Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A lesson in prayer or a funny thing happened on the way home from work

Hello folks, this is WayneDawg...

I want to thank DP for allowing me an opportunity to post here during his time away. Let me tell you a little about myself…

I’m married to beautiful woman who is the bride of my youth, a father of three and a grandfather of three. Born and raised in Miami, Florida. Moved to the beautiful North Georgia mountains when I was 16 and have been here ever since. Became a born-again Christian (yup, one of those) in the mid 90’s and my world has never been the same.

Since many of the Doorman-Priest readers already know that my Christian beliefs are much different than those who comment here, I decided to post a personal experience that I had about a year after I became a Christian. The experience still blows my mind whenever I think about it. Maybe after reading my experience, some of you might want to share a similar experience you or someone you know may have had!



A lesson in prayer or a funny thing happened on the way home from work

It was a cold and rainy winter day in January 1996 as I left the office and headed the short distance home. I had just turned onto the main highway and started up the hill when I noticed a hitchhiker, thumb out, going in my direction. This hitchhiker looked liked the proverbial San Francisco hippie who was MIA from 1967 and had been transplanted on this highway as a result of some freaky wormhole incident. As I mentioned, it was cold and rainy this day. This hippy was wrapped in a bundle of what should have been warm flannel shirts and a couple jackets. He had on a red bandanna holding back his wet, matted long black hair which had almost the same exact appearance of his beard. I don’t know how long this guy had been trying to hitch a ride, but judging from his completely soaked clothes, he had been out there awhile. Did I mention it was cold? The temperature was probably somewhere in the mid to high 30’s. There had been talk of some sleet accumulating later in the evening, but for the moment it was just a very, very cold rain.

As I was passing by this incredible sight, this throwback to another time and place, our eyes met. In that moment, time seemed to slow down as we stared into each others gazes. His eyes seemed to say to me, ‘how can you pass me by….how can you not help me out?’ His countenance went from hopeful to a head hanging sadness that I will never forget. At that moment I said out loud and from my heart, ‘Lord, I would rather do anything than pick up this hitcher, anything.’ I repeated this over and over as I tried to rid my mind of that last image I had of his sad, rejected face.

I was a new Christian. It had been only a little over a year since I had been saved by the grace of God when I passed that hitcher. I was still learning in leaps and bounds all I could about my new faith in Christ and I was about to be schooled by the Lord Himself on the power of a heartfelt prayer.

I’m not in the habit, even to this day, of picking up hitchers. I will, and have many times, stopped and helped people change a tire, push a car off the road, take someone to get gas, help someone in an accident, but I don’t pick up hitchers.

I continued to pray, out loud, my prayer of doing anything for the Lord except picking up the hitcher.

As I rounded a turn on the highway a few miles up the road, there off on the side of the road, was a very elderly woman trying to look under the back end of her car. This car was a very bad looking, faded green, 70’s something Ford Maverick. As I approached the car it was obvious that this was my answered prayer in opposition to picking up the hitcher.

I pulled in behind the Maverick, got out and asked the woman what was wrong with her car. She said she didn't know. She said that she was on her way home when all of a sudden, about five minutes ago, there was a bad noise coming from the back of her car. Five minutes ago I thought. Hmmm, coincidentally about the time I started praying for something other than picking up the hitcher.

I told her to get back in her car (to get out of the rain) and I would have a look under her car. Well I bent down as far as I could to look under her car to see what that matter was, but couldn't quite see without crawling under the vehicle. I went back to my car to get an umbrella and maybe find something to lie on so I could crawl under the car in my office apparel. I found neither. So I made an executive decision to just go ahead and get under the car and figure out what was wrong and get this lady on her way. The part of the road where she pulled over had been freshly graded off for a road to the woods. This same road later became the entrance to the sub-division where I live now. Hmmm. Needless to say with all the rain, the road was very muddy and it had been partially filled with loose gravel to make crawling under cars the perfect mixture of mess and pain.

When I finally got under the rear of the car I found the problem. The rusted pipe that led to the rusty muffler had finally broken off and the only thing holding the rusty muffler to the car was this leathery looking strap. So I crawled back from under her car and went rummaging through my car for anything that might cut loose the strap that held the muffler. I found no such instrument of destruction in my car. I walked back to the woman in the Maverick and tapped on her window. By now I’m soaked, wet, muddy and very, very cold.

The elderly lady slowly rolled down her window and, after telling her what was wrong, I ask her if she might happen to have a knife of some kind in her car. She finds a butter knife (of course) in her glove compartment and I gladly take it and crawl back under the car. After about ten minutes of trying to cut through a half frozen wet leathery strap with wet frozen fingers I finally managed to free the beast that was dragging under her car. I put the muffler in her car and told her she would be able to drive home but to get it fixed right away.She asked me how much she owed me for helping her out and I told her that I couldn't accept any money for doing what I asked to do. She said thank you and drove on in the same direction I was going.

When I got my frozen wet muddy self back in my car I understood at that moment that I had just been schooled on the power of prayer. As I pulled my car back onto the road and headed home I realized that the Maverick was no where to be seen. Only a few seconds had passed since she pulled out and there was no way she could have sped off that fast. I hustled my car up around the next turn and she was no where in sight. When I got to the long stretch of road toward my home there was not a car to be seen.

Was she an angel sent specifically to answer my prayer and test me to see if I would indeed do anything but pick up that hitcher? Maybe she was. Maybe she wasn’t; but she could've been. Heck, the hippy could have been an angel that was there to see what I would do for all I know. Or, maybe he wasn’t; but he could have been.


Here’s what I took from that incident.

* Be careful of what you pray for.

*You just never know when you might be interacting with an angel.


Or, sometimes funny things happen that you can't explain.

Earwigging

It's amazing what you can hear if you actually can be bothered to listen. In taking a break from the heat inside and the constant niggling hassles of the front door I do the odd stint on the smoking terrace, smoking area, building frontage or cattle shed depending upon the venue. Here the music is quiet to non-existent, the lighting is constant and better than dark and the punters congregate to kill themselves slowly, use the phone or just cool down.
I stand there cooling off metaphorically or literally, without my one ear defender in and with the radio in the other ear turned to a sensible level. I get overlooked and by not reacting to what people say I can hear some wonderful things. I can hear how this scummy lady is pissed off with another scummy lady for dicking about and not sleeping with her scummy ex. This picked up in overhearing her rant to the scummy boy she intends to slide into bed with tonight. Why he's even interested can only be put down to intoxication and the sad realisation that without both front teeth and barely able to communicate at all even before the booze there's little chance of better.
I once heard a very foolish lady asking a regular slightly scummy man if he had any charlie. By not showing anything on my face I heard her go on asking and him confessing that he doesn't do it in town anymore, only does it at parties now. I didn't believe a word but did get her watched and tossed out in a bit.
Most of my time is spent watching people in drink taking some fresh air and nicotine based refreshment getting very drunk and having to be walked out the premises to sober up away from the venue, not in the smoking area.
The favourite conversation I've heard is one gent on his phone telling his mate he can't come meet him at another venue as he's had 5 maybe 6 pills and is smashed off his tits. This was virtually shouted down the phone as me and the other 20 customers in the smoking area all looked on and laughed. He seemed unaware of the people, the lack of music and the big me in my high-vis jacket standing about 2 yards away. He seemed remarkably surprised when he got whisked out the nearest fire door, feet barely touching the floor. I nearly got a round of applause from the other patrons as I politely told him if he's that mashed he can't see me standing there he won't really notice he's not in the venue anymore and he can go play with his imagination for the rest of the night.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dress Codes

In working at a few different of venues over the week I've seen both the good and bad sides of dresscodes. When you've a clear idea of who you want in the premises a simple dress code works very well. No tracksuit bottoms, no bright trainers, no "chavvy" brand t-shirts/polo shirts. It keeps those who think it fine to drink around town on a night dressed like they've crawled out of a working men's club beer garden out. Where it fails is when the doorstaff don't look past the brands or exact descriptions and see the calibre of person. How you wear your hair and how you carry yourself can tell me alot about you, often a whole load more than the labels you choose to exhibit.
Where it fails due to doorstaff's laziness to make judgement calls and stand by them, you end up rejecting nice punters and deny them the chance of spending money in the premises and still let those of dubious intent as they happen to be wearing appropriate clothing.
For the ladies more tolerance is given. Shorts are acceptable, vests are ok. Wearing most of the Elizabeth Duke catalog hanging in shiny loops from your ears is not. However once again the front door staff need to see past just the obvious headline and see the punter in context.
When it works you can get venues full of diverse punters with very little bother.
When it fails you can get knee deep in uniformly dressed scum and have to throw a lot of weight around.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Judgement


Hello, this is Erika, about to try and post in place of Doorman-Priest. What a challenge, so don't expect the usual high standards!



Judgement



He had always tried his best. Oh, he hadn’t been a saint, who is! But he had tried. He had never killed anyone, never stolen from anyone. He had been divorced. There had been a lot of pain. Much said and done, much that he regretted…Well, in the heat of the moment….and in cold blood, yes, that too. But that wasn’t just him… she too…! There were many who had done worse things. A normal human life. A mix of triumph and disaster, of success and failure, of joy and sorrow.

God’s judgement. He’d thought of it, of course, feared it at times. In those moments when he had felt a complete and utter failure, he dreaded God’s judgement. He knew that God would see through his feeble attempts at self-justification, that he would condemn him. In those moments, he tried to muster every ounce of self-righteousness he had. Tried to remember why he had done what he had done, said what he had said. Would God understand the pressures he had been under? Surely! If only he were given a fair hearing, he could explain. Maybe…. Better not think about it. Because in the depth of his heart he knew…..

There were moments of success, of unbridled joy, of feeling at one with the world. In those moments, he welcomed God’s judgement. The pat on the back. You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased. Hadn’t God said it before? Aren’t we all God’s children? I really think I may be good enough for God, that he will be pleased with me and that I will deserve his praise. And he remembered all those moments where he had loved, where he had acted selflessly, had helped others even when it had cost him dear. He remembered the times he had given a large sum to charity – secretly, of course, as not to show off. The time when he forgave his wife for that terrible thing she had done to him. Yes, he had made mistakes, but he had a good heart. Deep down inside there was love and strength, forgiveness and charity – yes, he was ready to meet his God.

And now, here he stands, having left the earth, suddenly coming face to face with God. This awesome presence. Overwhelming. Overpowering. Completely all consuming. Such glory! Such….such…..and suddenly he feels small. Shabby. Dirty. Confronted with this Glory, he can suddenly see the truth. He can see himself as that Glory must see him. Can see how he has fallen short. He sees clearly and without self deception, what he could have been. Sees his strengths and weaknesses all laid bare. His successes and failures – there, plain to see. The time when the red cloth of rage had wrapped itself around him and he had hit his small child. His anger, barely controllable… He had been right to be angry….The frightened, wide open eyes of his trusting child, the fear in them. That moment when he knew he could have stopped himself. Then, part of the trust gone forever. The guilt he felt afterwards.
The love he felt. The determination to make up for it. And he had, he had made an effort to become a much gentler father afterwards. Much much good had come out of his failure. Much good, that may have been left hidden, had it not been for that one failure.

Here, face to face with absolute Glory, he remembers his life.
He remembers his divorce. The hurt when he realised that he no longer loved his wife as much as she loved him. That awful time when they had outgrown the flowerpot of their marriage. No more common goals, no real communication. The pain of not being able to love as he should! The lie of living wordlessly side by side! They both tried, they both failed. A long successful marriage, a desperate mess of broken pieces at its end. But after they had waded through the depth of their misery, new shoots of life for both of them.

He remembers the time when his mother had been ill and needed to be cared for. The mix of heroic self sacrifice, of caring, of loving. But also the anger that engulfed him when he was confronted with her constant need. The bitter resentment that he could often barely conceal. That point where love and hate pushed him to the limits of his understanding.

He remembers the lies. The white ones, the black ones and the many grey ones. His heart grows heavy when he remembers with sudden clarity all those instances of anger, resentment, deliberate hurtfulness, revenge, loss of self control, lying, unkindness. The self deception, moments of self justification, even self righteousness. He remembers the preoccupation with himself, with his own life and concerns, and those of his immediate family. And he can see them clearly for what they were.

His face shines when he remembers, with equal clarity, moments of true joy, of shared love, of perfect happiness, of something done well, of pain endured, of hurt tolerated, of difficulties overcome. Moments where he had surprised himself by how giving and loving, how selfless he could be.

There had been much suffering in his life. Sometimes it had seemed to him that he had had more than his fair share of it. Why! He had often been tempted to ask. Why me! Why again! Not more!! Often had had borne it with strength, sometimes he had broken down. On the whole, he had shown much courage in the face of adversity.

Much of his life had been the mundane struggle with the small daily choices. So many crossroads, so many options. So few pointers. So little of it black or white, right or wrong. So much of it shades of grey, grades of pain, difficult choices, no clear pathway. The endless moral struggle of knowing that he would get it wrong, whatever he did. The timeless story of human nature, of everyday life.

So much of his growing had sprung from his utter failure, from pain, from misery. So much of his love and understanding had sprung from sorrow and disaster. From understanding the pain he had inflicted on others. From accidentally saying the wrong thing and living with the consequence. From clumsily avoiding other people’s hurt and feeling his own inadequacy. From those terrible moments in the middle of the night when he had woken up, suddenly remembering….

His small love had been bought at the price of realising how he had hurt others. His little understanding had been purchased at the cost of what he had done to others. All the small omissions, the many could have done betters….

Seeing himself as he really is, he becomes aware of what he had not known. How his moral righteousness had hurt those around him. How his certainties had suffocated those whose lives he did not approve of. How his carelessness had caused others to suffer.
He sees his limitations clearly, his own lack of love and understanding for those he had shared the earth with. His own deep fears that had stopped him from understanding fully, from giving freely.

This sudden knowledge of the depth of his weakness – this sudden understanding of the depth of his limitations… THIS is the judgement. The worst, most crippling, most punishing judgement possible. How can he live now, knowing what he knows?

Truly seeing, bewildered, afraid, he barely dares to face his God. What will he say, what will he ask?

And God asks: Do you know how much I love you?

He doesn’t hear. Wrapped up in himself, frightened, hurt, he slowly picks up the bowl that was his life. That small bowl full of bright shiny surfaces, of dark shapes, of sharp edges where pieces had broken off. Patches polished by joy, spots roughened by tears. The many colours. The black areas. The web of cracks covering the whole bowl in a pattern, interwoven, linking good and bad, laughter and tears, joy and sorrow, success and failure, triumph and disaster.

And again God asks: Do you know how much I love you?

Slowly, hesitatingly, with averted eyes, he lifts his small bowl up to his God. Here, this is all I have to offer. My small life. My broken bowl. All the mess of my humanity. Here is my life. It was precious to me. It is all I have to give you. I am sorry.

And God takes the bowl, gently, carefully, tenderly. As though it was the most precious gift he had ever received. He gently takes the broken bowl and makes it whole, makes up all the deficit with his wonderful healing love.

And God asks: Do you know how much I love you?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Coming Soon....


As we are deparing for a family week in lovely Nothumberland, secifically Alnwick - see photo - The World of Doorman-Priest is happy to announce the first tranche of guest Bloggers holding the fort. Please give a big bloggers' welcome to Erika from England, WayneDawg from the U.S.A. and Alcibiades from Australia......

In the meantime, my last post for a little while, taken again from BBC Radio 4's excellent "Thought For The Day" from 19th July. Listen again Here

The Rev Rob Marshall

The holiday exodus really gets underway this weekend. Unlike the French - who put their country on autopilot from the 1st August and go on holiday together - we Brits spread our holidays out over a longer period. Nevertheless, this will be one of the busiest "getting away from it all" weekends of the year.

Holidays usually result in mixed blessings. They are often needed but not always easy. Have we really become so out of touch with loved ones, the world at large, with ourselves? We sometimes feel the pain of slowing down, changing the old routine, doing something different. When on the beach or in the country, life changes focus. We see things in a different perspective.

I personally find that natural boundaries between work and leisure are more blurred than I can ever remember. For many of my friends working in a wide range of jobs and professions, the perception is that each day merges with the next: without a beginning or an end: life too easily becomes a continuous cycle of doing and deadlines, with no ability just "to be".

This week I'm leading a holiday pilgrimage based in Durham celebrating the saints of the north east of England and of Scotland. I was on Iona on Saturday and Holy Island on Thursday. It is indeed clear as I visit many different places that the Celtic and Anglo Saxon saints are once again helping large numbers of people rediscover a better work/life balance. There is a huge interest in Celtic spirituality, ancient sites are being rediscovered, research about this era is hugely popular. And all perhaps because of a natural and quite simple desire in each of us to have enough time to be what God intended us to be: individuals who are at peace with the world and ourselves.

The Northumbrian saints, Aidan and Cuthbert, for instance, were, according to Bede, the historian, full of energy and did a great deal of work. But only as part of a rhythm and connectedness which also placed great emphasis on the ability to withdraw - to spend some time "thinking about it all", putting everything into a wider perspective of wisdom. They urge us to keep the spiritual flag flying - our spiritual self alive - however swamped we may sometimes feel.

As the holiday season really does get underway this weekend, most of us will contemplate the change of rhythm and routine with a sense of thanksgiving and open mindedness.

Despite the fact that leaving a pressurised job of any kind, as the emails build up, is not at all easy, a period of getting once again in touch with ourselves, and with others, inevitably reaps rewards. Rediscovering the world around us and the value of relationships is a hugely spiritual experience.

Comment: It speaks to me and, of course, refers to my destination. I am very much looking forward to family-time: no computer so no blog and no e-mail, mobile switched off, no thoughts of school or church and a trip to Holy Island and the wonderful Alnwick Castle gardens factored in. I might even attend Sunday worship in The Mad One's church in Newcastle. The sun may even shine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thought For The Day


On matters affecting human sexuality, Christians feel free to pick and choose the bits that suit them.
Rev. John Bell

'Night after night on my bed, I have sought my true love.'

This is not so much a personal testimony as a quotation from the Bible. It came to mind a few years ago when I was visiting a church in New Zealand where the congregation was exercised because a sex shop had opened up across the street. It had a large notice board which advertised items you wouldn't normally find at a Tupperware Party.

In discussing this predicament with the minister, I suggested that as the church also had a large notice board, it might offer alternative inducements. Hence I proposed :

NIGHT AFTER NIGHT ON MY BED, I HAVE SOUGHT MY TRUE LOVE
WANT TO FIND OUT MORE?
COME TO ST.JOHN'S AT 6.30 ON SUNDAY.

The Song of Songs, from which that quotation comes is not a book frequently read, though it says a lot about healthy erotic sex. It's attributed to King Solomon, who certainly knew quite a bit about the subject having 700 wives and 300 concubines. Curiously he -though a direct ancestor of Jesus - is never taken as a model of good practice. Nor is Isaac: he's the son of Abraham, who is one of a number of biblical patriarchs with unusual dating practices. It's his father, who sends a servant to find a wife for the boy. Subsequently, the servant brings back homea girl called Rebecca to meet a man whom she has never seen, and who no sooner meets her than he takes her into his tent and beds her in consolation for the death of his mother.

I don't think I've been at a wedding ceremony yet where the vicar asks the groom: 'Do you come here earnestly seeking marriage to this woman because you are missing your mum?'

Nor, come to think of it, have I ever heard a minister ask a couple, 'Do you come here, seeking holy matrimony because that is preferable to burning with desire?'. Yet that perspective on marriage is offered by St Paul.

It's interesting how, on matters affecting human sexuality, Christians-feel free to pick and choose the bits that suit them. We elevate to the status of a litmus test of piety one aspect of sexuality about which the Bible is comparatively silent. (I'm sure you'll know the issue to which I'm alluding without me having to be explicit.) And yet more positive expressions we leave alone - like seeking my true love on my bed night after night

..or like the Ethiopian eunuch. )I wonder whether he's avoided because it's only Scots who can pronounce the word.) At any rate his is one of the first recorded baptisms in the New Testament. Even though as a eunuch he would have been spurned and victimised by some communities because of his "irregular sexuality", he was embraced and totally accepted by the fragile fledgling church.

I wonder if that story has any bearing on the current divisive issue, the name of which I will not mention?

If you want to hear this, go to Here and click on Friday 18th July.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Weeds and the Wheat


Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Mat 13:24-30 & 36-43


My Dad has been in Hospital recently as many of you know. It was a very significant emergency procedure and he was very poorly for some time. We knew when he was on the mend, though, when he began to do his “Daily Mail Man” routine. It is a rant and it goes something like:
“It shouldn’t be allowed. They don’t know what they’re doing. Someone should do something about it. They’re all as bad as each other. If I was in charge….”, and so on. I am just waiting for him to turn into Victor Meldrew and actually slap his head and say “I don’t believe it.” (British T.V. reference.)

Now as to the identity of the “They” in these rants: it varies: the government, specific politicians, Barnsley Council, public services and the E.U. to name but a few. He gets very heated when he does this and my daughters look at me for reassurance. “Is Granddad going to explode?”
“Just let him get it off his chest and he’ll be fine.”
And so it usually is as Mr Hyde becomes Dr. Jekyll once more.

In one scenario or another that is probably a familiar domestic picture for all of us. But it isn’t just at home where we encounter the attitude which tells us that
a) Something is wrong and
b) Someone should do something about it.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us a parable that turns that notion on its head and it is a parable of our times, and certainly a parable for our church.

Some years ago I met someone who never went to the same church twice: he was trying to find the perfect church, or at least what for him would be the perfect church. I wasn’t assertive enough (or possibly inensitive enough) to say what I thought about this which was something along the lines of: “I pity that church, if you ever find it, because when you get there you’ll spoil it!”

How mean is that eh?

But this parable of Jesus confirms that notion. So, let’s have a look at this field of wheat and weeds Jesus tells us about. What is sown in other parables that deal with wheat is the “word of god”: not so here. The wheat and the weeds represent you and I here today in the worldwide church of God. There can be no perfect church because every church is made up of sinners. There are weeds amongst the wheat.

There was an early Christian heresy that said there could be moral or doctrinal purity in the church which had to be enforced, and enforcing it meant cleansing the impurities from it. There are those today who think in the same way.

“There was a golden age. If only we could return to it. We need to purify the church. We need to return to lost values.” Of course, inevitably, perhaps, such people usually see the will of God for the church as neatly being in line with their own. Actually, I think that little conceit lurks within us all: “If only people would do things my way.”

Of course we should be yearning for a church that reflects the will of God and brings Him glory, after all the Son of Man has sowed good seeds and we should look to see it bare fruit appropriately in our institutions. However, as we are here two thousand years down the line, the product of schism and part of a church history of bad tempered disunity, maybe we shouldn’t hold our breaths on that one.

I don’t know about you, but I regularly hear echoes of this parable in various conversations:
“Why is it that those in the church can’t get on with one another?”
“Christians can be just as nasty as those who don’t go to church. How hypocritical is that?”
“You’d think the church might be one place where you’d experience kindness and generosity of spirit. What happened to the unconditional love and encouragement that Jesus spoke of?”

I am particularly struck by something Ghandi once said: “"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

That should really make us stop and think.

Hold on, though. Surely the church should be a moral arbiter of what is right and wrong and if people don’t live up to our expectations of what is right and wrong, surely it is our duty to correct and discipline them? Indeed isn’t it our responsibility to weed them out and throw them on the fire, so to speak? If we can’t trust the church to hold the moral line, then where are we?

Isn’t that right?

Well up to a point yes, but there are structures and committees and synods that are rightly authorised to consider such matters: I think this parable is warning us as individuals and congregations against making such judgements the norm. So the first application this parable should have is surely in our own lives; otherwise it is just an interesting piece of religious philosophy.

I always imagine Jesus teaching a group when I read a parable. It is really like being in my own classroom. Look, this group listen and think “Yeah, interesting story. Dear me, is that the time? No connection to the teaching at all. This group are discussing it amongst themselves. “There’s some interesting stuff in what this man is saying. I don’t have the time right now, but I’ll mull it over later. Later never comes. The intention was good but again there was no engagement. This little group here struggle with it. “He’s telling us something we aren’t getting. I know there’s more to this.” and they go away deep in thought and worry at it until the penny drops. These are the ones who will take the moral of the parable and run with it, recognising that it has to make a difference to how they live and behave and relate to others.

But before we start looking around at each other and beyond into the wider church and start pointing the finger, there is another important truth: I come here with some negative memories and a fair amount of bitterness and cynicism from my past relationship with the church. So do each of you to some extent, I would guess. I come here with parts of me willing to respond to the call of Christ, and parts of me resisting at every turn, but trying to keep my resistance hidden. St. Paul spoke of the great distress he created for himself when he did the things he really did not want to do while not doing the things he very much wanted to do. Surely he spoke for all humankind, here. And so there are plenty of times when I fail to leave that baggage behind when I deal with other Christians and that’s probably true for all of us. But of course, being human, it is always easier to recognise what is unacceptable and offensive in other people rather than in myself!

Another thing we need to consider is that because the church is a place which offers refuge, compassion, forgiveness and trust, all of which promise healing and renewal, it will attract, amongst others, those who are the most damaged and hurt. While it is certainly true that the Christian church promises to be a place in which people can grow into the ways of love and mercy and justice, if the church is also fulfilling its mission of drawing in more of the unloved victims of our society, then it can expect also to be constantly finding within itself the passive or not-so-passive bitterness and rage that are going to be present in those who have been hurt and rejected – often by the institutional church itself.

Whenever unpleasantness happens and we witness acts of pettiness and hostility within the church, the temptation is to act decisively and seek to weed it out. We want to get rid of those people or things we regard as infecting the community with divisive attitudes and actions. We want to take action to purge the community, to make it holy, to make room for the good wheat of love, for mercy and justice to grow and flourish without being challenged and compromised. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when the master tells his servants not to clean up the field because of the danger of causing worse damage than the weeds were causing. Our first instinct might well be to weed the field but the parable teaches us that we can’t be given that responsibility because we shouldn’t be left to sort out the lives of others from the basis of our own prejudgements, prejudices, petty jealousies and unresolved baggage – after all, who is to say that on any given topic, however confident in the rightness of our stance, we may not actually be the weeds? It is sometimes hard to tell wheat and weeds apart, which is what Jesus was saying.

That is not to say that there will be no judgements: far from it, but the parable tells us that this is another’s task, at the end of the age. Jesus effectively tells us that we had better learn to live with the problem or we will end up becoming part of it. Violence – in whatever form - always begets violence, and so perpetuates itself. Our attempts to destroy evil in our midst become, in their turn, another evil.

We do generally live together in an uneasy truce with our various tensions just about held in check, but every once in a while discord breaks out, just as Jesus warned that it would: this is the point at which the wheat and the weeds appear indistinguishable.

Perhaps we are lucky just now that the Lutheran Church in Great Britain is only facing a financial crisis. That may seem an odd thing to say but if we look at the worldwide church, the wheat is falling out amongst itself in a most unedifying way. It is hard to tell the wheat from the weeds. If you have been following events in Anglicanism recently you will recognise just how relevant this parable of Jesus is, as powerful groups within the international Anglican community are lining up against one another with the culture of blame and recrimination in danger of becoming the norm. There are people on both sides who want to do some significant weeding. Each faction sees itself as the wheat and the other as the weeds but both sides are looking to realign Anglicanism and set it off towards a new future, designed, of course, to fit their current agendas and world-views: there is a real desire to purge and purify the church.

I can hear my Dad’s words again in this dialogue of the deaf:
“It shouldn’t be allowed. They don’t know what they’re doing. Someone should do something about it. They’re all as bad as each other. If I was in charge….” and so on.

Only this time the “they” are variously The Archbishop of Canterbury, gay priests, Bishop Akinola of Nigeria and Bishop Jensen of Sidney, and those who want women bishops, depending on where you stand.

So what has this to do with us? We are a happy little congregation where relationships are good and where we tolerate each other’s little foibles easily enough. While we are part of a significant Christian denomination we exist as a tiny minority in this country. Perhaps both have taught us the value of cherishing each other and not being too quick to judge.

But we can not pretend we are not part of what else is happening around us. We are part of the universal church and while we may have fought battles over women in the episcopate and issues of human sexuality, and resolved them to our corporate satisfaction, others haven’t, and they need our prayers and support and at least to be offered the benefit of the perspective of those who have already travelled the road they are currently on.

Perhaps the practical side of our holding them in our prayers lies not so much in taking sides (tempting as that me be) as in sharing our understanding of this parable: despite the desire of the disciples to know right now who the good are and who are the evildoers, Jesus says, “Just wait!” The Church will always contain more than its fair share of maliciousness, pettiness and nastiness, but the temptation to try to weed it out is a temptation to abandon the way of Christ and make things worse.

There is also something very special in this passage that we don’t notice in its English translation. There is a Greek word at the start of the farmer’s instruction: “Let the wheat and the weeds grow together.” It is that word “let” or “permit” or “allow”. The same Greek word also means “forgive”. This is not just a passive ignoring of the problem. It is an active naming and forgiving of it. We are not called to pretend that the wheat and the weeds are no different. We are not called to refrain from calling for repentance and change. We are called to refrain from attacking what we think might be weeds. And most importantly we are called to actively forgive and to suffer the ongoing presence of those whose attitudes or actions seem to threaten our comfort or wellbeing. We are being told that the means to purge the community of malice and pettiness and nastiness is not through the violence of weeding, but through the grace of courageous forgiving and accepting. This is how we should deal with one another and this is the message we should share with our Anglican friends.

There may be occasions in the future when we might very well appreciate them giving us that same advice.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A day for kids of all ages.


Yesterday I spent the day here. Five coach loads of fourteen year olds and assorted staff. This was a rewards trip. I've given unstinting service for years and this is my reward. Bah Humbug!

Sorry?

A reward for the kids?

Oh Right.

I spent the day with my friends Dan and Jagtar. Dan and I aren't thrill-seekers. Jagtar, on the other hand is. He is thirty five and of slight build. Wearing his baseball cap, Jagtar blended in seamlessly with all the other fourteen year olds. I was worn out vicariously just by being with him.

"I want to go on that, and then that. Can we go on that one too?"

" Its a day for the kids, Jagtar. You go. We'll sit here and drink tea while you go on the rides. Meet us back here. Do you have enough money? Take care now. Don't talk to strangers."

And with that he was lost, a teenager amongst teenagers, dangling above the ground and being dropped from a great hight, whooping with joy.

As Dan said. "They grow up so quickly don't they?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tooled Up

With all the nonsense in the papers and media about the massed hordes of knife-wielding teenagers taking over the country I think a little perspective is required.
It's not hard at all to get hold of a knife, it takes very little skill to hide one about your person and only a very brief practice to get wield it effectively. However the motivation to commit knife violence and the kind of injury or death offered by crude stabbings lies beyond most folk.
If you're in the confined controlled environment of a bar or club, with cameras, doorstaff, search policies and swift access to the police most folk would not want to be carrying, let alone threatening to or wielding a knife. We do find the odd pen-knife or spiked comb but more often as oversights or stupidity than with intent. Knuckle dusters, stilettos, screwdrivers and other things we occasionally find but not in numbers enough to make us worry.
If you're in the less defined environment of drinking cider on street corners where anyone could turn up and do anything un-witnessed, then I'd worry about it.
Having said all this, standing on a front door with all and sundry walking by you, if you've got enemies, as just about everyone in my business does, it helps to have your back watched and know how to handle a pillock with a knife.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bishop Gene speaks


"As I began to preach, this youngish man with long hair and long sideburns, carrying a motorcycle helmet, stood and began to point his finger at me and scream, "Heretic! Repent!"

It was a surreal moment. Of course we knew that something like this might happen. But you can't really adequately prepare for the reality of it.

My first, fleeting thought was, "What's going to happen next? Is he carrying something in that helmet? Is this going to be more than angry words?" But almost immediately, I found myself profoundly sorry for this young man. After he had been removed, and the hymn ended (the congregation had sung a hymn to drown out his shouting), when I asked the congregation to "pray for that man," I was nearly overwhelmed with sadness. All I could think about was that place in his heart which must be filled with such darkness, a place that was meant to be filled with love, but because of whatever had happened in his life, whoever he has been associating with, it was filled with hate. Someone had to TEACH him to hate like that. He didn't learn it on his own. For a moment or two, I was nearly overwhelmed by my sense of sadness for him. The tears in my eyes and the crack in my voice were for this child of God who, I suspect, has experienced so much pain and unhappiness in his life."

Comment: And we learn real humility from this man. Already the Lambeth Conference is having its agenda set by Bishop Gene.

How disturbing to consider that we Christians are teaching each other to hate. Disturbing but true. The heckler demanded repentance. We should all repent for the circumstances which led him to his outburst because in some small way we have each contributed to the climate of hatred.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Left-overs

There are things you find lying around at the end of the night, some of them really unexpected. They always raise some questions about the night, some you maybe don't want the answer to.
My favourites have been the occasional used condoms on the floor of the ladies. A couple will slip under the radar some nights.
The two pairs of men's pants found together by the dance floor were clearly a hen night find but having seen the hen nights we had in that night I can only wonder what promises or threats extracted both Calvin Klein and Ted Baker under-crackers.
The worst has to be the large incontinence pad found on a dance floor at the end of the night. Who brought that into the club and what led to it being discarded? What led to it lying on the dance floor and who got to go home with miss pissy pants? I can only wonder in awe.

The vexed question of Scripture


This one doesn't seem to go away and I seem to be regularly outlining my view on the authoroity, value, inerrancy etc. of scripture.

There had been a bit of an exchange between Erika and Wayne, with Neil making additional comments on one of my previous posts "Sunday Sermon". See below. It moved to Wayne's site. A couple of days ago I posted this comment there Here:

"Believe and be baptised." Not "Believe and accept every semicolon of scripture." Where does Jesus say that what you believe about scripture is detrminative of salvation?

He doesn't. There may be all sorts of Old and New Testament references to the value and use of scripture, but they are not related to salvation. These are the extra burdens we oppress each other with in good Pharisaic style.


Wayne replied: I don’t think it’s Pharisaic at all to ask, “What is it you believe?”

We have to believe Jesus is the Christ set forth as atonement for our sins once and for all (1 Cor 15:3, 2 Cor 5:15, Rom 5:8, Rom 3:25, Heb 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10).

If we don’t believe that as literal language then we don’t believe in the right Jesus. If we don’t believe in the right Jesus we do not have biblical salvation. So it is very important to believe correctly when it comes to this basic doctrine if we are to be called Christian.

Nothing Pharisaic at all about that…….in fact, I would call that Christianity 101
.

Chris Kratzer commented: Doctrine is a biblical word for "teachings." Didache-GRK

The correct teachings about God and the things of God come from God (not man) through God's revelation in scripture.

John 7:16
Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.

Having the correct doctrine is essential for knowing God and having salvation. You can't have sound doctrine without belief that the Scriptures are God-authored, are perfect in truth, and define us and God instead of us defining them.

1 Timothy 4:16
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Notice the admonition is to agree with revealed doctrine, not to make the scriptures agreeable.

2 John 1:9
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.

So to answer your question, "Where does it say that what you believe about scripture is determinative of salvation?" the above scriptures speak to this issue.


My response to Wayne was: It isn't Pharisaic to ask at all. Don't get me wrong on that. It is Pharisaic, though, to say "I believe such and such and if you don't, then you are either a second class Christian or no Christian at all."

Of course there are areas where there is a red line. One's belief about scripture is not one of those.

I don't accept that all scripture is the same genre of writing. I don't view the Gospels has having the same aim and function, for instance, as The Psalms although their common denominator is their witness to God.

The more I study (that is both academically as well as spiritually) the more I become aware of the different genres of writing: history (not all of which, confusingly, is historical), myth, poetry, law, wisdom, prophecy, Biography and so on. They all have a role and a context which needs to be understood and I would say that makes the writings interdependent.

That is why I can read the Gospels and assent to their witness to Christ. It is also why I read the Psalms and recognise that they could not all have been written by David (which is a secondary point to what they teach me about God and therefore of little spiritual significance but much academic significance); it is why I read Daniel and see allegory and not history; it is why I read Genesis and see myth not science.

In every case I need to read and understand and seek God's guidance as to the function of that genre and what it reveals to me about God. I don't read Esther as having the same authority as St. Paul, for instance, or Hosea as revealing to me the same depths of understanding as John's Gospel.

Scripture is complex in its diversity, for all its wonders. Inspired - certainly. Inerrant - well, I would say not, of the same spiritual value - not at all, (which is not at all to argue no spiritual value). Jonah, for instance: a wonderful story of God's saving power and mercy on the people of Ninevah and a wonderful story of God's calling of Jonah and his patience with Jonah. Historically accurate? I would say not. Allegorical? I would say so. Of equal value with Mark's Gospel? Absolutely not.

Now I don't expect you to share my understanding of the nature of scripture. But I would ask you to see where I am coming from and at least understand what has led me to this point.

For you to expect me or anyone else to share your view of the nature of scripture is equally unrealistic.

What we must avoid, at all costs, to keep real and open dialogue going and good relationships, is to stop oppressing each other with our certainties. Your certainties aren't mine and mine aren't yours. While we each hold them dear, we will not actually know until the day of judgement.

Wayne, you and I seem to manage to do that.

Chris: And the doctrine of Christ on scripture would be. "Assent to every semi colon or die" then would it?

Whose semi-colon. Brian's or mine?

God's or yours? (Please don't tell me they are the same because that would be to say - and here we go again: "I am right and you are wrong").

Just occasionally in these exchanges, my faith in the humility of my fellow Christians - note: no speechmarks - would be greatly enhanced by someone saying; "Actually I'd never considered that view before. I'd like to explore that with you."

Too threatening. Let just use the Bible to tell them they're wrong.

Proof texting does not help. We can all do that. I choose not to because it doesn't help, it convinces no one and, while it may make me feel good about how well I know my Bible and my ability to trot out an appropriate verse or two for every occasion, It doesn't prove either that I have anything more than a superficial knowledge and understanding of scripture or that scripture is saying what I think it says.


Chris came back: Thanks for your reply, I totally understand your views and would absolutely agree with you when exploring the "non-essentials" of the Christian faith.

If you have ever read my blog, I detest when people, for example, Calvinist try to claim perfect understanding of scriptures that God clearly never makes perfectly clear.

Worst, with some Calvinists there is a vibe that if you don't subscribe to their system of theology, you don't understand God's grace and you desire to minimize God's sovereignty. I can't tell you how much that elitism drives me up the wall. If you think you get the short end of the stick with guys like Brian etc., just go on some Reformed blogs and tee it up.

That said, I believe, by my understanding of scriptures as exampled in part by the scriptures I referenced earlier, that there are some "essentials" to faith in Christ and in the Bible that are not up for debate or creative interpretation.

Such as the doctrine of Christ: Jesus was the son of God, God's one and only provision for our sin, fully human and fully divine, He took God's punishment (wrath upon our sin) for us and died in our place through His shed blood on the cross. He rose to life three days later, ascended into heaven so that we might live and be restored unto Him. This salvation is an undeserved free gift from God received through repenting of our sins (genuine sorrow for and turning away from) and putting our faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation.

This truth did not come from man, it is revealed to us in scripture. If one does not hold to this teaching, than one does not have God.

It is a very slippery slope to assert interpretational license over scripture and begin placing logic, reasoning, and personal experience as the guide rails for understanding. Once you begin down that path, than nothing is absolute other than a person's opinion. People have used every kind of exegetical excuse to further what are really their own opinions ever since the written Word.

It's amazing how the same person who doesn't want any absolutes, absolutely wants their own opinion, and not just that, wants it to have more weight and validity than God's counsel.

In a culture that says, "I have a right to my opinion so buzz off" I believe God's word requires us to humble ourselves and our opinions and yield to the counsel of God revealed in His word. Which, more so than not, is pretty straight forward, understandable, and clear.

Just some thoughts.


Which I actually thought was quite encouraging. Then today Mimi points us to Tobias's blog Here where he has posted:

Scripture is the inspired Word of God, but it is always written in a human tongue. People do not speak God’s language, or have God’s knowledge, so God, when speaking to people through inspiration, must employ the human language of the culture and time of the one inspired, in order to impart any knowledge at all. God always “talks down” to us, and our finite human capacity always limits how well we understand the infinite God, and express that understanding. One cannot put the ocean in a bottle; and new wineskins must be used for new wine. As Jesus himself would later say, “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:12-13)

The inspired recipients of God’s word in Genesis believed the sky to consist of a dome, in which the sun, moon, and stars were set, and which had windows to admit the rain stored in the pool of waters above. God, of course, knew that this was not true, literally or in any other sense, but the minds of those God inspired could have no place to hold such concepts as gravity and freely floating planets, stars and moons — or that the earth was not stationary at the center of a revolving universe. They had the evidence of their senses to the contrary, and would not, as Jesus would later say, have been able to “bear” the truth. So God communicated to them in a language that did not seem outrageous to them, that met their expectations, and explained and ratified what they perceived. The primary truth God intended to convey, after all, was not a literal account of the composition of the cosmos, but the theological principle that God is the creator of all that is.

In the same way, the accounts in Genesis 2 through 4 do not present a literal history of the first human beings, but a theologically relevant account, God’s word designed to explain truths to people in keeping with what they perceived, within their time and place — to address the really big questions to which the account provides the answers: primarily, why is it that people do wrong things; why do they die; why do they marry; and why should a perfectly natural thing like childbirth be so painful.

Tobias Haller BSG


Now this pretty well sums it up for me. Then along came Bishop Gene:

"Did God stop revealing God's self with the closing of the canon of scripture at the end of the first century, or has God continued to be self-revelatory through history, and right into the present?

My conservative brothers and sisters seem to argue that God revealed everything to us in scripture. Ever since, it has simply been our difficult but straightforward task to conform ourselves to God's will revealed there and to repent when we are unable or unwilling to do so.

For me, there is something static and lifeless in such a view of God. Could it be that even the Bible is too small a box in which to enclose God?

In my life, God seems infinitely more engaged with humankind than that, desiring a relationship with each one of us, continually attempting to lead us closer and closer to God's will."
(See previous post)

(Now Bishop Gene, remember, isn't allowed to be right what with him not being a Christian because he is gay and therefore not having the Holy Spirit to inspire him at all. No, he is merely a "Christian".)

I have commented a number of times that there are no references in the creeds to scriptural inerrancy and that the list of proof texts others offer us to assert their perception of the literal and inerrant nature of scripture are essentially self-authorising. I am being invited to accept that the Bible is literal and inerrant because these proof texts, I am told, say it is. That is a bit of a circular argument isn't it? And it seems to accept no alternative perspective. "Look it can't be wrong because it says it can't be wrong. Do you see? So to disagree means that you have got it wrong."

Right.

Not.

Anyway, I have solved the problem. As I told Wayne I have concluded that scripture is, indeed, inerrant.

Only it means what I think it means.

After all, that argument seems to have worked for others, so It can work for me too.

Problem solved.

Now, overwhelmed with the authority and power to oppress others in the name of God and tell them how wrong they are and that they are going to Hell unless they see things my way, I shall go and have a cold shower. I like the feeling too, too much!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Face to Faith


The God I know is alive and active in the church, not locked up in scripture, says Gene Robinson.

The Guardian, Saturday July 12, 2008

I believe in the living God. Now, that may not seem like a surprising statement for a bishop of the church to make - but as we approach the Lambeth conference of bishops, it may be a crucial belief to reaffirm.

The debate raging in the Anglican communion over the place of women and gays in the life and ministry of the church, and the name-calling about who does and does not accept the authority of scripture, belies a much deeper question: did God stop revealing God's self with the closing of the canon of scripture at the end of the first century, or has God continued to be self-revelatory through history, and right into the present?

My conservative brothers and sisters seem to argue that God revealed everything to us in scripture. Ever since, it has simply been our difficult but straightforward task to conform ourselves to God's will revealed there and to repent when we are unable or unwilling to do so.

For me, there is something static and lifeless in such a view of God. Could it be that even the Bible is too small a box in which to enclose God?

In my life, God seems infinitely more engaged with humankind than that, desiring a relationship with each one of us, continually attempting to lead us closer and closer to God's will. So too with the church. Isn't God - the living God - constantly making God's self and God's will more perfectly known to the church over time?

Jesus says a remarkable thing to his disciples at his last supper with them: "There is more that I would teach you, but you cannot bear it right now. So I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth." Could it be that God revealed in Jesus Christ everything possible in a first-century Palestine setting to a ragtag band of fishermen and working men? Could it have been God's plan all along to reveal more and more of himself and his will as the church grew and matured?

God, of course, was not and is not changing - but our ability to apprehend and comprehend God's will for us is. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the church was led to permit eating things proscribed by Leviticus, to oppose slavery (after centuries of using scripture to defend it), and to permit and bless remarriage after divorce (despite Jesus' calling it adultery).

And now, by the leading of that same Spirit, we are beginning to welcome those who have heretofore been marginalised or excluded altogether: people of colour, women, the physically challenged, and God's children who happen to be gay.

This is the God I know in my life - who loves me, interacts with me, teaches and summons me closer and closer to God's truth. This God is alive and well and active in the church - not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, having said everything that needed to be said, but rather still interacting with us, calling us to love one another as he loves us. It is the brilliance of Anglicanism that we first and foremost read scripture, and then interpret it in light of church tradition and human reason. No one of us alone can be trusted to such a process because, left to our own devices, we recast God's will in our own image. But in the community of the church, together we are able to discern God's will for us - and sometimes that may mean reinterpreting and even changing old understandings of things thought settled long ago.

In the midst of all the wrangling about who should be "in" and who should be "out", who is fit to lead and what relationships are worthy of blessing, can we find the grace to thank God for loving us enough to be engaged with us? Can we find the leading of the Holy Spirit - even into painful and, for the moment, divisive places - a blessing and not a curse? Can we discern God's hand in Anglicanism's current struggles? Can we rejoice that we worship not only a God of scripture and history, but a living God, who is leading us forward toward the truth at this very moment?

The Rt Rev Gene Robinson is the Bishop of New Hampshire

Comment: Needless to say - and of no surprise to some I regularly blog with - Bishop Robinson says it all for me in relation to how we have boxed God into scripture and refuse to acknowledge the work of The Holy Spirit as she does her thing throughout subsequent history.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thought for the Day

This was on Radio 4 yesterday. If you want to hear rather than read (and if you are a sucker for a Scottish accent, I would recommend it) listen Here

Rev John Bell

In the wake of the Church of England's decision to proceed with the consecration of women as bishops, there has been both pain and rejoicing. The jubilant have predictably commented that this shows how the Church is catching up with society. That may be the case, but I don't think it has yet caught up with Jesus.

Let me explain... or rather let me allude to a conference I was recently working at in Canada. I divided participants into two groups. The first was asked to name Jesus' 12 male disciples and state three things we knew about each. The other was asked to identify 12 women who followed Jesus and state three things we knew about them….all from memory.

I'd never done this before so I was as surprised at the outcome as anyone else.

None of those looking at the male disciples could remember any more than eight. Names like Nathaniel, Thaddeus, Simon Zealotes were not quoted. Of those identified, most people could only remember three things about Peter, John, Andrew and Judas. Yet, with the exception of Judas, the other eleven are men after whom churches throughout the world are named.

The group looking at the female disciples had no difficulty in identifying twelve women and were able to remember three things about the majority of them….and that not because they were 'fallen.'

Most surprising of all, we discovered that the woman whom Jesus met at a well, is the only person in the four Gospels to whom a whole chapter is devoted: she's the first evangelist. Andrew brings his brother, a young boy and some Greeks to Jesus, for which he is made patron saint of Scotland. The woman at the well brings a whole village to Jesus, but no nation has so honoured her.

If you look further you see that it's women who give Jesus his declared models of faith, love and generosity. It's women who regularly provide food and lodgings for him and his male companions. It's the women, who followed him, who accompany his body to the grave, and a woman who first sees him after the resurrection.

Is there another male figure in world history who has so clearly engaged with, depended on, and encouraged women without the familiar accompaniments of seduction or exploitation?

Has there been a major Western politician who has been so explicitly trusting? A captain of British industry who has been so reliant? A top ranking male academic who has been so collegial with women?

I suggest that the consecrating of female bishops is not the major issue. For both liberals and traditionalists the bigger issue is the feminisation of communities of faith until they are as representative and nurturing of the giftedness of women as Jesus was.

Now if churches became like that they wouldn't be catching up with society, they would be leading it.

Ups and Downs

It's the silly summer season. Not in terms of the absence of meaningful parliamentary politics but in terms of my work in this small city.
The students have gone away for the summer so the midweek sessions are quiet or abandoned. The odd local who can read and write or get a doctors note to say they can't may have been off to uni and be back for the summer but they tend not to form a coherent clump on any given night of the week. So generally the summer is quiet, easy work until the weekends. Then we see the stag and hen party season in full swing and we get a load of folks through our doors who we've never seen before and will never see again unless it's to identify them in a court room.
Add to this the fact that the city gets periodic influxes of large numbers of folk for assorted sporting events and festivals. Often they are drunk to such a degree that to still be standing and attempting to enter a licensed premises is almost miraculous. On a given midweek night we can see the club to capacity with high spirited, high spending folks away from home for a few days. We get to see the kind of behaviour people reserve for those situations where they feel they won't face the consequences.
From a quiet students and locals empty night you can by the next night be rammed full of folks with little moral compass and that bumpiness and lack of routine makes up a very frustrating hot sticky idiot filled summer season.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sunday Sermon


Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45: 11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


During the season after Pentecost, we focus on what it means to be a Christian. At Christmas we heard the Good News of Christ's incarnation. The Easter acclamation - Alleluia! Christ is Risen! - is still a faint echo in our ears. At Pentecost we heard that we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be Christ's body in the world. Now what?

I remember when my younger daughter was about six. She said one day: “So Jesus was born at Christmas and died at Easter. What did he do in the summer?” Well this period in the church calendar is a bit like that. Now what?

Well, our readings today give us some useful glimpses and lessons on the Christian life. There is a wonderful juxtaposition of moods between the Epistle and the Gospel as we move from a reflection on the personal pain of sin as seen by St. Paul to the comfort Jesus offers those who feel such a burden.

Let’s start with St. Paul: There can’t be many who sat there listening to this passage who didn’t immediately identify with Paul’s pain. No matter how hard we try, no matter how often we recognise our failings and resolve to be better – better Christians, better human beings - we always seem to defeat ourselves. The Spirit may indeed be willing but the flesh is most certainly weak….over and over again. Why can’t we do self-discipline, self-control? Why can’t we decide and then it simply be so? Certainly the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and strength and our neighbours as ourselves is daunting in its scope, but all our best intentions to conquer this incrementally seem doomed and we end up humiliated and downcast.

The problem here is sin. I don’t know about you but I hate that word. It is one of those deeply unhelpful and overplayed words that city centre street evangelists berate us with as we pass: words of judgement and condemnation which are to many of us so far away from ideas of God’s love that we find them irritating as they seem to concentrate on a narrow understanding of society and morality and an obsession with a perpetually angry God who needs constant appeasing.

Sadly, though, I’ve yet to come up with a better alternative. Sin may be a deeply old fashioned concept but we can’t dispense with it as it speaks to us of the reality of our inability to get it right in the ways we’d like. Back to St. Paul and his internal agonising over his repeated mistakes.

At the heart of this is the Free Will that God gave us. In order that we should be truly and fully human God has relinquished his control over us. Every decision we make now comes with the option to get it right….or wrong. No longer God’s puppets, no longer automatons pre-programmed only to do good, we exercise our free will with the incredible responsibility of the human condition, and in the certain knowledge that regardless of our knowing right from wrong, regardless of our desire to do the right thing, temptation is a reality that we choose not to overcome when it suits us. This isn’t something passive over which we have no control; it is a deliberate and often painful choice – painful in its “cold light of day” consequences and repeated sense of failure. The sin of deliberate action; the sin of deliberate inaction. It’s all the same. No wonder Paul sounds exhausted in his desperation. He can do nothing more to free himself from sin and even when his motives are on target, sin seems strong enough to destroy him.

Turning to the Gospel we don’t appear at first to get much encouragement there either. Today’s lectionary chooses to lead with an odd reference to John the Baptist. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus reminds his listeners, and us today by extension, that there were those who believed John to have been possessed by demons even though he lived a life of simplicity and denial. Or was it because he lived a life of simplicity and denial? So, here we have a model of someone who seems largely to be getting it right and everyone berates him for being a nutter. Where does that leave us? On the one hand we are sunk in despondency about our inability to cope with sin and on the other, when we do seem to be managing to live a good witness to our faith, people question our motives and even our sanity because we are going against the prevailing culture.

But there are words of comfort here: when we move from trying to do things in our own strength to accepting the infinite love and support of Jesus we find ourselves experiencing the passionate expressions of love that we read about in today’s Old Testament reading and psalm. We are filled with a sense of blessing and abundance.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus does not tell us that it is an easy task to be free of sin and follow him. In fact, there is a cost. The cost may even come from the place we have trusted and have pledged our loyalty. That is why it is so hard to understand what sin is, and often just as hard to know what love is as well.

The answers to everything are found in the unexpected, and with that come both peace and joy. Paul’s cry of desperation is quickly calmed with the realisation that sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion. And no words, no matter how profound, can really describe love so that we or another can understand.

These readings both challenge and assure us. They hint at the profound simplicity of a life in Christ, and they serve as a mirror for us to examine our understanding of who we are along with how we are living. Our desire is to love God and to love our neighbour. When we do not love God and our neighbour, we are sinning.

The words of Jesus, "Come to me all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will refresh you," are comforting and strengthening indeed. But they resonate a bit differently here today in the context of Matthew's Gospel where, if we look at them more closely, they reveal to us what kind of comfort Jesus had in mind. In this section of Matthew, Jesus is speaking as a teacher as he so often does in Matthew. In fact, we can imagine Jesus as a second Moses, delivering the new Law under the same Covenant that Moses himself revealed. Here, Jesus is reassuring his disciples that the yoke of his teaching is easy, and burden of learning from him is light.
We need to realize that the rabbis of this period in history routinely referred to the responsibilities of living by God's Law as a "yoke": as something people took on themselves to steer and guide them down God's paths in life. And it seems to have been a common complaint, addressed above all to the scribes and Pharisees as interpreters of God's Law, that their teachings had become complicated and difficult to follow, a burden rather than a guide to holy living. The sort of set of instructions I, for one, dread finding when I open a flat-pack from IKEA. The trouble with the Pharisees and their complicated interpretations of the Law was the same sort of problem: they had managed to make some basic guidelines very complex and intimidating. Of course, by doing this they retained their professional authority and power, but they also managed to turn people away from holiness of life with God, just as a complex set of self-assembly furniture can send someone off to the pub!

Throughout Matthew's Gospel, Jesus the teacher takes great issue with this: God has given his people basic guidelines for holy life, but the Pharisees have ended up making God's Law inaccessible and impossible to follow. So Jesus assures his disciples that by learning God's Law his way, they will not be intimidated by complexity or burdened, and condemned to failure, by Pharisaic rules and regulations. Jesus is returning to the simplicity of God's original Covenant and Law, to give them what they need to steer and guide their path easily, and by following Jesus' way they will find peace, rest, and refreshment.

The absolution and forgiveness which we have received as repentant sinners is neither conditional upon our ability to follow complicated rules, nor is it a permissive wave of the hand of an overindulgent parent implying that our sins don't matter. The Comfortable Words, "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will refresh you," remind us that God's incomparable, compassionate forgiveness is a gift that releases us into life with God as responsible human beings who want to grow deeper in love and joyful obedience. After all, we are called not only to find peace, refreshment and rest for ourselves but also to live the kind of lives through which others, too, find God's peace, God's refreshing grace, and the joy of placing their lives in God's hands.

Amen

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Face to Faith


It is odd that the opponents of women bishops should now adopt the language of 'pain', says Judith Maltby

Judith Maltby The Guardian, Saturday July 5, 2008

In the coming days the general synod of the Church of England will again be debating the subject of women bishops. No one could ever accuse the church of moving with undue haste, although most agree that the debate has shifted from the "if" question of women bishops to the "how" question.

Anyone with some knowledge of Anglicanism might be forgiven for thinking that the answer to the "how" question of women bishops is quite simple. The first woman to be made a bishop in the Church of England will receive the laying on of hands from one of the archbishops and at least two other bishops at her consecration. The Archbishop of Canterbury or York will pray to God for her to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for "the office and work of a bishop in your church". It is a solemn, holy and profound moment. We Anglicans are fond of saying that the way of praying is the way of believing (lex orandi, lex credendi). So, by our own reasoning, the answer to the "how" question couldn't be more straightforward. We've done this thousands of times before; we have, one can say confidently, a certain competence.

But the actual "how" at the centre of the debate concerns the safeguards (a revealing choice of words) of the minority opposed for a variety of reasons to women serving as priests and bishops. These range from continued provision of bishops uncompromised by close association with women priests and bishops to the creation of entirely new separatist, non-geographical dioceses. The language is emotive and at times frankly manipulative, as is often the case when positions are strongly held.

What is striking, however, is the adoption of the language of "pain" by those opposed to an ordained ministry in which men and women may both serve - striking because before the church approved women as priests in 1992, opponents constantly told supporters that the pain of women excluded from the priesthood must have nothing to do with our corporate decision-making - that would be to give in to mere feelings. The debate should be fought on theological grounds; pain is not an "argument".

In the 1980s I agreed with this view, and I largely still do. My pain is my own responsibility, not anyone else's. Profoundly helpful to me back then was a 1984 essay by Rowan Williams, Women and the Ministry: A Case for Theological Seriousness. As he rightly observed: "The theology of Christian ministry is an area in which we are too readily tempted to avoid discussion of first principles. It is too complicated, too generally unsettling and too distracting when we are hard pressed by practical urgencies ... 'Pastoral' means more than 'consolatory', 'prophetic' more than 'unsettling'."

Now, however, pain is in the driving seat of the church's deliberations. To raise this is not to trivialise the considerable pain that is about in the church. I know I am not alone in finding it increasingly difficult as an Anglican priest to be a public representative of an institution seemingly determined to appear as bigoted and ridiculous as possible to many reasonable and moral people outside of it, so much so that the very good work we do achieve is obscured or obstructed.

But it is my choice to stay in the church I love; and I must acknowledge my own responsibility and culpability and not push on to others my decision to go or to stay. The church is a painful place to be for all sorts of people, not only the opponents of women bishops. But if pain is to drive our corporate decision-making and the ordering of our common life, and therefore the way we minister to society, we must privilege the hurt of some more than others; how do we decide whose pain is more authentic or important?

All relationships of commitment and consequence involve pain. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reveals and redeems that truth about our human condition in the profoundest way. What pain is not (yours, mine, anyone else's) is good; nor is it, quite simply, an "argument".

Canon Dr Judith Maltby is chaplain and fellow of Corpus Christi College and reader in church history at the University of Oxford

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July 6th: Lesbian and Gay Liberation Sunday


You might be surprised to see this date as it is not in the church calendar. I merely mention it as a small antidote to GAFCON. My Wife's church Here has been using this Sunday as a particular celebration of human sexual diversity for some years. This is a small Anglican community in inner-city Leeds whose congregation is largely straight but which for many years has been the local last-chance saloon for the marginalised. If you can't hang on to Christianity at All Hallows, you are on your way out of the church. This congregation has a noble and enviable reputation for offering a safe haven for all people. It championed women's ministry, it supports asylum seekers, it cares for the unrepresented and particularly those hurt and damaged by the institutional church. It has had an amazing number of vocations and is highly regarded in the local community. Last week it hosted the funeral of Pat Regan, a local resident and member of the congregation. Here It is a very special place.

Please pray for Sunday as the Gospel is preached and God's welcome is offered to all people. Particularly pray for those for whom this may be the first positive experience of church.

And if you are in the area, sympathetic to the inclusive gospel, or just curious.......