gentle as . . .

No one ever said the role of Christian was an easy one to take on. Taking up our Cross and following Christ is always a challenge(and a joy).


Wednesday 2 February 2011

Fruity Answers - the first!

I posed some questions regarding scenarios I have encountered during 2011 thus far.

The first considered meeting a woman who, at some stage in her life, had an abortion. Now it is obvious that this is raw and painful She's still raw about it and now, some time after the event we find her wracked with guilt and grieving, feeling the pain of the loss for which she was responsible. .

Do I condemn her because of the abortion?
I don't think so, for Christians are not in the business of issuing condemnation but of correcting and restoring. I wasn't part of the process that led the person to consider and take up the option of an abortion, but I am now part of the process which sees her restored and moving forward with God.

It is so easy to judge when you're outside of the situation and whilst I consider a pro-life stance to be the only approach that is Biblical, I find my Bible telling me to restore those who have been caught up in sin, 'gently'. If asked, we need to say that the decision taken wouldn't be our choice and move on. There is great potential for righteous (which usually means wrong) indignation and for us to find ourselves sinning by our response.

What does it say in matthew Chapter seven? Oh yeah, don't judge because if you do then you're asking to be judged the same way you do it! First rule, what is the Biblical way forward and how would you like to be corrected? (and that's before we consider the loss of a child, regardless of the reason)

Comfort her over the loss of her child?
Well in short, the answer is 'yes'. A life has been lost and there is a mixture of grieving, guilt, regret and loads of fear besides. regardless of how the point has been reached, it has been reached and there is a child who has been lost. In days gone by when I was involved with both LIFE and SPUC I used to encounter a great many women who had never been counselled and and grief-stricken over the lost of their child. Often the situation would be worse as they reached the EDD (or the anniversary of it) and they needed the same counselling and support that a miscarriage or stillbirth woman would need (along with help over the part they'd played in the loss too!).

Tell her 'you're forgiven' and that 'it's done now'?
Remembering the words of 1 John chapter nine:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Simple then, isn't it? If the person has acknowledged their sin then forgiveness is part of the transaction. What right do I have to pronounce what God doesn't or deny what His word, and nature, makes real? This is not to deny what has happened and it is not to ignore or diminish - we have to move on, living in the past is what dead people do!

Do I leave, rushing to be free of this sinner?
Some people take this approach, but this is reason so many errors and misjudgments become the norm. We fail to engage and by absenting ourselves give what is often taken to be tacit approval to the act or attitude. Those leaving often tell themselves they are making a moral stand, but rarely is this communicated by them and even less rarely is it understood or lived in by the person who is left there. They see no conflict and thus assume that their position has some merit.

There is much more to the scenario than that given here. As ever, the key is relationship and asking ourselves that perennial question, 'What Would Jesus Do?' and combining this with our Bibles to see, 'What did Jesus Do Then?'. The Micah, 'Mercy, Justice & Humility' is useful too!

I hope this helps move the discussions further with those who are looking at the issue of calling and perhaps makes us a little more responsive as ministers and members of the Church.