Saturday, January 27, 2007

And the Greatest of These is Love...

I wonder how many times you've heard a sermon, at a wedding, preached on the subject of 1 Corinthians 13? It's a very popular passage!

If you fancy having a think about that chapter in a non-wedding context, tomorrow's sermon does just that. To read it CLICK HERE

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Catholic Adoption Agency Row

The Issue? The Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York have weighed into a debate between the Government and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is fighting for an exemption to new anti-discrimination legislation which would force Catholic adoption agencies to place children for adoption with lesbian and gay couples. If they don't get their way, they are threatening to close those agencies.

The Problem. Once again I am going to studiously avoid making a statement one way or the other on the gay issue in general. This is not moral cowardice on my part - but a result of a genuine search for truth in my own mind...and a desire to listen to voices on all sides of the debate.

The Archbishops have argued - as I understand it - that to force Catholic adoption agencies to act outside their moral frame of reference is a form of discrimination against Christians. In other words, they seem to be arguing, we should not force Christians to act against their moral convictions.

What a very difficult dilemma! Self-evidently if would be wrong to force a Christian to murder (against his moral conviction). But in matters as finely balanced as the question of homosexuality...I can't help but wonder.

Christ's example (as I have learned from Rowan Williams - the very same Archbishop of Canterbury, in case you don't know) was one of utter self-emptying, and a refusal to stand up against his oppressors. I have on my book shelf a lent course written by Williams some years ago, on the way that Jesus is presented to us by the Gospels. In analysing Mark's account, Williams makes the point that the only time that Jesus was willing to admit to the title of 'Messiah' or 'Christ' was when he was at his lowest ebb, and most powerless - in front of the Temple Court. Jesus' example was one of not asserting his rights; and not resisting the oppression of the state. The result? By the Holy Spirit, the growth of God's good news across the face of the planet.

These things are finely balanced though. It was right of Christians to lead the campaign against the slave trade, 200 years ago. It is right for Christians to be at the forefront of campaigns for the release of world poverty.

The difficulty arises when Christians move their attention from standing up for the rights of others not to be oppressed, and begin to stand up for their rights to believe certain things (in this case, that Gay and Lesbian couples who want children are 'sinful' and should not be allowed). That's a fundamental shift - and one that I am, frankly worried about.

Of course, supporters of the Catholic church's stance will say that they are standing up for the right of children to be brought up in a 'normal' home, and 'as God intended'. The trouble is, if we follow that line, the logical extension is that we have to begin to define what is 'normal'. If, for example, a heterosexual couple adopt a child, and then one of the couple dies...should we take away the child from the remaining parent on the basis that theirs is no longer a 'normal' home?

I once knew a lesbian couple who had developed a relationship after the divorce of one of the pair. She brought her two children into the new relationship. I was naive enough, then, to ask how they felt about the lack of a male presence in the children's life. They told me that the children's father had been a wife and child-beater, and a chronic alcoholic who would not confront his problem. They told me that one of the reasons they brought the children to the YMCA (where I then worked) was precisely because they wanted the children to have contact with positive male role models.

I had to ask myself - which of the two situations the children had lived in was the better. The answer was obvious.

Ours is a messy world...and in many ways it is as much of a mess now as it was when Jesus walked among us. But his response to the mess was not to impose his own morality...but to tell people the good news of a better way...and leave them to make their own choice.

I have, in theory, no problem with Christians advancing their views about how we should live. But accepting that even among Christians there is no 'common moral stance' on a lot of issues (like homosexuality) - should we perhaps avoid forcing our views on others (by, for example, threatening to close our adoption agencies if we don't get our way)?

I'm dithering on this one...does anyone want to help me out with an opinion? Click on the comments button below to progress the debate!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jesus' Purpose

There's a lovely image, in Luke chapter 4, of Jesus returning to his home town of Nazareth...and doing the Bible reading. After that, he preaches about what he has read...and nearly gets thrown off a cliff for it.

Read all about it HERE in the words of yesterday's sermon.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Big Brother Bother

I haven't watched Big Brother...ever. Sorry if that makes me sound rather snobish...but I simply don't see the need to watch a bunch of people (celebrities or not) being manipulated into the worst excesses of human behaviour by a false social environment.

However, its been hard to avoid the thing this week. Hours of media coverage have left us all reeling, apparently, at the 'surprise' that there is racism still alive and well in the UK. And thousands of people have been inspired to write to complain..."Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells" has been firing up his email this week!

Actually, whilst not condoning for a moment the racism that has happened on the TV, I can't help but feel sorry that this amount of passion does not get exercised over the real injustices in the world.

The barely literate insults of a celebrity are NOTHING in comparison to the SCANDAL of world poverty. The nation seems to care massively for the one Indian film star whose race has been used as an insult...and seems utterly blind to the horror of millions of starving people throughout the world.

Surely, the real racism is that which says "You are African...therefore you starve."?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

2006 Blogs Now Available in Date Order

For those who would like to visit last year's postings in a catalogued format (which I hope will be easy to navigate), please click on the link to the right (called "2006 Blogs in Date Order").

I hope this will be a useful record of what we've discussed together, so far, on this site!

I will attempt to put this year's blogs into a similar format as the year progresses.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More thoughts on Genesis

My recent blog on Genesis has provoked some interesting reaction - not least among some members of one of our church's house-groups. I have therefore decided to do a bit more thinking - and put some flesh on the bones of my argument.

To read a longer essay on the subject of Genesis, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

I look forward to the storm of debate!

Friday, January 12, 2007

"Let us Offer One Another a Sign of Peace"...Groan!

Those masters of the comedic song, Stilgoe and Skellern, once penned the following words, about a fictional character, called Mrs Beamish...

Mrs Beamish stands in church,
expression calm and holy
And when the organ plays she
mumbles hymns extremely slowly
A pillar of St Botolphs
For twenty years or more
She does the flowers at Easter
and the brass-work on the door
But recently St Botolphs
has gained a brand new Vicar,
His name is Ken, he's single,
and he wants the hymns sung quicker,
He's introduced a custom
which Mrs Beamish hates,
So she rounds upon the person next to her
and clearly states;

"Don't you dare shake hands with me,
or offer signs of peace,
You lay a finger on me
and I'll send for the police,
Don't whisper 'peace be with you'
- this is the C of E,
So bend the knee, say 'thou and thee'
- and keep your hands off me!"

Brilliant stuff - with a number of equally funny subsequent verses(including my favourite line..."one more step in my direction, you'll have to believe in the resurrection!")

The whole song underlines that sense of uneasiness which some people have at sharing 'the Peace' - in my church and many others. I confess to not finding it the easiest experience myself...especially when I'm in the pew (not leading from the front). I tend to feel very self-conscious as I turn around and look for someone's hand to shake...feeling a bit of a lemon when there is no-one available, because they are all shaking hands with other people. And what should one do...a polite handshake, a 'holy kiss' on the cheek, or a charismatic bear-hug?! And if I shake one person's hand, and exchange a kiss from another - what does that communicate to the person who only got a they feel less loved or valuable?

The other thing that often gets said by people who complain about 'The Peace" is..."There's not much peace around here!".

However - whilst, as you can see from all I've said, I have some grave reservations about the Peace...I do think that it has a place within church life. Sharing of the peace is a 'liturgical' action which has deeper meaning. In these days when so much of our worship is conducted from the front, by the minister or leader - and while congregations have atendancy to turn more and more into audiences - it is very important that people have the opportunity to engage in liturgical action. Things that we act out tend to be much more memorable than things we merely observe.

Another thing to remember is that we are not sharing silence, but peace. This is peace in terms of a lack of conflict...not the peace of a period of silence. As the standard words of introduction have it..."let us therefore make for peace, and for all that builds up our common life". This peace we share is a liturgical demonstration of our one-ness, or our peace with our neighbours in Christ. It is the "peace of God which passes all understanding" - an expression of the peace of our souls granted to us through Jesus, which we share with one another.

So, to Mrs Beamish, and all who share her opinion, I would urge a re-evaluation of this important gesture. There, just before we gather together around the Lord's Table, we have an opportunity to set aside the petty squabbles and annoyances that are inevitable in any community...we can make peace with our sister or brother - and come, as one body, united in peace, to share the Supper of our Lord.

Something to think about perhaps?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Genesis - Fact or Myth?

We had dinner tonight with some good friends - and got talking about the nature of Scripture. We had a fascinating discussion - especially about Genesis.

I think, like most people, I believed as a child that Genesis was a literal account of the creation of the world. But as I've got older - and despite some very good attempts by some 'creationist' friends - I have come to the view that Genesis can not be taken literally. Scientific evidence to the contrary is so overwhelming.

But that doesn't mean that it does not contain Truth. I mean 'Truth' in the sense of essential truths about the relationship between God and humankind. One way of looking at the Bible in general, and Genesis in particular, is to say that science tells us how the world was made, but the Bible tells us why.

The creation story of Genesis tells us that humankind are the pinnacle of God's creation on Earth - and (vitally) charged with the task of "working the garden and taking care of it". What a shame that we have not taken heed of this most basic tennant of Scripture!

The creation story also tells us how we have been fashioned (whether directly by God, or by God working through evolution) into two genders - male and female (which Genesis underlines means that we are made in the image of God...meaning that God is as much female as male). These genders have complementary roles - not servant and master.

Most importantly of all, through the myth of the 'Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil' Genesis outlines humankind's most fundamental problem...that even when placed in a paradise, we are a willful people, who will not listen to God's good sense, and prefer to go our own way. Adam and Eve's sin was to be the first humans to think they knew better than God...and the rest of us have continued to do exactly the same!

Genesis then contains much Truth - in the same way that Jesus' parables contained truth...although they were not stories of real people.

I wonder what others take a moment to comment!

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Age of the Individual

I has been my day-off today - and I've been reading "The Politics of Hope" by Jonathan Sacks (yes...the Chief Rabbi).

It's a fascinating book, with much to say about the differences between politics and society...but more on that on another occasion. What has particularly gripped me today has been Sacks' take on the difference between "Individuals" and "Individualism".

We are, of course, all individuals - and each one of us uniquely loved by God (whether or not we believe in God!). But in the last 200 years, the cult of individualism has really begun to take hold. The most intriguing definition cited in the book is that of Alexander de Tocqueville, who in 1981 (in his book 'Democracy in America) said that individualism is that 'mature and calm feeling which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and friends, so that after he has formed this little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself'.

What an absolutely stunning definition (I thought to myself). I have to say that I am not yet convinced that individualism as defined here has not always been with us in one form or another. But I think we can see times in history when individualism has been sacrificed for the good of society as a whole. The 'wartime spirit' so often lamented by the older generation would be one example.

The hard reality is, however, that most of us, if we are honest, are quite happy with our small circle of friends and family...and as long as the rest of society doesn't bother us, we are happy to leave it to its own devices.

How very far this is from Jesus' command for us to love our neighbour as ourselves - including his graphic parable which defined our neighbour as 'even a samaritan'...the outsider, and the foreigner.

For my evening 'entertainment' I have watched 'Hotel Ruwanda' on TV this evening. It was almost too painful to watch. Perhaps the most painful scene of all is the moment when a European camera man says of his TV news footage about to be sent home, that people at home will "watch it, say 'how dreadful', and then go back to their dinner".

That hurts..doesn't it?

New Year and the Three Kings

As promised, here's a link to yesterday's sermon about the three 'Kings'. Given that it was also a New Year sermon, for our family service...its a bit shoe-horned with the theme of the New Year. But I hope you enjoy it!

To read the sermon, click here

Happy New Year to All!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

New Web Portal

Any idea what a web portal is? Well...neither have I. So I've invented my own version of one...

I have today created a new website address:

Nice and easy to remember, and where you - dear reader - will have a choice as to whether to come here to the Blog, or go to the rather more static website. On the website, you can listen to some of the music I have written, and read about my murky past before ordination.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Things We Thought We Knew...about the Three Kings

Following yesterday's reflection on wisdom in general, I've been doing a bit of thinking about the Three Kings - in preparation for Sunday's Sermon.

Did you know that the Bible says nothing at all about Kings? Nor does it tells us how many of them there were. Instead, it simply says that ‘wise men, from the East, came to Jerusalem’. The text (Matthew 2) also tells us that they arrived something like two years after the birth of Jesus. And believe it or not, they didn’t visit him in the stable, but instead they went to the house where he and his parents were living.

There’s a bit of a lesson in that for us...don’t you think? Sometimes we make assumptions about what the Bible ways, without actually reading the text for ourselves.

For example, despite what you might hear on the streets, Jesus never said that “God helps those who help themselves”.

Nor did he ever say that “Religion and Politics don’t mix”.

He definitely didn't say “An eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth” (A pity that the executioners of Saddam didn't know this. Execution is a statement that there can never be any possibility of remorse or change...and that might equals right. A bad idea, whichever way you look at it).

For more about the Wise'll have to wait for Sunday's Sermon (which I will post on this blog - I promise!)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Things We Thought We Knew

I received a great book for Christmas - "The Book of General Ignorance"...a spin off from the comedy quiz, hosted by Stephen Fry..."Q.I." It contains a cornucopia of things we all take for granted...or think that we know...and then puts us right.

For example, what has a three-second memory? If you answered would be utterly wrong.

Cameleons don't change colour to match their background (they change colour according to their emotional state)

Lemmings don't commit suicide over cliffs - that's a fabrication invented by a 1958 Walt Disney film.

Mozart's middle name was not was Wolfgang.

Think you know the number of the beast...666 right? Wrong. According to a recent translation of the oldest copy of the book of Revelation known to is 616.

How many senses does an average human have? Five...right? Wrong. To the normal five you should add thermoception (sense of heat on our skin), equibibrioception (our sense of balance), and nociception (our sense of pain). In fact some neurologists argue that there are up to 21 senses. (What about hunger, or thirst, or the sense of meaning, or language?)

In his trial, Socrates said, in effect, that his main role as a 'wise' man was to show others, through argument, that they were not as wise as they thought they were. He believed that the beginning of wisdom was the knowledge that we, in fact, know very little. Thomas Edison estimated that we know less than one millionth of one percent of about anything. Woody Allen has said that some drink deeply from the river of knowledge, but others only gargle.

The Bible has some interesting things to say about wisdom too: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom," for example (Psalm 111).

Ponder these things....