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.

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.

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:

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 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 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!


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 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 The first time round the courts decided that she would have to sue for divorce when she was old enough

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.


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