Sunday, December 31, 2006

Resolutions...who needs 'em?

Who was it who said that 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'? I could probably find out...thanks to the wonders of the Internet...but then again (to quote Catherine Tate) "Am I boverred?".

I had lots of good intentions with I started this blog, a couple of months ago. I promised myself that come what may, I would attempt to write something thought- provoking every day. But like so many resolutions...I haven't managed to keep it up.

There's something inherently human about that, isn't there? Time and again we all promise ourselves that we will make a change for the better in our lives. We will diet, start exercising, quit smoking, telephone our mother more often....And time and time again, we fail. What is it about us that makes us so weak willed?

St Paul understood this dilemma. Describing himself as a 'slave to sin' he said (in Romans 7) "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do. But what I hate, that I do." There is truth in this...none of us are proud of the weak-willed things we do...the over-eating, the over-consumption. In fact we hate some of the things we do (and criticise them in other people)...but we still do them ourselves. Our minds are in conflict with our wills. We are, in Paul's phrase, "slaves to sin".

The good news, for Christians, that whatever we do, however much our wills are in conflict with our minds, God loves us. God has always loved us, and God always will love us. We are, despite all we do which is ugly, "beautiful human persons" (in the words of my friend Pip Wilson). In contrast to all other religious systems, Christianity maintains that there is nothing we can do, by our own efforts, to bring ourselves into God's presence. God loves us SO much, that he sent his own son to us..."so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life" (John 3:16). God has done it. The wonderful truth is that God is much less interested in what we do, that what we are... his precious children. Like an earthly parent who keeps on loving their child however far they stray.

So, does that mean that resolutions, and 'improving ourselves' in general are unimportant? No. Speaking to the citizens of Athens, St Paul said that God is that in which "we live and move and have our being"(Acts 17:28). God is integral to our very core..."the ground of our being" in the words of Paul Tillich. Such a fundamental and deep connection with God is what gives us our sense of right and wrong, our moral code, our desire to improve and strive for perfection. It is, I believe, God within us who gently releases us from our slavery to sin. If we are open to that release, we will want to change, to become more like him.

New resolutions will be part of that process for many. My resolution for 2007? It's to spend less time in front of the one-eyed god in the living room, and more time with the God in whom I live and move and have my being. I can only hope that by doing so, I will be less of a slave to sin, and more of a child of God.

I'll let you know how I get on!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Best Christmas Present of All?

Christmas gets closer - invading every spare moment with present wrapping, checking out the TV schedules, feeling guilty about those Christmas cards that have not yet been sent. And as it does, I've been musing on why we Christians claim, with such certainty, that Jesus is the greatest Christmas present of all.

There are two reasons, primarily, I think. The first is the standard Christian belief that God has achieved (through Jesus' death and resurrection) the way for us to live forever with God. For that to be achieved, Jesus had, first, to be born. However, whilst that is great news, it stands as essentially an item of faith, held by believers in hope and trust. It is not something which connects with most people (that is, with the majority of people who will not be in church over this Christmas period). So what other good news is there?

To answer that, we have to do a little bit of imagining. Imagine, if you will, what you would do if you were God, and had the ability to stop all wars, poverty, hunger and disease. If you did…how would you do it? Given that all these great evils are directly attributable to human action (or lack of it in the case of disease) you would have to forcibly change human nature. You would have to remove the desire for personal gain, and implant a heart of love into each human being.

But if you did so…your human beings wouldn't be human beings any more…would they? Instead, they would be robots, automatons who simply do what they are told (in this case, love one another). Their love for each other, and for you (their God) would not be real…it would something you were forcing them to do.

So God had to devise another way of encouraging us, by our own free will, to love one another. So he sent Jesus to us, to show us what God is like - to be the ultimate example of self-sacrificing love. Jesus is God's best present to us, because it is only in Jesus that we can get a clear picture of what God is like, and make a choice to live God's way…strengthened by the Spirit of God living in us. God's Christmas present of Jesus is therefore the very key which will unlock the door of hunger, war, poverty and disease…for the whole world. I can't think of a better present for the world than that…can you?

If only we would unwrap God's present, and use it!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Conspiracy or Cock-up

So, after a three year investigation, Sir John Stevens has concluded that the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was due to a cock-up, and not a conspiracy. (Let's get one thing straight before I offend anyone's sensibilities...the word 'cock-up' is either a reference to a scottish hair-do which was branded a mistake by puritan preachers; or a reference to the 'mess' caused (to its owner) by a cock being defeated in a cock fight. With its legs upward, the 'cock' was 'up'.) Now, back to the question of cock-up or conspiracy...

I have often debated - internally, and with friends - whether many of the messes that we experience around the world are the result of cock-up or conspiracy. Into which category, for example, does the decision to wage war on Iraq fall? Many would argue that the billions of pounds being earned by arms manufacturers who happen to be friends of the President of the USA is proof in itself of conspiracy.

I willingly acknowledge that there are powerful people in the world who will stop at nothing to manipulate circumstances for personal gain. Machiavelli's influence on contemporary geo-politics should never be discounted. On the other hand, having worked for 20-odd years in, and with, bureaucratic systems of administration - I have seen just too many examples of cock-up to believe that very many intended conspiracies have any likli-hood of success!

There is one conspiracy that I do believe, however...a holy one. I mean the conspiracy of God, with the willing collaboration of Mary, to set in train the circumstances which would lead to God himself, in human form, living among us for a few short, glorious years.

Perhaps, as Christmas approaches, we can set aside for a while our justifiable concerns about who is out to get us, and celebrate for a while the holy conspiracy of God - who set out to show us what life in touch with Ultimate Reality could be like.

End of Sermon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Prepare the Way of the Lord...

I have a good friend who is somewhat of a decorator. He gets great pleasure out of transforming houses, and pieces of furniture with a deft stroke of a paintbrush. In fact if you leave any piece of furniture lying around long enough, it will find itself sanded down and re-varnished. “It’s all in the preparation” he will tell me. Personally, I’d just as soon go for the rustic, antique, ‘distressed’’s a lot less bother. But my friend Dave insists that anything which is due to be painted has first to be rubbed down to a glass-smooth finish….however long that might take! Decorating with him, as I’ve discovered to my cost, is an exercise in me picking up a paintbrush and saying “Can I paint it now?” while Dave opens another packet of sandpaper and says “Don’t be so’s all in the preparation!” John the Baptiser would seem to have agreed with him. In this Sunday's Gospel reading we heard the prophet John the Baptiser declare “Prepare the Way of the Lord”. To read the sermon I preached on this topic Click Here. Ponder and enjoy!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

That They May All Be One

For many years I was an employee of the YMCA. The motto of that movement was (and still is) John 17:21 "...that they may all be one" - a part of Jesus' great prayer for the unity of all his followers. I enthusiastically embraced that concept when working for that ecumencial charity; and I still do today - despite my ordination into a particular strand of the worldwide Church.

In the last couple of weeks, the Pope has had ecumenical dialogues with both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew the First. It is encouraging indeed to see these different strands of Christianity working to set aside their differences, and find unity. (And of course it comes in direct contrast to the real battles for power currently being waged on the streets of Iraq between different factions of Islam).

One way of looking at Jesus' prayer for Unity is to argue that his prayer has already been answered, and has always been answered (in other words that there already is unity between all Christians who trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour). Certainly here in Emsworth there is remarkable unity between all the denominations of the town. Here Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, URC, Baptist and Charismatic churches all work exceedingly well together. Each of us has a particular distinctiveness about the way we worship - but we are all supportive of each other, and regularly combine our efforts for the greater good. (A number of our folks volunteer each week, for example, to work in the Emsworth Pastoral Centre, based in the Methodist Church Building).

It came as quite a shock to me, recently, to realise that from the perspective of the mega-churches (Roman Catholic and Orthodox), Anglicanism is a comparatively small, and somewhat insignificant fly in the pontifical ointment. That may not be entirely fair - the Pope did, last week, give considerable time to 'our' Archbishop. However, the Roman church is such a huge and influential body worldwide - whereas the Anglican church, even wordwide, barely gets a mention in the press outside of England. When the Pope travels - millions come out to see him. When the Archbishop of Canterbury does, the reaction is rather more muted.

There is even a sense in which we Anglicans need the Roman church much more than they need us. The influence of the Pope on the world stage is significant...and ensures that the Christian viewpoint is kept high on the agenda. If Anglicanism was to suddenly collapse tomorrow, the Roman church would sail on largely unaffected. The same could not be said of a collapse of the Roman church.

So, acknowledging all that to be true...why am I an Anglican? The reasons are numerous (including the fact that as a married man I could not be ordained a Roman Catholic priest in normal circumstances!) - but they boil down to this: I am very dubious about the power and influence which the Roman church gives, inevitably, to one man.

A 'good' Pope (however one might define the word 'good') can bring about substantial postive change with such power - but a 'bad' one can do a huge amount of damage. Anglicans are, in contrast, led by bishops, but governed by a council of bishops, priests and lay-people (the actually phrase is 'episcopally led but synodically governed'). This means that God's voice to one person can be tested by many - as advocated clearly by Scripture. In the Roman church, by contrast, the Pope may claim an infallible connection to God, with which no-one may legitimately argue. The evidence of Scripture is that God speaks to people in a wide variety of ways, and by no means always through the supreme leader of any institution.

The Anglican 'way' therefore gives a more reliable means of determining God's voice to the Church - even though the process of listening can be very painful for many.

But, with all that said - I continue to rejoice in being a member of a Worldwide Community of Christians, throughout the world, of all denominations. There is unity between us...praise God.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Chancellor's Pre-Budget Tinker

I usually try to refrain from making political comments. Having worked in Westminster, I'm only too well aware of the very real difficulties that Governments face when trying to set new policy - and by and large I'm sympathetic to the struggles of the Government to try to meet so many competing demands. But I'm going to break my rule today, and wonder what on earth our esteemed Chancellor was up to today...

I haven't seen the pre-budget report in detail...but I gather that he has imposed an increase in fuel tax of 1.5p per litre on petrol, and doubled the modest tax on air-line travel (up from £5 to £10 for short-haul flights).

As a Christian I believe passionately that we should be doing all we can to look after our planet. According to the wonderful, mythological book of Genesis, God gave humankind the planet, with the charge that we were to "rule over it and take care of it". Care for the environment has thus been a vital message of the Judeo-Christian tradition for millennia. (The Jews were letting land lie fallow every seven years well before modern science confirmed the necessity of such a practice).

So you would expect me to support the Chancellor's increased travel taxes...wouldn't you? Well, no actually. As I understand it, there are no plans to use the newly raised revenue for investment in any new energy technology. The £1billion that will be raised from the new air-travel levy will simply go into the Exchequer. And surely, a mere £5 extra on an airline ticket to spain is hardly going to slow down our use of cheap flights to Ibiza. The cost of a couple of pints? I don't think so. 1.5p on a litre of fuel...about 60p for an average sized tank...that's not going to make many car drivers decide to take our woefully inadequate public transport on a wet, cold, English winter day.'s exercise has simply been one of raising additional revenue for the Treasury - cloaked in the spin of 'being green'. I don't actually object to paying more taxes...we need more money for hospitals, schools and support for overseas aid and development. I simply object to being told that the extra tax I will pay is going to make a difference to the environment that I, as a Christian (and like so many others) would dearly love to protect for my grandchildren.

I strongly suspect we have been told a lie...and that's not something I expected from our Chancellor - a fellow Christian.

Please someone, tell me I'm wrong!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Communications Out, Captain

For a bit of late night R&R, I've just been watching an episode of Star Trek - The Next Generation, called "Damok". (For those who have never watched Star Trek, try to suspend the comedic thoughts in your head about "Beam me up Scotty", or "Klingons on the Starboard Bow" - it's a lot more thought provoking than that!).

"Damok" is the story of the struggle to communicate between two cultures - the Federation (represented by the Philosopher-Captain Picard) and the "Children of Damok". At first, the Federation think that the new race they are encountering speak only in riddles...a mixture of proper names and places. Without boring you with the whole tale (which you can watch at your leisure), Captain Picard eventually works out that the 'Children of Damok' communicate what they want to say only by using metaphors and allusions to shared stories. In our context, for example, if I wanted to communicate that I was feeling lost and lonely without my lover, I might say "Juliet on the Balcony". If I was feeling victorious, I might say "William after Hastings". (On the other hand if I was feeling worn out and defeated, I might say "Harold after Hastings"). Do you see what I mean?

However, the problem of communication by this method is compounded when the person you are trying to communicate with doesn't share your culture, and your stories. Someone who has never read Shakespeare, or heard of the Battle of Hastings, will not understand what you are trying to communicate.

This episode struck me as very profound. All our communication is ultimately based on what we have in common. Unless we share language, knowledge, and culture with another person, communication is very difficult.

I am reminded of my early days of working in the YMCA in South London, 20 years ago. I was working on the Reception desk, giving out keys and mail to residents of the hostel. One chap, a recent asylum seeker, with only a little English approached the counter and put his hand out for his key, saying,
"Room 413" (or whatever room was his). I thought he was being rather rude, and so replied, "Room 413 what? He looked very puzzled, and simply repeated his request,
"Room 413".
"Say please", said I.
"Oh," he said, looking embarrassed, "413 please".
I figured at that moment that I had scored a little victory for English politeness....until, after he had gone, a long serving receptionist who was also on duty said to me,
"Did you realise that there is no word in his language for 'please'? Where he comes from, you simply state your need, and either receive it or not depending on the person you are speaking to".

I learned an important lesson then. It is no good trying to communicate with someone else about any important subject unless you have some common experience on which to build (language, culture, custom).

Watching tonight's Star Trek episode brought that issue back home to me again. And I reflected how so many of the problems around the world, and within the Church, are based on the false premis that everyone else surely thinks like we do. That is why violence between people of different cultures is so prevelant. And I think it may be a significant reasons why the Anglican communion is tearing itself apart at the moment over homosexuality and women bishops.

When I listen to some of the invective being hurled around, I womder whether people on either side of these debates (and the more serious wars around the world) have ever really tried to understand why the 'other side' thinks as they do. Until all sides in all conflicts - secular, religious, or anglican - have taken time to truly hear and understand what the other side is saying, there can surely never be peace.

And the Communications will always be out, Captain.

Sunday, December 03, 2006 it jolly well comes...

I know, I know, it's been a long time since I've blogged. To my regular readers, I'm really sorry about that!

Those who know me will know already that I find Christmas rather a drag. I don't mean Christmas Day itself...I like nothing better than to be reminded again of the Christmas story, and to sing lusty carols at the top of my (not inconsiderable) lungs!'s all the tedious build up, and the feelings of guilt as I fail to make the grade, yet again, with regard to Christmas card writing, present buying, home visiting and so on.

Simon - my Rector, friend and boss, on the other hand...has an entirely different approach. His Christmas tree is already up; there's a wreath on his front door; and he's positively rubbing his hands together with glee at the prospect of all the forthcoming carol services. We manage to represent between us those two fundamental personality types, around Christmas: those who want to decorate the outside of their house with every illumination known to man; and those who like to go around cutting the cables!

I once found myself in a well known hardware store, just before Christmas - trying to buy some screws for another soon-to-be failed DIY attempt. The trouble was, I couldn't concentrate because the staff had seen fit to plug in a 'singing Christmas tree'. However, it didn't so much 'sing' and electronically 'beep' out the first two lines of Jingle Bells...over and over and over again. It was no good, I had to do I boldly walked over to the offending tree...and unplugged it! It was worth it, frankly, just to see the look of horror on the face of other shoppers. But then...along came a staff member, with one of those ridulous Santa hats on...who plugged the darn tree back in. War had been declared....and thence commenced a battle of wills. I waited until she had gone to stack some more shelves, then quickly unplugged the offending tree. She would come back to it, look around suspiciously, then plug it in again. This went on for some time, until I decided that whilst she was paid to work there, I wasn't going to be able to spend the rest of the day doing I left.

What is it, I wonder, that causes us some of us to approach this season with such different attitudes? Well, I can't speak for Simon. Perhaps he's managed to maintain more of his inner child than me. (And yet I love childishness in many forms...ask the children who watch my school assemblies!). For me it is, I suppose, ultimately a kind of repressed puritanical outrage at all the commercialism, the selfishness, the waste - as well as the reality that less and less people actually know why they are celebrating it.

Alongside that is a deep deep suspicion about the Santa Claus thing. Most years we hear a story of some Vicar or other who has crossed the line and 'ruined' Christmas by speaking the truth about Santa Claus at some school assembly. I have to say that I take my hat off to them...though I doubt I will ever have sufficient courage to incur the wrath of the parents at our local schools. There are more important battles to be won. But I have great sympathy with these rebels...let me tell you why.

Some years ago, Clare and I decided that we were uncomfortable about the Santa Claus story - and so we decided to come clean with our daughter. We let her in gently by saying to her - very lovingly you understand - that there was someone we had been telling her about who isn't actually real. We asked her to tell us who she thought that might be. She replied "Is it Jesus?"

And there is the nub of the matter. When our children are very small, we tell them stories about Jesus and Santa as if there were no distinction. Then, as they grow up, and realise that Santa doesn't actually come down the chimney, they naturally wonder whether Jesus is real too. We do, actually, end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater! It is just possible that the development of the Santa Claus myth, over the last 100 years, has done more damage to faith than any other single factor.

So...I say...its time for Christians to reclaim Christmas. Stories of Santa should be confined to the real myth of St Nicholas of Smyrna, who put coins in the stockings of poor women and prostitutes at night, when they hung them out to dry. He should be seen as an example of generosity towards the out the calling of the Gospel to be a friend to neighbours in need.

Perhaps if that story was told more often I wouldn't be such a misery at Christmas time!

Monday, November 27, 2006

A New Descendent of "Kennar of the Antarctic"!

On Saturday morning, last, a new Kennar entered the world. My brother's wife, Safia, has given birth to a boy - whom they have called Adam. He's as cute as a very cute fluffy cute thing who has won first prize in a cuteness competition. I know...I've seen the photo.

Congratulations to my sister-in-law (who did all the hard work) and to my brother (who is now looking very smug). Having failed, myself, to produce a male heir who can carry on the fast dying Kennar name, all our hopes for a continuing generation of Kennars rests on Adam, and his older brother Zachriya. And I want them to know that it is very important name....let me tell you why.

I discovered recently that at the turn of the last century, one of our ancestors - Petty Officer Thomas Kennar RN (I think I may have been named after him) accompanied Scott and Shackleton on a voyage to the Antarctic (1901-1904). I've been doing some digging, and have found some references to Thomas Kennar in a diary of the journey by one Charles Turley. According to that account, Kennar accompanied Scott and the geologist Ferrar on the first ever survey of the Quartermaine Mountains - and as a result, had a valley named after him. So - there is a Kennar Valley, down there in Antarctica. O it makes you proud!

Here's an extract from Turley's book "The Voyages of Captain Scott" - from page 159:

During this march Scott had determined to test his own party to the utmost, but seeing no necessity for the supports to be dragged into this effort he told them to take their own time. The supporting party, however, did not mean to be left behind if they could help it, and later on the night of the 21st they also reached the ship. In the hard struggle of the last hours some of the members of the supporting party, though determined not to give in, had been comically astounded by the pace which was set, and Kennar, presumably referring to Scott, kept on repeating, 'If he can do it, I don't see why I can't: my legs are as long as his.

So Zack and Adam, my boys...its up to you. The Kennar name (though obscure and pronounced in a variety of interesting ways by strangers!) is worth preserving.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

BA and the Cross - Christians Under Attack?

I find myself increasingly concerned to hear of attacks on Christians around the world. Below are just a few recent examples that I've gleaned from the Internet - primarily from an organisation called the Barnabas Fund.

These are recent stories - some of which you will have heard on the news...some of which you will not. Take a deep breath...some are very shocking... After the examples...see my comments.

1) An evangelical Christian from Twickenham, Nadia Eweida, has been told by British Airways bosses that she cannot wear a cross necklace at check-ins. BA says they are not banning crosses, but that their uniform policy requires that crosses, or other religious symbols, - especially jewelry - must not be visible. However, religious headscarves are permitted to be worn by Muslim and Sikh staff. Nadia Eweida was sent home on 'voluntary unpaid leave' because she refused to remove her cross, or cover it up.

2) Just a few weeks before Nadia Eweida in the UK was sent home, a teenage Christian girl in Pakistan was beaten by her Muslim teachers for refusing to remove a cross. On 13th September Kiran Shahzadi (15) was rebuked for wearing the cross and ordered to remove it from her neck. She refused, saying the “cross is our Christian religious symbol so I cannot remove it.” Her teacher began beating Kiran, then took her to the headteacher who also mistreated her. The cross was pulled from her neck and thrown in the rubbish bin. Kiran was then made to stand in the scorching sun for several hours without water until she fainted.

3) At the same time, a row is brewing about a number of Christian Unions around the country, which are being banned by various Student Unions. The controversy centres around the 'doctrinal statement' which office holders in Christian Unions are required to sign. These commit Christian leaders to affirming "The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God" and "is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour". That is, of course, a particularly evangelical understanding of the Bible - but not an unusual one.

4) Last year, in May, a crowd of some 300 Muslims burned a wooden cross outside the American embassy in London - as part of a protest about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanmo Bay.

5) On the 4th of October, this year, a bomb exploded in the mainly Christian district of Camp Sara, Baghdad. As people gathered round to help the wounded there was a second, larger explosion. Nine Christians were killed.

6) On 10th October Paulos Iskander, an Iraqi church minister, was abducted in Mosul. When Iskander’s family asked for proof that he was still alive the kidnappers held up the phone so that his screams could be heard. The family began trying to raise the $40,000 ransom, asking local Christians to help, and arranging several loans. Thirty large posters were placed on churches in the city, distancing the Christians from the Pope’s recent words - which had sparked the kidnapping. However, before the ransom could be paid Iskander’s decapitated body was discovered, on the 12th of October, dumped in an outlying suburb of Mosul. His body showed signs of torture, with cigarette burns, bullet holes and wounds from beatings. His hands and feet had been severed, and arranged around his head which was placed on his chest.

7) Thirty Christian families in Mosul received messages on their mobile phones on the 30th of September telling them to leave within 72 hours or they would be killed.

8) Mobs of angry Muslim youths rampaged through the Nigerian village of Dutse in Jigawa state, Northern Nigeria on the 19th of September, destroying Christian property and injuring several Christians. The riots were allegedly sparked by comments made by a Christian woman about the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral was burnt to the ground and the Bishop’s office destroyed. Many Christian shops and vehicles were set on fire and around 1,000 Christians took refuge in local police barracks and schools to escape the violence.

COMMENT: Matthew 24:9 "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me."

Let us never retaliate; never greet evil with more evil. Let us love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And let us never be blind to the fact that real persecution is taking place, right now, throughout the world, for many loving, law-abiding Christians - who do no more than profess their faith in the God of Love.

Enough said.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Real Treasure

Christmas is coming, the Curate's getting fat
Please put a mince pie in the Rector's hat,
For the Curate is fat, and the Rector is thin,
And the Curate thinks the Rector should be just as fat as him!

I'm leaving in a short while to preach at our afternoon Family Service. This is a newish endeavour for us - a few months ago we started to provide a 5pm service, on the third Sunday of the month, to give an alternative opportunity for families to worship together (without the pressure of having to choose between church or sports-practice!). So far, the idea is proving popular - with about 120 people turning up last month.

This afternoon's talk is a sort of 'get ready for Christmas' one - thinking about the pressure on all of us to be greedy consumers at this time. It has a light-hearted feel which I hope will be enjoyed! To read it, click here.

Three Little Words

If someone asked you to sum up your faith in just three words, what would they be?

I gave the same challenge to our 8am Holy Communion congregation this morning. If you want to think about what I said, Click here to read this morning's sermon.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rowan Comes To Portsmouth

Rowan Williams came to Portsmouth today (for any non-UK people reading this...he's the Archbishop of Canterbury). The man has a brain the size of a planet - and he knocked the socks off a group of clergy and lay people who gathered in the Cathedral. Me definitely included.

What follows is an attempt to summarise the first of his three talks. If you don't have an appetite for deeper down the page to Wednesday's post...which was a silly clergy in-joke!

Today Williams was focusing on the question "Seeking the Soul of the Community". He started by asking us what we mean by the word 'soul'. In a community context he suggested that 'soul' is "that which gives form, shape and coherence - the centre of life - that which pulls everything together". The body, he suggested, is shaped by the soul. And if that is true for the body, what might a community which has soul look like?

First, he suggested, a community which has soul will have a consistent sense of what people are - and won't look to re-interpret people all the time. In a Christian context, that is partly about holding on to our 'story'. For Christians, that means holding on to the centrality of the idea that at a deep and fundemental level - all human beings come from the hand of God. We fail, but are drawn back by God's consistency. This action of God is under-written by a covenant which was pledged in Christ's life and death.

Treating people consistently with this underlying story (which the church holds for itself and the rest of the community) means, for example, not treating people as an adult in one context, then as an infant in another. The ABC (as we cheekily refer to him) didn't get a chance to expand on this - but found myself wondering how guilty the church in general is of doing that.

Are we guilty of treating grown-up, intelligent, self-possessed individuals as religious infants when they sit in our pews? Should we not, instead, teach (where education is needed) that there is almost always more than one view about many theological issues...explain the difference, certainly outline the reasons for our own preference, and then help people to arrive at their own intelligent judgments? I think that is what we do in my least that is what we try to do. It's certainly the approach I try to adopt as a Chaplain. But, I think sadly, there are many place where a much more dogmatic approach is handed down - places where preachers believe they have received a complete version of the Truth from God, and feel bound to lead their less enlightened flock down their particular path.

Secondly the ABC suggested that a community which has 'soul' will take the concept of time seriously - and give people the right to be heard while they develop. He had two striking examples of what this might mean:

a) Coherence and consistency in planning and funding processes: Crisp, short term funding is about the politicians saying "we will tell you what you need" - not about letting ideas and communities grow at their own pace, and in their own way.

b) Letting children be children: we tend to get bored by the fact that human children take a long time to grow and develop...and expect them to act like little adults. We turn them, prematurely, into little politicians, managers, and workers...and (these are my words) in doing so, stamp out the impression of God's hand which is on each of them and us.

Thirdly, Rowan Williams suggested that soul gives story to community life. Those, like churches, museums and oral history projects who hold story should not do so for the sake of simple heritage - but because they are guardians of the meaning of the life of the community. This is one of the mega-contributions that the church has made over the aeons. Depth, complexity, history, and community exisit in the church...and sometimes nowhere else. Williams quoted John Henry Newman who memorably said "without the church, the world would come to an end". Discuss.

I was fascinated to find myself discussing this idea with a couple of city leaders - during a break. They pointed out that for much of the last 500 years the primary story of Portsmouth has been it's Navy. So many people's lives in Portsmouth were inextricably linked with the Dockyard and ancilliary services. But now that the Navy's presence is significantly less, we wondered what Portsmouth's story will look like to the next generation. Will it be, like so many towns, a story of shopping centres and consumerism - or could it be something much greater, much deeper?

In summary, the ABC said that soul is not the vague evanescence we all cheerfully assume. To talk of soul is to talk of how God acts and how God sustains.

As a post-script, aimed I suspect squarely at us clergy, Williams made reference to the current debates which are tearing the Anglican community apart. Prophetically, I think, he said: "When the church gets caught up in its own housekeeping, it fails to engage with the critical task of being the soul of the community".

Well - that was just one of three speeches which we were treated to today. I won't try to summarise the rest for you. You've been reading for long enough if you have got this far! However, I wonder what you think about Williams' thoughts? Click on the 'comments' link below to start, or join, the discussion.

If you want to read a summary of the other talk that Williams gave, thinking about how China has discovered that an anti-religious society can become a society without soul, click here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Ten Pound Note and the Fifty Pence Piece

Sorry I haven't posted for a couple of days. I've had a miserable little cold which has been hanging around for weeks - migrating from my head to my chest and then back again to my head. I haven't felt much like blogging...but here's a little in-joke, just to keep you clicking here!

Once upon a time, a 50p piece bumped into his old friend - a £10 note. "Where have you been?" asked the 50p piece. "I haven't seen you for ages".

"Sorry mate" replied the Tenner, "I've busy - getting out and about. I've been used to buy a curry, a round of drinks, a trip to the cinema, a new book, a pair of jeans, and loads of Christmas presents. What about you?"

"Oh, you know," grumbled the Coin, "same as, church, church".

Cough. Cough. Cough....

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How to Stop War Forever

Have you ever wondered what the Bible means when it talks about beating swords into ploughshares? After thousands of years of war it comes over as rather an idealised picture doesn't it? No more war, just living off the land, everyone in harmony.

But how is such a vision to be achieved? Well, I'm preaching on that very subject this morning - at one of our Remembrance Sunday services - focusing on the book of Micah (from where that stuff about swords and ploughshares comes from). If you are interested in reading the sermon, click here.

Essentially it boils down to this: Micah tells us to stop chasing after stuff. It is consumerism in all its forms which drives us to war. Greedy people take the resources of others, then those others have to fight to get back what is theirs. Simple really.

And what are we to do about this? Shrug our shoulders and say "it was ever thus" - or be courageous (as we are being asked to do with respect to global warming) and take one small personal step to curb our own consumerism.

Not a bad goal just before the orgy of consumerism that Christmas has become!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Who would Jesus Bomb?

Today is Armistice Day, and like many people, I find myself truly confused over the issue of war.

In case you, dear reader, are not aware, there is a whole philosophical discussion on what constitutes a Just War. If you are interested to explore that - as well as the debate around it - a good place to start is Wikipedia (Click Here).

The Men's Group of my Parish - all 37 of us - packed into a small room last night to debate this very same thing. Among our number were a few ardent pacifists, who believe that war in any circumstance is morally repugnent, and anti-Christian. They pointed out that Jesus spoke only of loving one's enemy - never of killing them.

However, we also have, in our Men's Group, a number of serving and ex-military guys (a product of being so close to Portsmouth Naval Base). Many of them are also Christians - and do not find a contradiction between their faith and their profession. They point out that Jesus never condemmed the army (in fact he commended two centurions for their faith), and neither did John the Baptist (who simply told soldiers who came to him for guidance to be 'happy with their pay').

The Bible is of course packed with wars - and one interpretation of many of the battles it contains is that God has used wars between nations to bring punishment on the wicked and establish Godly rule. (By this means, for example, he used the Hebrews to punish the pagan Cannanites who were sacrificing their children, and then used the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish the Hebrews when they strayed from God's path). A modern parrallel might, of course, be God's supposed use of the British nation to lead an alliance of other nations to vanquish the evil of Naziism.

But I don't state any of this as fact. A perfectly reasonable alternative interpretation of all those biblical battles is that the middle east was (still is!) simply a mess of warring factions: a fact which was recorded for us by one of the factions, the Hebrews, along with their (perhaps flawed) attempt to understand what was going on theologically.

This is a thorny issue, to say the least. Our discussion last night, which was conducted with much civility and respect of opposing positions, demonstrated that much.

One of my good friends at the gathering expressed surprise that I would not come down on one side or the other. And I find myself similarly surprised (I'm not, as you probably know, backwards in coming forwards with an opinion!). But on this issue, I remain ambivalent, confused, undecided.

There is a large part of me that wants to believe that a pacifist position is tenable. I want to believe that if Christians would simply refuse to fight, that evil people would eventually be won over by their love. (Of course, many pacifists would say that the ultimate goal of pacifism is not to win over the enemy, but simply to be obedient to the call to love...whatever the consequences).

But I also find it hard to believe that Jesus - for whom the concept of justice was such a passion - would have stood by while millions were being hacked to death in Ruwanda. He was passionate enough in his opposition to hypocritical pharisees...what would he have said about Hitler?

Who would Jesus bomb? Perhaps any evil dictator who has caused the torture and genocide of the innocent? Is there, I wonder, a tendancy for us to focus too much on Jesus sense of compassion and forget that he also proclaimed justice...justice which (if the Old Testament and the New are to be fully understood) is often wrought through violent conflict. (See the Book of Revelation for the New Testament's war-like imagery!)

What do you think? Now is your chance to educate me, and help me make up my mind. Join the debate by clicking on the word 'comments' just below...

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Dawkins Debate

There has been another thoughtful contribution to the debate on Richard Dawkins which I started on Friday October 27th 2006. If you want to read it, and join in the debate yourself, please CLICK HERE - where you will be able to read the original posting, and the subsequent debate. At the bottom of the page, you will be able to click on the words "post a comment" to add to the debate.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Remembrance and White Poppies

The Christian Think Tank Ekklesia has today called for people to wear white poppies, to make an alternative statement with regard to war. You can read more about the background to this contentious issue, if you would like to, by CLICKING HERE

A previous Rector of my parish is reputed to have once outraged members of the local British Legion by wearing just such a white poppy - many years ago. (This is not a new goes back to just after the First World War when christian peacemakers asked the British Legion to print the words "No More War" on their red poppies...a request which was refused, resulting in the alternative white poppy.) It's worth relating, however, that this previous Rector of which I speak, Canon David Partridge, also succeeded in ultimately winning over many of his detractors by the sheer compassion of his personality.

I had a difficult task to perform today - that of going to our local church primary school, to lead an assembly on the subject of remembrance. I was conscious of a heavy burden - not wanting to in any way glorify or justify war, but wanting also that the youngsters in front of me would develop some appreciation that their own peace and relative security was, to a great extent, won by the sacrifice of so many.

It was a difficult line to tread - and I talked a great deal about the horror of war, and of how I hoped and prayed that people would learn to jaw jaw instead of war war (to quote Winston Churchill). I've often said to groups of young people that they are the next generation - and it will be up to them to make a better world than the one we are pasing on to them. But we also spent some time in silent tribute to those who have given up their lives (or livelihoods) for the rest of us.

Remembrance time is a difficult time for ministers. Many feel uncomfortable reciting the words of Jesus that "greater love has no-one than if they lay down their life for a friend" - being aware while saying it that Jesus was talking not about soldiers in war, but about himself, and his death of utter submission. Some pacifists accuse the church, and the state, of mis-appropriating Jesus' words. I don't know.

What I do know is that Jesus himself always advocated peace - "turn the other cheek", "Love your enemies" - and these (and many other teachings) sit uncomfortably alongside a culture of war.

And yet - I wonder what I would do if a marrauding army was coming over my hill, to kill my family.

Food for thought, and especially for tomorrow night's debate by our Parish's Men's group. More on this tomorrow I expect.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Personality types

I've had an interesting evening - Clare and I went to a taster session for something called The Enneagram. It's a personality-type indicator (a bit like Myers Briggs) but adapted to a Christian context. At first (not least because I have done Myers Briggs) I found myself somewhat suspicious of the idea that I could show strengths or weaknesses related to a particular 'type' - on a scale of 1 - 9.

It probably won't make much sense to you, dear reader, if I say what type I am...unless you already understand the Enneagram system. (For what its worth, I'm a bit of a 3/9/6, I think!) However, what has been fascinating is to think about how one's personality develops over time...what are the factors which lead to one person being caring and sharing, and another being the natural leader, or an agressive over-achiever.

Of course, it may just be that we are made like that...all of us, in our own way, a tiny facet of the image of God in which we are all made. But, I'm inclined to think that we are products of both our nature and our nurture. I can certainly think of events which have happened in my own life which come to the surface form time to time; and result in me behaving in a certain way.

The beauty, it seems, of the Enneagram system is that it helps you to identify and understand your own type, and how it relates to others...and where to look to make changes if you desire them (having understood yourself).

If you are interested in beginning to think about your own personality type I've found a website which offers a basic, free, test: click here. Alternatively, type "Enneagram" into Google, and you will find a plethora of possibilities.

This may be the start of an interesting journey for me and Clare. I'll try to keep you posted as the journey unfolds.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A.C.Grayling Responds

I've had a fascinating comment posted today by A.C.Grayling (Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London). See for his website.

Assuming it was him, and not someone assuming his identity, he was commenting on Terry Eagleton's essay which I linked to under my posting on Richard Dawkins versus Religion (see below).

Grayling has a very big brain - and has spent much more time exercising it than my career to date has allowed me to do with mine. However, I have tentatively responded to his comments.

To read his comments, and my fumbling response, click on the "comments" link at the bottom of the Richard Dawkins article below.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam's Conviction

So, Saddam Hussain has been convicted by a court of his own countrymen, of crimes against the Iraqi people. I'm not qualified to judge whether or not his conviction is fair - though I am concerned to hear that the highly respected Amnesty International think that there are major issues with the procedures. However, my principle concern is that he is to be executed for his crimes.

The debate has already started - between those who believe, (like Margaret Beckett) that it is appropriate for him to suffer the full force of local justice) - and those, (like Menzies Campbell) who are concerned that he will simply become a martyr.

My concern is more theological: it occurred as I've watched the news unfolding this afternoon, that there was another man, 2000 years ago, who was executed by his own people. Of course, I don't draw any parrallels between an evil dictator and the son of God - I simply wonder why, 2000 years later, we have not learned that executing people we don't like doesn't work!

The other - and perhaps main - point is this. Can it be right to treat one act of barbarism (the violence of Saddam) with another (the violence of the state)? Wouldn't it be better to keep Saddam alive, in prison, to meditate on the consequences of his actions, in the hope that one day he might be lovingly persuaded to confess his sins, and repent of them? Wouldn't that be at least one substantial way of interpreting the command to love our enemies?

I find myself deeply concerned about the use of the death penalty in all cases...and especially with Saddam. What do you think?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Souls Day

Want to know the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day? Here's today's sermon - to our Mothers' Union Communion Service. CLICK HERE to read it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Carnivorous Minority

Now that my wife and daughter have embraced vegetarianism as the only ethical choice, I suddenly find myself in the minority in our house. My daughter tuts at me as I enthusiastically tear into a piece of steak - reminding me that it takes ten times more grain to feed a cow than if one simply ate the grain.

My wife, sweetly, lets me off the hook - and doesn't insist that I too should become a vegetarian, not least on the grounds that I have never had too much affinity for vegetables. (Mind you, that doesn't stop her sneekily putting a quorn lasagne in front of me form time to time. I try to enjoy it...and usually fail.)

It does make one think though. I was mightily impressed, a few years ago, to visit a Hindu Temple, and to enjoy a vast array of wonderful food (thanks to their generous hospitality)...all of it tasty, and none of it provided via the sacrifice of an animal. I do wonder whether my preference for meat is simply something I was brought up with...and like many things we grow out of as wisdom accumulates, perhaps this too is something I will need to forgoe.

After all, we can't keep on tearing down the forests of the world just to satisfy our craving for flesh...can we?

Hmmm...I'll have to think more about this one. To never again savour a sirloin steak would be quite a sacrifice...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Humphrys in Search of God

John Humphreys is searching for faith. He lost his, he says, over a number of years, as a result of being a journalist who has had to witness some truly dreadful examples of suffering. How, he wonders, can a God, any God, permit that kind of suffering?

Its a very real question - and one that he put, this morning, to the Archbishop of Canterbury...who in turn made a typically thoughtful, gentle, respectful attempt to put forward a Christian viewpoint. You can hear the whole programme by CLICKING HERE.

In dealing with the specific question of why God allows suffering, Rowan Williams (the Archbishop) explored the 'free will defense' - which as you will know boils down to this: God has created a world in which our capacity to grow is worked out through our capacity for free will - in other words we can choose whether or not to look for God and follow him...we are not puppets on God's strings. However, the result of such free will is that inevitably our actions have an impact on those around us. (If we live to love, those around us will be loved. If we live to hate, those around us will be hated). He then pointed out just what a chaotic world this would be if God chose to intervene everytime someone's selfish action was about to cause harm to another.

The 'free will defence' is indeed a standard response to questions of suffering, but it does not immediately appear to offer a solution to the problems of 'natural' suffering: disease, earthquakes, tsunamis etc. It was when moving onto these levels that I felt the Archbishop's response was not as full as it might have been (no doubt due to the time available). He said, essentially that he has to believe that even in such awful and unmerited suffering there is still the possibility of action by God - to bring healing, and love. And of course, I agree. However, if I may make so bold - there is another aspect to the 'free will defence' which he did not explore.

That is to offer the suggestion that all suffering is directly the result of the free will that human kind has exercised over the millennia. By this I mean to say that if humankind had spent the last few thousand years co-operating with each other, rather than destroying each other, there is a very good chance that by now we would have found cures for all diseases, we would have learned not to build homes in earthquake zones (or at least to build earthquke proof homes), we would have decent Tsunami warning systems etc etc etc.

In other words, I sometimes wonder if 'natural' suffering may, in fact, be a reluctant, but necessary part of God's plan: his megaphone to the world which says, "for goodness sake, stop fighting, start sharing".

Full marks to John Humphrys for opening up this important debate.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tools Delivered!

I went this morning to deliver the tools we have been collecting (plus a £50 donation) to Tools For Self Reliance. This was all achieved thanks to the generosity of many many donors, and volunteers throughout the last week - and to the generosity of Craig Rutter at Furn for Furniture who kindly donated the use of his van.

I was tremendously impressed by the operation at Tools for Self Reliance. Their large wharehouse is full of volunteers who are busily refurbishing tools for all sorts of artisans - and who then dispatch containers full of such tools to communities in Africa who will benefit from them. Their work of refurbishment is most impressive - using sandblasters, grinders, polishers and a lot of grease, even the most rusty and poorly working tools seem to be reclaimable, and given a new lease of life.

Their work is amazing - and definitely should be supported!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tools and Sunday Sermons

It's been a busy weekend.

I spent all of yesterday, with my colleague John Pilkington, sorting and then loading tools which have been collected throughout the week. These tools, including 30 or so sewing machines and a vast number of mechanics, carpenters, metal-workers and shoe-makers tools, are to be sent to Africa by Tools for Self Reliance - a charity which supports artisans in Africa. I'm physically shattered...(I must get fit!)...but emotionally very satisfied. It's wonderful to have received such generous gifts from so many people.

(Mind you - and I don't want to appear ungrateful - my joy at filling a whole transit van with much needed tools was slightly dampened by having to spend so much time sorting wheat from chaff. You would be amazed how many people think that Africans will be grateful for rusty, broken, rubbish!)

Nevertheless, aching as I was, it was off to the neighbouring parish of Rowlands Castle this morning, for their 8.00am Communion (muttering prayers of thanks as I went there - thanks for the extra hour in bed now that the clocks have gone back!). It was a delight to meet with neighbouring Christians, and to share with them.

I preached a sermon on Hebrews 7: 23 to the end, on the subject of Jesus, Our Great High Priest. If you would like to read it CLICK HERE. I chose that text because it was the one reading which was in common between the the Rowlands Castle service, and my later service at our own Warblington Church. I got two for the price of one out of that text!

Home for a quick bite of lunch, then off to this afternoon's "Service of Memories" at Warblington. To read that sermon, CLICK HERE.

I really should be off again this evening to a United Service of Christians Together in Emsworth. But as I have to up at the crack of 7.30 to take yesterday's loaded tools to their intended destination in Southampton, and as both Clare and Emily are not feeling well...I'm being a good boy, and managing that ol' work life balance by deciding to stay at home tonight!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Richard Dawkins vs Religion

So, the latest book of anti-religious bile has poured forth from the fingers of Richard Dawkins. PLEASE DON'T BUY "The God Delusion" will only encourage him!

The real problem with Dawkins is that, despite being a scientist, his approach to religion is about as unscientific as you can get. He is venomously fundamentalist about condemning all religion...primarily on the grounds that religion breeds fundamentialism!

Look, it boils down to this. Dawkins is a scientist...a geneticist to be specific. As a scientist, he should be committed to an objective weighing of all available data, to arrive at a rational conclusion. However, the sum total of all his arguments about religion is essentially this: religion has caused all sorts of problems in the world; therefore religion is bad. It's a stupid statement to make...and let me tell you why I think that.

Let me first acknowledge that indeed religion has indeed been inextricably linked with all sorts of awful things. But let us consider what else causes violence. It was not religion which caused the mass persecutions of the Soviet era, and the French was in fact agressive humanism. It is not religion that has unleashed the horrors of weapons of mass destruction, but the science and technology which created them. It is not religion which is primarily driving the current middle eastern conflicts, but the economics of oil and power.

Of course violence, and oppression, are linked with religion. But no more so than any other social system. (It was not God who killed Jesus, but the secular Roman Empire.)

Jesus utterly condemmed violence - "he who lives by the sword will die by the sword".

So what, we must ask, is the logical scientific thing to do? Confronted with a religion whose founder advocated peace, what should we do? Should we seek to abolish that religion on the grounds that stupid, power-crazy people have perverted it? Or should we not rather speak out the messages of Christ with more determination than ever: "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you".

I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide which is the most rational, logical, scientific approach to take.

For a much deeper, theological, and fascinating discussion of this issue, CLICK HERE to read an analysis of Dawkins' latest diatribe by Terry Eagleton (the Jon Edward Taylor Professor of English Literature, University of Manchester)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The End of the World

Please click on the link below to read today's sermon (delivered to our Wednesday Morning Communion folks) on the subject of our preparedness for the end of the world. Please CLICK HERE to read it.

To whet your are the opening words...

When the end of the world arrives, how will the media report it?

The Times:

The Financial Times:

The Sun:

The Guardian:

The Telegraph:

The Daily Mirror:


Sports Illustrated:

Readers Digest:

Time Magazine:

Radio Times:

The Watchtower

The Church Times

Woman’s Weekly:

Monday, October 23, 2006

Render unto Caesar

I've just spent my morning (on my day off!) wading through Clare's tax affairs. Why do they have to make it so complicated?! I mean, take the example of National Insurance. (Read the next paragraph slowly...see if you understand it!)

Clare's self-employment income will be less than the National Insurance (class 2) threshold this year, and so she can apply for an 'exception' ('s not called an 'exemption', it's an 'exception'... don't ask me what the difference is!). However the notes to the application for 'exception' indicate that if she doesn't pay her Class 2 for this year, that could affect her ability to claim other state benefits, including her eventual basic state pension. BUT, she is also entitled to Home Responsibilities Credit for the years she has spent bringing up our daughter. So she has applied for the exception.

Did you get that? Does it really have to be that complicated!? I have to wonder!

Having worked, as I did for a while, in the corridors of power (see my website for more information... there's a link to your right) I have some insight into how the bureaucratic mind works.
One of the things I did when working for the Government was to publish an action-plan for simplifying funding arrangements for voluntary sector and other front-line providers. It was a document that received the explicit support and signatures of 3 Government ministers, and 18 departments, quangos and agencies. It should have dramatically cut down on bureaucracy. We publicised it throughout Whitehall, and via the Government Offices in all nine regions, via a roadshow, website, and letter from the sonsoring minister.

3 Years can't even find the document on a Government website...and very few, if any, of the recommendations have been put in place.

Makes you want to scream doesn't it? Still, they paid me I can at least pay Clare's tax bill this year!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Contradictions in the Bible

Here is my sermon of today, on the subject of Mark 10: Contradictions....Please Click Here to read it.

Please enjoy - and please comment!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Gay Church People

I am disturbed. I'm disturbed by the ongoing vitriol I find in the Church Press over the issue of homosexuality.

Here's a bit of background (skip this paragraph if you don't need it!). For some years now, that issue has been a matter of hot theological debate. But ever since the consecration, by the Episcopal Church of the USA, of an openly gay Bishop (Gene Robinson), the worldwide Anglican community has been steadily tearing itself apart - in an extremely unedifying way. Recently the Bishops of the Southern Cone issued a firm statement of rebuke against churches which, like the USA, have departed from the traditional understanding. Their statement - which carries much weight - may ultimately de-stabilise relationships between different voices in the Anglican community entirely. And this week I read that the new edition of the UK Christian Handbook will leave out the details of organisations like the Gay & Lesbian Christian Movement - because of 'commerical pressures' - presumably from anti-gay protestors who would boycott their publication.

So it is with some trepidation that I am choosing to enter this debate with this blog - but I would not have it said that I watched the dis-integration of the Church of England without lifting a finger.

However, I am deliberately not going to give you, dear reader, my opinion about whether or not homosexuality is, or is not, acceptable within the fold of the Church. To do so would be to align myself with forces on either side of the argument - forces which I fear will soon be in open conflict. In fact one of the reasons why I won't do it is precisely because I want, in my small way, to help beat back the forces of schism. In the current context, a declaration of one's view about the issue itself immediately means that one's voice will not be heard by those who hold the opposite view. Our own Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has struggled, I think, to act as a unifying figure (one of primary functions of any bishop) simply because his personal views about homosexuality are well known and published.

Instead, I want to offer the following thoughts to all those who are so wholeheartedly engaged in debate.

I started this blog by saying how disturbed I am at the vitriol being hurled around. It is frightening...and I appeal to all sides of the debate to step back from the listen. Both sides of the debate need to listen to the lessons of history ("His Story"?). To the pro-gay community I would say that the church's previous debates over slavery show that it is possible both to change the mind of the church on issues which at first appear to be thoroughly hedged-in by scripture. To the anti-gay community I would say that the history of the battle for women priests shows that it is possible to reach a solution which allows different integrities to exist side by side in the church...but such compromise takes time, and much talking.

To both sides I say...please don't go! The Church is already weakened beyond belief by the schisms which have divided us on secondary theological issues. God must weep over the way that we waste our precious resources maintaining competing buildings and competing administrative structures instead of using our resources to speak to the world of the primary theological issues which are not in doubt: that God exists, and in Jesus has shown us the way to his heart.

There...I've said my piece.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Bible's full of holes!

I was fascinated today to read of a Dutch publishing house which has produced a copy of the Bible which is full of holes...literally. Called "The Western Bible", this new edition (only available in Dutch) has had all the teaching about social justice, living light, and so on removed...and replaced with a hole!

It has caused a storm! According to the Chairman of the foundation which produced it, Mr. De Rijke the foundation has reacted to a growing wish of many churches to be market-oriented and more attractive. "Jesus was very inspiring for our inner health" he says, "but we don't need to take his naïve remarks about money seriously. He didn't study economics, obviously."

Apparently (and I'm no linguist) the surname of this Chairman - "de Rijke" translates into English as "the Rich". This sounds like a very thought provoking idea to highlight just how much of the Bible we conveniently ignore.

I hope they publish it in English!

If you are interested to read more about this, go to Ekklesia

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Teenagers and Tongues

A teenage girl I know came home stressed today from her new college course. It seems that the girls in her class have already separated themselves into rival gangs (its only the first half term)...and she is caught in the middle. (The separation seems to be over one or two injudicious uses of the tongue which neither side, it seems, can now forgive). Finding it impossible to be friends with both 'gangs' she is finding it very hard to choose where her loyalties lie. And finding the whole mess horribly stressful.

The whole messy business has caused me to reflect again on just what an awesome weapon the tongue is. In the Bible, James tells us that "it is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your life on fire." How true! And this is not just New Testament wisdom either. What about these quotes from the Book of Proverbs:

  • Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble
  • Fools' words get them into constant quarrels; they are asking for a beating!
  • Rumours are dainty morsels that sink deep into one's heart
  • Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything
There is some good ol' wisdom in them thar pages!

The trouble is that of course even we adults fail to learn these lessons. Oh we are much more subtle than our teenage counterparts...but we still manage to cause a lot of trouble with our tongues.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hatch, Match and Dispatch

I took the funeral today of someone who was obviously greatly loved, and will be much missed, by her lovely family. However, neither the deceased nor her family (and most of their friends) were regular churchgoers - as is the case for probably 90% of the funerals I take. Being with them caused me to reflect on how so many people turn to the church at the key points of life - birth, marriage and death (or "hatch, match and dispatch" as the wags have it). And yet, the same sort of people seem quite happy to live their lives without any recourse to the Church at all. Why is that?

I don't suppose I shall ever forget one of the first funerals I ever took. I started to discuss the outline of the service with the family (who shall of course remain nameless!). When I reached the prayers of confession, I was greeted with the uncomprehending question, "Why do we need to do that?". I stumblingly tried to explain the idea of sin, and that we are all sinners who need to ask God's forgiveness. Well, this caused outrage. "We are not sinners! And our [the deceased] certainly wasn't a sinner! You couldn't wish to meet a better person".

I decided not to try and map out a theological definition of sin...and simply left the matter there. However, I couldn't help smiling to myself as the family then began to outline the deceased's life. It seems that they had been a very loving, family person, who enjoyed the company of friends...especially down the pub, where they could be found under a table most evenings. I then asked what the person did for fun at the weekends, and discovered that their favourite past-time had been poaching!

That incident, perhaps more than any other, showed me how far the church has failed to communicate what we mean by the term 'sin'. In the popular mind, 'sin' has been relegated to a word which only describes the most awful crimes...or is jokingly used of the persistent drinker, or someone who enjoys playing the sexual field.

But St Paul said that "all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God". And that is just about the best definition of sin that I have some across anywhere. It is about understanding that none of us, however hard we try, can claim to have achieved the full glory of God...we have all 'fallen short'. Even the most saintly person who has ever lived is still subject to the normal, conflicting emotions of a human-being (and we all know what that is like!).

We Christians need to work harder at helping people to understand that this sin, which we all experience, has the effect of creating distance between us and God. And that only God, in Jesus, is able to reach out across that distance, and 'rescue us' - or 'save us'.

Perhaps if more people could be helped to understand that simple message, more people would realise just how much they need God...and would do more than come to God to be only hatched, matched or dispatched.

Well, I can dream, can't I?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sunday Sermons - links

Here's a link to Sunday morning's sermon (preached at Warblington) on the subject of Mark 10: The Rich Young Man.

Here's a link to Sunday evening's sermon (also at Warblington) on the subject: Hebrews 4: The Word and the High Priest. WARNING - this one is rather dense theologically...aimed at what I knew would be an adult audience with not a few theologians!

Please feel free to comment by clicking on the comment button below.

What makes a Christian Dad?

It's been a few days since I've blogged...busy weekend - but a very worthwhile one. Friday evening was a gathering of our 'e-men' group. (The 'e' stands for whatever you want it to...electronic, Emsworth, jokey reference to email and he-men. Oblique and surreal...but seems to have caught on).

We were discussing what makes a Christian Dad - as opposed to a basically 'good' dad. We got ourselves in a proper knot thinking about the qualities of a good dad (like reliable, loving, patient, a role model, teacher, protector etc...) especially when we realised that all of these words could be applied to good mothers too.

That of course is a issue of modern times - when the biblical concept of fatherhood has been replaced by a new (and mostly very helpful) understanding of equality between genders. But I sometimes wonder if we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater...

The Bible is quite clear about the relationship between husbands and wives. Ephesians 5:21 and following talks about the need for submission to one another. Wives are called to 'submit' to their husbands - modeling that submission on that of the church to the authority of Christ. On the other hand, husbands all called to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her - in other words, a complete and sacrificial love which places the needs of his wife above his own.

(For an extended discussion of Paul's attitude to women, please click on the following link - which will take you to notes and slides of a seminar I once delivered on the subject:
Click here )

As for the unique qualities of a Christian Dad - what are we to say? There are, of course great dads who are not Christians, and bad ones who are. So specifically, what should we look for in the qualities of a great Christian dad. Here are some suggestions:

  1. He will be someone who prays for his children, and his family.
  2. He will be someone who specifically exhibits the fruit of the Spirit in his dealings with them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. (see Galations 5). He will demonstrate by his example the joy of following Christ.
  3. As the Christian part of being the role-model that all dads are called to, he will be a regular bible reader, and attendee at church, and encourage his children to do the same.
  4. Employing the fruit of the Spirit, he will patiently pray for his teenagers when they (almost inevitably) rebel against church, and faithfully trust that God will call them back (remembering, of course, that faith is a gift from God, not something we manufacture ourselves - Ephesians 2:8)
  5. Finally - he will fail, often, to live up to these high ideals. But he will trust in God's forgiveness and keep on 'pressing towards the prize'. (1 Cor 9:24)
What do you think? If you agree, disagree, or want to add other qualities, click on the comments link below...let's get the discussion going even further!

Finally, here's an interesting statistic, thanks to Kevin Price who led our excellent discussion on Friday:

The Christian Business Men's Committee found the following: When the father is an active believer, there is about seventy-five percent likelihood that the children will also become active believers. But if only the mother is a believer, this likelihood is dramatically reduced to fifteen percent. (Incidentally, according to Christian Vision for Men, if a child is an active believer, there is only around 3% chance of the rest of the family following.) Thought provoking eh?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Life of a Minister

Soon after I was accepted for training to the ministry, I was given a book by one Fred Secombe (brother of the late Harry, apparently) called "Chronicles of a Curate". It reads rather like "All Creatures Great and Small", being set in a similar era, when every church had at least one Vicar and probably a couple of curates, and a relatively small, well defined patch of ground to work in. It was a blissful time - Fred seems to have spent most of his time going around the parish from one family to the next, building relationships, teaching, encouraging, and bringing people together. Ministers were a sort of communal glue in those days - keeping families and communities together.

How different from today! Most weeks, for me, involve a significant amount of administration, on a computer that Fred would not have even thought possible. There's the whole job of planning, promoting and delivering all the different ways in which we are working to be a fresh expression of Church - our men's group, our youth group, our family services, our 'informal worship' service. Each must be planned and delivered to the highest possible standard - or risk, in this media-savvy world being percieved as 'naff' or unprofessional.

My average working week can easily involve two or three services, a school assembly, an R.E. class at school, a staff meeting, four or five visits to the elderly or sick, one or two visits to new-comers to the church, a funeral, sometimes a wedding, usually two or three evening meetings, sermon preparation, music distribution, expenses forms and personal accounts, 'continual ministerial training', personal study, one or two trips to the college where I'm Chaplain, preparation of seminars for students at the college, production of publicity materials, planning for future events, two or three services, liaison with key people over future events, answering around 70 emails, letters, keeping abreast of national church issues etc etc etc...

The following story may amuse you. A few weeks ago I had to fill out a questionniare to determine which ministerial areas of competence I should focus on during the remainder of my training curacy. It was divided into sections on Personal Development, Conduct of Worship, Preaching, Mission and Evangelism, Pastoral and Education, Parish Organisation, Areas of Expertise, Links with the Wider Church and the catchall 'Additional'. Under these headings were listed a total of 117 areas of knowledge and competence that, one would assume, the typical (or ideal) minister should have! 117! My previous job descriptions only had around 10!

Not that I'm complaining. I love this ministry, and all the potential that goes with it to bring joy, challenge, hope. Just thought that some of you, dear readers, might be interested to get a glimpse of what else we preachers get up to when we are not in the pulpit!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What a fool!

What kind of a fool am I? (Answers on a post-card please). Went off merrily to Winchester this morning for a seminar on Homiletics (posh name for preaching). Got there through the pouring rain, a little late, to discover that the seminar took place yesterday! Must have written the date carelessly in my diary. Oh well, with the cost of petrol and well as the small, but I suspect expensive collision between my wing mirror and a post while I was parking in a hurry...I think I've done my penance!

Still...every cloud and all that. Suddenly found that I had a spare day which I had not have caught up with some of the pile of paperwork on my desk, and some phone calls and visits to people in the parish who have not seen me for tooooo long. Must get better at this time management thang!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Manufacturer's Product Recall

Here's a wonderful message I received today, from the son of Bishop Julius Oyet of Uganda, via a member of my own church. Clever, thought-provoking stuff.

Manufacturer Product Recall

Regardless of make or year, all units known as "Human Beings" are being recalled by the manufacturer. This is due to malfunction of the original prototype units, code named "Adam" and "Eve," resulting in the reproduction of the same defect in all subsequent units.

This defect is technically termed, "Serious Internal Non-Morality," but more commonly known as "SIN."
Some of the symptoms of the SIN defect:
[a] Loss of direction
[b] Lack of peace and joy
[c] Depression
[d] Foul vocal emissions
[e] Selfishness
[f] Ingratitude
[g] Fearfulness
[h] Rebellion
[i] Jealousy

The manufacturer, Jesus Christ, is providing factory authorized repair service free of charge to correct the SIN defect. He has most generously offered to bear the entire burden of the staggering cost of these repairs. To repeat, there is no fee required.

The number to call for repair in all areas is: P-R-A-Y-E-R.
Once connected, please upload the burden of SIN through the REPENTANCE procedure. Next, download ATONEMENT process into the heart component of the human unit.

No matter how big or small the SIN defect is, Christ will replace it with:
[a] Love
[b] Joy
[c] Peace
[d] Kindness
[e] Goodness
[f] Faithfulness
[g] Gentleness
[h] Patience
[i] Self-control

Please see the operating manual, Holy Bible, for further details on the use of these fixes.

As an added upgrade, the Manufacturer has made available to all repaired units a facility enabling direct monitoring and assistance from the resident Maintenance Technician, the Holy Ghost. Repaired units need only make Him welcome, and He will take up residence on the premises.

WARNING: Continuing to operate as a human being unit without corrections voids the Manufacturer's warranty, exposing the unit to dangers and problems too numerous to list and will ultimately result in the human unit being incinerated.

Thank you for your immediate attention. Please assist by notifying others of this important recall notice!

May the Manufacturer Bless and keep you! The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such there is no law. Galations 5:22-23.

Ugbana Oyet
Publicity Secretary, Africa Christian Fellowship

Monday, October 09, 2006

Quote of the Day

Heard at the CVM Conference: "Why is the CofE called the CofE? Could it be because most of its members only come to church at Christmas and Easter?!!" Ouch!

CVM Weekend - update

I'm back, now, from the CVM (Christian Vision for Men) weekend (see my previous blog for more details). It was a superb event - around 400 guys meeting together to think and pray about the future of the church, and especially about mens' roles within it. The prog was titled "His Master's Voice" and included challenges to us all.

One seminar, for example, was titled "Uncomfortable with Evangelism", and encouraged us all to be more determined to tell our friends and work colleagues about Jesus. As the seminar leader (Anthony Delaney) said as his opening statement.."I'm standing here today because the Gospel works!" Surely, he argued, if we are convinced of the truth of the Gospel, we should want to share that with as many people as possible.

Another seminar, called "What you see is not what you get" focused on pornography... a problem for around 80% of men (if statistics are to be believed). Viewing pornography has the potential for causing extreme distress between men and their wives/girlfriends - (who may feel betrayed and inadequate), let alone the spiritual harm done when a man views another human being as an 'object', not a person. CVM has campaigned for some time on this important subject - including setting up a buddy scheme for guys to support one another, and be accountable to one another, for their viewing choices.

There were many other fantastic, thought-provoking seminars at this conference...being a great husband and father, why men hate going to church, the future of the C of E, men and anger, coping with divorce etc...etc...etc. There's too much to report on here...but if you, dear reader, are a bloke...and want you mind, and faith, expanded and challenged...let me encourage you to get to next year's conference. In the meantime, check out the CVM website (see my previous blog below).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Men's Weekend

I'm leaving in a short while for a weekend organised by "Christian Vision for Men" - an organisation which my parish is affiliated to because of our own 'e-men' group.

It does feel strange, in our diverse, gender-equal, culture to be focusing just on men for a while. But the hard reality is that the church has never recovered, numerically, from the loss of male worshippers caused by the world wars...leading, some have suggested, to a 'feminisation' of church worship and structures which fails to communicate to men.

Christian Vision for Men (click here) aims to reverse the decline in numbers of male Christians and "To encourage and equip Christian men in the UK to share their faith in Jesus Christ with their friends and colleagues".

Our own e-men group has experimented during this last year with a range of different approaches to encouraging men to think about faith - including discussions in the back-rooms of pubs, as well as purely social events. We've had a reasonable degree of success in attracting guys whose wives and children are more regular attendees than they are. But there is a lot more to do...especially if men who have no current connection with the church are to find, in the search for faith, something that will excite them.

Hopefully the conference will give me some stuff to think about! More when I return...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Diversity and Truth

I went to Portsmouth College again today - once more to staff the fair trade stall, but also to more generally be part of Diversity Week. Philip (a tutor at the college) has a real passion for helping people to understand one other's cultures. So today we've had henna-'tatooing' and indian cuisine alongside the fair trade stall. It's so delicious to see young people (and their tutors!) learning about each other.

On then to study...Haggai and Zechariah...on the theme of Universalism versus Nationalism in the post-exilic scriptures. Riveting stuff...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Trading Fairly?

I was at Portsmouth College today, helping to run a Traidcraft Stall. Not a bad thing to do on the day that Tesco Supermarket announces that it has made a billion pounds of profit in the first six months of the year. I wonder how much of that profit was made by paying producers a fair wage (plus of course the bonus that Traidcraft pays to its producers to build schools, health clinics, wells and the like)?

I was startled by how many students at the college didn't know what the principle of Fair Trade is all about. What are they being taught in schools these days? One student thought it meant the customer (i.e. him) paying a fair price...and he thought our prices were too high to be called 'fair' - ("especially compared to Tesco", he said). (Reminds me of that Waitrose slogan..."Quality Food, Honestly Priced") Another student was convinced that there must be a con involved somewhere...and flatly refused to believe that Jenny (who set up the stall) Ephod and I (who were helping) were doing it as volunteers! (Mind you, I approve of his cynicism in general...!)

We - that is everyone who does know about Fair Trade - obviously need to work harder at banging home the message!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Quote of the Day

Heard on Radio 4's "Quote Unquote": A father is someone who keeps snapshots in his wallet where his money used to be. So true

An Aural to play!

this is an audio post - click to play

Harvest - Deuteronomy 15

What is Harvest all about? Many things...of course. But here's my take on some of them:

First and foremost it is, of course, a time for giving thanks for many things:

We give thanks to God for our food – which, in the West, is more abundant and varied than at perhaps any other time in human history. We never have food shortages – the shelves of the supermarkets are always well stocked. But it wasn’t always like this, as those who were alive in the war and before can no doubt remember. And it still isn’t like this in all the world. For so much of the world, our greed drives their need.

Harvest is a time for giving thanks for, and to, our farmers and fishers. But the farming way of life is under threat as perhaps never before. So our thoughts and prayers must continue to be with all those livelihood is precarious, and those who see no alternative but to give up.

Harvest time is also a time for remembering to use the earth’s resources wisely and sustainably:

We need to make sure that the long-term consequences of today’s actions will not jeopardise the lives of generations to come. Did you know that the idea of sustainability goes back centuries? It feels like a really modern thing doesn’t it...for those of us who have grown up in a world 'addicted to oil' (to borrow one of the more positive Bush-isms) and to not worrying about our environment. But sustainability is something that Christians and Jews have been advocating for thousands of years.

For example, in Old Testament times, the ancient Israelites tried to ensure that their agriculture was sustainable; that too much was not taken from the earth without giving it chance to recover. This meant giving the land a rest every seven years, and also every fiftieth, or jubilee year.

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, talks about this very principle of using the earth’s resources wisely. In that great mythological story, we see God giving the Garden of Eden to Adam - under a sort of tenancy agreement. In that agreement, God tells Adam that he must rule over the earth, and take care of it. The sad fact is that ever since those days, we have learned how to rule over the land...but only now are we beginning to understand the importance of taking care of it.

Harvest time is also a time for remembering to share the fruits of the earth:

I mentioned just now that principle of the Old Testament law of letting land lie fallow every seven years. In turn, that was linked with another important Old Testament law...that of the year of cancelling debts. Here are some words from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 15. In verse 4, God is reported to say “There should be no poor among you…” He is setting down a condition of the tenancy agreement which simply says...”You must share what I have given you. You may not keep more than you need...and there shall be no poor among you”. Later in verse 7, God says “Do not be hard hearted or tight fisted towards your poorer brother. Rather (in verse 8 and following - & somewhat paraphrased) be open-handed and freely lend him whatever he needs - and when the seventh year comes...the year for cancelling debts...freely forgive your brother your debt to him.

The seventh year had great importance for the Jewish nation. As I said just now, it was the time for letting the land rest, and also for forgiving debts. It was a time of fresh starts - but also for a time of letting go of the possessions that have cluttered up our lives.

Jesus often talked about the perils of having too much and keeping for oneself what should be shared with others. You will remember I’m sure that parable of the rich man whose crops were so abundant that he planned to build more barns in order to store them. He did not sell or share his harvest. Then, on the night that he had finished building and stocking his barns, God said to him, “You Fool! This very night you will die!” So he died, and was not able to enjoy the results of his wealth. Jesus said that we should not store up treasure for ourselves on earth, where it will rot. Instead, we should build up spiritual treasure that will last.

So maybe harvest time is an opportunity for trying afresh to get the balance right between providing for ourselves and our families, and building a world which is based on mutual support and help for those in genuine need - rather than on materialism and greed.

There is a new phrase doing the rounds in Christian circles, which I like...and which is a constant challenge to me. It’s the phrase “living light” - and implies that we need to live in such a way that we are not shackled to anything material. That doesn’t mean that we give up all material things - God has given us physical bodies with physical needs - and its right that we should relish in his creation. But we should never let any of them become our masters.

Linked to that idea, Harvest is a time for remembering that God sows spiritual seeds in our hearts, and wants them to bear an abundant harvest. In that story of the man who built huge barns, Jesus reminds us that earthly food is transient, and we should seek the food that lasts for ever - the spiritual food which he offers to those who believe in him, and follow his ways.

You see - God gives us a choice - pure and simple. Either we can live for ourselves, and reap the consequences (for example of an unsustainable world economy). Or we can look for spiritual wealth, through Jesus - and join with all of God’s people in building a better world.

So for me at least, that is what Harvest-time is all about. Yes, remembering to give thanks. But also reminding ourselves to use the earth’s resources wisely; remembering to share the fruits of the earth, and finally remembering that God sows spiritual seeds in our hearts. It is of course entirely up to us whether we listen to these messages, or let those seeds germinate and grow.