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"...it 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 Revolution...it 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 appetite...here 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' (note...it'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 later...you 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 well...so 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 brink....to pause....to 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 parking...as 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 expected...so 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 Greeting...click 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.