Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is WWJD too simplistic a mantra? Or has the church had its day?

At the Christmas gathering of the clans the conversation turned, as it invariably does at regular intervals, to things Christian. My wife was musing over the "What would Jesus do?" mantra and was wondering whether that might not be a bit simplistic.

"How about, what would the Jesus I know from the Gospels do?" suggested my Father-in-law (a Canon at the nearby cathedral).

This led on to quite a detailed discussion.

What, Dear Reader, do you think the difference is and why does it matter?

The F-I-L, now in his seventies, regularly despairs of the church but noted:

"You think you know Jesus and then he surprises you. You may give up on the church but you'd be foolish to give up on Jesus."

My wife, following the idea of the church, to stay or to give it up as a bad job, felt that she continues to go to her church because Jesus is an exciting and relevant person there. That is clearly something of an indictment of other churches but I have to say that I tend to think she is right.

Do you agree and if so, what is the answer?

Odds and Ends

I have been marking mock exams this week. It is the closest definition of spiritual death I can imagine. Sadly there have not been too many howlers to lighten the mood. I give you these two:

1) Why did the wise men visit the stable? (1 mark)
Because it was Christmas.

2)Why did Jesus' followers believe he had been raised from the dead? (3 marks)
1) because the stone had been moved.
2) because he wasn't there
3) because he left a note.

In Iran male homosexual acts are punishable by death but lesbians merely get 100 lashes. That's feminism gone too far! Just a thought.

I notice The Priests have done well again for record sales this Christmas. Tired of waiting for the call to make it a quartet, I have formed a rival group with a couple of friends from the Yorkshire Ministry Course (who could usually be found in the bar at the Wakefield Police College at the end of lectures). We are still trying to come up with an appropriate name: perhaps something that sounds like "priests" but which hints at pub-karaoke style. It'll be much the same music but there will be more giggling.

Now for the theologically minded amongst you a little video extract:

I have to say I think Matthew's got a point!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Not Too...

Hectic. This past week had very early starts for me, midday even. This is not what I'm used to. I usually get time to watch the sun set, grab a reasonable dinner & then get into my boots and long coat.
The office christmas lunches that start at midday and roll on 'til only the lonely survive have passed. I've been watching them pass, occasionally letting some in if they looked awake but not too lively.
By the time I got to the nightclubs most folks had run out of stamina. With the mad friday offset by a nearly full week after and not too many folks having a lot to spend it's not been cracking. With boxing day only getting the dregs who really can't tolerate 48hrs in their own or their families company it has been quiet. Time to pull my socks up and keep sharp for all this abstinence from clubbing can only be a portent of a busy new years eve. All the pent up socialising will have to emerge and culminate in not snogging the one they want but getting a sympathy snog 1 minute into the new year before texting the world and crashing the phone networks so we can't use the non-emergency number for the boys in blue. Hopefully we'll have the numbers to handle the expected crowds though with trade having been quiet I can only imagine we'll be running on a skeleton staff and still get bollocked when we can't be everywhere at once.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thought for The Day: BBC Radio 4

This is from Saturday 19th December and I would have posted it earlier but it took the BBC five days to put the text on their website!

I was very impressed by this meditation as it brought me to full consciousness from my little holiday sleep-in.

"...it's worth pondering this as we venture out to the shops this weekend, when it's all over - and we look back at the gifts we have bought and the amount of money many of us will have spent - what will we actually remember?

On the basis that it's the thought that counts - shopping for Christmas gifts has notionally emerged as a way in which a broadly Christian culture acknowledges the greatest gift of all: the presentation by God of Jesus. The gifts offered by the wise men at Epiphany are also frequently mentioned as justification for the choosing of appropriate gifts.

The paradox, of course, is that biblical teaching on all of the clutter that we assemble around us in life, all of our possessions, is that they are of absolutely no spiritual value whatsoever and we should avoid getting over attached to them..."

Read or Listen to the full text here The Rev Rob Marshall

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

About Shoplifting and priests..

I seem to have come a bit late to this story and have been quite intrigued about how it has been covered elsewhere. Mad Priest gave a very thorough report which was sidetracked in the subsequent discussion by a commentator following a different agenda and over at Steve's Place the story is seen as evidence of the church going to Hell in a hand-cart.

My own observation, for what it's worth, relates to the danger of basing a judgement on a sound-bite. Was the Revd. Tim Jones actually promoting the idea of unbridled theft as some commentators - including elements of our own press - seem to suggest or was there more to it?

Certainly amongst the majority of my Christian friends this is a non-story, hardly worthy of much attention, but then I do tend to inhabit the more radical end of Christian thought I know.

The nub of the issue seems to me to be three-fold:
1) If one is homeless, penniless and hungry in a wealthy society where this is not, sadly, uncommon and you have fallen through the safety net of the state's (fairly megre) provision, are you justified in shop-lifting?
2) Was the Revd. Tim Jones right to champion this given that he specified that it was only justified from large chain-stores?
3) Is Christian morality (or are Christian dilemmas) always black and white?

FULL TEXT OF SERMON HERE You really should read it before commenting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thought for the Day. Monday 21st December.

The Faith Communities Are Agents Of Change

They were all there, industrialised nations and developing economies, democracies and dictatorships, superpowers and tiny island states - a world divided in a hundred ways and in some cases for hundreds of years, yet they turned up, thus acknowledging that this is the defining issue of the 21st century, however resistant some are to change.

Who knows? One spin off of Copenhagen may be that more religious believers rediscover the original and larger meaning of 'ecumenical', moth ball their doctrinal squabbles and ecclesiastical preoccupations and weigh in to make common cause with the politicians and scientists in the ultimate crusade of our time.
Says The Rev. Dr Colin Morris


Sunday, December 20, 2009

I stay because I love God: The Guardian 19th December

I came across This article yesterday. It pertains particularly to Anglicanism but has wider resonances for other denominations.

With some leading Anglicans calling for gay people to be killed (and the Archbishop staying quiet), we visited one congregation to see if they're still proud to be CofE

I don't care if they disapprove. I follow my own conscience The Anglican Church is not my moral compass.

It comes to this: under Williams, the church that marries two women who love each other is to be thrown out of the Anglican communion. The church that would jail them both for life and revile and persecute their defenders stays snugly in its bosom. Not even the Archbishop's gift for obfuscationcan can conceal these facts forever.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cynical, Me?

Now I've been accused of being cynical. I am, I don't believe the nonsense bullshit of why I have to let anyone in to see their mother, brother, sister, cousin, mate, wife or husband.
I don't believe the "I'm connected, I'm gonna get you killed" spiel. I don't believe the "I didn't wanna come here anyway, it's shit" approach to rejection. I don't give a seconds credence to the "really, I'm 19, I forgot to bring my ID" appeals. I couldn't give a fig if it "wasn't me, I aint done anything man, you're well tight" when ejected for misdemeanours witnessed and ID'd by sober, reliable staff.
I do trust some people. Generally not punters unless their confessing in the adrenaline comedown. I trust my colleagues, not all of them, not at first but I do trust them. I trust them to back me up unless I'm over the line. To stop naughty people bottling me on the back of the head, to be shoulder to shoulder holding the line against verbal and physical abuse of all kinds.
I don't trust them with women, money or anything fragile but that's to be expected.
I trust a few friends, only within their limits but, I trust them to keep things to themselves, to keep me in mind at certain times, to keep me informed of relevant things.
I trust my boss, his job is to get enough bodies with enough experience in to get the job done well enough to get paid and not loose the contract. I'd trust him to do this, but like me, he'll have no loyalty when it comes to sending me on my way if the wind changes and I don't fit the bill.
I do what I can to be the best doorman for the role required. To do that I don't trust anyone I don't have to and yes I am a cynical bugger. I don't have to be but it suits me well.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Environmental odds and ends (if you can stand any more!) and a grand old debate.

For those not entirely bored to the point of self-immolation by all things Danish and environmental I would draw your attention to two links: E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don't support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.
Looks objectively at e-mail climategate and draws some comforting conclusions about the did-they/didn't-they-tamper-with-the-data debate. Comforting, that is, if you believe that the science is in and supports climate-change. Not so if you believe that there is an international conspiracy to defraud American industry.

Also worth a look is Obama is not saviour of the world. He's still an American President. It includes the section There is a deep strain in American thinking to which everything about Copenhagen looks wrong. It fears all international arrangements smack of "global government", designed to rob Americans of their sovereignty. It believes such plans are hatched by secret conspiracies, into which the climategate e-mail scandal - which has run very big in the U.S. - feeds perfectly. We speak often of European anti-Americanism, but less often of American Anti-Europeanism. To this vein of U.S. political culture, a global deal on carbon emissions signed in Denmark, is something to fear, not pursue.

Monbiot v Plimer

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tinsel & Baubles

The need for festive themed frolicking never ceases to bore me. The usual tedium of repetitive commercial dance music and large pop from the last decade is offset against the 20 pieces of Christmas themed crap. This change from the norm would be welcomed were it not for the fact that the 20 famous Christmas songs have been unchanging for at least the last 10 years. Maybe to qualify they need to have matured, like a bad malt, for a minimum period to concrete their Christmas credentials and in doing so they rule out their play outside of the brief festive season.
This tired mix is the soundtrack to the sad parties of sozzled folks seeking some warm company on the cold nights ahead. Apparently sitting at home watching Christmas specials with a bottle of wine and a lot of cured meat products is enhanced by having someone to do this with.
These jolly souls think the addition of tinsel or white fur trim will overcome their dreary personalities and defective personal habits and allow them to meet the partner of their dreams. This may occasionally happen but for the vast majority, however filled with Christmas cheer they'll be back in again on the hunt by new years eve.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bad Language.

A wise friend and I were talking recently about blogging.

"Does your congregation know you blog?"

"Some do."

"Do they read it?"

"I doubt it."

"What would they say if they did?

"I've no idea. Why?"

"I was reading some of the back incidents about your dealings with pupils. Some of the language is very confronting. I wonder what some of them would think."

I'm always open to accepting advice. Does the use of bad language in the context of real events reflect badly on me as a pastor-in-the-making?"

Over to you

Friday, December 11, 2009

Those dodgy e-mails - again and a very good BBC play to listen to.

About the "dodgy" e-mails: I await with interest the outcome of the various enquiries that have been instituted as a result of this debacle, but I would be surprised if the University of East Anglia, its climate research facilities and its staff were not vindicated.

I'm getting a bit tired of hearing about how these e-mails have blown the climate change argument out of the water: those who claim that seem to be doing that ostrich thing. Here's a sound bite, it suits my position, I don't have the time to research it and anyway if I did I might discover a) that I don't understand what I'm reading or b) I may not be so convinced after I've finished.

What I then mustn't do is be seduced by the repeatedly made point that the scientific content of the UEA e-mails simply falls into the range of conclusions already reached by other climate change researchers around the world.

Unless I decide that there is mileage in concluding that ALL such scientists and their research facilities are in on the scam and have been colluding.

My God! I've uncovered a conspiracy of international proportions aimed at destableising the world's economy and, because it is funded by international SOCIALISM - by which we all really mean STALINISM and MARXISM - it has to aimed at the USA.

Thank God for Fox News and its political wing, the Republican Party.

And then I woke up.

Given that it takes no time at all to make a scientific sounding statement and given that the statement will be around the world in no time and will attract the status of an authoritative statement by virtue of it being so widely disseminated to a largely unscientific audience, it is small wonder that bad science is hard to refute? That takes time and by the time it has been refuted the damage is done.

I really try to avoid buying into conspiracy theories but this piece of George Monbiot in Tuesday’s Guardian “The climate denial industry is out to dupe the public. And it's working: Think environmentalists are stooges? You're the unwitting recruit of a hugely powerful oil lobby – I've got the proof” really struck me.

When I use the term denial industry, I'm referring to those who are paid to say that man-made global warming isn't happening. The great majority of people who believe this have not been paid: they have been duped. Reading Climate Cover-Up BOOK REVIEW HERE, you keep stumbling across familiar phrases and concepts which you can see every day on the comment threads. The book shows that these memes were planted by PR companies and hired experts.

The first case study I've posted reveals how a coalition of US coal companies sought to persuade people that the science is uncertain. It listed the two social groups it was trying to reach – "Target 1: Older, less educated males"; "Target 2: Younger, lower income women" – and the methods by which it would reach them. One of its findings was that "members of the public feel more confident expressing opinions on others' motivations and tactics than they do expressing opinions on scientific issues".

Remember this the next time you hear people claiming that climate scientists are only in it for the money, or that environmentalists are trying to create a communist world government: these ideas were devised and broadcast by energy companies. The people who inform me, apparently without irony, that "your article is an ad hominem attack, you four-eyed, big-nosed, commie sack of shit", or "you scaremongers will destroy the entire world economy and take us back to the Stone Age", are the unwitting recruits of campaigns they have never heard of.

The second case study reveals how Dr Patrick Michaels, one of a handful of climate change deniers with a qualification in climate science, has been lavishly paid by companies seeking to protect their profits from burning coal. As far as I can discover, none of the media outlets who use him as a commentator – including the Guardian – has disclosed this interest at the time of his appearance. Michaels is one of many people commenting on climate change who presents himself as an independent expert while being secretly paid for his services by fossil fuel companies.

The third example shows how a list published by the Heartland Institute (which has been sponsored by oil company Exxon) of 500 scientists "whose research contradicts man-made global warming scares" turns out to be nothing of the kind: as soon as these scientists found out what the institute was saying about them, many angrily demanded that their names be removed. Twenty months later, they are still on the list. The fourth example shows how, during the Bush presidency, White House officials worked with oil companies to remove regulators they didn't like and to doctor official documents about climate change.

In Climate Cover-Up, in Ross Gelbspan's books The Heat is On and Boiling Point, in my book Heat, and on the websites DeSmogBlog.com and exxonsecrets.org, you can find dozens of such examples. Together they expose a systematic, well-funded campaign to con the public. To judge by the comments you can read on this paper's website, it has worked.

But people behind these campaigns know that their claims are untrue. One of the biggest was run by the Global Climate Coalition, which represented ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and several big motor manufacturers. In 1995 the coalition's own scientists reported that "the scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well-established and cannot be denied". The coalition hid this finding from the public, and spent millions of dollars seeking to persuade people that the opposite was true.

These people haven't fooled themselves, but they might have fooled you. Who, among those of you who claim that climate scientists are liars and environmentalists are stooges, has thought it through for yourself?”

I have no reason to believe Monbiot is lying - and the courts in this country are pretty fierce on libel issues, so he would know the risk he was taking if he were to lie - but what I'm interested to know is how this is different to the (as yet unproved) accusations about the UEA e-mails?

How inventive to accuse the other side of using your own tactics.

If you have the time, Dear Reader may I direct you HERE

If you have an hour to spare, a comfy seat and a warm drink, and if you are a fan of good radio plays, may I suggest you LISTEN HERE Are you sitting comfortably?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Greening The Bible

The Guardian
Tuesday 8th December 2009

Efforts are underway to reclaim the Bible for Christians who understand that environmental stewardship is a religious duty says David Horrell

With the Copenhagen summit now underway – an event widely seen as a crucial opportunity for decisive political action to combat global warming – conflicts of interest and conviction are all too apparent. It remains to be seen whether some kind of deal will be struck. But at least there seems to be an increasingly wide consensus about the reality of global warming, its human causes, and the need to act to mitigate its effects. The change of US-president from Bush to Obama has, of course, made a tangible difference.

Also of real importance in this area are changing – but still hotly contested – interpretations of the Bible, interpretations that influence many millions of people, not least in the US. For many centuries, the Bible was widely taken to support the view that humanity had a unique position and role, to "subdue" nature and use it to serve human ends. In some evangelical circles there remains a commitment to the idea that humanity has been placed by God at the pinnacle of creation, with nature there as a resource for human flourishing, to be "tamed" by humans as they turn the cursed "wilderness" into a fertile "garden" – images drawn from the creation stories of the book of Genesis. In such circles there are also those who regard the return of Jesus Christ as both a real and an imminent event, an event in which the faithful elect will be "raptured" away. Times of suffering and woe – famines, earthquakes, even global warming? – are signs of the impending end when the earth will be destroyed. As such they should not be feared, still less prevented. Environmentalism – sometimes lumped together with "new age paganism", or other fearful heresies – runs counter to this "Christian" message, and should therefore be resisted.

It is not hard to see how such beliefs, especially when combined with a belief in minimal government and free-market economics, run directly counter to environmental action or attempts to preserve and sustain the earth. "Drill baby drill". If Jesus might return next week, next month, or even next year, there's little point preserving the Alaskan wilderness, or the tropical rainforests. Religion not only shapes people's "spiritual" beliefs, but their practical, political, and economic behaviour too.

Yet there have also been contrasting voices, within as well as beyond these same evangelical circles. For some time, many have been urging a different reading of the Bible's creation stories, as well as its visions of the end. "Green" evangelicals insist that humans are called to be stewards of creation, not its exploiters, and that God will transform and redeem the earth, not destroy it. A recently published edition of a standard Bible translation, the NRSV Green Bible, epitomises this new interpretation of the Bible, highlighting in green portions that refer to the earth in order to reveal the message that Christians are called to care for the earth. It seems that, in the battle for the Bible, the greens are beginning to win the day – though there remain plenty who are unconvinced.

This "greening" of evangelical fundamentalism is much to be welcomed, at least by those of us who share a sense of the urgency of our environmental problems. But both sides of the debate tend to present their views as what the Bible "says", ignoring the extent to which all such views are interpretations, shaped by the convictions and interests of their proponents. Indeed, the challenge to members of all religions, not just Christians, is to show how their scriptures and traditions can be reinterpreted, reconfigured, to face the challenges of a contemporary crisis. Can the Bible be green? Or, better, can it be read in a "green" way so as to generate a more ecologically engaged Christian theology? For the sake of our children and our planet, we'd better hope so.

David Horrell
University of Exeter Dept. of Theology

Monday, December 7, 2009

Capillary Action

I must have stood on some broken glass. Not this weekend I think but one night over the last couple of weeks I have. A piece of this has clearly stuck in the sole of my boot, buried in the deeper tread left around the side by the ball of my foot. Over time this stubborn little shard has worked it's way deeper until it poked a tiny tip through to the soft absorbent sole.
This little piece of street or nightclub detritus didn't stab me with it's evil filthy point. It just let a tiny amount of water into the soft absorbent sole by the side of my foot. I felt this little chill intrusion into my otherwise cosy warm world of toes. This lead me to investigate. I spotted the angular pyramid of glass and with a clip from my key it departs my company. The flat slice it has made in my boot however continues to pump water into my foot for the remaining hours of the night. I am more than my typical little grumpy self as the night goes on and I'm bizarrely asymmetric in my cold. I had a hot foot, a cold foot and a really shit stomp-squelch-stomp home.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas Parting

The time is upon us for the first of the office parties. The restaurants buzz with large groups ordering off reduced menus with turkey and stuffing all over place.
The bars fill with groups of unseasoned seasonal drinkers who associate together on their nights out because they have the fortune to work in the same office. This wonderful fortune sees the sad and single middle-aged men, the back to work mothers and the young and dynamic executives in waiting party hardened drinkers. This all leads to some very poorly folk being dragged from bar to bar as the self implied party leaders drag the rag tag bunch from one under-performing bar to the next. The flirting and dirty jokes kept under wraps in the drab offices are brought on by drink into a tense mess of hugs, tears and hissy fits.
All the more entertaining when the cock of the drinking walk leads his pissed up merry dance towards the club I've been standing outside of. By this stage its only the foolhardy left, all the others have legged it in favour of partners and warm homes. The group gets refused due to the majority being far too far gone after hours of drink in unfamiliar bellies.
There are some goodbyes, some get losts and some superbly timed vomit getting the bosses best winter boots and tights covered in red-wine, turkey and stuffing repeats.

Sermon: Advent 2

(As delivered to Mrs. D-P's Anglican congregation.)


Malachi 3.1-4
Phil 1.3-11
Luke 3.1-6

He's a Lutheran he is.

Really? So, that’s what a Lutheran looks like. I’ve often wondered.

I suspect most of you have little experience of Lutherans, but you may have come across the American Author Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone stories set in deepest Minnesota, the home State of many Scandinavian immigrants to the United States. Wobegone derives from a Native American word which, depending on the inflection of the voice means either “We’ve arrived” or “We waited here all day in the rain but you never came.” Keillor’s Lutherans were a morose lot who flourished in a cold climate, believing that adversity and suffering were given as moral instruction. Their religion was part Christianity, and part the ancient Nordic precept that the gods were waiting to smack you one if you were having too good a time: better to anticipate disaster. So they believed in the inevitability of suffering: if life was not miserable now it would be eventually, so you might as well get a start on the weeping and gnashing of teeth here and now.

Their big theological debate was over the issue “Will we recognise each other in Heaven or will our spiritual forms not have our earthly features?” One Lutheran might say: “My sainted Grandmother is waiting for me beyond the pearly gates, free from suffering and care, and if you are saying I won’t know her, you are ignorant of scripture and you’re going to Hell you infidel!” Another Lutheran might reply: “It’s not important to me one way or the other but if you think your face is something God will allow in a place of perfect bliss, maybe you ought to take another look.”

They were also divided on the best way to make coleslaw.

Pastor Inqvist was the Lutheran Pastor of Lake Wobgone. His congregation hoped for a sermon with a storming start and a storming finish…and as short a space as possible between the two. So here we go:

Here we are in the second year of the Premiership of Gordon Brown, in the fifty sixth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second, in the first term of President Barak Obama. And in each of those years, as in all years, the message has been the same as one man, Malachi, has prophesied the appearance of a messenger who would herald the arrival of God’s chosen one. In each of those years that messenger, John the Baptiser, is waiting in the wilderness, asking that we change, and that in turn we change the world, and in each of those years another man, Paul, is instructing his flock in love so that the Kingdom of God will be realised.

The world moves on but the message of these three remains constant.

I’m coming to appreciate the Old Testament more these days and I am starting to understand some of its characters better: the Prophet Malachi was probably an uncomfortable person to be around: fantastic to look back on from the safety of our age but if someone like him were to walk in here this morning, it would be a nightmare. He was uncompromising and openly critical of the religious practices and moral standards of his day and he didn’t much care that he upset the rulers and the priests. Malachi was lamenting the fact that God’s people had fallen away.

Now my approach to the lectionary readings is always to see if there is a modern application, otherwise they remain just readings, some interesting, some less so but merely stories. What can we take and apply from Malachi’s words or from his context? He was lamenting that God’s people had fallen away. Sound familiar? Is that in any way true of our society or of us as individuals? If Malachi was here today I wonder how many of us would feel very uncomfortable about the lives we lead and the wider values we collude with.

And yet at the same time he was energised and exited about what was to come, even with the strong note of warning: for all to be well things are going to need to change. When Malachi talks about the need for purification and talks about the refiner’s fire the listener knows that this is going to be a painful experience. We’re talking about the smelting process and heat powerful enough to burn impurities from metal. This is very apocryphal stuff: “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears.” That coming means judgement.

Then we have John's preaching which harmonizes with Malachi’s prophecy. John is, of course, generally taken to be the messenger Malachi was predicting. He came on the scene wearing camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist quoting Isaiah, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

What do Malachi and John the Baptist have in common? They both preached reform. The implication of these passages in this Advent season is clear: Christ is coming again and all is not yet in order. We need reforming and cleansing before Christ appears. And maybe we ought to start with ourselves before we worry about other people.

Yeah. Us. Today. Here. We may not be the original audience or even the implied audience of these texts but I tend to think this is one of those scriptural cases of “If the cap fits, wear it.”

We know the story of John the Baptist. We’ve heard it a hundred times: every Advent we hear the story of the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptiser, but have we truly understood it? It is always a ministry in the real world of his time: a ministry in which he called all people to recognise the sinfulness of their own lives then, and the Baptism of God's forgiveness then. And that call went out to the rulers, the priesthood, the teachers, and everyone else, that they should examine themselves and their lives and acknowledge their sins, their failures, their self-righteousness towards God and be baptized to receive His forgiveness. Not John's forgiveness but God's forgiveness meditated through John and mediated through the act of being baptized, the action of cleansing.

And the application?

Well, every Advent we are called to the same recognition of our sinfulness, our failures, our self - righteousness; not in the abstract but in the concrete daily acts of our lives now. Only when we know the reality of our need for forgiveness, for the action and the grace of God in our own lives, can we be in any way prepared to understand the reality of Jesus’ coming into the real world, into flesh exactly like ours. When John uses the words of Isaiah, he challenges us that every valley shall be filled and every mountain brought low. How poetic.

What’s that all about then? Words. Mystical words. Symolism.

I don’t like to generalise but I suppose we could say that those valleys or low places in our lives might stand for worry or grief or doubt: but they can be filled with an awareness of the very presence of the living Christ. The mountains we must deal with in our hearts might include pride, prejudice, fear, and selfishness. When these are brought low, we can see a greater horizon; we can see the way of the Lord John talked of.

And we are told to make the rough ways smooth. In our lives, this may mean we need to forgive those who have hurt us, to refuse to allow what has happened to us in the past to control our lives now. And we need to make sure there is enough time for those that we care about.

The Gospel also calls for us to make the crooked places straight. We are challenged to confront those temptations in our lives that will lure us away, to push back the trivia that fills our minds. We are being challenged to take the steps in our lives to deal with the major issues that we must deal with.

Otherwise John’s story is just a nice story.

Paul picks up on that story in his letter to the Philippians. Paul is referring to Christ coming again when he asks for those in the church to have an overflowing love that will help them determine what is best.

Does that characterise us?

If they do this they will be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, for they will have produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus.

And what does that mean? Religious platitudes: what does it mean for you and I today? What does it mean for God to call us to produce a harvest of righteousness? Of course we produce a harvest simply by living from day to day, by meeting people, by dealing with people in bus queues, or in the shops, in the office, conversations with neighbours and so on. The question for us is what kind of a harvest do we produce? Is it one we show to God as a sign of our love for Him and our neighbours? Or is it a harvest that we wouldn’t want Him to see or know about? Is it a harvest which is shaped and informed by "knowledge and full insight" as Paul would say, or is it a harvest shaped and informed by our personal needs or by the values we see around us?

Every time we act we are showing the harvest of our lives and what kind of a harvest we reap is determined by how we act in relation to others. As Christ himself said, "Inasmuch as you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me."

Christ will come again, this year as in all of our liturgical years. Christ is coming soon. There is work to do and in Paul exhorts us to that work.

Malachi, John and Paul: the world moves on but the message of these three men remains constant. Whose is the voice calling you to prepare? Who is your Malachi lamenting that God’s people have fallen away? Who is your John, crying for repentance in the wilderness? Who is your Paul exhorting you to overflowing love? The great irony of what has inexorably become our secular celebration is that we are less likely to hear those voices in the run up to Christ’s nativity.

Who could they be: those who bring us up short and make us stop and think? Amongst the Christmas lights, the Christmas musak, the Christmas shopping and cooking, card writing and present wrapping; amongst the Christmas stress and anxiety, the Christmas expectations and disappointments and certainly amongst the Christmas hype: is the voice crying in the wilderness the city-centre beggar or Big Issue salesman? Is it the face on the T.V. news – the latest casualty of war, famine or natural disaster? Is it your Muslim neighbour or Sikh colleague? The chance overheard conversation on the bus? A newspaper headline? A Christmas card greeting? Even that dreaded annual round-robin letter?

We all know that welcoming an important guest takes preparation. It’s hard in the clamour of preparation to focus on anything but the preparation itself sometimes. Forewarned by Malachi, John and Paul let’s be sure we make the right sort of preparation.

Just a quick thought to end with. Do we really need to be told to prepare the way of the Lord? Us, here? Probably not, but we may well need to be reminded and that’s what Advent is supposed to do: it is the time of reflection and self examination that we all need to prepare for the Nativity. Malachi, John and Paul should remind us to make that time.

So we’re off the hook then? Not entirely: I wonder how many of us have considered that because we know how the story unfolds we may need to be the voices of Malachi, John and Paul to those who don’t.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I have seen the future and it made me laugh!

Due to various events I have been somewhat distracted of late, depressed and in a bit of a fog.

I went out with my dear friend and colleague John (I'm terribly sorry, he's from Wakefield). We have been mates for twenty six years. You may remember John from the novelty socks birthday present episode. John is half a decade younger than me and yet I caught a glimpse of how we will be in our old age.

John has long spoken his own version of West-Yorkshire English, which I have become adept at translating.

* Giffer: as in "What do you mean you've locked yourself out of your house and in mine, you silly old giffer?" This to his elderly dad who had rung him on his mobile.

* Bint: female form of Giffer as in "The old Bint's coming round for her tea tonight." This refers to his Auntie.

* Numb-nut: as in "That were a right crowd of numb-nuts I taught before break."

* Keks, or possibly kecks: as in "I can barely get my fat-arse in these keks these days. I may need a bigger size."

* Snap: as in "I'm famished. I'm ready for me snap."

In addition - and I realise this has been creeping up on him - his conversation is peppered with words such as "wotsit", "thingumybob" and "watdyacallit?" One part of todays conversation went "You know, I've left the thingumyjig behind and so I can't get the whatsit." I have become the master of the non-commital non-verbal cue: a smile of encouragement, a nod, an "Oh, right" or "Shame" (depending on how I have interpreted the emotion behind the comment). This is a departure from a previous stage of our friendship when I regularly told him that he had thirty seconds to get to the point or I would stop listening. (He is a scientist, say no more!) His language is also peppered with rich Anglo Saxon as in "I'm such a arsewhipe, I've left the b*****d thingumyjig behind so I can't get the f*****g whatsit." This adds little to my understanding but a great deal to the entertainment value of the exchange and it made our discussion in the cafe on the science of climate change something of a challenge. "It would help if those old giffs (pl) would shut the f*****g door." I wasn't entirely sure whether that was in relation to his own comfort levels or a more oblique statement on the unneccessary loss of heat that contributes to the generation of more electricity and therefore the burning of fossil fuels. I have learnt that it doesn't really matter because a request for clarification is likely to lead to more complications or a long pause followed by "What was I saying?"

Today John told me a hot piece of news...only it wasn't so hot as I had told it to him several days earlier. "I knew I'd heard it from somewhere!" unabashed.

In twenty years time John and I will continue to meet. The scenario I have in my head is that I'll turn up on the wrong day but it won't matter because he will have forgotten. When we do meet we will endlessly tell each other the same news, perhaps five times in a day but it won't matter because we will have forgotten what we said. Our conversations will re-enforce the importance of our news because we will both have a sense of having heard it somewhere before only, believing this news to be widely disseminated, we will be the only two who have actually heard it. There is also the possibility that one of us will have made it up. "Those f*****g whatdyacall'ems.......you know....the whatsits. They've started believing in global warming."
"You mean Republicans?"
"Aye, them, b******s"
That's because New York is flooded, but it's only a natural cycle."
"What is?"
"You said York was flooded."
"What, again?"
"F**k me."

We are determined to be very difficult and awkward old men.

We have started practicing.