Saturday, 30 April 2011

Should we worry at how the French see us?

In a recent article in the Daily Torygraph (26th April 2011), Andrew Gilligan, on the issue of terrorism quotes a French official as claiming that Britain is , "The Pakistan of the West," in that we are incubator, entrepot and exporter of islamic radicalism.

Now, I neither deny nor defend the comments, for they are undeniable and without defence, but I do have to admit that I take exception to the being labelled thus by a blessed Frenchman (or even a Frenchwoman, nothing sexist about me!). Having someone from the same nation that closes borders to prevent the ingress of Tunisians (isn't that a former French protectorate or was I sleeping in geog. lessons?). The same nation that takes immigrants from other places and then almost assists them to get on the crossings to the UK because it solves the French immigration (and their own terrorism) problems (and gives them someone to point the finger at, as they do)? The same nation that served soldiers from their North African territories smaller portions and paid them less during the war and gave them a pretty non-existent pension after it (Gurkha anyone)? The same nation that discriminates and crowds into ghettoes those from former colonies, treating them abysmally as second-class citizens?

Can I suggest that before the French decide to lecture anyone about immigration and fostering terrorism, that they take a look in their own mirrors, for I assume they will see nothing but closed-minded bigots and fools. I would love them to suspend the Shengen agreement and do something about the traffic that flows (as quickly as possible) through France to end up on our shores, not to protect the French, but the British.

Sadly those, we have people who are just as foolish as the french on this side of the puddle too! These are the people who see terrorism behind every dark skin and in possession of the Koran. The problem is that we have imported many of our problems from many other places and now indeed do have a radicalised and potentially unsafe minority within our shores. The key here is education and engagement. Not with the EDL, BNP or the Daily Fascist readers and foolish men like Jones and Sapp but with people who are moderate and intelligent.

We need to ask what drives young men and women to become radicalised. What it is that takes a Christian (albleit a nominal Christian) and turns him or her into a Muslim who is willing to die for their faith (Blimey, I'd be happy of I could get them to join and come on a Sunday evening, so what's the key?)?

Where there is acquiescence on the part of the state, incompetence on the part of the intelligence services and funding of those who might otherwise be enemies of the 'hand that feeds them', then (intelligent, balanced and rational) action is required. But in saying this can I recommend a couple of films for your consideration.

The first is a war film, "Days of Glory" (Director: Rachid Bouchareb),

The second, an excellent apologetic for the secular Muslim, "My Name is Khan' (Director: Karan Johar).

I have more, but these will do for starters. We need to consider the integrity and actions of others when considering this issue. That some will misrepresent any faith for their own evil (financial, political or social) is nothing new, but accepting it is not, and never has been, an option.

We need to pray, dialogue and be the difference in this area - not condemn and solidify the lines that might currently only be drawn in chalk, before they are:
Get the picture?


Royal wedding - Technicolor Radio

I was appalled at the degree of hyperbole ridden tosh that emanated from my radio as I rushed around yesterday. From the Radio Four commentator who spoke of the event being a 'technicolor radio' event (we have colour radio?) to the dopey woman who informed us that 'the dress' was a classically futuristic creation that timelessly looks to the future (what?????) and culiminated in the most awful comment of all, "A royal wedding is all about a new future for the couple!

Every wedding is about a new future for the couple. Duh!

For me, marriage is about three things:

The whole point of marriage is to form a new family unit. This means leaving one's family and friends (not abandoning them) and committing into that new relationship. It means that one listens to the advice of parents and friends, but living in the the knowledge that they neither rule, own or command anything regarding the new family unit.

Yee ha, the sex bit (I hear you cry)! Well yes it is, but it is more than just that, it's about being responsive to each other and warm, loving and intimate (which is more than the mere wham, bam, thank you ma'am that the world talks of).

Becoming One
For many new family units this is the greatest challenge, for it relates to having one name (which I do think is an important part) and one identity, one hope, one goal and one purpose together. It is about joint accounts, not individual identities and bank balances living together. Setting up home and having sex and playing happy families is great, but who are you as a couple? What do you want and what are you going to share and enjoy together? These are the important issues that often fail to be addressed and bring so many to my door telling me how they've fallen in love with someone else. Each of us is an individual and in marriage, the two people are joined together that they are an individual too!

So as the royals start their life together, my prayer is the same for them as the others I meet with:

May God draw you together, make one one in heart, body, mind and spirit and lead you into that place where the line that separates you slowly fades that you cant's see the join. May family and friends be there to support and advise but never to control and may no one, and nothing come between you and the focus of your love today. May you share visions, dreams and goals and may they become reality for you as you grow deeper together as one. Amen.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Doing the Stuff - Community!

Today we had a bit of a community bash.

The Guides were out in force with their tents which housed crafts and other attractions. The Tamworth Amateur Radio Society was there, working the world and demonstrating their hobby (meets in the church building every Thursday).

There were musicians, a juggler/stilt-walker, face-painting and Bibbledy Bob, the clown and children's entertainer.

Alongside them we had bouncy castles, the Fire brigade (steady ladies), St John's, the Ambulance service and first responders.

We had a parade and costumes were judged by Tamworth's exceptional Mayor, Lee Bates, whilst in the church building there was tea, coffee and cake, followed by a Tea Dance (which sadly is nothing like a mud fight!). and even more besides.

As for me, I stayed near the food. In fact one of the wardens and I cooked and served burgers, hot dogs and sausages for just over two hours (ably assisted by Betty and Brian, Davros and Marijan).

The queues never got any shorter and the surprise when they realised that there was no charge was a pleasure to see. The only irony in the whole proceedings was the fact that having cooked so many burgers, sausages and stuffed them into buns, neither I or my fellow chef got near actually eating one!

So the couple got married, but even better than that (and the event was a liturgical triumph!) the community that is Leyfields became a little more of a community.

Hallelujah and thank you to everyone who organised the event and did so much to make it such a success - now, when's the next one?


Thursday, 28 April 2011

Eclipse of the Son?

An eclipse occurs when a celestial object is temporarily obscured, either by passing into the shadow of another body or by having another body pass between it and the observer.

It always amazes me that an object as bright as the sun can be made to disappear behind another object. The dull, almost otherworldly, light and temperature drop when it occurs always makes a big impression on me. Well it seems to me that the same is true of us and Christ in this post-Easter period in that we (or perhaps less helpfully but more comfortably 'the Church') often cause an eclipse of the Son!

Let me explain.

Here we are almost a week after Easter and the question has to be, what difference does it make? Are people seeing Jesus or are we putting stuff in the way such that he becomes obscured by 'the Church' and the issues of whatever we take it to mean?

Discussing this yesterday it seemed that people didn't see Jesus because issues like people losing their farms to pay for repairs to a church building on their land (a hang on from the glebe land and other laws) made 'the Church' look mean, heartless and money grabbing. The ownership of much of the land in central London (especially Soho where the brothels and sex industry is predominant) all served to show the 'Church' is a bunch of hypocritical, money-grubbing, duplistic (for how can 'the Church' claim to support marriage and own the very places sex is traded as a commodity from?) people.

Taking one of the readings for this weekend (Acts 2:14,22-32):

"But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
‘You that are Israelites,* listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death,* because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,

“I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

“He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.”

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses."

Seems to me that we don't do enough witnessing about Jesus but work hard to put objects in the way of Him such that He is eclipsed and unseen.

We struggle to raise issues that cloud the world's view of jesus, to bring into the public gaze objects that distract from the truth that we have just celebrated. It appears that where many people see 'the Church' they fail to see Jesus - and this is something we need to change. Shout about Him, praise His name and let's stop the politics, the weird theologies and the madness, eh?

Jesus is risen indeed. Hallelujah! (so get out of the way and let people see Him)


Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Praying - Just not good at it?

I had my attention drawn to this cartoon by a friend and it perhaps gives us an insight into our world of unanswered prayers.

Seems to me the biggest problem most of us have with praying is the fact that we just don't do enough and when we do it's more about telling God what we want from Him and all about what we want and don't want.

I must get betterer at this praying stuff - so I'm going to pencil in some time doing prayer practice (after all it works for piano) - how about you?


Happy Wednesday - half way through the week already (one working day to go for most of you I guess)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Christian churches, depression and mental illness - Gordon's story.

What follows below is a post from Gordon's Blog. It follows on wonderfully (and courageously) from my thoughts regarding mental illness ('Thank You' to Gordon for allowing me to post it here):

The church has a poor record of handling mental health issues and my own experience bears this out in a number of ways which I will outline in this article.

I have probably had some level of depression from about the age of ten when I was referred to a child psychologist because I was a bit withdrawn. Yes, she was a Freudian, and no it had nothing to do with sex. She was not very helpful and the experience probably put me off seeking help later on.

My condition has varied over the years from perfectly functional to totally suicidal with elements of self harm. In spite of this I have been very successful in life by adopting a strategy where I choose work and social activities that suit my abilities at the time. For example, I was at my most successful in business when my condition was at its worst because I did not care about my own well-being and working hard became a substitute for physical self harm. At other times I have chosen to pursue my music through recording rather than performing because I could not face an audience.

I can go several years without any depression at all and often it is not that severe. The severe episodes seem to be about ten years apart. I am very conscious of signs that I might be losing interest in things or taking less care of myself, as these are the early indicators of my depression.

Mental health problems and the church
I was first diagnosed properly with depression while living in Edinburgh. It was only after reading a book by Dorothy Rowe called Depression The way out of your Prison that I realised that I had a real, treatable condition that I could recover from. So I went to see my doctor, who actually uttered that classically unhelpful line “pull yourself together”. I got no help at all, but I persisted and after moving house and changing doctor I did start to get some help in the way of medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

As a very keen Christian, attending an independent evangelical church, I felt very guilty about being depressed as it appeared to me as a great spiritual failure. The reason I thought like this about my brain chemistry when I wouldn’t have about an injured leg is probably down to the bible itself where people with symptoms of mental health problems are quite literally demonised, but I digress. As a Christian I thought that the church might be part of my recovery so I went to see my minister, told him that I was being treated for depression and that I really needing to feel involved with other people as part of my recovery. I had become quite distant from things and a bit unwilling to mix with people so I hoped he might be able to help me get more involved again. Instead of this, he told me that I must have no contact with anyone else in the church in case they caught the depression from me. I was permitted to come into the church service and sit at the back, but that was as far as it was to go. I was not to mix with anyone else socially until I was well again.

As it turned out, this sort of attitude is not unique amongst ministers, and undoubtedly this type of treatment has led to me being iller for longer during my lifetime.

After moving house and changing church to a Baptist church the new minister’s preaching was very much of the “you must try harder” variety which made me feel really guilty as I was already running at full capacity just trying to function as a human being. He only had one sermon regardless of the text which was “look at what God has done for you, so how much are you going to do in return”. For a long time I thought I might have misinterpreted what he was saying due to the poor reasoning caused by my depression, but I met someone recently who had attended the same church shortly after I stopped going. He mentioned the same thing with no prompting from me so it seems that my understanding of what the minister was saying was correct.

Sad to say, if I had stayed away from that church I would have got better quicker.

After withdrawing from church my condition did improve a lot and I made a good recovery followed by a few years of very good health when I was not attending any church. Then another bout of depression set in with quite serious self harm. By this stage I had started going back to church and had chosen the nearest church to my house. This was a pentecostal church. Goodness knows why I was going there. I suppose I went because they were very welcoming, but they had a very clear expectation that the normal Christian life was one of very fast transformation within six months or so of attending. Anything else was a sign of something being wrong with your spiritual life or the result of hidden sin. It was a guaranteed recipe for disaster with regards to my mental health. I didn’t spot the signs of depression this time till it was too far advanced, having spent time in prayer rather than seeing a doctor, but finally I forced myself to go to the doctor (and felt a failure in doing so). He was able to get me very good help, including psychological treatment and this has given me the tools to move forward and prevent future recurrences of my condition. I know that I have already prevented one major recurrence since then and my life is much more stable.

If I had not attended that church would I have had a recurrence of depression? Probably, but I doubt it would have been as severe as I definitely would have sought professional help sooner.

Suggestions for ministers
Isolation is not the answer. People with depression are isolated enough and usually feel lonely and vulnerable. When I was depressed I wanted to feel wanted. You should assign someone to check regularly on people with this condition in your congregation and work at maintaining a relationship with them. Don’t consider people to be “backsliders” if they can’t regularly attend services. They may be uneasy being in large groups, which always made me feel very lonely and vulnerable. When I have been depressed I have been very nervous about travelling to be with strangers so home groups were not really an answer either unless someone had picked me up and taken me there. Even then I might not have been that keen. The key is probably one to one contact with someone and encouragement to seek and maintain medical and psychological treatment.

Are people with mental health problems likely to be more religious?
One of the regular suggestions made is that religious belief is a form of mental disorder and it has even been classified as such by some psychiatrists. I think there are correlations, but more like this: people of an artistic or intuitive temperament are more likely to suffer from mental illness. They are also more likely to explore spiritual issues so are more likely to be religious. As a result, I would expect the percentage of mental patients with an interest in religion to be higher than the population average. Its not a significant statistic and not directly elated.

Some thoughts on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
I won’t go into the details of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) here as you can find information in this article, but I found that CBT did not work for me. Principally because it challenged my creative intuition which is one of my most useful senses. My intuition is generally quite good and I have made a large part of my living from being able to discern the best path to achieving something without any supporting analytical evidence for my decision. CBT turned that on its head and made me less functional in business and as a musician because it said that everything has to be reasoned out and based on evidence. This was actually quite damaging and I began to question if the sky was really blue or the grass really green. I found interpersonal therapy with a psychologist to be the answer for me and its been surprisingly long lasting. Probably because it provided me with tools and dealt with underlying issues, rather than being solely a treatment for symptoms.

Useful Books
I found these books very helpful in my own recovery:

Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded? (Not Hurting Those With Emotional Difficulties) By Dwight Carlson - explained to me why I was treated the way I was by people in the church and helped me to depersonalise the hurt.

Depression The Way out of your Prison by Dorothy Rowe - helped me to recognise that I needed help.

There are a number of books about depression written specifically for Christians. I would advise against these because their authors' underlying position seems to be that mental illness is not like physical illness and requires spiritual cures rather than medical help. This, in my opinion, is wrong and is likely to deter people from seeking the professional help they need and which will help them to recover more quickly.

Terry Jones and Stooge Sapp Jailed!

Sadly it was only for a short period, but Jones was locked up after refusing to pay a token one-dollar bond after he was refused permission to stage a protest outside a mosque.

Jones, pastor of the anti-Christian (I think that's correct?) militant Islamic motivation group, 'Dove World Outreach Centre' (apparently it's not sponsored by Dove toiletries) which, due to the congregation size is also know as 'the church in a phonebox', has once again sought to inflame and provoke tensions between Islamic believers and just about everyone.

The problem is that the JonesSapp partnership, and it's grey-cell limited followers are obviously too dense to realise that fundamentalist types don't need and provocation or encouragement to do bad stuff and yet are clever enough to realise that their behaviour is likely to make moderates angry enough to join their fundamentalist brothers and sisters.

This man is, as a Michigan court correctly identified, likely to provoke violence. This self-publicising, anti-Christian Muppet (and his pathetic little playmate, Sapp) need to be acted against.

In the words of the Rt Revd Ricky Tomlison, bishop to the Royle Family, "He is an Ars*!"

Badges available to copy and print shortly!


Monday, 25 April 2011

All Sins can be forgiven . .

We just can't deal with the mental health issues!

Outside the 'unforgivable sin' and grieving the Holy Spirit, I have always been taught that regardless of the sin, there was always healing, forgiveness and renewal available to the sinner, should they repent. The problem is that in the United Kingdom, one in every six people is affected by a mental health issue, one in every four has been (or will be, mentally ill at some time - varying degrees, but identifiably mentally ill) (ONS 2007 UK Census - 23%).

Following the 2007 census, the then Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, spoke about the situation:

"At any one time, one in six people will be living with a mental health problem. One in four will experience an episode of mental illness at some point in their lifetime. If this statistic were applied to some of this country’s most venerable institutions, it would mean that at least one presenter of the Today programme, one of the Strictly Come Dancing judges and around six players in the current England football squad, have experienced or will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives"

I am concerned at a number of levels and for a number of reasons. The first being that I find Christians who are so excited by an issue like homosexuality, which affects four to five percent of the population (globally or locally, take your pick) . They rant and rave about something that affects one in twenty people tops. These same people studiously avoid an issue which affects one in four (or perhaps one in six, depends upon the definitions used).

Now I know I'm treading on dodgy ground here because some will accuse me of comparing apples and pears rather than 'like-for-like' (worse still that I am lumping both together as a 'illness' - which I am not). What I am trying to do as I open this discussion is to show the scale of the issue before us and the inordinately skewed focus regarding it (so it's not a discussion about homosexuality - O.K.!).

So hopefully I have put in some context and a datum from which to work regarding the man spoken of yesterday.

One of the more compassionate people regarded the issue as one that the man's pastor needed to address 'decisively'. Another spoke of the man needing to be 'locked up' and another was angry and upset because the bloke had (basically) 'spoilt his Good Friday religious bit!' (my words, his attitude!).

The problem with mentally ill people is that they aren't rational. They are disruptive and often controversial, noisy, aggressive, frightening, weird, and more beside. they just don't make sense and cannot see sense when it paraded before them. Rational conversation aimed at them produces fluffy bunnies, a world that is out to get them, half a dozen other personalities popping out to say 'hello' (sorry - 'sound of music' gene problem) and totally ridiculous responses (ever tried talking to me?).

The problem is, that 'they' (for it seems that the mentally ill lose identities and become that wonderful, anonymous, 'they') just don't do anything towards making church comfortable and 'they' can be disruptive and do need to be managed such that our services run with a degree of decency and decorum. BUT, there has to be latitude (not lassitude) shown, a degree of accommodation and acceptance along with the managing (AKA 'lock them up somewhere away from us')

Another issue is that having these 'nutters' (a word used to describe the mentally ill 'they'recently) going around telling people they're Christians isn't good marketing. Even if we let them come to our services, it would be good if they didn't support the idea that to be Christian, or even religious, is the province of the mentally ill, after all, we claim to hear voices and have a God fixation (two of the signs when I was training).

And then we have the 'demon' brigade. The wonderfully weird and often certifiable Christians who see mental illness as merely 'demonic' and, because "Demons are their ministry and calling!" (which is actually tosh!) look for a gunfight with the demonic causes of the illness. Now here's a bit of gained wisdom that I have built up over the years, your for free. Demons might not cause mental illness, but things demonic can use mental illness, the lowering of mental and emotional barriers caused by the illness and amazingly the medication and can sign up to make issue worse.

I have learned that what is presenting before me is more often than not (I've seen and dealt with less than twenty truly demonic mentally ill people in a quarter of a century of ministry)) a medical issue. At one stage I was the man who was called out to support a fair number of people under a section 4 admission and these were generally people who had felt better and stopped taking their pills. Some of them were 'demonised' (but the term is demon oppression, not possession) and although I have had my share of the funny voices, weird contorted faces, odd smells and even a levitation (I kid you not!) - we speak too often of demons as a cause and not enough as a parasitic entity (now I bet I sound mad myself!) and an effect.

That mentally ill people can be manipulated is often seen by the timing of their appearance. Often, just when stuff is trying and testing along comes someone presenting and I don't think this is coincidence. But it doesn't just interfere or distract, it also causes us to reject, deal with in a summary fashion or even condemned as 'knowing what they are doing and being disruptive or damaging' to the proceedings. Of course, what is often at stake is the comfort zone of the observer (cruel, but it has been true of me and I assume I'm normal).

We move on to the issue of 'WWJD'and this always raises in me the question, "Well, what would Jesus do?"

I think He'd take the person and their situation seriously. He'd afford them the chance to talk and would find the point where He could bring them to a place of awareness, stillness, realisation and peace. He would address the person rather than be drawn in by the illness and He'd bring healing. healing which would deal with the spiritual as well as the physical (after all, I was taught that mental illness is often a physical cause manifesting in the behaviour of the ill person).

Jesus would bring about a physical healing and would mop up any attached demonic followers as well. And so, the question nearly always comes, often in a statement. "Well, we don't have the power jesus did. Or perhaps we don't have the faith or it's not a gift I have, perhaps one day!"
But as we focus on Jesus, as we rejoice in the empty tomb, didn't he appear yesterday and give his Shalom? Didn't he breathe on those present and pour upon them, and us later at Pentecost, His Holy Spirit? Isn't the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, that is Christ (homousios) within us and therefore what stops us from healing (another issue for another day) as He healed?

Is it faith? Or belief? Or our sins? I don't know - but I do know that I have prayed and seen blind eyes open (six of them) and have prayed and seen healing that defied my logic or experience and yet my faith was low, but my obedience was high.

Perhaps the first step is to start regarding the 'mentally ill' and merely regard them as being 'ill'. No different from any other physical illness, other than the fact that they enter into our comfort zones, that they are often embarrassing, difficult to deal with, obvious and apparent to all who see them. The manifestations are more obvious than a rash under clothing, for rashes don't shout out or wave their arms. the manifestations are more pressing and so therefore is the need to love and accept them as Christ would - not second class, not an embarrassment but as fellow humans with a more obvious affliction that our own, physical or spiritual.

Would would jesus do? Got an idea, then share it and do it!


ps. as an aside, please pray that as the mental health units and support centres close under the current financial cuts, that more churches would open their doors to provide support groups with spaces to continue their essential support work. That's one of the things jesus would do, I am sure.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Loving as Christ loves us

After the Good Friday witness I met people who spoke of a man, mentally ill, needing to be 'managed' or acted against 'properly' or as one put it, "Just locked up!" Another has spoken of acting 'decisively', but what do these words mean?

As they uttered those words I had the feeling that a man, somewhere in time was holding a scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and reading thus:

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives,

And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God;

To comfort all who mourn; giving them beautiful headdress instead of ashes,

The oil of gladness instead of mourning,

The garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;

that they may be called oaks of righteousness,

The planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified."

If we cannot stand with those who know the Lord and have broken minds;

If we cannot stand with those who know the Lord and have broken lives;

If we cannot weep with those who weep, grieve with those who grieve, love those who are unloveable and yet know the Lord, what hope is there for the lost?

What hope is there for the Church?

Who can be saved?

What reason is there for His rising up today?


Peace Be With You

So the body's gone, but who and how?
Mary says she's seen Him, but what if she's wrong?

In a locked room, who says they'll stop at killing Him?
Safe and secure in a hiding hole, wanting to believe, but what if we're wrong?

Questions and doubts flooding and fighting against the hopes that keep on rising,
And sinking like a Galillean fishing boat.

Then . . . without a noise . . . without a door opening,
Right there in the midst of us is. . . .


I know He's dead, but suddenly He isn't anymore,
But the holes in His hands and Feet,
The pierced side, hole gaping as if mocking death,
All conspire to tell me that this is the same man,
The one I saw die, and yet . .
He lives!

And then the doubts are stilled,
The fears are gone,
The words, the miracles, the promises,
They are true.

"Shalom," says He, as if He's just been up the road shopping for wood.
And then He blows on me, well sort of breathes at us all really,
And this feeling of peace, of being 'able' of everything being well,
It flows over me like a warm bath,
But it tingles too.

And He sort of tells us what to do.
Passes on the baton, for it's our job now!

And still, I'm not scared,
Well, not much!

He is Risen!

Another day begins with the sound of women's voices.
Shouting, screaming, laughing . . . I'm not sure.

Rubbing eyes, stretching limbs, struggling out,
I see them, arms waving, tears flowing, voices raising.

Then the others start to run.
Not away, but too . . .

I start to run after them. Why? What for?
I don't know,

Then catching up with one of them, they (between gasps) tell me . . .
He Has Risen!

Just as He said!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Saturday - Day two and Halfway Through

Day two and starting to realise He's gone - dead and buried!
Without the benefit of hindsight - not a Gospel in sight.
Just a bunch of confused and broken people.
His words hollowly echoing, the dreams shattered.
Fishermen, tax-collector and the others,
Confused, lost and hiding behind closed doors.
Whatever will tomorrow bring?
Can't get any worse, can't get any better,
Can it?

Good Friday - A Public 'Thank You'

A heartfelt and sincere 'Thank You' to all those who helped us bear witness to, and share the wonder of, God's grace as shown to us by Christ's death on a cross.

The Sound Man, Musicians, people who provided the cross, the people who prayed (and welcomed and dismissed), the people who came and made the witness walk so very powerful and meaningful, the man who was everywhere doing stuff, the man who led and carried the cross and especially the members of the Grendon Passion Play, who brought the words of the Good friday happenings to life by their involvement.


Friday, 22 April 2011

Wakefield Palm Cross . .

Common sense has apparently prevailed in the Wakefield District Housing debacle as Colin Atkinson has been told the cross can remain.

The power of a collective voice from all the faith communities and prayer coupled with good old fashioned joined up thinking.

Praise the Lord!

Nearing Golgotha

The sun has risen,
The crowds gather, there's a spectacle to be seen,
Jesus, the Gallilean, in the starring role.
Wonder what sort of show He'll put on?
Wonder if He'll do anything else before He dies,
Or is this the end of a short career as would be Messiah?

It's saving the World Day . .

Not just 'Earth day'!

As much as I endorse and support managing and protecting the environment, I have to say that those denominations who have made 'Earth Day' more important than Good Friday are flawed, fallen and, to be brutally honest, bordering on (if not already there) apostate!

Today, our Lentern journeying brings us shortly to a place of torture, mocking and in the penultimate act of today's sacrifice for the 'whole world', Golgotha - the place pf the skull.

Today is about more than being 'eco friendly', if is about becoming friends again with God in a relationship cemented by the blood of Christ.

Today, One of the world's holiest days is with us, not two as the flawed words of one columnist has it:

"Two of the world’s holiest religious holidays are set to fall on April 22 this year — Good Friday for Christians and Earth Day for environmentalists — and some religious leaders are preparing their flocks to celebrate both."

Whatever, however, wherever you are and think, 'Earth Day' won't restore your relationship with God, it will not count you as innocent when all around you cry guilty, it will not condemn you, but offer you a hand and a hope.

Earth day? Is a great intention but it's not holy, is it?


Finished? It hasn't started yet!

Four O'clock in the morning and I see the words, "It is finished! all the debt is paid!"

My mind, full of being somewhere else, the turmoil of being betrayed by Judas, seized by men with mob, clubs and swords at the ready and dragged before the High Priest and Elders, has gone. The visits to Herod and Pilate are passed by and the cries of 'crucify him' are never aired.

Before it has even begun, Good Friday is done and we can rush, triumphantly, towards the victory of Easter Sunday.

Can we not watch with him these short hours?

Must we hasten past today to avoid the guilt, the pain, the sheer bloody horror of it all to embrace the triumph and the victory?

I think not.

Snatched from the garden,
Betrayed by a friend,
Bound and accused,
Spat upon and beaten,
All for me - I love you.

Give me the courage to follow where You lead,
To stand before accusers and bless, not condemn.
To show in my life, just a little of the reality that is You.
To walk towards the Cross down a one-way street,
knowing - this is just the beginning!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Wholly Weak

Maundy Thursday has once again come and the end of our Lentern journey is in sight.

Today I will be going to the Cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist and renewal of vows service and this evening we will be hosting the Parish Seder meal. Tomorrow it is my privilege to be organising the Town's public act of witness followed by a three hour watch service.

This Lent we turned the Parish Lent course into a sermon in the middle of a communion, taking the opportunity to bring together the four churches to break bread and celebrate our relationship. Anamnesis (remembrance) and a celebration of koinonia (familial fellowship) - can it get any better? Well, that's what's been challenging me this Lent.

Speaking to one couple, they told me how during Holy Week (the week before Easter Sunday) they don't listen to the radio or watch the television. Impressed, I asked what they did instead. Less impressed, they told me they read books! Digging deeper I asked why they'd turned off their electronics only to be told that this was because it was 'Holy Week' and that's what they always did, it had become a tradition!

I asked a few other people about their Lentern journey and they asked me what I meant by 'Lent'. I explained about Ash Wednesday (most hadn't heard of that either) and the six weeks from then to the cross.   "We don't do that sort of thing," they said, "But we do do Good friday because we come to the town centre for the service!"

The deeper I dug, the more I realised that for some, Easter starts on a Friday and ends with a celebration on Sunday. Those who did know about Lent, basically said: "That's the time when you give things up, isn't it?" This necessitated my explaining that Lent was not about 'giving up' but 'taking on', for it is a time when we take on the burden of self-examination. The giving up is there to provide a focus and space for us to take a look at ourselves and the the things that rule or play a controlling role in our lives, it's not the focus or the purpose of Lent - Jesus, the road to the cross, self-denial (now that's the giving up bit) and self-examination, that's the heart and strength of our Lenten journeying.

But what then of Holy Week? Outside of the midweek communion, Maundy Thursday and Good friday stuff, I don't do anything and am being challenged to see what, and how, my response (and that of those I pastor) should be. I am aware of a growing feeling that there should be more, but am also aware that this 'more' needs to come out of our relationship and enhance our journey as a response to the fast approaching terminus of our journey, the Cross. Legalistic or ritualistic engagement is hollow and is (apologies to some I might offend here) merely being 'religious'. Jesus demands, and deserves, more.

Those I pastor deserve more - but what, how and when (having introduced Sunday evenings, I find that although what we do is valid and worthwhile, the turnout is always low - but it 's quality, not quantity I guess).

Vigils or communions? A cornucopia of service styles (TaizĂ©, BCP, Compline, labyrinth, CW, etc.) to show the facets of the reality that is our worship and provide a place for all to find something that suits them? I don't know, but know our response and reality needs to more than wholly week.


Leyfield's Street Party

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Harold 'Camping' Equipment

Worried about not making it when May 21st Comes?

Why not turn to Harold's new approved means of assistance with an ejector seat?

Tried and tested and guaranteed to get you up there past the other believers and in the running for eternity with Him! Don't just sing 'nearer my God to Thee', buy one of these babies and it's assured!

Don't just take our word for it, ask Harold when he comes back down to earth from his trial run:

Buy yours now before they start going up!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Man With Cross Causes Offence

I've just received this photograph of a man wearing a cross who has aroused the anger and condemnation of many because of his claim to be Christian.

Take a look for yourself:

Wakefield Electrician

More 'shocking' news emerges that the cross all the fuss is being made about is not on the side (obviously another opportunity for a news story later!) but is to be found on the dashboard of Colin Atkinson's vehicle.

You'll have to look hard to see the offensive piece of extreme Christian witness (I'll give you a clue, it's ringed in red!):

To gauge popular opinion we've asked various people, of all faiths and no faith, which of the two objects cause distress, upset or anger.

So far, one hundred per cent have gone with the topmost picture.


Wakefield Housing certainly might be!


Monday, 18 April 2011

Wakefield Electrician Guilty of Excessive Witnessing

Secret sources have revealed that Wakefield and District Housing are investigating Electrician Colin Atkinson for having a cross on his van.

"Customers are rather upset by the sight of this excessive Christian witness, " says a spokesman for the company.

Colin says, "Been there for years and no one's noticed before!"

Judge for yourself with this secretly taken, and hitherto unpublished picture of Colin's van:

Let's be fair, you can't blame WDH for making a fuss, it's not like it's a simple palm cross we're talking about, is it?

Israel - Christian Zionism

The term 'Christian Zionist' has cropped up a great deal and having attempted to define what zionism is, I assume it would be useful to define this also.

There are groups, such as the International Christian Embassy (Jerusalem), Christians United for Israel, Bridges for Peace and others who are actively calling themselves 'Christian Zionists' (CZ). All function from Christian (protestant) fundamentalist beliefs that see modern Israel as the fulfilling of biblical prophecy. It appears wrong to label CZ group as evangelical in the generally accepted sense and more correct to label those who support CZ as being 'fundamentalists' of the generally excessive (or as I'd see it, a condemnation of) Christian belief type. By this I mean the book-burning, closed-minded, closed-theological understanding, point-making rather than dialogue Christians who do the mainstream Christian so much damage.

A hallmark of the CZ group appears to be the unquestioningly literal application of all before them. They appear to be hung up on matters eschatalogical and are taken up with Israel as the focus for the parousia, the tribulation, antichrist and the final battle. It draws greatly on Darby and others premillennial dispensational thinking (AKA Dispensational premillennialism, DP). Within DP there are three distinct epochs:

1. Before Pentecost: Creation - Fall - Noah - Babel - Abraham - Moses - Jesus

2. Pentecost: Age of the Spirit - Christ's return (Rapture)

3. Millenium:

The hallmark of PMD is the literal interpretation of texts and the alignment (often quite creatively) between prophecy and happening in our own time and a fixation with period threwe - Millenium.

Once a broader group, it has now been fined into a 'conservate' Christian grouping, the home of the 'fundamentalist 'Evangelical' Christian and a hot bed of reactionary thinking against the negatives and evils of our modern society. Oddly though, as antagonistic as this group is to the goings on in our society they are supportive and willing to ignore the same within the nation state of Israel!

If I had to start working out where the Christian Zionist (CZ) move started amongst those I know
I would have to point to the 1970's with Hal Lindsey' s 'Late Great Planet Earth' and the film 'Thief in the Night) and the many books (I have many on my shelf which have provided me with my own position before this foray and have given me insights) of Colin Chapman, Ken Burnett and many others. I also have a number of people who find in the 'Left behind' series of books and films a resurgence of CZ impetus.

What we have before us is, thanks to CZ, a system that sees unconditional and eternal promises regarding the nation and people of Israel. It doesn't matter if the people believe, it's all about God being consistent (which ironically I see as therefore being ALL about how Israel believes and acts) and all about Israel being the focus, and steward, of God's grace to the world (through the blessing and promise to Abram).

Additionally, we also now have The Church - A good position to have else we'd all need to become Messianic Jews (as some have done in their quest to be sure!).

God put off his dealing with His people, Israel, to embrace and save those who are Church because Israel rejected the offer He was.

Now, Jesus will come and take the Church, who are almost a distraction from Israel and the main focus,, and will restore the final bits of israel and bring on the millennial stuff and the end will happen and 'game over' man - eternit with Him!

So here we are, stuck with a bunch of people who see prophetic signs and will do whatever it takes to support the Israel described above. They struggle to set the condition for God and support, without question, Israel for the reasons given above. They have the state of Israel (which they see a threatened and in danger of eradication from 'the dogs') and now yearn for the temple and I guess hope for the antichrist to come too as they march towards Armageddon and the end of all things.

A hallmark text for the CZ has to be Gen 12:3 and their belief that Judgement will come to those nations and individuals on the basis of how they 'bless Israel'. The problem comes in the shape of a question. "Is pointing out error not blessing Israel?" (Watchmen role from Ezekiel?) Is pointing out the failings of the covenants, promises and the hallmarks of YHWH not seeking to bless - after all, it the the fatherless who remain uncorrected. Correction is surely 'blessing' and not the curse that any comment is taken to be (with the all to readily issued 'anti-Semite' label attached )?

Seems that CZ are less likely to be found within wider theologically and ecclesiologically aware groups of believers, this is probably the reason that so many of them buy into the whole CZ thing i.e. they aren't always the brightest biblical believing bunch (now that's going to upset some - sorry!).

They are wonderfully protective of Israel and terribly condemning of the palestinians and all other 'enemies' of israel, including, or perhaps especially, of course Islam.

What is especially sad is the way that those who embrace CZ and those who oppose (or even question) it are immediately demonised by the other side and the levels of ad hominemn and vitriolic wickedness takes being awful to new heights (should that be lows?).

So here's the next installment - read so many papers that my head is spinning, but I can see the next step in this journey.

Apologies if I have clouded the issue and for anyone I might have offended in this honest attempt to understand where, what and how I should relate to israel.


EDIT MADE 13:02 18/04/2011 - poor editing on my part dealt with (Thanks Simmy)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Easter Trees - A new tradition?

Putting the Germanic and Eastern European traditions of Easter Trees (psyanksi) to one side, I have to be honest and say that the trend towards these things (which is apparently coming from North America - Gee Thanks!) leaves me more than a little cold. It seems that not being content with the commercial hijacking of Christmas, we are now looking to add to the eggs, cards and ramped up Sunday lunch prices yet another bit of trite merchandising.

I rather like the traditions from the original countries where Bible passages, eggs, symbols and other Lentern and Easter symbols were used to communicate the journey to Calvary. A rather nice way of making the season of lent less static, especially for the children, rather like the journeying of the Magi as we move to Epiphany.

The problem is that it won't be about Jesus, the road to the cross, Bible passages or the like, it is (it appears reading around) all about craft and 'homemaking' and twee nicely decorated trees. It has nothing to do with 'rescuing Easter' (as one Christian site had it) and everything about getting you to spend more at the craft shops, arty farty furnishing stores and undoubtedly the 'cheap and nasty' stores too.

You can have small and pretty

You can have twiggy and attractive

You can make stuff with the kids (a redeeming factor perhaps?)

And one site I read yesterday had a file with some smashing songs you can sing around the tree (God help us all - once again it's the Christians who bring me to total despair!)

The idea is that you place the tree, twigs or metal monstrosity from which are hung eggs, chicks, racing cars whatever else you fancy and you encircle it singing a song. Here's one for you to use at home (I'll admit it, I have 'helped' with the verses, they only had two!):

Here we go round the Easter Tree,
The Easter, Tree,
The Easter Tree.
Here we go round the Easter Tree,
On an Easter Sunday Morning.

This is the day that Jesus was raised,
Jesus was raised,
Jesus was raised.
This is the day that Jesus was raised,
On an Easter Sunday morning.

Pilate's the man who washed his hands,
Washed his hands,
Washed his hands.
Pilate's the man who washed his hands,
And Sent Jesus off to die.

The Jews all said, "We'll take the blame,
We'll take the blame,
We'll take the blame."
The Jews all said, "We'll take the blame,
Go and crucify Him."

Judas said, "This is the man,
This is the man,
This is the man."
Judas said, This is the man,
Take him off to the Temple."

Jesus said, "No great love than this,
Love than this,
Love than this."
Jesus said, "No greater love than this,
Is that I lay down my life for you."

Here we go round the Easter Tree,
The Easter, Tree,
The Easter Tree.
Here we go round the Easter Tree,
On an Easter Sunday Morning.

And the problem is, many will have the trees and not realise anything of the words of my little song.

Hosanna to the Son of David

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Israel - Victim of their own victimisation?

In reading about PTSD and the effects of conflict I chanced across an interesting paper (which typically I can't lay my hands on). This paper spoke of the effects of war in socialising those engaged in, surrounded by, or being victims of atrocities. Those affected by it, in some way, become dehumanised and, ironically, behave in the same way as those with whom they contended or (in the case of victims) were abused by.

I first came across this on a first-hand basis when talking to a veteran of the Far East conflict who spoke of the difficulty he found in trying to live 'normally' after the war because the "boundaries has all been moved or even removed."

Watching the final episode of 'The promise' and seeing Israelis move from house to house in the Arab village (9th April 1948) I was stunned by the parallels between that place and many other places where those doing the shooting were Nazis. I saw no difference between this and see none even still in the goings on of today's Israel.

The comment that the army weren't present in the settlements to keep the peace, merely to protect the Jews and that killing, beatings and abuse would draw no attention other than perhaps support for the acts brought me back to the ghettos and the acts within them.

The labelling of the arabs and the dehumanising and parallels with the Jews of 1938 onwards displayed the same dehumanising, gratuitous, senseless, and repeated, acts of atrocity and violence of the 1930's and beyond. The abuse of those who are rendered powerless, homeless and voiceless (other than through the mortars and 'terrorist acts of some' is no different at all from the Nazis.

And so I ask myself, are the Jewish perhaps a dehumanised victim of that which the Jews suffered during the shoah? Is Israel, the nation state, so far from God because it is a nation that has lost its soul to bitterness and wickedness as a response to its modern past?

The terrorist acts that saw many die in the early stages of modern israel's history (including of course the King David Hotel in 1946) were done by the same people who saw power in the government of Israel. Were they terrorists or 'freedom fighters'? Are those who have lost their homeland of Palestine terrorists or freedom fighters now in exactly the same way?

Questions, questions and more questions!

Lies, misrepresentations and deliberate spinning of the truth make this an even more difficult subject as each layer is peeled away. Could this explain how, and why, the nation state is so far from the God who promised the land they occupy and His commandments and a relationship with Him?

Israel dehumanised victims or inhuman territorialists?

You tell me!


Friday, 15 April 2011

Israel - 'The Promise'

I was advised to take a look as Peter Kosminsky's 'The Promise' and I managed to watch a few episodes to find that the same forces that drive me each year to commemorate the shoah were slowly aroused to find me despair in exactly the same way with the Jews and the way the Nazis engaged with the Jews then, and the ways the Jews engage now.

As I read and dialogue, I find that Israel has nothing to do with the day-to-day realities of the majority and yet it is a place, an issue, which sees great polarisation. All is condoned or condemned. Israel is poor little country on the brink of extinction, fight for her life every day or she is a territory grabbing, murdering, American-aided demon.

I find little or no balance regarding the issue (something that was admirably demonstrated by the responses I had from some when I supported an 'Israel and the Church') and even less intelligent dialogue. So I am going to have to work from scratch, it seems.

An observation from the frustration that the journey has been thus far has to be that surely those who see their support of the state of Israel, the rebuilding of the temple and the many other things that they drone on about as being necessary for 'The Return' all seem to forget one thing. If God is God then He doesn't need us to manufacture the condition for 'The Return', He is surely bid enough and powerful enough to do what is required Himself. It is immature, naive, outrageous even to assume that we can engineer the conditions so that, Genie-like, He will appear at our command 'out of the bottle'.

Any sympathy, any 'blood guilt' over the shoah, is slowly fading as the generation that witnessed the second world war, that perhaps saw the liberation of the camps (I know of three who were there and am trying to get them to share their experiences). The new anger, the new awareness of the slaughter of innocents is not about the Jews, but from them and they are losing ground in the eyes of many because of it.

I get the feeling that somewhere underneath it all, there is a parallel in a car I hired when working for a firm in Newark, NJ. It said 'Mustang' on the paperwork, it said 'Mustang' on the tail (and the steering wheel) but it wasn't and it was soon relabelled 'Ford Probe'. Is this the case here - are people reading the label 'Israel' and setting about bring God back on their terms and timing? Are people looking at the physical location and confusing it with a spiritual entity? Are 'all believer; now the 'New Israel' (as put forward by one person I am in dialogue with) and are we looking at double revelation or was the return to the 'Promised Land' something that took place long before Palestine was partitioned?

If I were Palestinian and saw my land taken from me, the homes of my forebears snatched by force and found myself excluded, pushed further away and acted against, would I maintain my intellectual and moral veneers or would I be firing rockets too?

Being acted against, however badly, does not provide warrant to act badly against others and so the case for supporting Israel slowly wanes if that's the excuse. The shoah has passed and all must learn from the wickedness that is was, and still is in the genocide to be found even today, and seek to make true the words 'never again'


Zionism - What is it?

In order to have a sensible dialogue we need to make sure that we all have the same understanding of the terms used. So let's make sure we are all meaning the same things when we use the same words.

From the many mails I have received, I have come to the baseline definition that Zionism is:

+ 'The belief in a Jewish homeland for THE Jewish people, in the geographic location that is Israel',

+ 'The possession the the human right of self determination, for the Jewish people' and

+ Concerned with the nation state of Israel, a modern secular nation where Judaism is to be found, but where nation and religious belief are separate.

+ It is about the return of the territory to the people who once occupied it as a God-given right.

I was also told that the label 'antisemitism' * applies to:

+ Those who oppose Jewish human rights,

+ Those who oppose the existance of a homeland for the Jewish people, and

+ Those who support and/or spread hate about Israel

(* Apparently this is the European Union's definition of antisemitism.)

I am taking myself off to watch 'The Promise' (and visit the gadget Show Live) and as I do, I wonder if there are any additions, modifications or subtractions that need to be made to the elements above to ensure that we have an agreed datum from which to work.

As it stands, I don't think I'm a zionist and I'm definitely not antisemitic (unless being critical of the nation's behaviour is to be considered antisemitic).

Thank you for those who have offered their views on zionism and antisemitism, the elements of which have been reduced to the lowest common denominator here.

So, are the definitions right?

If not, tell me where and why and we can move on.


ps. Thought I'd posted this before I left for Gadget Show (excellent) - apologies.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Something Rotten with the State of Israel?

I am going to try to get to grips with a subject that tests and vexes a great many people. The horribly difficult issue of Israel. My postbag has attracted some quite judgemental and cruel comments regarding this issue and, sadly, nothing of any substance or reason (biblically or otherwise).

I have to be honest, this is an area I struggle with at a number of levels and for a number of reasons and am more than happy to be 'informed' of errors (nicely please) but don't fancy the prospect of more of the 'you are cursed because you oppose God's people' stuff!

As I see it, the issue of Israel is coloured, and even hampered, by the modern nation state (a secular place) and the overly indulgent attitudes of Zionists. The spiritual people of God, the heirs of the promises and those who bear God's name don't appear to be the same people as the modern secular Jew. Just because it's called Israel doesn't mean that God sees the same label. Some will scream about Israel being merely about 'possessing the land' and tell me it's all about territory.

When I was younger, I used to assume Israel was a land full of God-fearing Jews, but the more I became engaged with it, the more I realised that the conflict between secular and 'religious' Jews was engaged and that it was becoming an increasingly secular nation. An assumption that is perhaps supported by the fact that Israel's Proclamation of Independence doesn't even mention God (although there is a passing nod to the ‘Rock of Israel’).

Israel ‘will be based on the principles of liberty, justice and peace as conceived by the Prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race, or sex; will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, education and culture; will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and will loyally uphold the principles of the United Nations Charter’.

Excellent - but of course the words ring a little hollow when we think of many of the realities (outside of Palestine and Mordecai Vanunu), but that's true of all nation states I reckon. But there are requirements from God that need to be maintained, and of course they ain't. Still, this could just make them a sinful and fallen nation couldn't it?

Modern Israel is about Jewish nationalism, not the Jewish faith and not about the spiritual nation of Israel, heir of the promise. The conflicts between the various Jewish interests, ultra-orthodox, orthodox, middle of the road, reform, liberal and the like all add to the mix, and to the conflict. Then there are groups like the Haredi who feel the nation state is a denial of God's promise to Israel because it's linked with obeying commandments, which secualr Israel not only isn't, but appears to break with impunity.

Influences outside of Israel don't help. The support of America and the whole spectrum of Zionists offering support for as biblical people, condoning the nation's action and raising funds to rebuild the temple all complicate an already complicated political and national picture and supports what, unkindly, some have described as a self-serving, Godless, ghetto mentality.

And then we have the American fundamentalists (like Phelps, Jones and Sapp perhaps) who offer unconditional support as well.

See my difficulty (and we haven't even started yet!)?


ps. And then there's God's people!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Home Interests Versus Foreign Aid

I received this from a friend:

I'm still scratching my head at this one.

British Homeless go without eating.

British Elderly go without needed medicines.

British Mentally ill go without treatment.

British Troops go without proper equipment.

British Veterans go without benefits they were promised.

Yet we donate billions to other countries before helping our own first.

Have the guts to re-post this. 1% will re-post and 99% won't have the guts!!..

Having worked in poorer nations, I see the comments above as being relative, but have enough truth in them to make people respond, and respond negatively, which I assume is the purpose of the post.

I am reminded of the words of Mark 7: 25 - 30:

"Immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone."

Here we have a foreigner coming to Jesus asking for healing for her child. There are a few ways to interpret this story. The first being that once the 'children' are fed and full, then the dogs (the name for Gentiles i.e. foreigners) can be fed. Meaning that we look after our own first and then, when all are replete, we will turn our attention to the foreigners. The question here is, "Will we ever have enough for others?"

Another is that the children are being fed and so the dogs can eat what falls to the ground from their plenty. They realise that they aren't allowed at the table, but from the much that the children have, enough falls to provide also for them. The question here is, "Will we ever be good stewards of what we have or will we continue to be wasteful and profligate?"

Is this about us, or about others?

Why are homeless people homeless and what do we, and those who post the comments above, what do they do about the homeless? My experience is that they complain that not enough is being done by the welfare state rather than get involved. It becomes all about them and their actions (or inaction) and expectations of others doing something (after all, that's what we pay taxes for).

Drugs for the old? Aren't they in receipt of free prescriptions? Is this a statement of fact or just manipulative and sensationalising the situation for their own ends?

Mental Health issues? Working in this area (I'm a Vicar, it's what we do!) has shown me that we live in a society which tolerates the mentally ill badly, provides for them scantily and supports them woefully. But this is about more than money (although more would be useful)!

I have to say that the equipment situation is improving and it's more logistics than anything else that appears to be the problem a lot of the time (if what I'm told is true) rather than cash. I'd be more supportive if the reference was about establishment and manning!

I deal with a number of British Veterans and whilst I don't always think we honour the Covenant to the full, and whilst I see a great many errors and frustratingly awful procedural things, these are organisational rather than financially motivated. Lost files, stuffed up medical issues and the like rarely have anything to do with finances.

So I have posted the piece here.

Do you think we should feed our own first? Where do we start feeding others and being responsible for others in the global village that is the world?


What this blog does

I had an interesting email from a kind person who assures me that what I have to say on my blog is "Interesting, theological and often funny." Kind words indeed, but as might be expected, there's a bit of a sting in the tail to come. "But, I have found your words, taken a step further by others, possess great depth within them. It's a shame others have to finish the journey you so often start."

Actually, I don't think it's a shame at all. In fact it's a joy because I seek to dialogue with the internal voices and the external stimuli and paint for myself, and others, a rough sketch. From this I hope to stimulate some dialogue, some development of the issues and situations around me and some perspective. That which I do in fun can easily be transformed into deep theological thinking and if not careful become the 'last word' on a subject.

I hope to make sense of the difficult and make it accessible to the simple, to take the simple and make it commonplace, this is the task of the theological type (something I had rammed home after moving on to postgrad work where my 'theological' essays were slated for being written in theological speak such that the 'ordinary' people would find it inaccessible. I find this to be true in many of the journals and papers (blogs too) that I read.

A tutor once told me that the 'sociological imperative is indicated by the eschatological imperative'. Sensing my confusion, he repeated his statement. 'We love, because He first loved us'. (1 Jn 4:19)

This, for me was one of those 'I Learned A Lot About Theological Thinking From That' (ILALATTFT) moments. The same is true of Stanley Hauerwas, a bar room brawler of a theologian. A man who is erudite, pithy, challenging and so accessible that he has become another hero to sit alongside Barth, Moltmann, Bauckham and so many others who grace my shelves and share their thoughts.

This, for me, is not the place to do intellectual theology but is a place to do deep theology, the theology that brings people into contact with, and encourages recognition and dialogue with, the one true loving God. I make fun of things (especially me) because God has a sense of humour and thankfully takes us less seriously than we often do ourselves, like a parent enjoying the foolishness of his favourite child. Where we see fine words and deep pronouncements, He sees crayoned scribbles and drawing of 'Daddy', and He rejoices in them.

If my words stimulate others, then Hallelujah.

If my words illuminate situations for what they are, then I am thankful.

If they help bring understanding, awareness, dialogue and healing, then I am fulfilling my call as pastor and theologian, brother and disciple - Praise God!


Monday, 11 April 2011

People get ready

It struck me early this morning that we don't teach our people enough about engagement with the world, we appear to teach about keeping away from it (especially if some Christians I meet are typical).

We don't teach people about being servants, but major on them being 'safe', that is kept away from hell and the separation from God that this is (for eternity).

But being a Christian isn't about buying (or even receiving free) a ticket for salvation, it's about looking like Jesus, acting like Jesus and submitting to God's Holy Spirit so that where we go, Jesus is!

We don't do stuff to bring people into our church buildings (bit of a shock for many, that statement).

We don't do stuff to get people to come in and pay the Parish Share (bit of a shock for Treasurers, Archdeacon's and Diocesan Board's of Finance perhaps?).

We do stuff, OUT THERE, because that's what we are commanded to do. Not asked. Not suggested or recommended, but TOLD!

Let's take a moment to examine the words of Matthew 28:

And Jesus came and said to them,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Now this bit is relatively simple - Jesus is Lord of all, therefore, this is THE Boss speaking. And what is it He is telling them (and therefore us)?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Again, this appears to be rather a simple sort of set of instruction in that we are told to:

1. GO. Now isn't this really easy to grasp, it means get out from your pathetic little 'holy huddles'; leave your "Oooh, we want to keep ourselves pure and not mix with the sinners, the liberals (or perhaps those who don't have a clue what IHOP is) or don't do BCP, or those who think differently from us," and meet the real people!

2. MAKE DISCIPLES. Again, not difficult. This means that we have to share the 'good news' (i.e. the Gospel) and tell people about Jesus and get them to want to look like Him (which means becoming disciplined and keeping to the rules like what Jesus wants). It means that we put our desires and and lifestyles second to being like Jesus and honouring God.

3. OF ALL NATIONS. Wow! That means we seek to make the Jews, the Islamics, the Hindus, the Buddhists and all other faiths aware of Jesus (for the right reason- sit down Phelps, Jones and Sap!). This means we take the message of God's love to people who have different coloured skin, speak in different languages and occupy different places geographically, politically and socially.

4. BAPTISING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT. Yep, that's what it says. Nothing about age or volition mentioned there (perhaps Jesus wasn't into anabaptism - me neither!). That's what makes it valid, not that you did it again in your cosy little holy huddle in your comfortable little church building. It is what you do and it is the way that you do it (sorry).

5. OBSERVE ALL THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU. This sort of stuffs much of the liberal thinking and (Hallelujah) people like Phelps, Jones and Sap too! We have to keep the rules - Jesus doesn't just want us all to be happy after all. He wants us to be obedient and holy! Shocker!! We can't just rewrite the stuff and neither can we manipulate it to suit our own desires and make it give us the God we want to have (there goes the Daily Fascist readership). We van't reinvent God to make our sins acceptable (and the liberals) and we can't dictate that 'our' way is the right way (there goes the rest) - we have to do it HIS WAY!

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus tells us that He is going, but he will leave us with His Holy Spirit, the paraklete (he who comes alongside), the comforter, the dot-for-dot image of Christ (homoousious) and He will never leave us. HALLELUJAH (or what?)!!!

So, if He is with us, and for us and guiding us, and teaching us - why worry about when He comes - we need all the time we can get because we haven't scratched the surface when it comes to reaching the lost. Better hope Harold is wrong people!


Jones and Sapp - Don't speak for Pakistani Christians

In Pakistan yesterday, Christians gathered in Lahore to show their support for Muslim believers over the burning of the Koran by Muppets Jones and Sapp (AKA 'the saps'). Denouncing the Koran burning as nothing more than an attempt to flame clashes amongst muslims and Christians, they came out in force to show their unity with the Muslim believers and their contempt of the Saps.

The Christian leader behind the gathering told reporters that the incident shows that, "Neither men believe in any religion." and their the action "Reflects an extremist mind set which has nothing to do with Christian peaceful teachings." (AMEN to that!)

A news report tells of how the two men's act has "stoked fear amongst Christians who are in the minority in Pakistan."

The Pakistan government says it has ensured the safety & rights of the minorities in the country and has also assured its nationals that the culprits will not escape punishment.

Taking a lead that others should follow (are you listening Rowan?), Christians have asked the government to take action over the incident and have urged U.S. to prevent its people from taking such extremist actions under the guise of 'freedom of speech'.

See it for yourself, here:


Sunday, 10 April 2011

Harold Camping - What if he's got it wrong?

Old age 'rational' suicide?

Is it rational for people in old age to commit suicide? Recent stories include a couple who went to Switzerland because they were old and he was going deaf, she'd been diagnosed with cancer, so they merely 'checked out'. Nan Maitland's choice to die at 84 was made because her life had 'more pain than pleasure'. She wasn't terminal, but did have arthritis.

In something reminiscent of Flaubert's Madame Bovary's "Just a little sleep and then, no more!', Nan wrote:

"By the time you read this, with the help of Fate and the good Swiss, I will have gone to sleep, never to wake. For some time, my life has consisted of more pain than pleasure and over the next months and years the pain will be more and the pleasure less. I have a great feeling of relief that I will have no further need to struggle through each day in dread of what further horrors may lie in wait. For many years, I have feared the long period of decline, sometimes called 'prolonged dwindling', that so many people unfortunately experience before they die.

Please be happy for me that I have been able to escape from this, for me, unbearable future. I have had a wonderful life, and the great good fortune to die at a time of my own choosing, and in the good company of two Fate colleagues.

With my death, on March 1, I feel I am fully accepting the concept of 'old age rational suicide' which I have been very pleased to promote, especially in the past 15 months. Being active in the right-to-die movement, both in the UK and globally, has been an enormously important part of my life in the last few years."

Ironically, Mrs maitland's choice does not find itself being approved of by many of the pro-euthanasia groups. One, Dignity, said:

"Dignity in Dying does not support a change in the law to allow non-terminally ill people the legal option to ask for help to end their life - we campaign for a change in the law to allow the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults only. No one should have to suffer against their wishes in the final days and weeks of their lives, and the law should seek to address this, as well as seeking to protect vulnerable people against abuse."

In an era of increasing medical progress, it is odd, churlish even, that some wish to decide on their sell by day on the grounds of personal convenience and comfort. What makes this a more worrying issue is that those who seek to 'play God' do so because they want to live on their terms, and now it seems, die on their own terms too! The ultimate two-fingered gesture and one that will require a rethink of Psalm 139:

"All the days numbered for me were decided for me, once you decided I should be!"

Life is no longer precious and no longer has either dignity, or worth, for so many people out there. We use financial indicators (i.e. it's cheaper to 'let help them die'), life value indicators (i.e. they have such a poor quality of life AKA 'they contribute nothing to society and cost us money' and happiness indicators (i.e. they'd be happier out of it (and so would we if they were).

We can sustain life, we can remove many of the inconveniences of illness and old age, and yet it seems, we want the final say - seems 'self' and selfishness make the irrational rational (for some at least.

Nah, don't think so - just proves that nothing was learnt while they were here!

Road to the cross? Use the pavement instead!

I see that Brent Council, that great bastion of all that brings the odd raised eyebrow and the resigned sigh has once again managed to makes the news. This time, council officials have banned the annual Good Friday 'walk of witness'.

No, they don't want them to do an 'Earth Day' procession (although I would be this would be more favourably treated) like the Episcopalian Church are advocating in places, but are concerned with the 'health and safety' aspects of the event and so have forbidden them to walk on the road, pushing the event onto the pavement (surely that's a health and safety risk?).

Knowing the area and the community I know of various marches and parades, none of which have been pushed onto the pavement, but then again, none of them were Christian (unless you count St Pat's Day)! Diwali is splendid in Brent's area, there are parades and the like and there's never been a question about them happening. This is where we need to be able to point to other groups public acts of witness and celebration and tell Brent where to go. we don't want special treatment, we just want to be treated the same as everyone else.

Thankfully, the MP for Brent Central, Sarah Teather, has taken up the cry to let this event take place:

"It is important that the Good Friday procession is allowed to take place on the roads. Brent is a multicultural area. The turnout at the annual St Patrick’s Day parade shows that many people appreciate the celebrations of cultures other than their own. I have written to Brent Council asking them to reconsider their decision to make the Good Friday procession take place on the pavement. This provision is not only impractical, but also does not allow the people of Brent to fully enjoy the event.

Then again, perhaps we need to drop Good Friday and engage in Earth Day instead, wouldn't be a problem then, would there?

Happy Sunday

Friday, 8 April 2011

Christians - Persecuted, marginalised or victims?

I have waded through a few emails, all of which have sought to show me how we are, rather than how I seem to think they are.

The first group seek to point out that Christians are marginalised in every walk of life. We are "No longer the force we were and are thus marginalsed and ignored." They were the biggest group, so I'll address them first . .

Think I've dealt with this (to death) but one last nail (hopefully) in this argument has to be that we are where we have, in the main, placed ourselves with our particular brand of 'authority'. Where we should have taken a lead, we have been silent (or worse still, sat on the fence and sold that special brand of fudge that Christians are so good at making). It is for this reasons that we are so rarely listened to.

There is 'stuff' going on all over the world and yet when Rowan (or some other Christian worthy) speaks it is rarely relevant or even accessible. Lives are in disarray and we re-arrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

If Christians are marginalised, how can it be that when I look at the things that are happening in our community, the prime movers, those engaged with the needs of the community, those who are in partnership with the local and county council, number a great many Christians?

At ground level, where the need is (and the work done) we see Christians engaged and welcomed, respected and supported by the secular world.

Could it be that we want to be marginalised so that we might garner the sympathy vote to bolster the less desired place we feel we occupy. Could it be that those who are marginalised most are those who do least and want the highest esteem?

Is that the model Jesus brings us? Nah, don't think so.

Jesus came to this world, God made man to 'serve', that is to be a 'servant' and we know that servants don't get the money, they don't get the recognition their services perhaps demands, but the reward is in serving (not being afforded 'rights' and not being listened to as an authority).

So, let's be honest and admit that we don't have the position, power, authority or deference shown to us that the clerics of days gone by had.

Halle-blinking-lujah! We aren't called to be the ruling classes, but the serving classes. The days of 'father knows best' have, thankfully, gone and now we look to partnerships and to being Church together.

If you want to prove you're marginalised, it's easy - just go out and find someone to make a point against - works every time.

But if you want to see just how respected and valued we (Christians) are - get off your behindside and engage with the needs around you, love the unloveable and serve like Jesus taught us.

A Prayer and Anthem for the wedding

It appears that when the CofE released the prayer for the Royal wedding they missed out the final anthem. So here's the prayer (and a very good one it is indeed) and the ditty (to be sung to a familiar tune which like the original appears to be by that great writer and composer 'anon'):

The Prayer
God of all grace,
friend and companion,
look in favour on William and Catherine
and all who are made one in marriage.
In your love deepen their love
and strengthen their wills
to keep the promises they will make,
that they may continue
in life-long faithfulness to each other;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Song
God save our gracious Gran,
and of course Phil (her old man),
God save our Gran.
Please don't forget our Dad,
Even though he's kind of sad,
And whilst married to my Mum, was bad,
God save our Gran.

Please may we break the mould,
Shown to us by the old,
Long may we last.
May we live faithfully,
Not like the other three,
And save the family tree,
God help our Gran!

(Sounds a bit druidic to me ;) )

Happy and joyous Friday and end of term!

ps. Where's my invite??

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Jonah Jim's modern day miracle story

Paula writes:

On Sunday 20th March our son drowned in the rain water that had filled our previously drained garden pond. Incredibly our dear friend (a paed nurse) was at our house for Sunday lunch. She battled and eventually resuscitated him.

The amazing paramedics took over and fought to keep him alive until we got to the local hospital
where a very large resus team took over and battled for seven hours to stabilise him.

The expert CATS (Children's Acute Transport Service) took over and transferred him to the Intensive Care Unit at Great Ormond Street.

We were told two weeks ago today that Jonah was brain damaged. He was in a coma for over fifty hours which felt like a lifetime to us. When he eventually came out despite initially appearing very distressed and a very different little boy he quickly went from stength to strength once on the Neurology ward. We were told that his expected stay on the ward could be anything from three months to a year depending on his severity.

Less than six days later we were transferred back to the local hospital and only remained there for a further three nights due to the blood clot which is a side effect from the coma.

Today we rejoice that Jonah is one hundred percent the cheeky and mischievous little lad that he was when he woke up on that Sunday morning. His restoration to health has baffled medics and for this we give all the glory to God.

We thank you our friends and family who have held our son in your hearts and prayers and passed it on to your family and friends to do the same. We estimate that over 10,000 people lifted our little boy to Him. For this we thank you.

Who says I only do 'doom and gloom'?

The words of John's Gospel (chapter eleven) sum it up nicely:
"This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Praise the Lord or what?