Thursday, 30 June 2011

Healing and cereals

You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that I am often asked why someone died, especially young, when they were 'such a good Christian'. This is usually suffixed with the question 'why did they die', the answer to which is that they died because they were human and that's what humans do, they die.

A surgeon friend once came and spoke to a group of schoolchildren for me regarding life and death, healing, pain and suffering. This group of sixth-formers were more than a little taken aback when the surgeon explained that life was a terminal condition and that even the oxygen we think we breath was actually (in the right, or should that be wrong, proportions) actually a killer.

I am not sure why, but people seem to expect that because they are 'Christian' this means that they won't (or shouldn't) die young or suffer from nasty illnesses. If this was the case then just about everyone I know would sign up and become Christian today. The problem is of course that this would make Christianity like some of the breakfast cereals when I was a child. Let me explain (yep, you'd better for we are sorely confused now Vic you Muppet I hear you shout):

As a child, I really loved Sugar Puffs but one of the other brands, which I wasn't that keen on, started putting a plastic toy in the box (beat my Nan's plastic roses from the washing powder anyway!) and so I pestered my Mum to start buying me that brand. I ate them, not enjoying the product and put up with the flavour and the texture and everything, because I wanted to collect the toys. Eventually I got fed up with them and returned to my Sugar Puffs.

The problem is, that if being a Christian meant that we wouldn't die young or have nasty illnesses and the like, then many would come for the toy rather than because they believed. If I were God I'd have a clause which says 'merely coming for the fringe benefits without the benefit of belief negates the benefits' (see why I'm not God?).

The other problem is that we seem to think that if we pray then God has to answer it and do what we prayed for. This isn't prayer but the issuing of an instruction and God (could be a woman after all) doesn't take being told what to do very well at all! The Bible tells us that God knows our needs before we do and my take on this is that God also knows when our 'needs' are 'wants' and vv and actually does respond.

I am naive, because I do expect to see healing (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) and do wonder why I have seen more whilst working in other places than I have here.

Remind me to mention a healing service, a Sunday newspaper and a saint called George Canty.

Gotto go - full dance card and only halfway through.


Healing and Theodicy

The more I have discussed this, and believe me I have asked many church people what they think about healing in the past twenty-four hours, the more parallels I see between healing and theodicy.

When theodicy was the focus of our Sunday evening 'Thinking Theologically' services many of those who came were a bit twitchy because they'd heard the word before. But theodicy is merely a reasoned argument that examines and seeks to understand and perhaps justify (a legal term meaning ‘to prove or find ‘innocent’ of the charge) God in relation to suffering and evil. The word itself comes from the Greek for God ‘theos’ and justice ‘diké’. So, we’re looking at a Just God and the justice He brings, gives or maintains.

Let’s consider a few examples from the NT, starting with Lk 13: 1 – 5 and the tower of Siloam:

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Often people will equate illness, disaster and the like with sin (confessed and unconfessed) as we can see with the man ‘born blind’ in Jn 9:1 -2: “As Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from birth and His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (Sin and illness - now there's an area for consideration - used to be a common theme when I was a Pente' Pastor)

The questions of God and justice, and His intervention (or absence) are recurring themes for Biblical and other writings and for life since it began (I assume) and brings forth some interesting and challenging debate. One of those who were so engaged was a chap called Epicurus (341-270 BC) who proposed the contraction:

“Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then he is evil.”

Epicurus extrapolated that if God is all-powerful and absolutely good then evil cannot exist, but if evil does exist than there cannot be an all-powerful and absolutely good God. This is extrapolated in the following ‘logical problem of evil’:

1. God exists.
2. God exists and is omnipotent (absolutely powerful), omniscient (infinitely wise or all-knowing) and is to be considered ‘perfectly good.
3. A ‘perfectly good’ being would desire to prevent all and every evil.
4. An omniscient being would know every way in which evil might exist or come into existence.
5. An omnipotent being, knowing every way in which evil might exist or come into existence would, being omnipotent, prevent that, or any evil, from existing.
6. A being who knows every way evil can come about and has the power to do so must be able to prevent that evil from existing if they so wish.
7. If an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good being exists, then evil cannot exist.
8. Evil exists.

Rather than resort to theodicy, a nice man by the name of Alvin Platinga came up with his ‘defence’, which goes like this:

A world containing ‘significantly free’ people is more valuable, everything else being equal, to a world with no free creatures at all. God can create free creatures, but He can't ‘cause, determine or make them do right’. If He does then they are not ‘significantly free’ after all because they do not do what is right ‘freely’.
Therefore, to create creatures capable of moral good, He must create creatures capable of moral evil. If he give creatures freedom to perform evil then he cannot prevent them from doing so.

Plantinga argues that even though God is omnipotent, it is possible that it was not in his power to create a world containing moral good but no moral evil – this would be a logical and moral possibility.

So the question before us is this: Is God impotent, malevolent, evil, spiteful and the like (select those you think apply) OR are there grounds to assume (and prove) that God is, as His billing would have it, a ‘good (and healing)' God? for surely healing is a sign of his goodness, care, compassion and might?


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The 'does God heal?' conundrum

Following on from this morning's post, the issue of healing appeared on the radar in to form of a conversation with an extremely experienced nursing type (been a midwife tutor and worked in a mil' setting for much of their career) regarding God and healing. Their view was (and always had been) that God healed through the skills and expertise of the medical types and not by any divine act.

This raised a whole raft of issues for me, namely (in a nutshell):

i. If God can heal but doesn't, does this make God wicked, uncaring or just plain mean?

ii. If God can't heal, then surely this means He isn't God, for everything should be possible for the Absolute God.

(Note the parallels here with the issue of evil - does it work if we substitute evil and suffering for healing?))

But what about times when God does heal, physically, when, how, who and where and why did it happen?

I struggle because I have prayed for (me, not a story from another person) physically blind people (yes, more than one) and they saw. Before I prayed for them, they didn't. Simple in an extremely complex and unsettling way. (I'll give an account of this later)

I struggle because having prayed for a man regarded as a 'demoniac' and seeing him stripped naked, shaved, hosed down and returned to his family who had long back assumed he was dead, I know the power of God's healing (again, I'll tell the story some time soon).

So why did God heal them (and many others) from discernable medical conditions and yet not heal others? I prayed for a child with cerebral malaria and buried her the next day and less than three days later prayed with, and for, another and never realised that I'd passed her playing outside the house when I returned the next day. Both had the same illness and yet one lived and the other died. "All the days numbered," had been reached for one and yet still ran for the other.

So here we are. The ASA want 'robust proof' and many will offer up headaches and inner peace as examples of this (which indeed are evidence of healing). But what of the robustness of dead raised, deaf hearing and the lame dancing? Is seeking evidence 'putting God to the test' or is it merely satisfying the need for empirical evidence and right (after all, we are told to 'test' aren't we?). Are we too content to praise God for what isn't there or are we too lightweight to shout about what is and take on the skeptics?

One of the most important roles I have as a dog-collar is that of helping people to die well. I start working with people on this as soon as they become Christians, for we only get one go at dying and there are no resits - but what of healing before death comes a knocking?


Well - does God heal or not?

I see that The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has got itself involved regarding a leaflet from St Mark's Church (Woodthorpe, Nottingham) which claims God could actually heal. They acted after the head of Nottingham's Secular Society complained after being handed a flyer bearing the words 'Need healing?' while shopping.

An ASA spokesman said, "We are not here to stop religious or faith-based organisations from promoting what they believe in. But if they are making absolute claims about curing serious conditions then we have to see that evidence to back it up."

The man bringing the complain, Dennis Penaluna, was apparently shocked and outraged over the leaflet, "I couldn't believe the overarching, ridiculous, unfounded claims they were making. They can't be substantiated, it's a dangerous nonsense. People who are ill or vulnerable can be easily persuaded. They will grasp at anything."

Jumping to the church's defence, Canon Ed Pruin, who advises people in the Church of England diocese of Nottingham and Southwell on healing, said he agreed the leaflet was "Less than helpful, but I absolutely do believe that God can heal. I have no doubts. I think that one of the ways God heals is through medical science and the care of healthcare professionals. But I don't think that he is always in the curing business."

Canon Pruin is also a member of the Healing and Wholeness committee which has advised the church to amend the leaflet so that 'healing on the streets' is changed to 'care on the streets'.

Pick up your bed and walk, you are 'cared' for doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?

The overarching question is this: Can God heal and if the answer is 'Yes', does He heal?

I encountered a few people yesterday and having been told of their ailments, I prayed for them that God would indeed touch their bodies and bring them healing. Some of my colleagues tell me that healing is always there, but not generally physically, it's about healing mental and emotional stuff and therefore, even when the symptoms (and cause) persist, the person is healed.

Should we expect more?

Should we claim God (Jesus) can heal or should we just 'Care'?

Perhaps we should alll become secularists and live in the vacuum of self and be happy in ourselves and then again, perhaps not! After all, the ASA turned down my complaint about mobile phone betting because it made gambling 'fun and exciting' and that's what the advert' was all about!

Whoo Hoo!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

CofE fees - pay more, gain nothing?

The implications of the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure 2011 cropped up yesterday. As a result I learned about the old days where incumbents could have more income than bishops and how augmentation provided for the poorer parishes. The benefits of a consistent stipend and the issues of a common purse and parish share all bobbed to the surface like detritus from a sunken liner!

Honourably, the first (quotable) comment considered the fact that the CofE is pricing itself out of the market when it comes to funerals and weddings. The cost of a base funeral being (with fees) is c. £2,000.

There is much pressure and hype regarding attracting weddings back into church buildings and yet, pound for pound, even though the buildings are attractive, in terms of venue alone, we are just not competitive. Then again, as one senior cleric put it, we possess a value added factor in that God is at hand to bless in our services (does that mean He curses i.e. withholds blessing, the others?).

We need to get our act together and realise that there is much at stake in the way that we market (used to be called evangelism), and charge for, what the Church offers.

I have much to wade through on this topic (thought the rural dean bit was just organising meetings, didn't know I had to read and understand stuff too :) ).

This is not a good measure and the mutterings about fees going directly to diocesan coffers and the like will do nothing to settle the troops and less in attracting punters!


Monday, 27 June 2011

Another day in the office!

Whilst looking for some information, I came across this photograph of a dedication of a new standard done recently:

There are many people out there who witter on endlessly about how every November we deny the truth and make heroes out of people who gave their lives worthlessly in the name of making war look noble and worthy of praise. Of course, we don't do that but (working on the assumption that these people either wear slip-ons or get their Mums to do their laces) those who write that sort of stuff seem to think it's true.

The reality is that those who serve do the bidding of the politicians and seek to bring peace and 'do their duty'. The solutions are never military, even when the military have been involved, but are political and soldiers don't start wars, but the certainly have an important place in ending them (and Law of Armed Conflict means that we do so with the minimum loss of life too!).

I've been thinking about what Remembrance is and have realised that it's a hatful of 'R's'.

For if we forget we are condemned to repeat whatever brought us to conflict
For if we forget those who died in conflict (regardless of the situation) them and their sacrifice is soon forgotten.
For if we forget what others have done for us, then we take for granted what is before us (often as a result of what others have done).

Remembrance is the beginning of reconciliation.
Having seen RAF and Luftwaffe veterans remember their fallen and then, united by the remembering, drink together and find they were no different from the other.
The same with soldiers and sailors in the same setting (but I've not experienced it in the Far East context!) for there is a common bond between those who have served, even when it was against each other and this fosters reconciliation and from that comes forgiveness.

Restoration begins with making human those who were dehumanised and seeing them as human, forgiving them as well! In reconciling we have the foundations for restoration of moral and spiritual elements which mean that the likelihood of such happenings that litter our past just that little less likely.

I have seen men and women, when faced by all of the above, find that they are not only spiritual beings, but broken spiritual beings. They see in themselves the needs that are met at the foot of the Cross and seeing themselves as Christ sees them, they can be healed, restored and renwed.

Don't ever let anyone tell you remembrance is about glorifying war, it is a mirror to our frailties and potentially the first step of the journey that leads to the Cross and healing for the individual and for our nations.


ps. the dog-collar in the picture is me by the way - that's my office photo' :)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Living (and working) to rule

No, I'm not trying to organise industrial action, I'm trying to get people to realise that they need a rule of life and once they have one, to live by it!

When one is ordained there are a number of facets on the gem that is Christian ministry, namely:

We accept the Holy Scriptures as being the source of everything we need to know about eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
This means that the Bible is not a second thought and puts paid to all the universalist tosh that gets peddled. We preach Christ, and Him crucified, risen and alive and teach obedience to the word of God (written and living, logos and Logos!).

We will be active and consistent regarding prayer and in reading, and studying, the Bible and other stuff that will deepen our faith and help us to be witnesses to the truth of the gospel.
If we can't, won't or don't do this then we should never have taken the shilling. Without this we are not 'fit for role' and should remove ourselves from ministry. We are all called 'to stir up' the gift of God that makes us the living witnesses spoken of later - living in holiness and grace.

Believing the doctrine of the Christian faith as received (and practised) by the Church of England and teaching it.
Amazing how many people (many with dog-collars and some in purple) struggle with this.

Being a living witness, a type of Christ in the place you find yourself, living through teaching and example to make Christ's love and life known.
Amazingly, there are many who fall down on this one too!

Caring and serving those 'in the household of God' in the same way Christ came, as a servant, not the dog-collar whom must be served and have status.

Caring and serving, living in and running our own families as an example and as a discipline.
An old Vicar once told me that if you couldn't run your own life and the life of your family, you had no chance with a church!

Working together for the building of the whole Church, making disciples and displaying the unity of the Church across denominations and groupings.
We need to seek where we can share and be united rather than look for the things that separate us for being Church. Too many people taken up with their piddling little gatherings at the sake of a wider, and more effective, Church unity (which if present builds ALL the churches by making disciples and setting the conditions for growth).

Submit to those in authority.
This is a key point and makes sense of the fact that we need to be careful whom we entrust leadership (at all levels) to. Some of those who disregard all the above elements make themselves extremely difficult to obey or respect, for some are (sadly) barely Christian! Yet, there is still the question of rightly placed authority to be considered then!

There we are - everything that the ordinal (the ordaining rule book) requires from Christians not just for ordination but for those who truly wish to live their baptismal calling too!


Friday, 24 June 2011

Caption Contest - 21

Haven't done one for a while, so thought I'd give you a chance to exercise your brains and interpretative skills:

Can't you see I'm special?

A colleague told me how they had struggled with one of the people they engage with from time to time over the fact that, when faced with something they don't like, they always returned to the same old strategy. Regardless of the issue, they would merely resort to the, "If you do that then I'm going to resign from the ministry team. See how you will get on then when you have lost me," gambit.

the person was sure that without them, the church would fall empty, broken and hollow to the ground. They were sure that because of the many gifts, skills and abilities (well actually, sometimes it's just being there and being able to give time) they had, the church would crash and burn if they left. Sadly, this proved to be a very mistaken viewpoint.

The question, "What would you do without me?" has been answered, I would guess, fairly consistently since 'Church' first began. The answer is simple and perhaps, especially for the threatee (ie. the person who makes the threats), a little saddening in that it is 'we will just carry on as we always have. Bye! Of course this is not true for often the church, and the minister (AKA the 'threatened') that has lost the person making the threats carries on as an even happier place.

Nothing cramps the life and ministry of a church more than someone who wants to continually hold it to ransom. It is for this reason that during my training we were told that if anyone ever comes to us and tells us that they will be leaving unless {insert cause), 'call' (not usually God it transpires with hindsight] of complaint, accept it with both hands and rejoice (but not too much of course, have to be kind).

The only person the Church cannot do without is, of course, Christ!

I have been in churches that have lost some key members over the span of my Christian walk thus far and the wonderful thing is that as the 'special' people leave, the ordinary take their place! On a number of occasions I have seen the star turns leave and the pathetic, 'ordinary' little people come forward and take their place with humility and a genuine call to that role. It was only because the 'special' people made themselves special by making the rest of the church less than special that they looked good. Away from the church, having taken their toys and left, it is startling to see that in fact, like the Emperor in the story, they are naked!

So, as we look at the call on our life, may we always keep in mind that Church is all about Jesus, not us. The old chestnut about placing our hand in water and then removing it and examining the hole that is left as a measure of how much we will be missed. (i.e. not at all).

The day we think we are 'the' person in any church is the day we have misplaced the call upon us (and this is not just for ordained folk, this applies to us all, for we all have before us our baptismal calling) and the fact that it is jesus who is special and the people of God who are precious.

The day we threaten to leave to get what we want (or prevent what we don't want) is the day that we should expect to be said goodbye to.

So let's make sure we never get there, eh?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Ministry as anarchy

One of the highlights of being Christian is that our (Judeo) Christian faith is, and has always been, counter-cultural. This means that we have generally been seen to be different from the culture we find ourselves. When those around the followed of YHWH has male and female courtesans to provide sexual release, they (and therefore WE) accentuated heterosexuality. Where cultic piercings and tattoos were to be seen, they (WE) had none.

When we move away from our counter-cultural position so that we can, by being no different from the rest of the world, we have nothing to offer for we have been evangelised by the world rather than it by the message of Christ crucified and risen.

When we take up God's call to be involved in the 'cure of souls' we take upon ourselves the otherness that is Christianity. May we never put it aside for popularity. May we proclaim, and live in the counter-cultural reality of Scripture, Reason, Tradition and acceptance too (and for) all.



One of my previous regenerations saw me working in the wonderful world of IT in the European arm of an American insurance company. One day whilst sitting at my desk minding my own business an irate looking chap came bounding in to complain that he'd told an IT Support Tech's to get him something and had been told to contact the help desk.

I explained that he'd acted properly and that if he did this, someone would solve his problems (of the IT kind, don't think his personality issues were curable!). Having been told this, he started shouting about having left his universal (110:240v) transformer and so his laptop wouldn't power up.

Again I explained that one call to the IT Support Centre would remedy his problem and this started to cause him to engage in some some sort of 'IT rage' episode.

As he waved his arms and his face reddened he shouted at me, "Do you know who I am?"

Suddenly aware of the situation, I jumped up and apologising, took him by the arm to the office of the CEO. Entering his office, for his door was often open, I pushed the (now less irate) gentleman forward and asked if the CEO could help him as apparently he'd forgotten who he was and come to my office and asked if I knew who he was. As I didn't, perhaps he did.

IT support tech' got an apology and whenever I saw the bloke after that I was his very bested friend. A lesson there for some of those who pastor (you know who you are ;) ).


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Tried, Tested and Approved

The whole point of being ordained, as far as I am concerned, anyway is that it makes a statement about the person who is ordained and on the way to this overarching and grand statement, there are a number of subtexts running in the foreground.

The first of these is that the person has been approved of by their own family and was considered by them to have been a person in whom they could trust and in whom the 'obvious' (and interesting word) witness of God's calling upon their life could be seen.

This is sometimes a problem because people mistake 'calling' with being busy and doing lots in their church family (and sometimes even wider than that). Because someone leads services, is the first to arrive and the last to leave, takes on every tasks that's going and gets stuck in is not, in itself, 'the' indicator that calling exists. This is one of the problems that I encounter quite frequently, a person comes to me and says they have to be ordained because they don't have time to do everything they do and work as well. This says more about time management and the ability to say no (which I don't appear to have done by the way!) than calling to ministry and the key here is to help the person step back and see what else is there. We need people who can, and will, work but calling is about more than just doing - it is not a functional thing (honest).

Calling is about many things and some of the most important are also the most easily missed but those around us are often the first to discern a sense of vocation and then they need to help us realise and be able to vocalise that calling and that it is within the church (i.e. CofE). Sounds silly but there are a number of people who ask me about training in the CofE so that one day they can be pastors elsewhere!

Another of these, in what is often one of the least spoken of areas , because it is usually one of the least visible, is in the area of personal spirituality. Is there a regular prayer life? Is it vibrant and does it indicate a living and ongoing relationship with God (F, S & HS)? It needs to be because when the desert times come, when you feel alone and abused 9and you will), you need to know the power of prayer and meditation on God's words lifting you up to Isaiah 40's 'Eagle's Wings' and Psalm 91's 'hand'.

I was sent a person with the note, "No one likes this person and we think they might have a calling and leave us for college and training!" Wow, what a recommendation - was it a calling or a desire to offload the person onto someone else? But how we relate to others is part of the call, especially as ministry is collaborative, not a chain of command scenario. Do with bring unity or merely command it )Right, when I give the order, you will all be one. Unite!)

Another subtext is that the ordination process looks for people who know there is something that is 'calling' them to put off their daily life and take up a life of servanthood and ministry. Often they can't articulate it. I often ask, "What difference would being ordained make to you. What could you do then that you can't now?" If they say, "Live in a vicarage," (and one actually did) you're in for an interesting day!

Those who come for ordination has to display a faith in God and the desire to take it further so that the journey to the Cross and God's love illumines and consumes them. They know they're flawed and fallible and want to see more of Jesus when they look in the mirror and want that for others too!

So, what is the grand statement you ask (bored of all the intervening words)? It is this:

Ordination takes a person and tests them to see if there is any of the element 'calling' found in the person seeking to be ordained. It trains them and tests them and turns up the heat and then it ordains them, places them in a job (the role of Curate - which is not like 'fagging' as one Rector told me. i.e. the place where you get your own back for your curacy experiences!) which turns up the heat and asks them to do things 'they just aren't called to do'. It places them in relationship with people they would never normally be in relationship with and it asks them to meet people in some of the deepest human needs you can think of, and it watches.
And having watched, it priests you and expands the experience and tests and challenges and tests and watches.

Ordination is about submission to authority. Just as Nehemiah's submission to his king meant that he had authority, so to do we, when we submit, have authority.

Ordination tries, tests, trains, approves and releases us to care for God's people. It is not a simple process and it is uniformly different for each one of us, for we are individuals, in that it is about His calling (it's not ours) ek klesia (called out) as laos (God's people in submission and obedience.


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

I'm just not called to do that!

Part of the dialogue that started this thread was surrounding someone who had been approaching ordination and realised that the role would mean that they would have to do stuff that they "Just didn't feel called to do it!"

The whole point of offering oneself for ordination is that you offer yourself to the whole Church, not just the place you want to go to or to the style that you want. Ordination is about calling and obedience. It is about submission and a willingness to go into the role prepared to learn and to explore.

It is not about just going to do what you want to do.

It is not about deciding that you are only going to do whatever style of church rings your bell. This is something that many suffer from and manifests itself in New Wine types who only want to do church in one particular way. It can be seen in the high church types who moan that the evo's don't understand their churchmanship (hence so many evo's being made to 'experience' high church on the road to selection and yet none of the high church go the other way!). Too many people offer themselves conditionally - they want ministry on their terms and if those terms are not met, then they threaten to take their bags and leave.

Well, here's a bit of a shock for those who think that way, goodbye and to be honest, good riddance. I'm sure there's a place in Vineyard or one of the trendy groupings for those who are led that way. The same is true of the high church types, Rome has opened its arms and it doors - swan off and be blessed where you will be happy. Again, for those who want a libertarian church, there are plenty out there, leave the CofE alone and go be Episcopalian or ******* (see, didn't name them) and, again, be happy and leave us to be happy where we are and for you where you are.

Ordination is more than just 'playing the game and jumping the hoops' it is about being willing to explore, and find God, in BCP or choral tradition and music groups and Taizé and even in the dressing up and clomping around in chasubles with burning handbags flying!

Offering yourself and being willing to submit to and explore what is Church is part of the calling and the enabling. It is almost like being cast adrift and waiting to see what shores you will drift on to and be blessed by before you sail off again. It is about developing a maturity and a depth of religious experience that is often so obviously lacking in those who offer themselves conditionally.

Try taking this twice a day until the condition clears up:

Father God, thank you for calling me to serve others.
Help me to seek and find you in the people I meet,
To minister your love, grace and mercy to all I serve,
To not limit your power by my own piddling and limited experience,
Or silence your worship by my thinking I know what is the 'only' way.
Father, if I am called, then I am called to all that preaches your word,
To all that praises your name,
To everything that makes disciples.
May I never dishonour you name or disobey your word.
Keep me on the right path so that those I shepherd, following me, realise that I am merely following you,
My Saviour, Master and friend. Amen

On Being Ordained

Petertide approaches and as I come to celebrate yet another year in Anglican ministry I was engaged in conversation with a friend about the nature of ministry and calling. This coming weekend will see people flocking into our Cathedrals and men and women are ordained deacon and rush off to serve their 'title' (this means your first job in the CofE as a minister) and be Assistant Curate (although we call them 'Curates', which refers to the person who has the 'cure of souls' in the parish (the incumbent), they assist this person and so are really (technically) bear the 'assistant' label) somewhere.

So, for those being ordained, for those who are seeking ordination and those who are merely interested, here are a few initial thoughts. A starting volley on a them I think I will run with this week. And we begin with a tough issue indeed:

I'm just not called to do that!

I'd like to set the scene for this post by posting the lyrics of a song by Keith Green called 'Sheep and Goats":

And when the Son Man comes, and all the Holy Angels with him,

Then shall he sit on His Glorious throne,
And he will divide the nations before Him, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
And He shall put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left,

And He shall say to the sheep; come ye, blessed of My Father,
inherit the Kingdom I have prepared for you from the foundation of the world,

For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink,
I was naked, and you clothed me,
I was a stranger, and you invited me in,
I was sick, and I was in prison, and you came to me.
Thank you! Enter into your rest.

And they shall answer Him, yes, they shall answer Him,
And they'll say, Lord, when?
When were you hungry Lord, and we gave you something to eat?
Lord, when were you thirsty? I can't remember. And we gave you drink?
Huh, when were you naked Lord, and we clothed you?
And Lord, when were you a stranger and we invited you in?
I mean, we invited lots of people in.
But Lord, I could never forget that face.
And Lord, when were you sick and we visited you?
Or in prison, and we came to you? Lord, tell us?

In as much as you did it to the least of my bretheren, you've done it unto me.
Oh yes, as much as you've done it to the very least of my bretheren, you've done it, you've done it unto me. Enter into your rest.

Then He shall turn to those on His left, the goats.
Depart from me, you cursed ones, into everlasting fire,
prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was naked, out in the cold, in exposure, and you sent me away,
I was a stranger, and I knocked at your door,
But you didn't open, you told me to go away,
I was sick, racked in pain upon my bed,
And I begged, and prayed, and pleaded that you'd come, but you didn't,
I was in prison, and I rotted there,
I'd prayed that you'd come.
I heard your programs on the radio, I read your magazines, but you never came.
Depart from me!!!

Lord, there must be some mistake, when?
Lord, when - I mean, when were you hungry Lord and we didn't give you something to eat?
And Lord, when were you thirsty, and we didn't give you drink? I mean, that's not fair
Well, would you like something now?
Would one of the Angels like to go out and get the Lord a hamburger and a coke?
Oh, you're not hungry, yeah, I lost my appetite too.
Uh Lord uh, Lord, when were you naked,
I mean Lord, that's not fair either Lord,
We didn't know what size you wear.
Oh Lord, when were you a stranger Lord,
You weren't one of those creepy people who used to come to the door, were you?
Oh Lord, that wasn't our ministry Lord. We just didn't feel led, you know?
Lord, when were you sick? What did you have, anyway?
Well, at least it wasn't fatal... oh, it was?
I'm sorry Lord, I would have sent you a card.
Lord, just one last thing we want to know,
When were you in prison Lord? What were you in for anyway? I had a friend in Levenworth..


In as much as you've not done it unto the least of my bretheren,
You've not done it unto me.
In as much as you've not done it unto the least of my bretheren,
You've not done it unto me.
Depart from Me.

And these shall go away into everlasting fire.
But the righteous into eternal life!

And my friends, the only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to this scripture, is what they did, and didn't do!!

And if you prefer to listen:

Back shortly!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Fathers' Day?

No, it's Father, Son and Holy Spirit Day!

I was stunned to hear one of the clergy I know explain how grateful they were for Fathers' Day falling on Trinity Sunday. This meant that they could put the 'knotty' issue of Father, Son and Holy Spirit aside and focus on just the Father.

Of course we don't do 'Mothers' Day' where I am, but we do 'Mothering Sunday'. The difference? One is about Mother church and the opportunity to renew vows and return to the place where you were baptised and the other raises the prices of flowers, makes booking a sensibly priced meal almost impossible and fill our shops with naff 'For Mum' presents that cost the earth and mean nothing and Father's Day is, sadly, no different!

The teaching on the Trinity is immensely important and one of the tests of error is to see how the church (or denomination) handles it. To put it aside for a piddling little commercial enterprise such as Father's Day (for we do Father's Day - One Father and should go no father than that!*) is to deny all that needs to be proclaimed and proclaims all that denies the Godhead in one single act. No wonder the person and their congregation are so poor, they have no teaching and little leadership (of the Christian type) it seems.

I was going to post this on Sunday but it was legalised madness (all day) and so by the time the last service was done (Taizé Communion - always a great way to wind down) and I got down to writing this I found that Bishop Inge (Worcester) had, apparently, made a move to adopt Fathers' Day. When I started reading for myself (always a good start) I initially found that the bloke had merely suggested that kid's write a prayer in their Dad's card. Good one, I thought, bringing God into the public domain in a Fathers' Day setting.

I was a little less impressed (but only a little) when I found the CofE had even given tips on how to customise a service for use on Father's Day. Mind you, how often does Father's Day fall on a Trinity Sunday, so I guess that usually it would be possible to use it and make a Sunday in Ordinary Time a little less ordinary. and so this sort of quelled my discomfort. But then the angel on the other shoulder (am I the only one to have an little angel and a little devil on opposite shoulders?) started talking to me about buying into the corporate world of junk, meaningless presents and rubbish such as bedevils Mothers' Day.

Of course, the CofE webiste given for the modifications to an 'ordinary service' ( didn't work so I'll never know whether the service was sacred, profane or merely more sentimental, yet worthless and meaningless, mush.

I've been and waded through ( to see what the Mothers' Union and the CofE have got up to in this area.

For more about the CofE side, take a look at:

Funny thing was, I've realised that we never mentioned Fathers' Day during any of the service on Sunday, guess that was because as a Christian, EVERY DAY is Father's Day (and the Son's and the Holy Spirit's.

Yee Ha!

*I know someone will tell me it should have be 'further' but that wouldn't have worked anywhere near as well, wouyld it?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

That's not very Christian, is it?

Popped into a church building today to find a bloke standing in the entrance smoking a cigarette and so politely I asked him if he'd either take it outside or put it out. "But it's chucking it down outside," said the chap, "Anyway, what's it got to do with you?"

I pointed out that first and foremost the law prohibited smoking in public places (“Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules 2008”) and that there were a number of "no Smoking' notices around the place which pointed that fact out. Secondly, I had to point out that I was the dog-collar and was therefore, in some way, responsible for the building (open-necked shirt today as predominantly in the study all day) and its care.

"But it's raining, I'll get wet if I go out there," came the defence. Recognising this as no defence I suggested that in that case he should merely extinguish his cigarette and remain in the dry. Walking out (into the rain) he stopped, turned and said, "Very Christian!" and vanished into the deluge.

I wonder how often those who bear the title 'Christian' find themselves pilloried for being such because the source of the criticism, complaint or even abuse has found that their English language has let them down. So here we are, English Language 101 as our American cousins would say. Of course the Americans use a very different English from us but retain, and use, the same name for it to distinguish between it and Spanish, which is as I understand it becoming the more common language of the US of A (or Estados Unidos de America, to give it its proper name in years to come perhaps?).

C - H - R - I - S - T - I - A - N
(noun), one who professes a faith in Jesus Christ.

Not to be confused with:

D - O - O - R - M - A - T
(noun), a person who offers little, or no, resistance to abuse or mistreatment by others (an informal usage which differs from rug, mat or cloth at door entrance!).

Because I seek to be a servant this does not relegate me to a position whereby I become some lower caste or plebeian member of society who is there only to make others feel better about themselves. Neither do I exist to be the focus of anyone's misplaced linguistic or social skills or to help them elevate themselves by belittling others.

Time to stop apologising for being Church, church, and get out there and be loud and proud (in a quiet, humble sort of way).


More Time Off Vicar?

That's the question I was asked yesterday and it irked me (which is odd because the last couple of weeks haven't been the hardest I've ever known)!

Looking back on the last week there are many highlights in the shape of funerals, funeral visits, BCP Evensong, praying with people, counselling, visiting, training course, midweek communion, coffee morning and more besides. There were a few stressors in the shape of paperwork and ecumenical stuff. So why did the question leave me smiling, but deep down and out of sight, wounded, frustrated, niggled, disturbed (I can't actually name the emotion, I just know a light came on somewhere)?

It might have been that it was Friday and having managed time for breakfast, walking the dogs and the whole family watching a film together that I was chilled (even Kid's Club was laid back and fun). My day off had happened (hope you're reading this bishop, I've had a day off. Well sort of!) and I was relaxed and pretty much horizontal, so why and what was the problem?

Been praying about it and recall the wise words of an extremely experienced dog-collar. "Never explain why or where, just tell them you're not available!" I had breached the Hugh Wilcox rule and the response was exactly as he warned all those years back. "All they will see is that you are not available for them and your response will confirm their misconception. If they contact you more than once on your day off and you tell them you're off having lunch with your wife, they will assume that you're always having lunch with your wife (I wish!)."

Living over the shop is a blessing and a curse. You are there when needed. You are there when you aren't available (ie. Day off) and can be grabbed whenever you come and go. Friends who are detached and distant tell me that the opposite is true for them. They are too far from the church building and so rarely get disturbed.

On balance I like where I am and perhaps need a thicker skin (or more time off) and to remember the 'Wilcox Rule', after all a colleague told me that they took lots of 'personal time' but never told anyone and so they assumed their absence and I ability to answer the telephone meant they were always busy. The other side of my coin perhaps

Hey ho. 06:56 and office done, day planned. Prayed and (internal) supervision session completed (thank you for listening) and time for 07:00 Radio Four news.

Thanks guys

Friday, 17 June 2011

We want the church without the God stuff please!

That's the condensed version of a five minute conversation with someone who wanted to arrange a wedding in a local church. They were told to ring me because I was 'friendly' and would be perhaps more understanding that their own dog-collar!

My first thought was, "Does this mean their local dog-collar is a miserable old wotsit or does it mean I've become the 'anything goes liberal'?" I thought for a minute and thought that the term MOG (a warden in a former church labelled himself 'MOG' (Miserable Old Git) when he had a renewal experience and announced himself henceforth as 'HOG' (Happy)!) might just apply! Mind you, one man's open and accepting type is perhaps another man's 'liberal' (now there's a thought!).

We talked about the service they wanted and the fact that they wanted it in a certain building but without the dog-collar what lived there. They also asked whether I could do a 'civil' service rather than a 'church' service and could we perhaps not sing any hymns either (they had some CD tracks they wanted to play instead). Oh yeah, instead of the 'love, honour and obey' bit they wanted to say a red Indian (Red Indian? Surely they mean 'Native American'?) wedding promise with lovely words about nature and running water and rising moons and stuff). There was also the fact that they'd rather I din't wear anything because they didn't want the robes in the video or photographs that would be taken of their 'big day'.

The more we got into the conversation the more I realised that we weren't doing anything 'Christian' in the service and the the whole point of the 'big day' was for the couple to have something splendid in a very pretty building. They merely wanted the building as a venue! And so we discussed some more and I pointed out that no one visits the house of someone else without, at the very least, a passing acknowledgment to the person whose house it was and that therefore we'd really need to have some 'God bits' in the service.

I left them to have a think and call me back, and they did. Firstly they be happy with hymns that didn't have the word 'God' in them and suggested 'morning has broken' with a change to the final line so that it read, "Love's re-creation of the new day" and that we'd also sing "Come to a wedding" (which I'd never heard of). They sent me a copy of the 'blessing' and the 'come to a wedding", both of which I share with you here:

"Come to a wedding, Come to a blessing,
Come on a day when happiness sings!
Come rain or sun, Come winter or summer,
Celebrate love and all that it brings.

Thanks for the love, That holds us together,
Parent and child, and lover and friend;
Thanks for the couple, Whose love is the centre,
Source of compassion, knowing no end.

Love is the gift, And love is the giver,
Love is the gold that Makes the day shine;
Love forgets self to care for the other,
Love changes life from water to wine.

Come to this wedding, Asking a blessing,
For all the years that living will prove;
Health of the body, Health of the spirit,
Now to you both we offer our love."

The Blessing
"Now you will feel no rain, for you are shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold, for you are warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness, for now there is someone there for you.
Now you are two persons living as but one person in the life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place, and live out the days of your life together.
And may your days be good, and long upon the earth and may the spirits smile upon you."

We dialogued a bit further and a few more 'little' requests were added to the equation (just a few little pagan bits like having hands tied together with a red cord and stuff) and it eventually became clear that there was nothing of Christ in this service and so the couple went off to a local pub and had the service there (and there was a psychic fair being held within the building and so the guests were even more blessed!).

I met the couple recently (hence my recounting it here) and they told me what a splendid day they'd had and how they had their photos on the lawn by the water and how they'd had everything they wanted. They were grateful that I'd pointed them to a different venue because it was better than the church. We are, apparently friends, but not family - which is sad and good in equal and opposite measure.

Should I have capitulated and brought a service into the church building (I'm sure the money would have been useful towards their parish share? Was I excluding them and withholding God's love from their wedding and refusing them His blessing? Am I a liberal because people come to me because, wherever I can make it so, the answer is always 'yes'? I'm hoping the answer is 'No' and wonder whether other dog-collars get telephone calls like these!!!

Tough questions and having met them, something I need to think and pray over (yet again). Still, I can't quite get over the image of them with the Native American bit and me 'wearing nothing' would have been fun (and perhaps could have been a trendsetter)!


A man hears?

What he wants to hear and disregards the rest!

Well that's the truth according to the lyrics of the Simon and Garfunkel song 'The Boxer' and those words challenge and guide me everyday in all that I do (and attempt to do) and in the way that I think and handle information.

It seems to me that the struggle to live in a way that regards, considers and dialogues with those things that are contrary to our own beliefs and attitudes (and show respect to) is the place from which we might begin to find the means whereby unity and being Church might be made a reality.

Sadly though, others would rather just climb into the ring and fight such that they deny Christ and diminish the witness of the Church to those in the world. Today the words of the song were used to defend the fact that the person had a closed mind rather than point to the paucity of wit and integrity.

But that's not me (us, you?) is it?


ps. Pain when you think you've saved something only to find you've posted it instead. Make me glad I don't drink for at least that way the madness is all me and not the alcohol :)

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Supporting those who have served

There is a fair chance that you, or someone you know, has served in one of the branches of HM Armed Forces. For most of us there is the history of the various conflicts ranging from the second World War that saw members of our family involved. Aside from that there have been numerous situations where our servicemen and women have seen action and been at risk and whilst today we think predominantly of Afghanistan and Iraq these days there are still many who served in Korea, Suez, Palestine, Cyprus, Bosnia and in a number of peacekeeping roles besides.

One of the best kept secrets is that the Royal british Legion (RBL) is not about 'smoke-filled drinking clubs populated by miserable old gits' (a description given to me by a young soldier) but is an organisation that supports and offers support to those who have served and their dependants. They canvas the politicians to act rightly regarding those who have served and those who continue to serve and are a very real source of solutions when problems come.

An example of this being that a while back I met someone who had served in the Navy. Their situation was such that they were strapped for cash and the principal wage-earner (who have never served by the way) was unable to work. When their washing machine went wrong, a tragedy even without the addition of a young child, and they had no means of replacing it, one telephone call to the relevant person (with their service number) meant that they were telephoned, the situation was assessed and a couple of days later they were in receipt of replacement 'white goods'.

Whilst 'Help for Heroes' (H4H) works solely for those who have been damaged through Iraq and Afghan the Legion works for all who have served. H4H and RBL work together, they are not in conflict with each other and each adds to, and supports, the work of the other.

So can I take the liberty of getting you to part with the sixteen pounds that an annual membership costs and join the RBL. If you read this and want to join a local branch, then yippee they need new blood. If you'd like to join but would rather have a national mebership, and if you'd like to support the NMA branch (dedication of the Standard 25th June at the NMA) and be a member of that, even better.

Either way, go to :


Click Here

Advert over


ps. And don't forget to support H4H too!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Suicide - mixed messages

Had a very interesting debate regarding suicide in that the person was bemoaning the loss of a relatively young person and the selfishness of them taking their own life and yet was, in the same breath, basically applauding the BBC documentary and the 'brave' people who had travelled to Switzerland to end it all! Now is this confused morals or what?

I have done funeral services for a number of people who have taken their own life and the circumstances surrounding their exit have been many and varied. Some were terminally ill, some had broken relationship, others still were making a point that they 'would do it' (how I wish people would stop saying that those who threaten to do it never do!) and a couple were the result of an obviously unbalanced mind.

Some told me that the dead person was immensely brave whilst other told me they were immensely stupid. Some wanted a quiet, embarrassed, funeral service whilst others wanted flags draping the coffin and a heroes funeral with all the trimmings. But here at the place where the rubber hits the road, regardless of the route that brought them to that place, it is my job to comfort those lost and help them to make sense of their situation and move on with their lives. It is my job to help those who grieve and the get them to have some perspective and be sensitive to the situation and the ways others might interpret them (for people are often quite harsh, aren't we?).

So what do you do with someone who has lost a friend and blames them for leaving them in such an unthinking and selfish manner? How do you explain that regardless of whether one travels to Switzerland (who I will now have to regard as financial whore and executioner of Europe I suppose*) or kills themself at home on their own (does the absence of TV camera crews make the act more heinous in terms of selfishness?) there are issues that have to be addressed and truths to be acknowledged and dealt with?

Many of those I see who have killed themselves have acted out of desperation, although it seems that because of the energy and passion that men have when this point comes, what might have been a warning shot end up as winning a coconut! Part of my training long back told me that often the line between almost doing it and doing it was thin and that many seeking to exercise a cry for help do it too well! Of course this is not the case with those who travel to do it and because they have made the journey some seem to think the act is endorsed by being 'rational'. I fail to see how killing oneself is a bloody rational act, especially when the reason is that the person who has chosen to die was 'weary' (weary is not a terminal disease but being selfish and wanting to play God is!).

Let's look at it from my perspective for a moment. Those who take their lives at home do so because they have reached a place where they cannot see life continuing. They reach this for a number of reason and that the person is so desperate and in such a state that they can do the act (which must be much like standing at the edge of a rock face and jumping off for the first time when you learn to abseil) speaks volumes of the state they were in. When asked was it brave or cowardly, I have to answer (and I always do) that it was 'desperate'. They'd reached a place where they couldn't go any further and that's the reality!

Could they (those left) have prevented it)? The question is always there. Got there earlier, hadn't gone out, hadn't got back later, hadn't left them alone, had rung them to see how they were, read the sings that they now see with hindsight. The answer is always 'No' because they can't and didn't and even had they done whatever it is that demonises the situation, there's always another day and another crisis. Is this true for those who selecte a 'rational' end to their life? No, I'm sorry I don't think so for they do it clinically and in a way that has no passion, no turmoil, no nothing but the desire to be in control.

So for those who wish to laud and applaud one group and agonise and complain at the selfishness of others who are 'stay at home' suicides can I point out that being 'assisted' brings nothing except some questions for those helpful types who 'assist' (isn't it called 'murder' and isn't there a moral component to carrying out a murder, regardless of the paucity of the local societal values of the place where it happens?).

And like fertility. Even is people have the ability to create or end life the right to either is a moot point, often decided by the finances of the local NHS trust for the former and the ability to pay to visit Switzerland (or one of the other three places) for the latter!


* During the Second World War it was the Swiss who had Nazis in one room and Allied nations in others funding and providing the means for the continuation (and expansion) of the fighting. The only question raised was that of interest and the potential for making money from the transactions. In the same way Swiss vaults housed (and still do I imaging) works of art, gold and many other artefacts of a Nazi regime) It is for this reasons that I have regarded Switzerland as the 'Whore of Europe'. Now they (proudly) add the label 'executioner' to their menu!

BCP, NMA and a sublime experience

As a dog-collar I find myself called upon to perform a number of roles in a number of places and one of those in the top tray has to be that of having the privilege of being the Chaplain to the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffs.

Now for those of you who don't know what this place is, it is home to the 'Armed Forces Memorial' (AFM) a structure which bears witness, and acts as a memorial, to those who have died in the service of this nation of ours since the end of the Second World War. Every year (this year 21st July) the names of those who have fallen in active service are added in a wonderfully moving service.

Last night the Arboretum was privileged to have the chapel resound to the sound of Macclesfield's 'Thomas Cranmer Choir' at a BCP choral evensong with Bishop William Pwaisiho OBE (Hon. Asst Bishop of Chester) as the preacher (the sermon being a blessing in itself).

The Choir gave a superb rendition of Peter Aston's 'So They Gave Their Bodies' as the introit and treated us to two anthems 'The Souls of the Righteous' (S Marchant) and 'Give Us The Wings Of Faith' (E Bullock) to make the evening complete (musically).

For me the having to sing the versicles and responses was nerve-racking (I hate solos!) but was more than compensated for by the liturgy of the 1662 evensong and the opportunity to sing a Psalm (46) and the Mag' and Nunc'. The hymns were the icing on the cake, for who can fail to be blessed by 'Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the King of creation' or moved by 'Eternal Father, strong to save'? We even made a good job of 'I vow to thee my country' with its often challenging vocal range and left at peace following 'Now thank we all our God'. Hallelujah or what?

We will surely be repeating this wonderful service in the chapel and can I say that for those of us who think the 1662 BCP services are dead and worthless, that there is a need to get out more - for when the timing and rhythm is right, this is an invitation to celebrate our tradition and to find a sacred space. For those who think that music and worship is all about composers who are still living, go give it a try, for God is to be found residing in our hymns, anthems and in the heritage that is English Sacred Choral music.


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

I did it (and ended it) my way!

I think the opening volley in the assisted suicide debate summed it all up for me in one go. Quicker than Murray's tennis match yesterday (does that make him English or merely British I wonder) was 'game. set and match'. "I want to chose how and when I die," is the defining statement.

Not only do people want to live their lives for themselves, making their choices and living them out for themselves (which makes sense for I guess it is the pinnacle of being selfish) but they also want to decide when they've had enough and depart this life when and how they want also. The cherry on a the cake that is a life dedicated to self I suppose. Only to be expected for if there was no place for God in their life why on earth should they leave the issue of it ending to Him either?

I also have to confess a wry smile at Sir Terry Pratcett's comment that he was ashamed that people had to, "Drag themselves to Switzerland at some considerable cost," to die. After all, let's be honest about it, they weren't coming back and they couldn't take it with them so surely the cost was the least of the issues before us! I was also a little bemused and greatly saddened by a phone-in comment where the caller said that the programme was 'great television' and how they hoped that they'd make another. Well one of the cast is no longer with us and the concept of watching someone end their days, whether it be at their own behest, at the hands of terrorists or at a public execution is, in my book, no spectator sport and so does not constitute 'great television' at all.

Then again the discussion and documentaries being no longer what they were (have you seen the circus that is 'Question Time' these days) and given that we need to see rather than discuss and create the images in our heads (another success for the educational system - my kids watched videos of books because it was 'cheaper and quicker' - God help us!!!0.

So if you wish to live, and die, as you choose then that's obviously you're prerogative. If there's no place for God in your doings and your done (still has a hand in your coming if you can duck the abortionists in this 'life is cheap world of ours') the sadly I see no place for you in his 'Come Again' bit either. You makes your choices and you live (or in this case) die with the consequences.

Seems that as the effects of the Judeo-Christian legacy of this country are diminished, so too are the esteem in which life is held and the dignity that some seek removed.

A sad bit of television and a sad indictment on today's attitudes to life and living and a reflection of the idyll that Flaubert (wrongly) paints:

"Just a little sleep and no more!" Yeah, right at so many levels :(


Monday, 13 June 2011

Images of the Christ - 3

I have to be honest and say that it was love at first sight when I was introduced to Roualt's art (thank you Jeremy B). I thought I start Monday on a high with this image, 'ecce homo':

Psalm 123
To you I lift up my eyes, to you that are enthroned in the heavens.
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, or the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of the arrogant, and of the contempt of the proud.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now and shall be for ever. Amen.

Collect for today:
O Lord, from whom all good things come:
grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pentecost - Speaking Boldly

I have always been struck by the transformation of the wibbly-wobbly followers, hiding behind closed doors, into bold and courageous people of faith who proclaimed the truth regarding Jesus.

Today as we come to this I find myself challenged by people who seem to have lost the plot in that they regard the Christian faith as something that can evolve and deliver new ways forward and still be 'orthodox' Christians (that is, in-line with the tenets, practices and beliefs of the Christian Church as it has been for a couple of thousand years!). They look at the always counter-cultural Judeo-Christian faith that we have and as if it were some weird sociological entity and seek to change the very tenets of it whilst assuming that others will regard this new creation as one and the same faith! How [insert word or words here]!

I tire of those who seek to continue using 'evangelical' when it is obvious that 'evangelical' they most surely are not (whatever it is that we consider'evangelical' to mean but that's perhaps another discussion for another day). Seems to me that universalist and evangelical is an oxymoron and that to have 'evangelicals' who wish to see us accept (when they really mean promote) people who act contrary to the teachings of the Church is another misuse of the word and a departure from 'orthodoxy', 'evangelcial' or otherwise!

In dialogue with someone who considers themselves 'evangelical' I soon realised that they had in fact (in their own words) "Grown out of the evangelical bit with its rules and oppositions and oppressions." This would, I assume make them merely 'post-evangelical'. To assume that the 'evangelicals' have had their day and to proclaim a glasnost that embraces and accepts differing lifestyles, attitudes and behaviours surely makes them no longer 'evangelical', for the evangelical is not a sociological term which, much like modernism, leads us to a 'post' period of it but a term that refers to personal sin, accountability, responsibility and grace ('grace' is not translated as "Turning a blind eye towards," is it?).

Perhaps those who wish to use the term 'evangelical' with something that clearly isn't, no matter how 'open' one wishes to be, would be more honest if they dropped the 'evangelical' label completely and told is as it is. They are liberal or revisionist or libertarian or whatever they want to call themselves but surely once one removes the responsibility for personal sin and the opportunity, no command, to refrain from it there has to be a question mark over whether is it even Christian at all. For just as Mormons, Christian Scientists or Quakers and many others are not Christian perhaps it is time to accept that using the words 'Jesus', 'God' or 'Christian' does not make what you believe 'Christian'. You've moved on and if that's true then I am happy for you to pursue your own NEW faith, but stop billing it as Christian, for it barely is (as I understand it in terms of teaching and practice that is).

As an open evangelical I am appalled at many of those who see themselves as 'fundamentalist evangelicals' and struggle with many who call themselves 'reformed evangelcials' for this seems to give permission to be wicked, cruel, harsh and bitter. My Christian faith means that I will continue to embrace those with whom I disagree, but how I wish they would be honest and tell it as it is and call themselves 'post evangelical' or whatever it is that they are (for some post-Christian fits the bill even better it seems for the faith they peddle has little similarity to the traditional 'orthodox' faith and is merely modern society in a building with a pointy bit!) and let us dialogue and work together from a place of honesty.

Let us not put aside the boldness of the early believers and the fidelity to God's word that the Christian faith has called us to for generation - let us not put off addressing personal sin for the popularity of this world, for when we look like the world, what point is there coming into a body that offers nothing and is no different from that they have outside it?


ps I also struggle with the fact that we have to have labels, but that's another issue!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Confused Ideas Regarding Abortion!

In dialogue with a young lady regarding attitudes to life, she informed me that she was a campaigner for animal rights. Following a little probing I discovered that she was in possession of the following facts and attitudes:

Animals had rights - This meant that she campaigned against fox hunting, animal research and anything that she considered to be cruel towards them.

Humans had less rights - This meant that euthanasia was a good idea and that abortion was a legitimate and morally acceptable act in order to maintain one's own social and economic situation.

It is for that young lady (who sadly will never read this) that I dedicate today's cartoon:


Friday, 10 June 2011

Are Arts Subjects Worthless?

having been discussing the topic of A Level subjects with my daughter yesterday we came to the conclusion that for many people the 'academic' subjects were the only one which had any worth or value. We reckoned that for many, the educational system existed with a few subclasses, namely:

Proper Subjects
Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology (AKA The 'Academic' subjects)

Moderately Proper Subjects
English (Language and Literature), French, German, Law.

Fluffy Subjects
Art, Music, Geography, History, Religious education, Physchology, Physical Education, Drama, General Studies (AKA the 'Easy Option ' or dossing subjects)

Defunct Subjects

Today on Radio Four's episode of 'The Archers' we were entertained by the missing of an examination by one of the cast. But, not to worry for it was only 'RE' and there wasn't a problem as the missing pupil had promised to be present at the proper subjects, Maths and English!

It was once held that theology was the Queen of all the sciences and the foundation upon which all academic excellence stands was English. But it seems that we now see education as merely being the means by which we train our children to maximise their earning potential rather than develop their skills and extend their abilities.

Where is enjoyment and creativity in our education system? The answer us that there is little or none!

Why? Because we've lost the plot and are seeking to produce cloned drones rather than intelligent and creative, free-thinking individuals.

Sad isn't it?


Coalition Actions Explained!

Suddenly it all makes sense - the coalition is merely following Rowan's lead ;)

Happy Friday

HRH - The Duke Of Edinburgh

Birthday Greetings to a man who is not only the longest serving British consort but is a man who has served this country faithfully and well.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Rowan - Political Commentator or Priest?

And all along I thought he was supposed to be concerned with matters spiritual. Explains a lot and makes sense of the often shambolic and ill-focussed goings on that we have within the Church of England! He thinks he's Robin Day in a dog-collar.

Funny that when I read of Rowan's warning that the government is committing Britain to "radical, long-term policies for which no-one voted" I immediately was drawn back to the heady days of Tony Bliar's government. You must remember them, they were elected because they 'weren't Conservatives'.

The policies they brought in had little or no mandate, they just did what they wanted because they were elected purely and simply on the basis that they 'weren't Conservative'. Then, to put a cherry on the cake we had regime change as Brown was given the stick with the pig's bladders attached! And he brought in new policies which had never seen the light of manifesto or husting again.

There has been 'indignation' at the reforms brought in by the previous Labour government and the current coalition and for good reason. The problem is the Labour Party used the open mandate that was gifted to them for not being Conservative and the coalition have been gifted the same because of the totally inept actions of a party who lined the pockets of supporters through PFI, Quango and other 'favours' (including Adonis and his gifting of land, capital and the demise of state education that appears to be Academies) and handed over the right to do pretty much as they please because they made the nation a morally, socially and best of all, a financially bankrupt entity!

Rather than mumble about the 'Big Society' as something that is viewed with 'widespread suspicion' Rowan would do better to motivate and mobilise the troops (the Church) to take back the pastoral and caring birthright which it has handed over of a mess of social state pottage!

We are seeing some things happen far too quickly, but the spectre of financial peril (seen Eire, Greece and Portugal lately?) perhaps does justify some of this (but not all) and we need to be sure that we are not standing by as the Lib Dem acts as puppets to permit some 'evening up of the scores and wounds of old!'.

Speaking of democracy, people don't know what democracy means anymore because they don't understand what a majority is! Wanting everyone to have a voice and be making the decisions, mathematically manipulating results to overcome voter apathy and skewed ideas of what and who should be elected - this is not constitutional (or national) politics but the politics of Bedlam and displays something worrying about our nation as a whole (We are becoming Golgafrinchams in that "We're all bloody useless!").

Having read the piece I think it shows the mark of an intelligent man, for Rowan is no fool, but I wonder whether they are the words of a spiritual leader. It is for this reason I am saddened and more than a little downhearted, for as much as I get frustrated at politicians who spout on about faith and Christ in particular, leaving me with the wish that they'd stick to what they know, I feel with this that I wish he'd preach the Gospel rather than be yet another political (and the words could almost be those of an agnostic or atheist, couldn't they) commentator.

As it stands, a good piece and some great points - but where was the Christian influence? Where is the Christian outworking? Where was the Christian (soteriological) imperative, where is the 'Good News' (The Gospel)? Sadly not that evident here.

Now I know many will accuse him of merely attacking the coalition, but I don't think he is. He's knocking the sad situation of popularist and envy, score-settling politics. He's bemoaning the global issues that are handled in ways that leave us sighing. Valid and reasonable - but where is the Christ in his writings? He had more to say about Bin Laden's death than many of the Christian issues that need comment upon and he has before him a church that is divided and breaking for want of some leadership and shrewd assessment, much as he shows in matters secular!


Read the whole leader here

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Pentecost in the Park

Every year the Tamworth Covenanting Churches gather in the Castle grounds to celebrate Pentecost and this year, being no different (and since we haven't been raptured), we will be doing it all again, but with a difference.

The difference this year is that we will be having 'Sounds of Salvation' who describe themselves as:

"A high-octane, ska rock punk Christian worship band with a horn section that will blow your face off. Formed in 2004 they travel the length and breadth of the country worshipping God with a sound that has been likened to setting an elephant loose on marching band. But it's not all about the music; SoS love to celebrate God's glory with a vibrant energy that will get you off your feet and dancing like your dad in no time."

So, if you're in the Tamworth area this Sunday and want to learn how to skank for jesus (now there's a thought), get a picnic, pray for sunshine and come on over.

1pm - Castle Grounds Bandstand (below the castle)
Sunday 12th June 2011

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Naked Model poster

As a techie type I spent a great deal of my work life in workshops and engineering 'circuit rooms' which, as was the norm those days, being a totally male preserve meant that the pin ups and posters adorned lockers and walls.

Later, having move up the ladder (literally and figuratively) I found myself inhabiting a world where such images were frowned upon and then we became 'sensitive' to the feelings of those around us and women stopped being sex objects and became 'mates'. We had female techies, the Air Training Corps allowed girls to join (1983) and the world became a different place.

The problem that I have is that people don't realise that stereotyping and sexism is quite subtle and that there are such extremes taken that, as an example, if one entered a room with nine men and one woman in it, the correct greeting is "good morning all." I encounter a number of people who come in and say something like, "Good morning gentlemen, and lady,: and they aren't aware that this is considered sexist and infringes the rules of sexist behaviour in the workplace. Taking things too far? I couldn't possibly say (or should I?)

Anything that draws attention to a person because they are different is regarded as being wrong and in today's military setting, this behaviour is both frowned, and acted, upon. The same is true within many of the other public service settings (in fact, as a quad-service Equality and Diversity Advisor, I have to say that this is supposed to be true for all military and civil service settings) such that nicknames are taboo and drawing attention to any personal, physical or other discernible characteristic is a 'no no'. That said, when on a course with a number of dog-collars, I ended up with the label 'Dutch' to identity me from 'Scots Chaplain' and 'tall chaplain' (the other was just called 'chaplain'). Was I offended? No! But some are sensitive and so even though it added an element of sun to the proceedings, technically it was wrong!

I have mixed feelings about the Body Shop posters which speak of the ridiculous figures on some of the children's dolls, the 'ideal' (yet generally impossible) 'perfect woman as seen by those on the catwalks and points out that few women are built like them. I like the campaigns that call for 'real women' to be models as should it work I might find myself less burdened by women who struggle over they way they look (Size eight is enormous - just look at . . . .). My problem is that although the point being made is valid, the image it presents is one that surely makes the female figure a sex-object and therefore wins a point and yet loses one (or even two) in the doing so!

At the end of the day, it is clever advertising because everyone will stop and look at it. Most will agree but in doing so, are we not perhaps just creating a new stereotype rather than applauding a point?

I think there is much dialogue to be had over this whole issue, for their is a marked degree of immaturity and misunderstanding, personal hangup and very conditional assessment involved. For some it will set them free, for others it will increase their bondage - but that's life (I hear you say), so why do I have a slight feeling of unease?


Monday, 6 June 2011

More Christianity, less religion!

So often I come to the conclusion that former CGS (Chief of General Staff, ie. the head of the Army) Lord Dannatt's view of Northern Ireland as a young officer serving there applies also to the Church of England in particular and Church in general.

The observation is that there was, "A great deal of religion but not much Christianity!"

Speaking of the fact that I don't consider homosexuality to be 'the' one defining issue I was made aware that that wasn't enough and that the whole point had to be pushed until the issue was not just accepted but approved of as the 'norm'. Not only that but the ground had to be taken such that those who opposed the practice of homosexuality as a Christian lifestyle were removed rather than merely 'pushed back'. The (proclaimed) goal is 'tolerance' but the objective is (in reality) conquest and the tactics appear to be the very same as employed in 1935 by a nation not that far from these shores!

First you mock them, adding a little dehumanisation and a sprinkling of ad hominem such that the general populace ridicule and speak out against them. Continue by spreading lies and misrepresentations so that passions and opinions (especially in these days of natural justice, PR and equality) are stirred up. Then remove the culprits (for we all know who they are, they just don't were 'jude' badges these days) and make the world a better place.

It works for 'homophobes', i.e. those for whom there is no 'fear' only a feeling that being actively homosexual crosses the line in terms of Bible, tradition and reason (AKA 'orthodox').

It works for 'misogynists', i.e. Those who don't 'hate women' but feel that there is a difference between male and female and perhaps (in some cases) are being faithful to the Church view that they joined with.

The problem is that we cannot merely speak of being enlightened and point to our being 'more intelligent' than the early Church (isn't that what we perhaps do with anabaptism?) or more understanding of the texts (surely those who wrote them were aware of the power and import of their words?).

I am aware that there are those who seek to justify their contraventions of Biblical entreaties and commands by reinvention, revision or merely discarding of that which opposes their chosen actions and behaviours (note. You can be made anything you like, that isn't a choice - but how you live it out is, always, a choice.). I do care about the fact that we all make ourselves right so we may do what is wrong before God and thus condemn ourselves, and those who follow us and this skewed and wrong teachings, to exist outside of that which God demands.

Alas for you lawyers and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
Taking and making your converts twice as fit for hell as you are!
But blessed are those who hear God's commandments and keep them.
But if you deny God and teach error,
How do you think you will escape the time of trial?
How do you think cursing speaks of a God of love?
Or lies bear witness to a God of truth?
Religion is man's ultimate rebellion against God (or so Marx said),
Christianity is God's ultimate rebellion against sin!
I'd rather face the anger of sinners than have to explain why I was silent before them,
How I failed to speak against their sinful actions to God on the final day.
How about you?


Sunday, 5 June 2011

For or Against?

That was the question posed to the religious type in the latest 'Pirates of the Caribbean'.

The response was that he was neither for or against the pirates. "Can he do that," asked another of the crew, "Of course he can, he's religious!" was the response!

As the pirates approached the water of life, the Spaniards arrived, not to drink of the waters of eternal life but to destroy it. "Eternal life is a gift from the Lord alone," they cried. Oh how we cheered. Sadly though, the 'Christian' hero ends up going off with a mermaid and seeks his salvation in the arms of some fishy woman (not the first Christian to do that I assume) but it makes you (well, me) think about how Christians are portrayed.

One of the big problems with being a Christian is that we appear to have a few distinct groups, each with their own problems and each causing problems because of their views and attitudes.

Neither for or against brigade
These are the luke warm, pain in the butt, the meek shall inherit the earth types who look at everything and avoid making an assessment. Because they dare not speak out in case they offend, we find that they are used to endorse the behaviour and attitudes that the Bible speaks against. They assume that because they haven't said 'yes' that they are not in league with the naughty people and yet because they haven't said 'no' they are not in conflict with them either. A passive middle road that speaks of being Christian and well thought of by all.

The everything (except what I believe) is wrong brigade
Now, just in case you think that these are made up of the 'I'm an orthodox (or Mainstream) Christian, get out of here" types, you are wrong for this group also holds the "I'm a liberal (or revisionist) get out of here" types too!

These are the people who decide that they are the only people with any warrant to exist within the Church and that everyone else has to go - no discussion, no dialogue (indaba what?). They are so taken up with the infighting and factions that they ignore the evangelistic mission of the Church to the secular world. they're not seeking to change the world, they merely want the world to be as they want it to be and tolerate no other opinion.

The 'everybody's friend' brigade
These are the people who, in my opinion, are turning the Church into the world. They seek to be popular and so at their hands the Church adopts everything that the world sees as acceptable in the hope that it will attract some of those formerly excluded by the Church. The problem is that the Church is called to be (as were the Jews) 'counter cultural'. Our religious book (AKA the Bible) and or teachings (AKA traditions) demand from us certain behaviour and attitudes and because these aren't popular with those outside (because it calls upon them to act in ways that they choose not to) we merely 'revise' what being Christian is to allow them to wear a label that effectively means nothing.

I do try to be everybody's friend, but I am also aware that I have a duty to speak out when I see something that is wrong in terms of the Christian teachings as they have been for a couple of thousand years. I understand the patristic errors and know about the organisational errors handed down by the RC plc element that ran the show before we were CofE and understand the reasons people developed, practiced and continue to research what christian is. But at the end of the day it boils down to this:

Jesus dies for each of us, by name, personally, individually,

We are called to put off those things which deny Christ and which cause us to do wrong stuff (that's called 'sin')

we are called to lead others into knowledge and relationship with Christ so that we might be one with the Father, enabled by the Spirit.

We are called to warn and correct those who are caught up in sin (gently) so that we don't become sin in doing it.

Neither for or against - don't think we can live with that as a mantra, do you?


Saturday, 4 June 2011

Wordification of the UK

I was appalled at the person who wittered on about the 'pornification' of the UK with the opening of a new Bunny club in London's Park Lane. Now as much as I'm not into Bunnys (although I think those one of our Wardens had are cute) I think the language abuse the woman railing against them exhibited was more concern-making!

Not since I struggled with the moronic language abuse that was 'gayification' have I been so appalled. Why, oh why, do people feel that they can take such liberties with our language, especially when they're British? After all, even though I don't like it, I do understand that Americans, not having English as their first language, feel they have the right to be creatively grammatically (and etymologically and linguistically) wrong as part of their culture (think that's the right word).

Wasn't my 'funnest' experience, that's for sure!


Mountains, skimmining stones and

A sunny day, shared with people you love. It doesn't get any better than that, or so it seems as I lay on my bed and reflect on a superb week away.

Whist half the group tamed Snowdon (up the Pyg - down the Miner's) I took the option of slate museum and skimming slate on a shady pool. Watching our children play, the dogs swim and a friend clicking away with their camera I reflected on how lucky I was that the memories we live were so good.

It seems so sad that so many people I meet live in the 'then' rather than the 'now' and yet don't take advantage of the 'then' when it was then! We are so poor at seizing the day, rushing towards planned days in the distance, setting up retirements and things in the future and missing the sights and scenes before us now (and sometimes dying before the 'then' is ever reached!). We live for the promise of the future and fail to live in the splendour of god's provision for us today.

We (I) need to put the work, the things that distract us from celebrating the 'now' aside and grasp what we have, for soon the children will be grandchildren, the packing will be easier and less (just the two of us) and the regrets many.

Seize the day - live in the things before us rather than in the plans of thing that might be (or might not). Live each day as if it is your last and it will not matter if it is, you will have lived it well before God and man (wise words from a wise man who did just that).

Carpe Diem