Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Pi=3?

The other day I found myself writing a sermon and wanting to quote the story of the American state which legislated that Pi was 3 on the basis of II Chronicles 4:2, 5. It is a long story, but I was trying to demonstrate Foucault's power/knowledge albeit trivially (probably just digging myself in deeper here!). What I found was that it started as an internet spoof in 1998 (and there was I thinking I had heard of it years ago). However, what I did find was that a law was debated in Illinois which proposed at least 3 different values for Pi! The text of the law is here for real anoraks.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Talented Artist

What do you make of this image? How long do you think they have been painting? The full story can be found in the Guardian. The artist is 7 years old and has been painting for a couple of years. His pictures sell for upwards of £900. How wonderful to have found his talent so early in life.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Biblical Truth?

I am currently reading "A Generous Orthodoxy" and it contains a question about how we see the church reforming.

It suggests that we can reform the Method of communicating the Message and/or the Message itself. This gives four quadrants (as favoured in marketing presentations) to consider where we stand. I was surprised to find McLaren putting himself in the reformed Message and reformed Method quadrant (although less surprised by the reformed method).

This set me thinking about what I think! I had always thought that I was all for changing the method (which is a good job as I promised to preach the Gospel anew to this generation), but that I thought that the message was eternal. However, having been challenged by McLaren on this I can see that perhaps I too am in box 4. It all depends on what you think the eternal message is. For me it is the two great commandments:
He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ Luke 10:27
but I can see McLaren's point that this hasn't always been the case. Of course, I might want to argue that it has always been God's message - but others would have a legitimate argument that this is not the case. If we look at how this has been worked out with regards to slavery and is being worked out with regard to women then if you take the view that the message is what is proclaimed then the message has changed and is changing, and will no doubt change again. After all Jesus said:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth John 16:12

If you want to explore more about this it is discussed at greater length in this book which McLaren describes as a simple book idea!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Maya Angelou


I get a daily email from Sojourners and today it had this great quote in it

I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God's will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at commensurate speed.
- Maya Angelou
from her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Radio Africa

Local Radio is back in Amersham again this year, though only for 48 hours http://amersham.buckinghamshireadvertiser.co.uk/2009/12/charity-radio-station-set-to-g.html.

This year it is raising money for Africa Link, and broadcasting from Cafe Africa on 87.7FM and on the Cafe Africa Web site.

I will be broadcasting from 3pm until 4pm (the pm is necessary, this year it is running 24 hours/day) on Tuesday 22nd with similar mix of music and chat as last year. I plan to have at least one guest studying for ordination, so why not pop along and ask us some questions?

You might ask what the point of things like this is - and I looked back to find my blogged explanation from last year - but it wasn't there! So here goes.

Last year I had no idea where this would lead. After 4 weeks of broadcasting there was a greater sense of community around the whole town. Sure, not everyone joined in, but the age range of those involved must have spanned over 70 years. There were even stories of children listening to the radio together! It also generated a sense of community in the way that any event does - and on top of that it raised money for charity.

Being local radio it even has a really local impact - the first show I had to leave early as I was taking the 8am service. I announced this on the show, and when I got to church one of the congregation said that it was a good job that I had as it meant that they knew they had to leave too!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Copenhagen

Yesterday the Daily Express reported that the European Foundation have circulated a list of 100 reasons why humanity has not contributed towards climate change. This was rapidly debunked by the New Scientist but I want to ask why it matters!

We know that Glaciers are shrinking (see The Age of Stupid) and that Bangladesh is suffering severe flooding. Are those who want to argue that we are not the cause of it not worried about what is?

OK, knowing what causes it might help determine what we should do to reverse things, but saying "not our fault" doesn't help with that.

At the Wave Rowan Williams translated Matthew 28:19 as "Go and share the good news with all creation." and Vincent Nicholls said "Only when we are clearly prepared to change the way we live will politicians be able to achieve the change we say we want to see." It was time to "live simply, so that others may simply live".

It strikes me that those who deny our impact on global warming are saying that they are not prepared to make those changes to the way they live.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Spirited Exchanges


Spirited Exchanges is coming to St Michael's.

Monday 2nd November, 7.45 for 8.00 pm at St Michael and All Angels, Amersham on the Hill.

Jenny McIntosh, co-founder of Spirited Exchanges will speak further about people leaving churches and why, and the experiences of people in this space and what might be helpful for them. Many have already left the church. Some have felt marginalised and misunderstood, others have felt controlled and disrespected. For most it has led to considerable upheaval in their faith understanding and practice and has often meant the loss of previously valued community. If you know of anyone who might like to come along please feel free to invite them.

Spirited Exchanges is a network offering support, encouragement and resources for people who are experiencing challenges to and/or the unravelling of their faith.

The Orthodox Heretic

Peter Rollins is a philosopher by profession, and founder and co-ordinator of IKON, an emergent church community in Belfast. In this book he explains by way of parables some of the ideas he has written about in his other books. He is much taken by paradox and many of the parables are paradoxical in nature. Not all of the parables stand up by themselves, but in the book they are all followed by an explanation (which does sadly undermine the power of parable). However, the parables and the following explanations provide serious food for thought about what it means to be a Christian and the nature of what belief is. He is clear that we are to think for ourselves (this was evidenced in a talk at Greenbelt where he said "I'm not sure that I believe some of what I'm saying") and in this book provides enough challenging parables to make us do just that. You may not agree with his answers, but thinking about what he is proposing will challenge what you do think and believe.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Departed


Just watched "The Departed" and just looked up and found it won 4 Oscars. It was a good film, and yet I find myself in a weird place having watched it. It is all about moles and hardly anybody is what they seem to be - throughout the film they are all terrified of being exposed, and now, about an hour later, I find myself inexplicably in that paranoid place that they were in. Perhaps this is an example of the power of the movies.

I used to think that it didn't matter what we saw (although I have tended to steer clear of horror films), but after this experience I am more inclined to believe in the power they can have over us. Perhaps it is a case of it only being good films that we have to fear?

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Great Emergence - and Anglican issues!

I have recently been reading Phyllis Tickle on the Great Emergence. Two things struck me. The first was that she says that about every 500 years there is a shift in Christianity, and that one of the first signs of this is a breakdown in authority. Just prior to the reformation there were 3 Popes, so from a situation where people knew who was in charge now there was a choice. What struck me forcibly was the analogy with the current times in Anglicanism, where cetainly among some there is a desire for a strong authority, when in fact Anglicanism could almost be defined as not having an authority.

The other strand that I noted was a restatement of the old believe- behave- belong or belong-behave-believe. What was added to this was an explanation of the accompanying approach to people who want to join. In the old style there were lots of rules, and if you kept the rules you could belong. In the new approach there is a centre towards which people are drawn - but to which they don't have to sign up before belonging.

This is not perhaps quite the problem in Anglicanism at present but I can see many similarities. If we take the battle over homosexuality in Anglicanism then it is largely between those who think it is wrong and those who think it is right. What doesn't get much publicity is the approach that says that it doesn't matter! To be fair, if you are going to have an authorised ministry then it does matter, but this might explain why, although there are many to whom this does matter, there are a large number of people to whom it doesn't matter at all. Of course in some sense the "it doesn't matter"s are by default on the side of change, as they cannot see what the problem is in the first place!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Archbishops letter

Following the American General Convention the Archbishop of Caterbury has written that:

    9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. ...
http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2502

My concern about this statement is that it seems to imply that only those who fully live the Gospel are allowed to have a representative function in the Church. Now call me picky, but I don't think any of us achieve that. I know of one priest who says that churches should have a big banner over the door - sinners only - and I believe that that applies to the priests too. I also liked the story of the priest who was asked whether he was a Christian and he said "I'm trying to be". Having googled this I know that there are a large body of people who will say that being a Christian is about grace - fine - so what makes people ineligible for a representative role?

Or is this something to do with hypocrisy? Many of our other sins are hidden and known only to us. If someone is living in such a union, but hides the fact, does that make them fit for a representative function? I would argue not and that the action of the Americans is at least honest about where they stand in a way that the CofE isn't.

For me a large part of being a priest is about an openness and honesty about who I am - hiding away parts of myself for fear of what others might think or say is to me denying God - and yet I find myself doing it. But at least I confess it and don't make a policy out of it.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Abraham and Isaac


I regularly listen to Pray as you go and on Thursday 2nd July 2009 it included the reading about Abraham and Isaac (NRSV Oremus, Lots of others Biblegateway)

During the reflection on the passage they suggested that there were two alternative readings: that God was testing Abraham, or that this was the stage in history at which Abraham and the people recognised that God did not want human sacrifice and instead wanted humans to flourish.

My immediate reaction was to want to argue with that - there are surely so many more interpretations than just those 2 :).

My mind started drifting and I started going into sermon mode - thinking that surely it can be a metaphor for how God asks for our obedience. Then however I stumbled across the idea that it isn't an instruction, instead it is a warning - if we love God then we cannot deny him anything - and the warning is twofold - that if we do love God then the impact on our lives will be this big, and secondly that there are things which we should deny him - that he doesn't want us to sacrifice everything - ‘I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness.’ John 10:10.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Thoughts around Communion

A number of different issues have all cropped up at once making me think about when people may receive communion. The first was that recently I have had reason to attend a number of Roman Catholic services, and I was shocked to discover the pain I felt at not being allowed to receive. And yet some were while I was on retreat (at Ampleforth), and I could have chosen not to attend any more communion services, but I did - at least in part to explore my feelings of exclusion. These were particularly acute on a couple of occasions when the words of the service felt particularly exluding:
"Lord, I am not worthy to receive but only say the word, and I shall be healed"
and
"Remember those who take part in this offering, those here present and all your people, and all who seek you with a sincere heart" (Eucharistic Prayer 4)
I also remember at my selection conference taking part in a conversation about communion before confirmation where another candidate reported that her granddaughter had asked "Granny, aren't I the body of Christ?" (from the words at the fraction "We break this bread to share in the body of Christ. Though we are many, we are one body,because we all share in one bread.").

It struck me that this comes down at least in part to Eucharisitic theology - after all, I realised that at Ampleforth I didn't share their understanding of what was happening to the elements - so what would receiving have meant? My theology in this space is very much one of community, and I recall a priest I know telling me that at theological college he had been told to receive each time he was present (after having refused as he felt unworthy) because in refusing there is a breach of community.

This was also highlighted in a recent discussion at church where we were talking about being a welcoming community, and it was said that we welcome everyone - I had to point out that we don't - the Eucharist is exclusive- even though we admit children to communion before confirmation (and here of course lies another problem - only the baptised - when in many cases it is Christian parents who have carefully thought about this who do not have their children baptised).

This was then followed at Deanery Chapter by a discussion on what common practise is - most said that if people put out their hands they would receive.
So... what does this all mean? As I was pondering this I stumbled over this report from the Episcopal Church.
I also had pause for thought, as I can remember attending a RC church many years ago and not feeling excluded - perhaps because I was less attached - so is there something about people desirous of receiving communion being in a state of being ready for baptism? (cf Canon B15A on receiving communion: "members ... who have been confirmed ... or are ready and desirous to be so confirmed").

It also struck me that in some senses people are perhaps behaving with more integrity now - If baptism is a big deal then it shouldn't be entered into lightly, and people shouldn't be "done". I think it also ties in with the fact that people don't "join" as much any more (sounding like and old codger), not just the church but anything - when we present quite a hard picture of baptism as "joining" perhaps it is no surprise that just as people now see marriage as the completion of a journey rather than the start of it, so they don't want to commit to baptism until they are sure.
Am I arguing for open communion? I don't know. Perhaps a better approach would be to teach more about baptism and encourage people to see it as the start of a journey - for after all we never end the journey this side of the grave! What I do know is that I feel drawn to the invitation to communion that goes:
    Come, not because you must, but because you may, Come, not because you are strong, but because you are weak, Come, not because you are righteous, but because you sincerely love Christ, Come, not because you wish to receive the benefits that Christ may bring, but that you wish to be his disciple, Come, not to express an opinion or to make a statement, But to seek a presence and to pray for a spirit. Come - for Christ himself wishes to meet with you here.
and if an unbaptised person comes forwards and puts out their hands they will receive.

PS I forgot to add that recently I also attended a Greek Orthodox Church - but didn't feel excluded there, perhaps for two reasons: firstly many of the other attendees did not receive either, and secondly the liturgy was so far removed from the Anglican liturgy that it was difficult to recognise it as such - unlike the RCs, where the service is remarkably similar.

PPS and then I read this http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/jul/04/st-gregory-food-pantry-san-francisco

Monday, 8 June 2009

Last Week of Radcliffe

The final two chapters! Or at least one chapter and a conclusion.

This week it is about the need for Sabbath - but as usual Radcliffe wanders a little wider than the chapter heading.

His first suggestion is that we see Sabbath as a gift, not an imposition (if indeed we don't already see it that way). Using the analogy of attending our mother's birthday party! This perhaps leads into his thoughts on the changing nature of work. The Greek and Latin words for work are literally "not leisure" which suggests a turnaround in emphasis - we perhaps see leisure as what we do when we are not working! He also writes of the difficulty of work as identity now that jobs for life are almost extinct. Finally he talks about work as a branch of entertainment.

He moves on to talk about religion as consumption, choosing which church we go to on the basis of the "services" on offer. Joan Chittister has something to say on the risks of this: "They know how to shop for a parish but they do little to build one. They live off a community but they are never available when the work of maintaining it is necessary. They are committed to morality in the curriculum of grade schools but completely unmoved by the lack of morality in government ethics."

Finally in the last chapter he suggests that with today's entertainment we become passive spectators - not participants. He also suggests that we should live as a community where we "let ourselves be seen in our complexity and our contradictions". I for one see a contradiction here - how can we manage that if we do not participate?


In the conclusion he encourages us to live as a community of "love, freedom and hope" - including everyone, not just the like minded. Some challenge if you are currently a community of the like minded - how do you start the process of change? He also suggests that we should speak out and not be afraid - seeing the church as a place where it should be safe to discuss ideas. And yet so many would disagree - at confirmation groups I have seen regular churchgoers afraid to say what they think until the know what the vicar thinks - whereas those from outside the church are very happy to do so. What is it that they have learnt in the church that stops them?

And finally! He encourages us to accept the goodness of corporeal existence and to accept our own bodies whatever shape or condition they are in. I think I have already done corporeal existence in the chapter which covered it - but how many would believe that of he church - not many I suspect.

Overall this has been a wonderful book. The highlight for me was the chapter on hope, and comparing hope and optimism, but there were so many good bits - including sharing it with a great bunch of people!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Grrrr - Press overreact again

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/5423736/Microsofts-Bing-under-fire-for-porn-video-access.html

That is blaming the messenger - there are porn videos out there - if you don't want to watch them don't search and don't hover over them - is the feature that delivers this a useful feature - yes - when I am searching for videos it will make my life easier - if I don't want porn then I will leave the safety search setting on. So the Telegraph are complaining that this makes it easier to search for videos - durr! Perhaps they should complain about moving pictures and get them banned because they enable porn - no motion pictures = no porn.

The Church in Wales

Yesterday I attended the installation of Peggy Jackson (my cousin) as Archdeacon of Llandaff.

I was struck by how confident Barry Morgan was in preaching a liberal gospel, saying of Biblical literalism that there is far too much of that nonsense about. Something which I could believe that Rowan Williams thought - but have not heard of him saying since he became Archbishop.

In addition we had incense - no great surprise you might say - but this was Choral Evensong!

This has set me thinking - I am usually against polarisation and want to embrace and synthesise all views - much as I thought that Timothy Radcliffe was advocating (see below). However, it can lead to a lack of clarity, which in turn makes progress difficult.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

2 more chapters

The next two chapters are about division within the church. Radcliffe doesn't tackle division between churches, and focuses on division within the Catholic Church, but much of what he says speaks into the situation of Anglicanism! It perhaps speaks less to other denominations because Protestantism has a tendency to split when differences become too great - each part of the split believing that they have the truth - and that truth is more important than unity. This is typified by the number one joke in the Ship of Fools religious joke poll.

Radcliffe sees the problem as the internal disagreements within a church "What young people are going to find their home in a community that is so angry?" - and what old people come to that. He does not like the exisitng terminology used to separate the different attitudes and instead suggests that the two main approaches are those of Kingdom and Communion.

Kingdom
See the church as "the People of God on pilgrimmage towards the Kingdom". The central doctrine is the Incarnation: "In Jesus Christ, God had embraced the whole of humanity." Liberation is the rallying call and Christ is seen as overthrowing boundaries.

Communion
See the people as "members of the institution of the Church, the communion of believers". The central doctrine is the cross: "We must dare to stand by the scandal of the crucified Lord." Truth is the rallying call, and Christ is the one who "gathers into community".

What Radcliffe doesn't articulate, but I see as implicit in what he is writing is that Communion is about modernity (although he presents them as being against it!) and Kingdom is more post modern - although he sees Post modernity (again not described as such) as the solution, the way of reconciling the two approaches.

Using the metaphor of "Root Shock" where people uprooted from their environment retreat into "communities of the likeminded" he suggests that both Kingdom and Communion are reacting against an exile, but that each feel it in a different way. Communion saw the local environment being torn up both within the church and within society and wanted that sense of familiarity back. Kingdom felt an optimism during Vatican II which they felt was disappearing and in a similar way the "utopian dreams of the 60s were not being realised".

Radcliffe asks how the Last Supper is a "sign of a home in which everyone, regardless of his or her sympathies or allegiance, may be at ease?" He answers his own question by pointing out that "the bread is given just tothe disciples" but the wine whilst also given to them is also "poured out for the many". In the Eucharist the tension between the in group and everybody is there visible and reconciled. He points out that this tension has been there from the beginnings of the church - that the disciples would have stayed, but that Paul first dispersed them through persecution and then took the gospel to the Gentiles. "If we today try to retreat inwards into any little walled Fortress Church, then we can be sure that God will demolish it".

Having determined that the solution is some form of synthesis between the two approaches Radcliffe then looks at how this may be achieved. He says that the main problem is that we are no longer free to explore faith in a way that was possible before the Thirty Years War; keeping silent and defending our doctrine, and developing questions like Mrs Thatchers "is he one of us".

He proposes that we should not build "communities of the like-minded", but listen to the stories of each others lives, trying to understand how the other has arrived where they are. And when I hear someone saying something that I believe to be wrong "my first reaction must be to see what truth they are trying to say rather than immediately condemn their error." He says that we need places where "we can speak without fear and prejudice" - wouldn't we all like a church like that?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Funny how things crop up!

Having discussed consumerism in the book group todays comment from Christian Aid is as follows: http://www.surefish.co.uk/faith/daily_readings/05_may/28.htm

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Radcliffe Again!

The study of the book continues. This week it is Chapters 7 & 8 which he links together as being about the relationshipsbetween our identities as individuals, of members of communities and citizens of the Kingdom.

He defines the Kingdom as "the unity of all human beings in Christ" and quotes Monica Furlong quoting Thomas Merton defining God as "that centre Who is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere".

Radcliffe suggests that we need to move from a self cetredness to a more communal outlook. He quotes the parable of the Good Samaritan - pointing out that the "lawyer askes Jesus who is his neighbour" and in the response Jesus asks who "proved neighbour to the one who fell among thieves?"

He also tells the story of Archbishop Ullathorne who when asked if "there were any good books on humility" replied "Only one, and I wrote it".

In addition he write a lot about humility - about which much can currently be found here http://www.eriebenedictines.org/Pages/INSPIRATION/insights.html it repeats in late Jan/May/Sept and earlyFeb/Jun/Oct or can be found in the book on the rule of Benedict.

When looking at the Kingdom Radcliffe looks at the community of the Church and suggests that it should be more. He looks at "solidarity" as used by the 19th century French, when it defined "us" against "them" and suggests that in Kindom terms there should be no "them". He then questions whether it makes sense to have a community from which no one is excluded - a little like if we are all disabled then no one is disabled. Can a community be defined in a way that does not exclude anyone?

His solution to this is to define the community as opposing anything which attacks that community. It is from this definition of a community in which all are included that he then goes on to look at how we should treat poverty, taking quite a communitarian take on private property.

John Hull

I recently went to a disability day run by the Diocese. The main speaker was John Hull who was brilliant. Two insights which I want to share are:

There is impairment and disability - impairment is a physical problem which can be addressed; disability is how people are treated.

The risen Christ had wounds - not scars.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Yet More Timothy Radcliffe!

This week we are studying chapters 4, 5 and 6. Tuesday 19th May 2009, 7.45 in the Lady Chapel at St Michael's.

Chapter 4
This is really a companion piece to the chapter on freedom as the suggestion is that it is fear which prevents us from being free. "Courage is a virtue that is universally attractive".


Radcliffe quotes Anil's Ghost "I wanted to find one law to cover all of living. I found fear."

The Church should be a community where "we dare to speak the truth to each other, to hear each other, to be vulnerable to each other, to be unafraid of each other." This of course is something which is incredibly hard to do. How many of us dare to do it with those closest to us, let alone in a Church with those we know less well?

As someone who was told that "the Church would be better off without people like you" after doing just that I am aware that it is a big ask - but it is the kind of risk that leads to resurrection - but only after a crucifixion.

In the Church we are often afraid of anger, and yet "according to St Thomas, courage teaches one how to be angry in ways that are fruitful." It is also "characteristic of friendship that it can cope with anger, and even grow through it".

Chapter 5
This chapter is about bodiliness and the rejection of dualism.

"Christian teaching is founded upon our belief in the goodness of the body." I bet not many people are aware of that!

"the Church's sexual ethics differs from that of society ... it is about living relationships of gift rather than property exchange". This is not just about the "ownership" of women by men from times gone by, but also the idea of ownership of our own bodies - if I own my body I can do what I like with it - if instead we see sexuality as a gift we become vulnerable and relationship becomes a risk of "self exposure and intimate contact".

There is no point to the next quote - I just enjoyed it and wanted to share it!
A priest went "to say Mass at a convent. The sister who opened the door looked at him and said, 'Oh, it's you Father. I was expecting a man.' At a conference in Dublin, there were three sets of lavatories, 'Men', 'Women' and 'Priests'."

Eroticism is good, but can be transformed into the unhealthy extremes of " infatuation and lust". With infatuation we "are worshipping our own creation" and have put them "in the place of God". Lust makes "the other person a mere object, ... Lust closes our eyes to the personhood of the other".

Another great quote: "God is always the one who loves more than he is loved."

Chapter 6
And so to truth.


"Meister Eckhart maintained that no one can attain the truth without a hundred errors on the way." And yet making errors is something that is often disallowed in Churches - we are a community which preaches forgiveness - and yet often we fail to forgive our own. "Finding the most bizarre [interpretation of the Bible] has been compared with identifying the most ugly statue of Queen Victoria: the competition is hot."

Rather a lot to digest on Tuesday!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Chapters 2 & 3

Having already written about hope in the previous chapter Timothy Radcliffe now writes about Freedom and Happiness as by products of faith. "We should have a freedom and happiness that would make no sense if God does not exist".

Chapter 2 - Freedom
One of the things which I think many people misunderstand is that faith is about freedom. It can sometimes appear to be about rules and regulations controlling all aspects of our lives, stopping us doing the things we want to do, which doesn't seem very free! However, over the years I have come to see the various rules and regulations not as rules and regulations, but as guidance on how to live a fulfilling life. When we say to a child do not put your finger in the socket or you will get electrocuted we aren't threatening to electrocute them for doing it - we are warning them that doing it has dire effects. In the same way what appear to be rules and regulations with penalties attached I now see as similar warnings - for example forgiveness is good because the impact of not forgiving is felt most keenly by the person who is not forgiving.

Timothy Radcliffe tells a story about Wojciech Giertych : "He went to the blackboard and drew a small square in a corner. 'In that square are the commandments. Is that what morality is about?' And everyone cried 'Of course.' 'No,' he said, 'God is not much interested in commandments.' Then he drew a square which covered all the rest of the board and he said, 'That is freedom. That is what interests God. Your task is to teach your children to be free. That is the teaching of the Gospels, and of St Thomas Aquinas.'

In the same way that what appear to be rules and regulations are actually advice on how to remove pressures from ourselves, so too faith can give us the ability to free ourselves from the fear of living. Many of us live our lives worried about what others will think of us, rather than what we want. But this doesn't just apply to individuals - it can also apply to churches. If we are to preach freedom we too need to be free.

Timothy Radcliffe again: "One day a mother brought her child to see Mahatma Gandhi. She was worried that her child was deeply addicted to sweets and asked the wise man to persuade her to learn moderation. Gandhi asked the mother to take the child away and to return in three weeks, which she did. Gandhi then talked to the child and persuaded her to cut down. At the end the mother asked him, 'But why, Gandhiji did you not say this to the girl three weeks ago'. He replied, 'Because three weeks ago I too was addicted to sweets.'"

But unfortunately there are churches which are not only not free - but will insist on persecuting those who have escaped to freedom. "The church must stand beside people who suffer victimization of any kind. Even more, the Church must recognize who are the people whom she victimizes. Like St Paul on the road to Damascus, we must open our ears to the Lord who says to us too, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'"

"But the Church will only be a cradle of gospel freedom if we are seen to stand beside people, support­ing them as they make moral decisions within the range of what is possible, rather than making decisions for them.
People will not be drawn to the Church if moral teaching is seen as just telling people what they must do."

Chapter 3 - Happiness
Happiness is perhaps a strange by product to suggest for Christianity, and there are certainly many who would disagree: "Hilary Armstrong, Labour Chief Whip and a convinced Christian, asserts that 'we weren't put on earth to enjoy ourselves'", and "H. L. Mencken, the American newspaper editor, defined Puritanism as 'the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy'". However, Radcliffe suggests that "Christianity is the good news that God created us for happiness, and ultimately for the happiness that is God being God. But we cannot be convincing witnesses to this if Christians are seen as miserable and inhibited."

Perhaps this suspicion of happiness comes from our Britishness! Radcliffe quotes Herbert McCabe OP: "we express our joy in bodily signs, by dancing, singing, or laughing. We shout for joy, or hug each other, or turn cart-wheels. Just how we express our happiness will of course depend on what country we live in and the local customs and traditions. In parts of Africa you would express it in highly sophisticated and formalized dance. In parts of the British suburbia, I believe they manage it with a slight twitch of the upper lip."

And yet the kind of happiness that is being discussed is not the kind which is fulfilled in the worldly ways that so many people grasp after. It is a happiness of being, and being known by God. "The Church has nothing to say about morality until our listeners have glimpsed God's delight in their existence".

At the end of the chapter Radcliffe describes how he sees this happiness: "So Christian joy is not a determined jollity, a resolution to look on the bright side. It is not optimisitically insisting that he glass is half full rather than half empty, or any of the other empty platitudes with which we may try to shield ourselves from dread and hollowness. It is an Easter joy, which means that we can only fully enter it by passing through suffering, death and resurrection."

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Even more thoughts

I forgot to add this link too http://www.thevine.co.nz/word/archive/2009/05/04 which contains a great story illustrating the idea that it is how we live our lives that makes an impact on others.

More thoughts on the Point of being a Christian


When we discussed it last night people were taken with the quote "God is already present in the lives of all human beings, even if unnamed and unrecognised." Then this morning the reading from Insights for the Ages included this quote (warning the content changes by date so the quote may not appear when you click through).

Clearly, for Benedict, God is not something to be achieved; God is a presence to be responded to but to whom without that presence, we cannot respond. God isn't something for which spiritual athletes compete or someone that secret spiritual formulas expose. God is the breath we breathe. It is thanks to God that we have any idea of God at all. God is not a mathematical formula that we discover by dint of our superior intelligence or our moral valor. God is the reason that we can reach God. It is to this ever-present Presence that the Rule of Benedict directs us. It is to God already in our lives that Benedict turns our minds. The Hasidim tell the story of the preacher who preached over and over, "Put God into your life; put God into your life." But the holy rabbi of the village said, "Our task is not to put God into our lives. God is already there. Our task is simply to realize that."

Friday, 1 May 2009

What's the Point of Being a Christian?


No, I'm not despairing - this is the title of the book we are about to start studying! We will be doing this over 6 weeks at St Michael's, Amersham on the Hill, 7.45 for 8.00 until 9.15. All are welcome as we share our understanding of what Timothy Radcliffe has to say.

May 5 Introduction and Chapter 1
May 12 Chapters 2 and 3
May 19 Chapters 4, 5 and 6
May 26 Chapters 7, 8
June 2 Chapters 9, 10
June 9 Chapter 11 and Conclusion

As I starter for 10 I thought I would summarise week ones chapters - after all the Bishop recommends that if we blog we reuse work we are doing for other reasons!

Introduction

There is no point in being a Christian! Religions are the "ultimate goal and purpose of our lives" - and if they have a point other than this then why take them seriously?

Religions must also have consequences in our lives - they must make a difference. Pete Rollins has something to say about that:



Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris in the 1940s expresses it as: "It means to live in such a way that ones life would make no sense if God did not exist".

If we are trying to convey our faith to people, and particularly the younger generation who have an interest in spirituality, why do we seem unconvincing and even boring? If we talk about love, freedom and happiness but our churches are not places where people love each other in freedom and happiness why would anyone believe us?

It is also important to be clear that the church is not a place for the perfect! It is "a home for everyone, especially those whose lives are a mess". As my old incumbent used to say - we should have a banner over the door - "Sinners only"!

The rest of the Introduction is a summary of the chapters to come

Chapter 1
This chapter is about hope.
"We will have nothing to say to young people about our faith unless we are prepared to journey with them, literally sometimes, but also mentally".

"We must walk with people, as Jesus walked with the disciples to Emmaus, even if, like those disciples, they sometimes seem to start by walking in the wrong direction."
"If we are able to find ways to live and share our Christian hope, then we shall offer something for which the world is thirsting."
"Do we offer an alternative story of the future?" We believe in the triumph of good over evil, the coming of the Kingdom and the end to all death and suffering - but we cannot tell how this will happen.

The fundamental paradox of Christianity is that "As Christians we gather to remember the story of that Last Supper. It is our foundational story, the one in which we find the meaning of our lives. And yet it is a story which tells of the moment when there was no story to tell, when the future disappeared."
The night on which the Eucharist was instituted is the night in which the hopes of the disciples and their community disintegrated.
There was then a second failure of hope - the disciples expected the second coming, and it did not happen. And yet " intimacy with the Lord grew as those early Christians lost their certainty". "Crises are our specialite de la maison. They rejuvenate us"

Vaclav Havel defines hope thus "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out".
"Our hope .... is the ultimate and unimaginable victory of meaning". Something that Victor Frankl wrote about.
We are becoming a society which understands signs, symbols and images - you only have to look at all the marketing that goes on - and yet Christianity has had them all along.
"To hope is not just to bet on goodness being stronger than evil." Jesus transformed his handing over into a moment of gift. "So there is nothing in human history that cannot somehow...be embraced and bear its fruit."
"As Christians, we hope for eternity. But eternity is not what happens at the end of time, when we are dead. It begins now, whenever we share God's life. It breaks in whenever we overcome hatred with love".

Marriage for Sale

Today it was reported that an arranged marriage between and eight (yes that is not a typo) year old girl and 58 year old man has been annulled at the second time of asking http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/01/saudi-arabian-child-marriage-annulled. The first time round the courts decided that she would have to sue for divorce when she was old enough
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/23/saudi-arabia-human-rights.

What however is the source of our horror at this story? Is it the fact that she was 8, or the fact that her father could sell her? And suppose she were older, and (genuinely) consented - would that make it alright? And is this western cultural conditioning or something else?

There are enough Bible stories about dodgy marital practices (Punishment for rape, finding wives for Benjaminites) to make a simplistic reference to the Bible less than helpful. Yet if we take the theme of the New Testament: Love God and love your neighbour as yourself - and join that to the fact that God loves all his children - then for me the age is less of an issue than the selling - the treating of a human being as an object rather than a beloved child of God.


Monday, 13 April 2009

Lenten Thoughts

I know it is Easter now - but looking at the date it is now a month since I blogged and it fitted in with something else that I was thinking - if Lent is a time for giving things up how come there seems to be so much on?

Perhaps this is all part of the giving up versus taking on debate in Lent. However it seems slightly indolent to give up doing things - but perhaps if Lent is to be a time of reflection then that is exactly waht we should be doing - making space to reflect on things. If the Lent group helps with that so much the better, but if not surely better to reflect somewhere else?

I am on holiday now (and that starts a whole debate on whether this is work or leisure!) and looking forwards to a week in which to relax and rebuild my energy - but I know it shouldn't be so. So what happened this Lent? There seemed to be so many one off things on - a good number of which I initiated myself - and each one seemed small in itself, but added together ... towards the end I found myself on a treadmill that I couldn't seem to get off. Note to self - remember this for next Lent!

And yet life was always so for me - in "secular employment" (I don't want to start a debate about dualism here!) I found that on holiday I would recognise that life had got too busy and make resolutions to change that - and would find that I would - at least initially - but then as time went on things would get busier and busier until the next holiday when...

So what is the trick to avoiding this - if you know and have got it cracked please let me know!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Tradition


I went to an excellent Lent group on Wednesday, part of COTHA (Churches on the Hill, Amersham) which was using the Bible Society study on the BBC Passion broadcast on television last year.

This week it showed the overturning of the tables in the Temple and that led on to a debate on "tradition" - in the film one of the money changers says "we have been doing this for 30 years".

It struck me that we have three kinds of tradition:

Accidental Tradition:
Best described by the story of the teacher who was teaching his disciples, but found a stray dog interrupting the lesson, so each lesson he got his disciples to tie the dog to a post before he began. The years passed and the teacher died and a new teacher took his place. A few years late the dog died, and the disciples took a collection to buy a new dog!

Tradition without understanding:
I recently read an article in the Slate http://www.slate.com/id/2212616/ about a " lax, non-Hebrew-speaking Jew" who read the Bible through and was staggered to discover that there were so many references to it in common usage of which he had been unaware.

He went on "Reading the Bible has joined me to Jewish life in a way I never thought possible. I trace this to when I read about Jacob blessing his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh at the end of Genesis. I suddenly realized: Oh, that's why I'm supposed to lay my hand on my son's head at Shabbat dinner and bless him in the names of Ephraim and Manasseh."

This is tradition without understanding - there is meaning in what is done, but people are unaware of the meaning.

Tradition that is core:
Tradition without understanding might be worth keeping - although to make this sensible perhaps requires explanation so that it stops being "without understanding". What is left of tradition though is that which is at the heart of that tradition, which has meaning and is understood by those whose tradition it is.

When we are trying to draw others to God how can we make sure that we hang on to "Tradition that is core" whilst allowing them to jettison the other kinds of tradition - even if they are an important part of our own understanding of God?

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Assorted Cuttings

I read quite a lot online, and occasionally something grabs me and I want to share it. Then I realised - Doh - I have a blog! So here are a few items that have grabbed me recently:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article5860202.ece on how the creeds need to be understood in the light of faith

http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/peter-rollins-reads-parables-from-the-orthodox-heretic
I first came across Pete at Greenbelt and have since read his books and found them fascinating and enlightening. He is about to publish a book of stories to illustrate his ideas and here he reads three of them on streaming video.








There is a 25 minute interview with him here: http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/peter-rollins-explaining-emergent-churches

and some videos of him discussing Emergent Christianity with Phyllis Tickle here: http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/phyllis-tickle-and-peter-rollins-discuss-emergence-christianity

Phyllis wrote The Great Emergence, which I haven't got round to reading (yet).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Credit Crunch and socialisation

I'm starting up a coffee afternoon at Cafe Africa on Fridays 13th, 20th and 27th March 2009 1.30-3.30. Drop in for however long you like. The thinking behind it is that more people are working at home, or are between jobs, and when I was doing that I realised how dependent I was on my work colleagues for a social chat. I am trying to recreate the chat that took place around the coffee machine, and at the same time to see what might come out of it. Amersham is an amazing place. When I moved here it seemed as though everyone I met ran their own charity and if a few people with a bit of time on their hands get together then who knows what might happen.

This set me thinking about the whole issue of networks. I was perhaps unusual in that I worked for the same company for 27 years and knew some people there for most of that time. There were certainly people I had known longer than my wife, and probably one or two with whom I had spent more time! I recognised that the company was my equivalent of a village - I moved house while staying with them, and many of the people in the "village" had been there a long time. This is much less common these days and yet with the hours that people are often working then it will still not be unusual to spend more time with people at work than anywhere else. But what then happens when you move on, either voluntarily or not? The networks around the home are much weaker than they were, and more people are moving more often.

So, networks at home and at work are breaking down. Are they being replaced by the internet? And is this adequate? One thing that the internet is returning is the sense of being known. Depending on how candid you are then readers of your social networking site of choice, or twitterers will start to know more about you - although unlike villages of the past this is dependent on what you wish to disclose, so perhaps doesn't reintroduce the restraint that once existed.

I don't think that the internet is any replacement for personal contact - I think that the internet allows you to retain control of your image - in a way that real life doesn't. Just think of people who take on roles in online games. If we want to love and be loved then we have to be real - but of course we fear that if we are real then people won't love us! Online we can refuse to be real and will not then find love. Of course we can also choose to be real - but that option is perhaps only open to us if we already know that we are loved. In real life people can see all of us with much less mediation and still choose to love us. And of course if we can discover the God who loves us even though he knows us better than we know ourselves, and return that love, perhaps then we can reveal our true selves more in real life and on the internet.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Modern Art

On my day off I went to London to the Tate Modern and a number of things struck me. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that art is no different to anything else - the excellent stands head and shoulders above the good. I had assumed - not being an art afficionado - that good artists painted good pictures - and for all I know the experts might agree - but my observation was that even good artists paint lesser pieces. I would perhaps compare it to sport where there are certain performers who can raise their sport to a different level. So for example I enjoy watching good quality rugby (shame I'm an England supporter right now) but even Premiership games leave me unmoved. And sometimes there are performers who will take a sport that no one watches and make it unmissable, Torvill and Dean perhaps?
Then there was the appearance of some of these lesser pieces. Some looked to me no better than things that I have seen in schools. That set me thinking about the difference between modern art and older art. Some of the modern art had little physical skill in its production - anyone could have produced it (one of the pieces was reproduced each installation by staff following the artists instructions) whereas the Old Masters appear to me to require considerable techincal ability to produce. So what is it that makes something art? Is it the technical ability required to produce it, or is it the emotional reaction that it generates? What I found interesting was that there were some pieces which generated an emotional reaction without looking like "art".
And that made me think about how that relates to religion. Worship is about giving praise to God, and prayer about communicating with God - but these can happen in a variety of ways - the important thing is that they happen - not the format in which they happen.

Oh, and the picture... One of the surprises of the day. Although no art afficionado I know that Jackson Pollock dripped paint onto canvas, what I didn't know was that he also painted pictures!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Funeral Thoughts



My dad died 4 weeks ago today - the first close bereavement that I have suffered. The time since has been one of conflicting emotions and experiences, and it seemed good to reflect on them here.



I wrote the tribute, with the help of my brothers and an old CV we found, and read it at his funeral. This is something that I know many clergy encourage - and I don't believe just for selfish reasons. Indeed I was going to follow suit as I thought it seemed a good idea. However, having done it I am less certain. There is a lot to be said for the writing of it, after all who better to get the facts right and to say what they want to say than the family, although we can also be blinkered in how we see those close to us (the vicar encouraged short vignettes from others as well as the tribute and it was amazing what we learnt about dad). It was also helpful in thinking through what we felt and thought about dad. But... when it came to the funeral itself I found it a distraction - knowing that I had the tribute to deliver meant that for a good deal of time I was focussed on that - and hence on suppressing emotions that would otherwise have been released - emotions which then took another 10 days to finally break out. I can't be sure that I wouldn't have suppressed them anyway - but it has given me serious cause for thought.

The other thing which hit me was the power of music. Four days after my dad's funeral I attended the funeral of a member of the congregation. I sat in the pews, having agreed that this was the most sensible thing for me to do. As the service progressed I thought I was OK - no real flashbacks - and then it hit me - we sang "Thine be the Glory", the final hymn at dad's funeral - the repressed emotions broke through - though not completely - that took another week and the help of a good friend. This is a well known occurrence - whilst training we had a weekend on death and dying and various pieces of music were played and someone had to run out when a particular piece - which had been played at a recent funeral - was heard. An explanation of this can be found here - after all what stronger emotion can there be than grief at a death - and music can be evocative at the best of times. This opens up for me a question to which I don't have the answer! Does that make it sensible or not to have treasured music played at a funeral?

  • Pros
  • It works in reverse and the music brings back happy memories
  • The linking of the music to the feelings of grief will facilitate the grieving process after the funeral

  • Con
  • A good piece of music spoilt!

  • Question
  • Will the linkage work for ever, or will the impact be lessened as the process of grieving progresses?

Do let me know your thoughts - after all, I shall be helping others through this for a few years yet, and the more information I have the better I shall be able to do it.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Celebrity Lives - Know and be known?

It may not be an original thought - but the other day I caught sight of the front page of the Sun http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/tv/article2195808.ece detailing Jade Goody's cancer. This set me thinking about the role of celebrities and celebrity gossip. Village life, even today as my friends in villages tell me, is a place where everyone knows everybody else, and no one can have any secrets, yet in big towns and cities this is not the case. There are theories about why this is (why can you never Google something when you want it?) - noting that in large towns people avoid looking at others - you only need to travel on the tube to see this in action - and yet perhaps there is something there - we long to know and be known - and yet we are also drawn towards anonymity.

Celebrities - particularly those who are primarily famous for being famous - sacrifice their anonymity in return for money - and yet there is nothing mutual about it - for although they are known they do not know.

Is this good? At least people will know someone. Or is it bad because it allows us to know without being known? I will opt for bad - I think that it is actually the being known - and accepted for what we are - that matters. If celebrities and soap operas allow us to get our "fix" of "knowing" without having to be known then we are the poorer for it.


St Benedict saidsomething similar (far more concisely) "The fifth step of humility is that we do not conceal from the abbot or prioress any sinful thoughts entering our hearts, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confess them humbly." Joan Chittister in her commentary on this says "The struggles we hide, psychologists tell us, are the struggles that consume us. Benedict's instruction, centuries before an entire body of research arose to confirm it, is that we must cease to wear our masks, stop pretending to be perfect and accept the graces of growth that can come to us from the wise and gentle hearts of people of quality around us." (The book is serialised here http://www.eriebenedictines.org/Pages/INSPIRATION/insights.html over 4 months and the passage above can be seen in roughly February, June and October).
If we avoid being known then we are free to maitain those masks - both to others and to ourselves - which prevent us from growing.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Clothes and Happiness

I saw two contrasting things today - the first was an advert for a conference on happiness http://www.scimednet.org/conference_pages/09_Happiness_conference.htm. This contained the information that "the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago".
Then a little later it was contrasted by an article saying that a significant proportion of clothes bought are never worn - around 50% if my quick scan of the numbers is accurate - and that in Cardiff 2/3 of respondents had thrown catalogue clothes away unworn.

The question that this prompts in me is what contribution this makes towards happiness. Is it the act of shopping that generates the happiness - regardless of the outcome, or are the people unhappy about this, but for some reason don't return the goods? Given that we seem to be coming more like America in our attitude towards our rights I suspect that it is the former, and that people are seeking happiness in shopping - Tesco ergo sum as I have heard it described.

However it doesn't work - or is there someone out there who can tell me otherwise? As soon as happiness depends on acquisition there is always one more thing to buy, one more thing to make your life better - and yet it never does. True happiness is found not by looking for it, but by serving others - For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Bullfighting and Boxing

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2009/jan/27/mexico-bullfighter

What do you make of bullfighting and boxing? Instinctively I am against them, and the video above, showing an 11 year old fighting bull calves, would be an easy thing to avoid on principle. And yet when they are done well there is something compelling about them. I watched the video expecting to be repelled, and yet found myself drawn into the artistry and skill that the boy showed - this is not to ignore the cruelty to the bulls - and for me the same is true of boxing - not that I watch an awful lot - but I remember when I was younger watching Muhammad Ali (OK, much younger) and thinking that he had taken the sport to another level.

If we ban the sports the artistry goes with them - and yet there is so much wrong with both sports.

The artistry of bull fighting does not (surely) require the kiling of the bull, and yet in searching the web I wasn't able to find any information on bull fights where the bull isn't killed. Similarly with boxing it would be possible to display the artistry while protecting the boxers more - wearing helmets like the amateurs would remove a lot of the risk - but it doesn't happen.

So what is the draw of the two? Is it the artistry, or is it the blood lust? I fear it is the latter and on those grounds would support a banning of both - after all, there would be other opportunities for the individuals artistry to shine through.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Who wants to be a millionaire?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/16/zimbabwe-hyper-inflation-mugabe-tsvangirai

The above article talks about the creation of a Z$100 trillion note - worth about £22 on the black market - so you can be a Zimbabwean dollar millionaire for about 2p. Somehow not quite what I suspect most people have in mind if they want to be a millionaire. And yet things aren't so far removed in this country - when I was younger my parents bought a house for £4,000 it is now worth somewhere close to 100 times that - so on that basis a millionaire has 100 times less money than 40 years ago. And yet is money all it is cracked up to be?

Most people seem to assume that more money spent on themselves leads to happiness - and yet the research shows otherwise. http://www.livescience.com/health/080320-happiness-money.html

And it is hardly as if this is news, 2000 years ago someone said both:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=99124719

and

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=99125058

This latter quote speaks to me in the same terms as the research - that the secret to happiness is not to seek it, but instead to seek for the happiness of others - and in doing so we will find our own happiness.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

What is church?

There is an organisation called Spirited Exchanges which is for those who ... perhaps it is best if you look it up on their web site - I will struggle to summarise it. However, they have a newsletter which is not currently available on the web (work in progress) and the following article was in the last edition and I thought that it was worth sharing more widely and commenting on. Although perhaps the only comment that I can add is that for me this enacts more of God and Jesus than much I see in church. The willing powerlessness of the protestors, the acceptance that they are going to be beaten, the sharing together.


AMONG BELIEVERS

It was about 5.30 in the morning when the shout awoke me, and the moment we were waiting for announced its arrival. My sleep-weakened hands struggled to pull on my boots – we had all been sleeping fully clothed for days, in readiness – so by the time I struggled from my tent in to the grey light of morning, just a few seconds later, my partner and many others were by then disappearing across the field. The summer sun was already high, but obscured behind the mist that rose off the tidal river at the bottom of the grassy hill and still hung damp in the air. At that moment, everything seemed hazy. It would have been beautiful, had I had time to stop and gaze, but my heart was beating fast and my feet were running faster to join the crowd that was growing along with the day.

As I emerged from the village of recently-emptied tents and started up the far side of the valley, I could see that the sun had managed to struggle through the fading mist. Its light was bouncing off the helmets and shields of the ranks of men ahead of me, armed with sticks and gas, and off the windscreens of the speeding vehicles rushing in reinforcements behind them. I saw my partner a field ahead of me as he disappeared into the crowd that was forming in front of them – the next time I would see him would be 30 hours later, injured, behind a screen in a court room. A few seconds later, I was in the midst of it all - the shouting, cheering, laughing, chanting, struggling, spinning mass, trying simply to keep my feet on the floor. "Stay at the back" I said to myself. "Observe what goes on, help those who need it, add your support" I intone. But then, placing my feet firmly on the ground, I looked up, as the sun shone its early light on what was to be a very unusual Sunday morning, and found myself at the very front, face to face with the riot police.

This was Climate Camp 2008. Not, as it may have seemed at that moment, a frontier in a police state, at least, allegedly not. Nor, as certain authorities were trying to convince the media, was this a full scale terrorist attack that threatened the underlying fabric of our society, flawed and threadbare as that fabric may be. Rather, this was maybe 1500 eco-types – community workers, ecologists, scientists, activists, journalists, concerned citizens – come together for a week of courses, contacts, conversation, compost loos and couc-cous in Kent. At the end of which was planned a peaceful march to the gates of Kingsnorth Power Station, the proposed site for the first of the "New Generation" of coal fired power stations, for a bit of family flag waving, banner hanging, bad drumming, and admittedly, perhaps the odd touch of fence snipping. Our intention was to highlight the catastrophe that such "progress" could cause: How can we continue to base our energy systems on carbon and "capture" technology that simply doesn't exist in the face of the imperative to reduce our emissions by at least 80% (if not 95), and our economy on fossil fuels which are all but exhausted? Our aim was humanitarian and environmental, our commitment non-violent.

Bizarre as this scene was, in the face of the weeks events, it was nothing less than I had expected. Over the previous four days of set-up, I had been searched by police maybe a dozen or more times. Everyone had been subject to this blatant intimidation - on two occasions I witnessed police search inside babies’ nappies for weapons. A black man was arrested because he was unable to produce his passport and so accused of being here illegally. Items "intended for criminal damage" and therefore confiscated included water piping, felt tip pens, board games, playing cards, wood for building compost loos, food, clothes pegs, spoons, parts of marquees, string, even an elderly lady's crutches. A few tools had been seized - clearly intended for the site build - but very few. Throughout the whole camp stories and eye-witness accounts were rife. For further details there is ample footage available on Indymedia and the Climate Camp website.

Whilst the land owner had not known in advance that we were coming, once we arrived and stated our aims he gave his full and happy permission, provided we obeyed a few rules regarding the welfare of his sheep, which of course we were happy to do.

On this Sunday morning, however, the Police response was no friendly walkabout. These were troops of riot police, up to 100 at a time, armed with shields, bullet proof vests, CS gas and batons, vans of dogs and horses. Facing them were a few hundred committed though slightly unwashed people armed with herbal tea and chocolate, guitars and an endless litany of protest songs of questionable musicality.... who says the spirit of ‘69’ is dead???! And neither side were afraid to use their weapons. By the time I left eight hours later, of our small group of ten who I had been with at the gate, one had been arrested, two had been hospitalised, six had been first-aided (including myself - my left arm was out of use for two days and my right leg badly bruised and swollen after baton blows) and only one remained un-injured. However we had also sung ourselves hoarse, made new friends, and defended the entrance from police vehicles by setting up a yurt and throwing a party. During that time, despite much debate as to the purpose of all this, the police had not gained an inch. We had not so much as raised an angry hand against the police, even insults or swearing was shouted down by the group.

Two moments in these hours warrant further description:

The first was early on after half an hour of pushing and shoving, when in a moment of stillness I found myself at the front. I was face to face with the row of riot police, all of whom were standing with their batons raised, gas in hand, waiting the order to attack. Everything seemed to freeze as I realised that things had come to the crunch. This was the moment I had somehow known would come ever since I joined my first protest a few years ago. I had seen others get hit, some injured badly. I had been insulted and jostled. But this was the moment when for the first time in my adult life I was about to get hit. It was no big deal. It had been on the cards all along and all we were talking about was a bit of a battering. But that hypothetical question we all ask now became a reality.... was I prepared to suffer violence for what I believed?

I looked at the armed woman in front of me, younger than me, no longer able to meet my eye and clearly scared, and the older man next to her clearly spoiling for a fight. I knew why they were here. They had been telling us all week. They were getting paid £35 an hour. And I knew why I was here - because I believed wholeheartedly in the purposes of this camp, that it was a small part of a process to prevent the degradation of this planet and the lives of all generations to come. I looked at the young woman, smiled, and quietly said, "Don't be scared, it's ok". And then the order was given, and tentatively at first and then more strongly, she and the man with her, started to hit me.

The second moment came later, after the initial onslaught had died down. Again an order went out, apparently this time to stop hitting people, and the police re-formed themselves into a line. I formed part of another line, sitting on the ground with our backs to their legs. An hour or two passed. Songs were sung, food and jokes shared. And then one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced occurred. Someone suggested that we share with one another our reasons for being there. Maybe 30 or 40 people took a few minutes each to share their personal motivation, why they believed what they believed, and why they were willing to put themselves on the line for it. I shared about how, when travelling in Asia, I had met poor people, who became my most valued friends. People, whose lives were already devastated by the effects of climate change. The depth of insight and emotion from the whole group was profound to say the least. Many people were moved to tears - including, remarkably, two of the riot police. These were not tears of despair, they were tears of deep solace at being with like-minded people who understood and who together were committed to finding a solution.


As I sat there, in some ways still only half awake, in others more awake than I had ever been, people started passing refreshments around. A kind of late breakfast, as it must now have been ten or eleven o'clock. People camping near by had brought porridge and a few cups of hot coffee. I took a sip of black tea from a dirty mug and passed it to my neighbour. A few moments later a bar of vegan chocolate was passed from hand to hand for people to take a piece and pass it on. And as I took my piece of chocolate I realised, that like thousands of others around the country that Sunday morning sitting in their pews, here in this field in Kent, sitting in front of a line of riot police, I had just shared communion. As the sudden shiver of recognition thrilled through me, chilling me on what was now a roasting hot summers day, in absolute silence yet clearer and more penetrating than the sirens, I heard The Voice say, "Here I am, Miriam, this is where I am”.

Dozens of times, since I left the church six or seven years ago, I've wondered whether I've done the right thing, whether in my attempt to let God be free, I've actually let him go. But equally, several times since I started mixing with activists, slum dwellers, asylum seekers, the homeless and the mentally ill, I have found God in the most unlikely of places (or likely? it all depends where you expect him) , grinning at me toothlessly in the face. And here, yet again, but perhaps even more poignantly than usual, as I sat in the gap between riot police, with all the weight of state and corporation behind them, and a field full of exhausted, stressed, unkempt, colourful, committed and passionate people, with all the lightness of belief behind them, I knew without a shadow of a doubt where God was, and where I wanted to be.
Miriam Hadcocks

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

FT.com / Columnists / Luke Johnson - Graft, not genes, brings success


Is there a gene for success in business? As those of you who have read below will know I stumbled on Malcolm Gladwell and in fact it was Outliers that I first read about. It suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything, and that it is no surprise that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs et al are of a similar age as they were the right age to spend 10,000 hours playing with computers at the start of the micro revolution. I agree with Luke Johnson that hard work contributes to success, but would add that certain personal qualities also help - which may come from genes. They are perhaps a necessary but not sufficient condition (forgive my lapse into maths speak). Lets just say that even if all successful business people do have characteristics that are genetic not all people with those characteristics are successful business people.

And what does religion have to say into this space? Perhaps the first thing to say is that God values everybody, not just successful business people. So before someone complains that they don't have the genes to be a business success - so what?
Paul talks about the different parts of the body as an analogy for the body of Christ, and just as all types of people are required, so a world made up only of successful business people would not be a great place.

I also question whether it is healthy for anyone to spend 10,000 hours - at least over a short period of time (about 10 years at 3 hours a day) on anything - what kind of person has that dedication? It would of course explain why tennis champions are getting younger - they can clock up their 10,000 hours quicker than used to be the case when they also had a rounded education.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Atheist Bus Campaign is 'offensive', say complaints to ASA | World news | guardian.co.uk

Atheist Bus Campaign is 'offensive', say complaints to ASA World news guardian.co.uk

Where does one start with this story? There are so many things that come to mind. Perhaps the first is the assumption that if there is a God we can't enjoy ourselves - I believe that God wants us to enjoy this life - to have life in all it fulness (John 10:10). There seems to be this assumption that God wants to stop us doing things that we enjoy - but my interpretation is that the rules that God has given us are to tell us what will make us enjoy life. A little like when we tell our children not to put their finger in plugs - it isn't that we are threatening to electrocute them if they do - it is that we are warning them that if they do it they will get electrocuted!

My God can also cope with people thinking that He doesn't exist. In fact if it were incontrovertible that he did exist that would be a denial of our free will - so the complainers appear to be complaining about the exercise of free will - which is one of Gods gifts to us!

And finally - a number of Christian organisations have contributed to the funding on the basis that if people think about the question they might actually come up with a different answer. Have you ever tried not to think about a pink elephant? If I tell you not to the first thing you do is think of one - even if you weren't (!) doing so already.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Church rejects crucifix!


How horrific does a crucifix have to be before it makes sense to take it down?
For me this is another example of the tension between being inwardly focussed and outwardly focussed. I, and I suspect many others in the church, find the hope that the vicar wants people to find in the symbolism of the cross - the willing submission of Jesus to such an horrific death.
And yet to those outside the church that is not an obvious message - at least not until they have crossed the threshhold and had things explained. So at one level I can understand what the vicar is trying to do, but at another I too want to complain about the dumbing down of our faith - without the crucifixion there is no Christianity.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails