Tuesday, 30 August 2011

On being an Apologist

Being an Apologist means never having to say 'sorry' I don't have an answer!

The opening words of a lecture I attended many years back remain with me as challenge and reassurance. An 'apology' (Gk. 'apologia') is to give an answer or defence for who we are or what we believe. It's not an excuse but a determined, reasoned, 'in your face' resonse to the questions put to us. It's the active demonstration of an active and determined Christian life.

1 Peter 3 instructs us thus:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

There we are, a simple instruction. When someone asks, we are to be ready with an answer. This doesn't mean we need to be able to spout Greek or Hebrew, quote great theologians or engage in deep dialogue but that we need to be ready with a life that answers the questions.

Too often do I encounter people who tell me they can't share their faith. Can't tell people about God or stand up in a pulpit - but this isn't what we are called to do, so stop the panicking and chill out man (it's what us young and trendy clergy say ;) ). What God asks each of us to do is to be a witness to His love and that's merely about who we are because of who He is.

Remember who you were before you came to faith?
Remember the things that once drove and controlled you?
Know what is important in your life now?
Know how you've changed and how God touches you?

If you can answer 'yes' then you're already on the way to being the Apologist you are called to be.

The early believers learned a 'Jesus in a nutshell' explanation for those who asked - they used it alongside their own witness. It spoke of God's love, prophets, the cross, resurrection and the Christ. It was (and is) called the Kerygma (ker ug ma) and if we make one of our own then we have the Bible to go with the life witness that is us.

Let's have a go at it this week, eh?


Monday, 29 August 2011

New Missal - second thoughts?

Actually - no!

Met an old couple who attend the local RC franchise and guess what? They weren't bothered by the changes either!

Mind you, rather reassuringly, it does seem that there is opposition from some quarters over the changes. Phew!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Football in a nutshell

A great definition of football which applies equally well to Church:

"football - a game with twenty-two men in need of a rest watched by sixty-eight thousand in need of exercise!"


New Roman Missal - A Catholic BCP?

"I pray that the change will serve as a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world"
Pope Benedict XVI

With these words the new Missal is launched, but it's a long way from the Common Worship of the Church of England for the changes are interesting and light. Some would say theological in fact!

No longer is it 'we' but 'I' when it comes to belief and the subtle changes from 'seen and unseen' to 'visible and invisible' or the subtle change so that Jesus is 'consubtanstial' with the Father rather than 'of one substance with the Father'. Good attempts to change words to make them as they were even if I'm not that sure about some of them.

Now, having had some discussions with a few RC members I was overjoyed to hear that, in the main, the membership is just shrugging and getting on with it. What a great change from the BCP vs the rest lobby that often crops up to scar and divide in the Anglican setting. Just seems, from time-to-time, the Candles get it right with their attitudes and pronouncements in ways that we Anglicans just don't. Mind you, I assume that there will be a faction forming somewhere (Sons of pre-Vatican II?) because of course, there always is!

Their Boss speaks out on things that need speaking out on rather than giving advice to finance houses and engaging in complex witterings about subjects that leave people wondering why the Church doesn't speak out on things that it should (like social, moral and other issues).

Their membership just get on and get on. I'm sure they mumble, mutter and moan behind the scenes, but they are often a more cohesive group than many of the churches, fellowships and weird little gatherings that exist outside.

So, a prize for Bennie and his boys and girls today - doesn't mean I want to swim the Tiber (enough hypocrites, double-talk merchants and funny people already there, don't need me to add my own brand of error to the pile) but it does mean that I recognise a good effort and give praise where it's due.

Mind you, whilst I understand they're trying to get back to the early Church in their liturgy, I'm not sure about the binding the new Missal comes in:


Saturday, 27 August 2011

Teaching our children - People vs Possessions

I have received a missive from someone who describes themselves as an educator who takes offence at what I have written. Have a read (seems I might have touched a nerve):

"The role of education is to equip our young people to be effective and productive members of society. The education process teaches them how to indeed maximise their income and make themselves attractive to the employers, what else should it do? Your bleeding heart, sugar-coated, unreal words suggest that you are yourself little more than someone with little real experience of the world of men or of work. As a career teacher I have taught for over thirty-five years and have seen my students enter well-paid and successful careers because of that which I have instilled in them.

We seek to produce people who can demand the highest salaries and command the highest positions. This is what education is about, not the 'be happy and make a difference fluffiness you preach. Good job you are a priest, you can do little damage there."

Some interesting points arise from this communication. Some are, I fear, far from the the reality of my work life and some of my correspondent's comments rely strongly upon assumptions made from their own life which I suspect is a life lived outside of the real, working, world.

Now before my teaching friends reach for shotguns and hounds, please understand that I am not saying that being a teacher isn't work, for it most certainly is (and very challenging  and rewarding work too), but I am saying that it is not the world of work the majority of those in work experience and that the parameters from within which conclusions are drawn are not the 'real' world.

So, let's address the issues and see what this brings forth:

The role of education - is surely to 'educate. Simples? Education is the art of imparting the skills, knowledge, customs, values and beliefs of the society in which the pupil finds themselves. It opens the eyes, encourages questions and brings forth answers that the student can make their own in such a way as they can develop their passions, practice the things they enjoy and maximise their potential to be creative, scientific, linguistically-enabled or any other art, craft or science that makes them who they are.

I recall in one of the Lawrence books Ursula Brangwen sees cruelty in a botany lesson for it makes the children aware of something that will never be open to them in their drab mill-worker's lives. Their being aware of stamen and the biology of the plant is a door to a world they now know of and yet will never be part of. The education she sees in the closely knit rows of back-to-back worker's cottages is that which trains the children to respond to the alarms for the start and close of work and for meal breaks. It teaches enough to generate the drones of the Industrial age and leaves nothing of the person developed or revealed. This is surely:

Education that teaches maximised income and attracts employers - The blue collar drones who once laboured in out dark satanic mills and grimy, unsafe mines, factories and industrial places. The underclass who were not taught to think but merely be obedient and submissive. The very people who (generally) no longer exist in today's society. To think as my correspondent does is to think with the mindset of the post-war, Daily Mail, dinosaur rather than as an effective or realistic educator. I would rather have Neill's 'Summerhill' than this glimpse of days (thankfully) long gone.

That said, I'm not sure whether this person is a teacher of the elite or the proletariat but I'm assuming that this person is turning out 'haves' rather than the 'have nots'. In seeking to produce 'people who can demand the highest salaries and command the highest positions' I fear that they might be breeding those among us who have found that they can live their miserable lives miserably in comfort and plenty. This, is as I understand it not at all what education is about and without those who are 'happy and make a difference' the world we live would be even sadder than that which such'educators as this correspondent seek to create (for surely this is hell rather than heaven).

"I can but end with a rejoinder to the comment, "Good job you are a priest, you can do little damage there."

What a sadness you are an educator, for you do untold damage!

Good job I'm a priest isn't it? Someone needs to remedy the errors and antisocial outworkings of educators such are portrayed here;)

Then when you get your converts you make them twice as fit for hell as you are yourselves perhaps?


Friday, 26 August 2011

Ideals are great when you're young

Speaking to someone about what you in life and how you regard study I was drawn back to a conversation with a passionate young ecologist whose dream was to go to university and then get out and change the world. As time progressed and the 'A' Levels  came onto the horizon the passion remained.

Off to university and they studied stuff in the first year that would enable them to live their dream and to become the difference.  Then came a second year and there's talk of the 'milk train' coming to town and opportunities to be taken up by KPMG, Andersen's and other big and important management and financial organisations. By the beginning of the third year every conversation came to harbour in a bay marked £kkk and the potential for earning should they get a first or a 2:1.

Foolishly I asked what had happened to the earlier passion for ecology and green things and received my comeuppance! "The only reason to go to university is to maximise earning potential and expand the opportunities within the marketplace. The better the grades the more chance there is of being given an internship," (where you work your 'nads off only to find that the successful person is a relative of the CEO or some other incestuously related worthy - my addition).

Should we really be teaching our kids that education is all about 'earning potential' and maximizing things? I don't give a monkey's what our children do as long as they are happy doing it and derive some pleasure from making a difference in the world around them as they do it. But I do detest schoolteachers who spout tosh about education and earnings and academics who remain within their shiny white towers gazing up their behindsides whilst promoting education as a means for making money (which of course they do, but that's for another day children).

When I was helping long-term unemployed back into world (Note for 'back to' anywhere or anything people - you need to have been there to be going back - a thought for thoughtful evangelism?) I was telling people how the Institute for manpower Studies would point to five distinct careers between first and last job. We would be given reports that showed how we were going to go where sent, when we were sent, in order to bring home a wage - so the idea hit me; Why not do something you might enjoy?

It worked (Rick are you still a sport's reporter?) because people realised that when you have nothing before you then anything is worth having and if it is what you want, how much better can that be?

If we did education for money and maximising potential then who would rescue people from fires, preach to the lost, heal the sick, stand with the broken and change our ecological thinking?

If you have a dream or an ambition or a hope or a wish and you're unemployed, then what the hell have you got to lose? Go learn that subject, write that book, visit that place or be the person you want to be - after all, if you have little what is there to lose and how much more is there to gain?

If you have a dream, then pursue it - I'm sick and tired of deathbed revelations that the dyee always wanted to be something or other but their Mother wouldn't let them. We have but one life here (and then hebrews tells us we die and then we get judged) so why don't we stop living for the man and live with the Man (God) and find ourselves in Him and us in our realised dreams and ambitions.

God didn't make us to make money - He made us to touch each other, care for ALL of HIS creation and to be happy (within His laws, sorry - not a caveat to behave as you'd like outside of His will).



Thursday, 25 August 2011

Top Ten Edinburgh Fringe Jokes

1) Nick Helm: 
"I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."
2) Tim Vine:
"Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels."
3) Hannibal Buress:
"People say 'I'm taking it one day at a time'. You know what? So is everybody. That's how time works."
4) Tim Key: 
"Drive-Thru McDonalds was more expensive than I thought... once you've hired the car..."
5) Matt Kirshen: 
"I was playing chess with my friend and he said, 'Let's make this interesting'. So we stopped playing chess."
6) Sarah Millican:
"My mother told me, you don't have to put anything in your mouth you don't want to. Then she made me eat broccoli, which felt like double standards."
7) Alan Sharp: 
"I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure."
8) Mark Watson:
"Someone asked me recently - what would I rather give up, food or sex. Neither! I'm not falling for that one again, wife."
9) Andrew Lawrence: 
"I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can't even be bothered to check my OWN voicemails."
10) DeAnne Smith: 
"My friend died doing what he loved ... Heroin."

Don't Twitter - Follow

Rather funny and extremely apt for so many of us on the path!


ps. Rather liked this version too!

Wish you were here?

No - glad you've gone!

Outside of Christian faith, football is one of my defining passions. Football in general and Arsenal FC in particular. It keeps me entertained, makes me smile, gets me passionate (wife moves kids out of room!!) and never fails to appall me with the greed, cheating, duplicitous goings-on and the lack of loyalty.

I made my first communion at the Highbury home of the Gunners at about the same time I started primary education and grew upon a world where you supported your local team (that's why cousins support Spurs) and the players also tended to have supported the club because many were 'local lads'. There were people like Charlie George who supported, played and continue to work for the club or Pat Rice (parents had veg shop yards from the stadium) who played and then became part of the coaching staff.

Then we had players who came in to the club from other places, even Tottenham, and became heroes. The cost of players rose and contracts began to mean nothing, thanks to a jouneyman player's legal ruling, and now we see loyalty meaning nothing and clubs that were supportive and were once home are dissed and acted against by those Who once wore their shirt. They unsettle players 'tapping them up' (meaning they encourage them to transfer) and act negatively against former clubs.

Oddly, the same things can be found in the Church too! Someone leaves for a new church and they start to make snide or silly comments. They start to point out how well they are doing in the new place and allude to the ills that caused them to go (members, minister, music and the like) and send postcards from the promised land.

Where I am, we are fortunate to have lost few members over the years and have upset a few who wanted to come because my position is that they are welcome if they come with the full knowledge of their minister or pastor and leave with blessing. Not a popular policy with those who want to come, usually sees them go to other (less particular) places.

Now I am sure that this is a contentious or perhaps inflammatory statement but here goes. As painful it has been with people I have known leaving church for somewhere else I can honestly say how grateful I am that they went. Hindsight shows me that generally their going was a bigger blessing to those who were left than the curse some leaving hoped for! Mind you, where I have been a minister I have also sought to send those leaving with a blessing because this is the right way to do it. I was told that those who refuse a blessing (on either side) are more often than not the curse - now there's some food for thought for both sides.

So when we leave a place, leave as a blessing with a blessing.

When people leave us with a curse, be the blessing.

When people leave us with pain, use that pain act as a mirror in which we can see the pain of Christ and follow His footsteps rather than Satan's.


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

God - respecting choice

Following my thoughts about grace I have been asked how I could worship a God who chooses to let more than half of the people perish and still consider this God to be a God of love. Jesus isn't the 'Saviour of the world', He's merely the saviour of some and condemns the rest! How can a God of love exclude Ghandi, the Dali Lama and others whose lives have touched nations and changed the path of history?

Let's try and look at this logically. God is a God of love and is, through the one atoning act of the cross, the Saviour of all. This is the reality and just as some choose to ignore the reality of their birthright by walking away from their family, some choose to walk away from this salvation. Both family and salvation remain as realities but the choice is made to live outside of them and so whilst it (family and salvation) continues to exist, it is not the day-to-day reality for them.

Now, as to the question,"How can a God of love not include Ghandi?" the answer is simple, God didn't exclude Ghandi, but Ghandi choose not to be in the family photograph but choose for himself a different existence. One that was separate from God and having done so made the choice. If God was then to force him to be part of the family later then He would neither be respecting that choice or leaving us to the wonderful reality that is freewill.

A friend of mine had a child who decided to leave home and live their life their own way. They told the family that they wanted nothing to do with them and whenever they were approached by either of the parents, complained that they didn't respect the child's choices. Whenever this happened, people would agree that the parents were being unreasonable and mutter against them.

That said, every now and again the same child would present demands for money or representation to settle debts or keep them from prison. Whenever they did this other people would point out how they (the parents) were being used and how they were being stupid. Eventually the situation arose when, after an expensive episode with the, now quite adult, child the parents asked whether they would come to a family celebration. The child responded by reiterating their contempt for the family and sadly these were their final words on the matter as, very sadly, they died a few weeks later.

They never stopped being loved but chose to live their own life outside of that love, even though they used it to their own advantage on a number of occasions, but in the end they died outside of that reality. The love never went away but they lived outside it and the family had to respect that choice. Ghandi made the same choices and God, being a God of love and giving freewill, respected that then and continues to even when the final day arrives! To drag Ghandi into the family he chose not to be part of when alive would be to deny his choices and would remove any respect got his choices and deny freewill.

As for the Dali Lama, think he has a god of his own making and a philosophy of his own that says his choices are elsewhere.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Amazing (or selective) Grace

An American psychologist tried an experiment which saw him standing in a prominent place handing out money as a proclaimed 'free gift'. As people passed by they were offered a crisp new banknote with the message that it was free. Interestingly, few took the proffered offering!

Now whilst some were surprised by the response and the low take up of the money, I have to say that I wasn't and for a number of reasons:

1. Distrust - our natural cynicism leads us to doubt things on the grounds that it 'looks too good to be true'.

2. Distrust - who would offer something of value for free?

3. Distrust - who is this person giving out money? An unknown person with unknown motives - sounds like an invitation to a time share presentation or a starring role on 'Candid Camera'.

4. Distrust - if I grab the money it will make a statement about me. It will say I am needy, or greedy, or one of a number of things that present me in a negative light.

Although I could go on I'll stop at just four reasons, although of course there are many more, and parallel this with salvation and grace.

I am repeatedly on the end of a discussion which ends up with me being told that how it is so very wrong that anyone could have a God, especially a 'God of love', who would deliberately create everyone knowing in advance that more than half of us would end up in eternal punishment.

To this point I would like to respond by taking the example of the psychologist with which we began as a parallel with this salvation issue. The money was offered to all and yet only some chose to take it. The reasons for not taking the offer differed but the results fell into a number of distinct groups, the two main classifications being:

a. They accepted the gift, and
b. They rejected the gift.

There were subsets, those who wanted to see if it was still on offer the next day or wanted to think about it, some wanted to see what happened to others who took the banknote and perhaps dialogue with them to see what they had and why they had it.

The parallels are obvious and so I will let you dialogue internally (and hopefully externally too) on this concept of amazing grace and selective acceptance and leave you with some questions to ponder;

Where are you with this - is the gift yours?

Where are those you love - accepted or caught in distrust or lost in self?

What about those in your workplace, on the bus, train or tube?

The offer of the gift will last but being finite we won't!


Monday, 22 August 2011

Natural Justice

During a family visit yesterday my neice, a student, told a story of one of her student friends who had gone down to London to house sit for relatives and enjoy the capital in one and the same act.

The family had an old dog that was obviously on its last legs and so the family gave the girl the address of a vet should the inevitable happen before they returned. Sure enough, a few days into the stay the dog died. Looking at the Vet's card she realises that the surgery is a few stops along the underground and so, being resourceful, she comes up with a plan to put the dead dog into a suitcase and take it to the Vet.

All goes well with the journey and soon she manages to lug the case off the train and head towards the exit and the dead dog's final escalator ride when a young bloke offers to help her with her load. Taking the case he escorts her towards the escalator and engages her in conversation about her case. Not wishing to use the, "I've got a dead dog in the case," line, she tells him she's a student and the bag contains her clothes, laptop and stuff.

Nearing the top her hero races off with the suitcase and vanishes leaving the hapless heroine alone at the top of the escalator, sans case and dog - neither of which were ever seen again!

Well made me smile.


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Israel, Egypt and the Lectionary

 So the new ruler of Egypt looked at Israel and saw in them a threat and decide to act against them before they became a threat. Of course this account tells of the increase of the Jews, the end of Joseph's era and the birth, and adoption, of Moses. But how interesting it is that on a day when the news focuses upon the rift between Egypt and Israel that we find this account.

Surely we must pray for Israel that God would indeed set His people free:
Free from the knee-jerk responses that see innocents killed,
Free from the secular state that causes so many good people to support what God surely couldn't,
Free to be a nation, not individuals within it who keep God's Laws and honour Him with their lips and their lives.

Psalm 124
If the LORD had not been on our side, let Israel now say;
If the LORD had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us;
Then would they have swallowed us up alive in their fierce anger toward us;
Then would the waters have overwhelmed us and the torrent gone over us;
Then would the raging waters have gone right over us.
Blessed be the LORD! he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Paul tells us:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Once again we are called to live counter-culturally. Not an excuse to keep to old ways but to live in different ways to the world in which we find ourselves and if this is true for us, how true is it for the jews, those for whom the covenant was first made?

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

And may we rejoice in the different gifts, abilities and callings that are before us. May we refrain from ad hominem, name-calling and seek the image of the God made man, Jesus, in one another. For we know who he is and live because of His love and His atoning act upon the cross. For he is indeed, as Peter rightly says, "The Christ, the Messiah, the son of the living God'.

"When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah."


Exodus 1:8-2:10
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Red Arrows - sad loss

Sadly it appears that 'Red Four' of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (aka Red Arrows), thirty-three year old Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging lost his life doing what the Arrows do best, entertaining people as part of one of the best aerobatics team in the world.

Whilst we await the official verdict on the incident our prayers should be with Jon's family and friends, the members of the Team, his wider service family and those who knew him from his days as a Cadet with 2028 (Southam) Sqn Air Training Corps.

Doubtless the old cliché 'dying doing what he loved' will no doubt be bandied about by the press but aviation is, it seems, a clichéd world for it will surely be true!

Early reports seem to indicate he acted to preserve the lives of others at the expense of his own! An heroic act from one of this nation's finest.

Dona eis requiem

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,
and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of

Wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hov'ring there, I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, where never lark or even eagle flew
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Friday, 19 August 2011

Putney (I've been asked)

This story related to a certain wonderful Anglican building in Putney it became obvious that the building needed a few changes to make it more user-friendly. So the PCC decided to apply for a faculty to do the works. A notice was placed in the porch outlining the intended changes and eventually no faculty was issued because of the complaints from members of the local Victorian, William Morris or some other Society!

One of the members of the offending society visited the building and explained that we were effectively 'guests' in a building that was a monument to William Morris I explained that I thought she was confusing the church building with Kelmscott or Walthamstow and that what she stood in was a container for the people of God. Further discussion revealed this person's contempt for Christianity and her opinion that because she could afford a house near to the building she, and her fellow society members had a right to, "Keep things as they should be!"

I recall being appalled that a bunch of apparently educated, moderately well off (she was a little unchuffed when I called her 'aspiring working class') people can damage the work of a church. I did ask whether the society would like to take on the running and maintenance costs of the building as they held it so dear but apparently it wasn't that dear!!!

The curse of church being limited by so called intelligent morons who appreciate everything except that which they choose not too (especially when it is Church) - mind you my Putney experience was some twenty years ago and was perhaps an averaging rather than the norm. Then again I expect the Putney effect lives on in other places. Makes me glad we occupy a building built some twenty-five years ago :)


Thursday, 18 August 2011

Church - choices and consumerism!

It seems that choice, rights and all the hallmarks of the consumer world we inhabit shape what church is and how we do it (and select it too!).

We go to a church because we like the way they play music and yet in doing so ignore the quality of the teaching, the theological truths and the essential tenets. We swing from Anglican to Baptist because they have better coffee and by so doing move from paedobaptism to anabaptism. We move from Pentecostal to Anglican because of the teaching and suddenly we're into proper liturgy (should start a fight ;) )!

We make our consumer choices without realising the theological and spiritual statements we make.

We make decisions about what our churches should be - we decide that pews restrict the use and then struggle to move or do anything because of the stacked chairs (we always forget to have a room to store stuff!). We speak of open, fluid spaces, which allow us to do so much and then put the chairs out in the same way the pews were.

People outside dictate how our buildings should be (ask me about Putney some time) and others (within) fight to keep us in the nineteenth century whilst more seek to remove the (vital) organ and strangle the choir so they can have trite, naff, rainbow guitar strapped morons, "Making the church 'contemporary' and 'accessible'!"

Valid church is vital church that belongs to the universal Church. It doesn't exist to support our rights, tickle our ears, or do it the 'right' way. It doesn't look to bring people back but to take Christ out to those who are distant, often for the first time!

So - stop telling me what you want or need and start thinking about how you can use what you have where you are - and remember if you make your choice and leave for another happy home to be generous, after a it will be a blessing for some and a curse for others (and not always the way you might think!! ;) )


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

'lucky church'

If anything is destined to light the blue touchpaper with me it us those people who tell me we are a 'lucky' church!

Recently, I was given a lecture from a couple of local church members telling me how 'lucky' we were to have children on our services when they had none. Not only that but we were also 'lucky' to be growing and having new members and were even 'more lucky' to have so many people working and doing stuff in our church. Apparently everything that is happening to others around them is the result of nothing more than 'luck' - which explains it all I guess.

Sadly, the application of facts tends to pull down the 'lucky' label because:

1. When we started out the only children in church were ours!

2. The people who have joined us have done so because of a number of reasons, which include community involvement and contact, a gobby dogcollar and the church building being the focal point for much that happens in our patch.

3. Percentage-wise we have a large number of our members who are active. The services regularly involves a number of people and there are usually at least six voices heard in the services. But of course when you are running with an ASA of forty something, even 100% involvement is always less than fifty!

The church the 'unlucky' observers came from boasts perhaps twice the number of helpers we have (but of course that's a lower percentage). It also has an ageing congregation and a bag of excuses for not growing or attracting the young. It has a greater passing trade in young people and greater potential for much - but it is still a church in decline.

Seems there are some who are ridiculously optimistic when it comes to growth and mission. They expect God to bless and fill where the congregation fails to act.

There are others who see the game as lost and cling in holy huddles to the days when people queued to get in to Evensnog. They sit within their empty mausoleum and reflect on how the 'Spirit has left' and merely wait for God (getting more forlorn and vitriolic as time (and members) pads away.

Then there are those who work to understand their patch, struggle with Mission Action Plans, engage with the community and seek to bless what God is doing rather than wait for people to return to where they've never been.

When I became a Christian I was told that we 'didn't do luck, but did mission, obedience and love', perhaps that's the key?


ps. For those who know where home is, don't assume you know the church in question - you might just be wrong!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Breastfeeding and Church

Following my previous post on this this topic I have received the following comments (I have decided to use initial only, even though they gave their names):

L: "Preparing to feed our 2 month old I was 'invited' to use the ladies' toilet to save the
Embarrassment of those around me. When I got there it was a room with a loo and a sink! I retreated to the car and fed there before leaving. Our family of four hasn't been back."

J: "When I was feeding our youngest after a service the Vicar came and asked whether we were warm enough. He also made sure someone brought me a cup of tea (and choccie biscuits) and treated it all as if it was an everyday occurence. This was a deciding factor in our remaining in that church. That said, I have experienced people who tutted and made a fuss. Perhaps that was why they were full of old folk who wondered why their church was empty and dying."

I find it sad that some twenty years on Church still appears to be variable on this issue. Personally, I don't have a problem with it and have never found those who do breadtfeed to be anything other than discrete and the whole thing to be rather beautiful and right.

I am not that much in favour of baby or bteastfeeding rooms as they tend to isolate or exclude the very people who need to be included (having had four children I know how isolated young families (especially Mums) can be - and midweek groups are no substitute for Sunday services.


Thanks to L & J

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Ordinariate - dodgy dealings?

It wasn't that long ago a certain Anglican organisation voted to give a large sum to the Ordinariate causing a fair degree of (rightly placed) criticism. Seems that another dose of inordinate dodginess is to be found within the dealings of a PCC which gave their ordinariate bound dog-collar a £3k 'leaving gift' and then resigned their memberships to follow him!!

I continue to be amazed (and depressed) at the degree of duplicity and dodginess of many who have left for the Elysian fields of Rome. Mind you, perhaps I shouldn't be, seems to be one of their enduring hallmarks :(

Meanwhile, others remain with their integrity and maintain their call ;)


Church and partiality

"The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good!"

The words of Samuel Johnson are, and have been for a long time, something that has challenged and shaped my faith life. So often I have come across Church when it is brown-nosing, cowtowing and pusillanimously, Uriah Heap like, snivelling around those whom society assumes are important. We place 'reserved' labels on our pews and push the plebs to the rear of the church building. We preach sermons which tell our dignitaries that not only are they the 'first citizens' but tell them how God will call them 'good and faithful servants' when the final whistle blows!

Whenever I see the Church showing partiality I think of Johnson's words and those of James 2 (1 - 10):

"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here's a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."

simple stuff - we treat all the same regardless. Isn't that how the grace we claim for ourselves works?


Friday, 12 August 2011

UK Riots

Listened to an interesting news piece on London riots. French expert explained how the British had such a wide division between rich and poor, unlike egalitarian France, and that this was the root of our problems. The French merely rioted as part of the process of exercising their rights!

The American was scared that the break down of law and order would ruin the Olympics and said that in America things would have been dealt with in a more effective way to prevent such things.

The British voice thought that we should look at parenting and visit punishment on parents and the whole family. They took the line, "If we hurt them all they will police their own!"

The politician pointed to our 'Dunkirk spirit' and applauded the nation for its response with 'tea, sympathy and brooms'

Seems that's it sorted them!!!


Thursday, 11 August 2011

UK Riots - not bookish sorts

I was quite surprised by one of the BBC's accounts of the looting of shops in that, 'Looters cleared the stock of Currys, Claire's Accessories & Phones4U, nearby Waterstone's was left 'without a scratch'!"

Seems that earrings, mobiles, White goods and electronic consumer goods define those who seek to engage in out of hours shopping (AKA looting). So it seems that the assessments of the experts in that those who are doing the stealing are an educated and marginalised unemployed bunch of the poorest in our nation. So, taking into account the views of others:

• if we remove those who are caught from social housing, remove their housing benefits and take away all and any other benefits they might receive - how fo we address the issues of this underclass?

• if they have nowhere to live and no income, how will they get the money to live other than by theft (for they will become untouchables and uneanted) and do the response fuels the very acts that we condn.

• what lessons will the children of the new underclass learn? Having seen the way other
marginalised groups (taking as a 'for example' the case of Tinker/Traveller families) are received and the way they live within communities, it seems that neither side will see anything that enhances, or remedies, the situation!

This is not about underclasses but about thriving classes and we need some joined up, literate and balanced responses, notify 'flogging, jailing, or whatever'



Been thinking and praying things through and wonder how we touch those who engage in rioting and other anti-social acts both on terms of punishment and Christian endeavour?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The 'fog of war'

Whilst touring the English Civil War battlefield site of Naseby last week I was intrigued by the origin of the term 'fog of war' and how it was ascribed to the powder smoke of the many muskets drifting across the field of combat. The smoke obscured much and added greatly to the confusion such that the whole outcome of engagements could be changed.

This seems to be a key factor in the battles we wage within Christian circles too!

Recently I have been engaged in dialogue over a few issues where (other) people have been led into positions of confusion by the smoke that is ad hominem, foggy and clouded thinking and tricks of the light (or should that be 'dark'?).

When we consider issues, we need to do so openly. We need to be honest about the spin we put on things, the straw men we bring to the party and our reasons for thinking as we do (and for trying to sell our position to others too!).

Seems to me that wanting things to be as we would like them to be is neither theologically or even logically sound. That revisiting the issues that challenge our desires with a view to rewriting them in our favour is enough fog to hand the skirmish and, for some, the battle over to the enemy.

Out in the open, clearly seen, not in the shadows or amidst the fog - that is the Christian way.


Sunday, 7 August 2011

Mental health - the Church

David Keen's words stayed with me yesterday as I toured the battlefield sites of Naseby. The need for a place where acceptance. Words echoing the need for a place where safety is the reality and mental-illness is regarded as something that happens to many and yet the retain their humanity, their person (even when it is clouded), God's love and find people who go the extra-mile.

I've written of the offers we've made to made our premises available to groups who are being closed because of funding and contracting estate issues but to be honest, nothing has happened - and I've been happy to let this occur (I could say too busy but if it was important I would surely have done more to make it happen?).

Where I am I am surrounded by many mental health issues and realise that unless we strive to be the difference things will never change. The road to hell (not Hull, that's the A666?) is indeed paved with good intentions.

But as for actions?

I'm committed to starting a town-wide group of people who will work with the mentally ill in our town and will combine the Street Pastors meeting in September with part two relating to mental health.

If you're in our town and want to get involved in either project - watch this space.

And if you're not - challenge me in three months time to see what and how I'm doing.

One of the biggest problems with good ideas is getting others to challenge, encourage and (properly placed) criticism.


Saturday, 6 August 2011

Mental Health - Care?

In what is basically an average day in the life of this dog-collar I found myself getting involved in the heady world of mental health care in a number of interesting ways which took me to a local hospital.

My first interesting incident resulted in the focus receiving some medical attention to remedy the (physical) results of their illness. Whilst we were doing that we were entertained by the patient in a number of ways, culminating in a wonderful shade of pink when the Sister (Nurse Practitioner) was complimented on her 'wonderful breasts'. A comment that brought a sharp intake of breath from everyone else!

The cabaret came in the form of a member of the local performing company (known as the MHU (Mental Health Unit) who had decided that they no longer wished to be part of the company. As they sat smoking a cigarette, one of the management came up and tried to persuade them to return. This invitation brought a torrent of expletive-ridden negatives, accusations and invitations to embark upon a journey of their own (in fine Anglo-Saxon). So effective was the torrent that the focus of it left and returned with the 'Unit Manager', a big guy. They started dragging the reluctant artiste and so I stepped in to try and stop my customer shouting at the assembled, struglling and expletive-ridden, gathering.

Around us people were coming and going and the, soon to be returned to the cast of madness, escapee sat themselves in the floor and cried out for someone to call the police as they were being kidnapped. Having sent my cast member back to the nearest bench, I stopped the circus performance and asked the, still crying out, person whether they would go back if I went with them. They agreed but the 'management' told me that they knew what they were doing and needed no help and proceeded to drag their reluctancy company member back to the unit.

Realising that I could do nothing to bring some sanity and stillness to the madness, and my person being called to see the doctor, I returned to the sanity of the hospital where we were treated to a few songs, poems and that wonderful assessment of the Sister's breasts (she was fantastic, for we both agreed that was a little inappropriate and yet she didn't flinch from discharging her duty with care, compassion and a great deal of tolerance).

Whoever said that being a dog-collar was a boring life?

Whoever said that care and health went together?

It did for part of my experience today, but sadly not all.

Pray for those who work within the circus that is mental health and for those whose lives are but one of many of the performances that make people members of such places.


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Breastfeeding Women and Eclipses

This quote from the Simpson's news anchor, Kent brockman' had me smiling too:

"A solar eclipse is like a woman breast-feeding in a restaurant. It's free, it's beautiful, but under no circumstances should you look at it."

This advice takes me back to the heady days of Kensington Temple when a woman who was sitting at the back discretely breastfeeding her newborn was pounced upon by one of the elder elders. Grabbing her by the hand and pulling her from her seat the previously totally concealed act was made public as the shawl that had surrounded her fell. Until then few were aware that she'd even been feeding the baby because she was so very discrete and the baby was content, but attracted by the noise and the raised voice of the elder they turned to find her breasts exposed and the child screaming (she was wearing dungarees, which didn't help the situation on little bit)

What made the spectacle complete was the fact that the now unsuckled gusher managed to cover the heads (and faces of those who had turned) with a fair helping of lactic products!

Don't think she ever came to the church again ;)

Oh happy daze!

Mrs Beamish

Made me smile

An everyday story of Divine folk

Hello children, are you sitting comfortably?

Got a cup of something hot and some dippy biscuits?

Good, then we'll begin:

Having got out of bed in a good mood one morning and having had a good breakfast (always sets you up, doesn't it?) God decided to act and restore the relationship between him and those he had created (for he is the Father of all). "Time for a bit of salvation," he thought and so Jesus came to earth as one of them (human that is, but still God - confusing or what? But God understood and that's all that matters - isn't it children?).

A simple plan, Jesus would tell them all about how God wanted them to live and then he'd play the master card by destroying the thing that both caused the separation and maintained it. Yep, sin was about to be destroyed. Death, it's penalty was going to be broken and by doing so the people would be free. And so Jesus did exactly that, he died for everyone and when he got home the father threw him a big party with a 'Welcome home Saviour of the world' banner, balloons and Turkish delight (must surely be God's favouritest food)!

Then it struck some of the people that although Jesus was the 'Saviour of the World', not everyone wanted to live the way jesus had taught and before long there were two groups, those who took the bit of paper that told them they were justified (which means in simple language that sin no longer has a hold on us) and those who didn't want to take the paper and live it their way! "We know," they said revelling in their own intelligence, Let's abandon the ticket thing and just tell everyone that they are in regardless of what they believe. That way Jesus will really be the 'Saviour of the world' because everyone will be saved, not just those who take the ticket."

How pleased they were because now everyone was 'in' this meant that everyone was saved and they'd made jesus the 'Saviour of the World' for real. But of course, this meant that they had to removed the 'whosoever believes in Him' bit from the Bible and whilst now there was no hint of being a co-redeemer with jesus, because some said that unless the person said 'yes' salvation ceased to exist then they had a part in the salvific act, there was also no coherent faith life either.

God laughed at that because the people weren't partners in the salvation but were recipients (how they made him laugh at times and cry even more he thought).

Reaching for the kettle he thought to himself, "Oh my, can it get any worse?"

And you know what? It quite probably could.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Universalism - Where I am

Regarding my comment in the last post about how, "You pays your money and makes your choice – don’t say no one told you!" I received the response, "Doesn't sound like very good news to me...!"

The person went on to explain how they'd been led to universalism and that really nicely moves me on from annihilation rather nicely. Those who adhere to universalist views tell me that I have a high Christology and that my views limit God. So what are my views:

God made man to have a relationship with him, walking and conversing with him in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen 3) but man (generic) sinned by disobeying God and thus came separation from God, expulsion from the garden and all the other stuff.

Disobedience brought separation, a finitude to life and so sin (missing the target) became our lot and it marked us out, and led us into despair, from thence onwards. So God engaged in floods, covenants, prophets, miraculous signs (including deliverances) and still man was separate. Whatever humanity did, it never lasted and always fell short of the target (sin again).

So God realising that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness decided to pay the price for sin Himself, with Himself! Enter God incarnate, Jesus (the Christ) who taking upon Himself our sin, personally and individually identifiably, dies on the cross for us so that the debt (tetelestai) is cancelled - paid upon the nail!

Those who accept that Jesus paid this price for them may come and take from His hands the certificate of divorce between us and sin, for we are no longer bound and no longer in relationship. The tie has been broken and we live in that freedom with the father as author, the Son ans the means and the Spirit as enabler. Simples isn't it?

And best of all, this offer is open to all, for in dying Christ secured that freedom for all (see I am a universalist), we just need to recognise, accept and gratefully take the ticket from His hands.

The first response to my views was that the person I was talking to, "Wouldn't want to have a god like that, I don't imagine my god doesn't do that!"

Well, to be honest I have to say that I thought then, and still do, that 'their god' was a god of their own making. They decide that they want a faith where everyone gets into heaven (what's the point of spending eternity with someone you didn't want to spend a temporal life with? Now that's illogical!).

"It doesn't matter what you've believed, what you've done or how you live, God opens the door to all!"

In that case I don't need to engage in evangelism, after all I'm not plundering hell to populate heaven, I'm just moving the markers around a bit. I don't need to live as Christ would have us live, because there's no goats at the end (said he sheepishly!) and eternal punishment was just a typo! Mind you the people I was dialoguing with claim that the Bible was subject to the editor's pen, additions and changes to make religious and political views and never contained half of what it now does and has lost all the bits we'd disagree with!!!

"You have far too high a Christology. Jesus isn't that powerful and doesn't have the ability to pick and choose - everyone ends up in heaven regardless!"

Funny that but my Bible tells me, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world mto condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

So that's the position I occupy on this (in a nutshell)


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Annihilation - Love that ends?

I cannot move away from concept of eternal punishment and this punishment being separation. I understand the position of the universalists (more about them later) who have a Father Christmas like character who permits all to enter because they can’t bear the thought of a God who deals justly with His creation and who extrapolate this to enjoy the accommodation of a God who, if there must be some sort of punishment, gives the sinner 250mls of Euthatol and drops them in the bin (“Don’t worry madam, we gave Tiddles a dignified send-off!”).

I’m sorry people, but it seems that hell, Gehenna - the rubbish tip where the filth and the fires never cease to be, is pretty much something that is in the script. Not as some form of evening the scores or ‘getting pay back’ (as one really dodgy Christian put it), but because that’s what justice is about. Now, I hear some cry, what about grace?

Well grace exists and is there from the moment of cognisance to the moment just before the very last breath (looks like I don’t do predestination either, doesn’t it?) it is there before us. Jesus dies on a cross and sin, losing its power because death no longer works, is defeated – step right up and take a ticket, free and gratis won for you and yours by faith and through grace! If not you don’t just get what you deserve to have (which could still be considered cruel and wicked) but you get what you have made the conscious decision to have. So many people tell me that they have chosen not to ‘do the Christian thing’ but when the final bit comes I bet they wish they hadn’t (and I exclude secondary probabtion too, so there’s no hope once you’ve pegged it) when they get everything they said they wanted! Being zapped would be preferable to living separate, wouldn’t it?

So we have separation and punishment, which I see conveniently coalesce, and one further element which is the hope the annihilationists pin their hopes on, destruction. If hell is about justice and retribution rather than vengeance and revenge then the destruction that I read of from Paul is destruction of the God bit within us – the soul rather than the flesh bit and so this would cause annihilationists to have fallen short. But they continue because they can’t comprehend a God of love being a God of justice, perhaps those who vote for annihilationism should join the many other ersatz faiths that engage in such thinking and become universalist too?

Of course we can explain away eternal punishment by looking at the word ‘eternal’ and defining it as ‘in a future time’ which means that judgment is not for now but for some other time. The implication being that the punishment is not forever which satisfies the now and the imprecatory nature of things when it is assumed that this is what you get and getting to the end without being dealt with signifies victory. If I am to believe a lecture on this from way back, aionios could be used in this manner with pretty persuasive (and perhaps accommodating) results but it doesn’t remove the ‘eterna;’ element from everything else, does it, and if it doesn’t then why should the accommodation exist other than to support temporal (and temporary) caveats? A single act of judgment, punishment and then an eternity of continued presence or being as if you never were – all sounds a bit limp on one side and triumphal on the other, not balanced at all.

I have to apologise, but the quickly scribbled thinking from the top of my bonce and the depths of my heart coupled with the thin theological understanding I possess lead me to a place where I cannot see past what I believe in to a position where we make God frilly and sweet by avoiding giving the people what they want – life serving themselves and eternity separated from Him!

You pays your money and makes your choice – don’t say no one told you ;)


Monday, 1 August 2011


I consider myself to be an Evangelical (of the open variety), which for me means that I believe in a triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and see the only way to relationship with the father as being won for me by the Son and that this is enabled by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is central to my life and belief and I uphold the orthodox, that is ‘traditional’ teachings and practice of the Church within the parameters of Scripture, tradition and reason (perhaps adding experience to have a quadrilateral)!

There are a number of areas that I struggle with and increasingly I find someone or other proclaiming that they are an ‘evangelical nnn’ (when nnn is usually something I struggle with accepting. So it was with a bit of surprise that I first encountered annihilationist thinking in an evangelical context from the late John Stott*. When he did there was much mumbling and accounts of great fallings out over it with certain well-known Christian figures. I struggled with it because I had always been taught that there were two parallel tracks:

Heaven – where God and His people were

Hell – Where those who were separate from God, were separate from God for eternity.

Not for me the eternal damnation and accordion playing that many think of when considering hell! Hell is merely eternal separation from God, and that is enough in itself to be terrible. In fact I abhor those who paint a picture of the terrors of hell in an attempt to peddle a ticket away from it. I seek to help people find true life with God through Christ not bring them into the boat because of fear!
But within the issue of hell are many pastoral, practical and theological issues. What if just as some thought the world to be flat the thinking on hell is totally skewed and there is doubt as to who is going to a ‘better place”? If the party never ends and the stores never close, what difference would an absence of God really make? Then again, if the accordion playing never stops and there are no Apple computers – could even the presence of God make such a place desirable?

I guess my thinking has been shaped not only by those who taught me but also by Keith Green’s ‘Sheep and Goats’:

In as much as you've not done it unto the least of My brethren, You've not done it unto Me.
In as much as you've not done it unto the least of My brethren, 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!!

So here we have, in music, Matthew twenty-five’s telling that some will go into ‘eternal punishment’ while others will go into ‘eternal life’. Of course if there are two sides of the coin and one is eternal life then it is fair to assume the complementary state that is eternal death. But my problem immediately comes to the fore because the Bible doesn’t say that. What it tells me is that what awaits some is eternal punishment and this doesn’t fit the idea of some unconscious state. If one is annihilated it would be as it they have never been (one of the hallmarks of the Shoah) and so the person sins and then reaping their reward vanishes such that all they had was all there was for them and the humanist viewpoint is found to be valid.

In discussion I find some who claim that all will get a new body and come before the throne on the day of judgment and then, those who are condemned will be zapped and be no more. Sounds a bit like a story of a bloke on death row who spent many years battling cancer. When eventually the doctors gave him a clean bill of health and pronounced him fit the state executed him. Sound pretty cruel to me I don’t see God as cruel. Mind you, others tell me this is compassion and justice combined.

Some tell me that we will all have new bodies and those who are set for eternal life will live for eternity whilst them others will go to a place where God is not and the ravages of age, ill-health and whatever will come upon them (just like now) and then they will cease to be. Not just wacky but doesn’t sound eternal (how’s about having your liver eaten every day – might be fun?).

The problem comes in that nasty word ‘eternal’ being coupled with an even nastier one ‘punishment’ and is exacerbated by my need to have some Biblical and theologically joined up bits.
I am told that a God of love wouldn’t keep people in eternal punishment but would remove them from being rather than have them suffer. This is why a kind God would favour annihilation. A cruel God would keep them in a matchbox and shake it ever now and then.

Just the first volley in this topic - hope it stimulates and challenges and is seen as an invitation to dialogue.