Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
The manuscript has been in the Berlin State Library for 250 years and those who were looking at it said that they could almost hear the music bouncing off the page, the handwriting of the 63 year old Bach being so full of life and energy.
'The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul,' said Bach. What an amazing man - possibly the greatest creative genius in western civilization, and yet at the same time one of the most humble whowas prepared to work for masters he described as 'strange folk with very little care for music in them.' A man full of grace and truth (like someone else much greater).
Today so-called celebrities with less real creative talent than Bach had in his little finger demand that we pay attention to them, and they employ agents to make sure they are continually in the media spotlight. How different for Bach who, having written his Mass - surely one of the greatest musical works of all time - possibly never heard it performed in his own lifetime. It wasn't printed until well into the 19th century, and only became known universally after Mendelssohn revived it nearly a century after Bach's death.
The screams of the audience for 'The X Factor' will be forgotten long after Bach's music continues to bring glory to God, and to refresh the soul.
Monday, 30 November 2009
In the latest episode about the Reformation he made a very interesting point about the nature of protestantism being one which questions authority, and in that questioning are the seeds of protestantism's fracture into many different groups. It made me think about the way protestant Christians think about and debate contentious issues such as human sexuality. It is hardly surprising that, given protestantism's questioning character and background that there are many different views all claiming some authority - whether of the bible or modern reason.
Which is better - to be part of a monolithic church that stifles individual thought, or to be part of a church that is divided? It's not easy, but I suppose God has given us enough wisdom and the gift of his Holy Spirit to know when to agree and when to differ, and how to carry on together. I, for one, would rather live with a few grey areas than be in a church that tries to be so black-and-white that it becomes yet another protestant sect.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
We have a tin box at home containing the original telegram from the War Office giving the news of Horace's death, and all the letters of condolence from friends and colleagues, many of whom had also lost sons and brothers. One can sense the real feelings of grief and despair behind the formal rather masculine words. We also have Horace's notebook from the trenches, with mud on it. Not very interesting reading in itself, but a personal link with such a terrible loss of life.
When my grandmother was ill in hospital in 1976 suffering from dementia she confused my father with her brother Horace. After nearly 50 years she still thought of her older brother and missed him. How many other women must have grieved for brothers, husbands and boyfriends for all those years.
Sadly there are many today going through the same painful bereavement. I hope that what our troops are doing in Afghanistan will not be in vain, and that their brave work will make the world safer for all of us.
Sunday, 1 November 2009
I could go on, but listen to a clip and I hope you'll see what I mean.
The hymn describes the fierce spiritual warfare God's people often face, but also sounds a note of hope of a better day.
But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array:
the King of glory passes on his way.
This isn't a vain hope, but a strong hope in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the 'author and perfecter of our faith'. That's the hope that kept faithful persecuted Christians going in the past, and it's the same hope that keeps us and many persecuted Christians going today. Christians in Pakistan whose churches are burned down, or in Orissa in India set upon by militant Hindu mobs, or in Burma forced by state opposition to meet in seccret in the jungle, or in Egypt discriminated against by the state, or in North Korea imprisoned by a state that has tried to make the word 'God' illegal. I think of them when I sing
The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Friday, 23 October 2009
I wonder if things have gone too far in an effort to clean up parliament. Personally, I feel that all MPs are becoming whipping boys for the few that have played the system corruptly. Not all MPs are the same. Most work conscientiously and without praise for the good of their constituents. In the bible St Paul encouraged his readers to pray for those who held political power - there was no democracy in his time. I feel we should pray for politicians before we persecute them.
Monday, 5 October 2009
However, this year at Swanwick the worship was brilliant. With a natural and organic blending of liturgy and informality, old and new music, catholic and charismatic I felt that we were engaging with God in a very special way that included every shade of the spectrum. It wasn't just a case of putting in different style to please everyone, but rather, some bold decisions were made to break out of some of the old moulds.
And the icing on the cake, for me, was travelling by train together from St Pancras. A real sense of fun and pilgrimage.
Saturday, 26 September 2009
Friday, 25 September 2009
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Monday, 7 September 2009
Friday, 4 September 2009
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Monday, 24 August 2009
What has fascinated me is his analysis of the American Constitution and its relation to the Founding Fathers of the 18th century who drafted it. There is a debate amongst politicians and historians in the US about whether the Consitution was written as a document whose rules must be followed to the letter, or, as Obama argues, it is a 'framework...to organize the way by which we argue about our future.' He sees it as 'a road map by which we marry passion to reason, the ideal of individual freedom to the demands of comunity.' So on one hand you have those who say, 'The Constitution says...and we must do it', and on the other hand those who say, 'These are the principles on which the Constitution is built and in the light of that we should take a particular action.'
It seems to me that there is an exactly similar argument about the place of scripture in the church today. There are those who would say, "We must be an 'Acts' church," that's to say the church today should be a copy of what we see decribed in the Acts of the Apostles. And there are those who prefer to see the principles being worked out in the scriptures and use them to face today's challenges. The problem with the 'Acts church' approach is that, firstly, the church was still in a formational stage in the time of the first apostles and was still rapidly expanding and changing. There is no sense in which Acts was written as a handbook of how the church should be. Secondly, the world we live in today is so different that it is impossible to simply apply a first-century blueprint to today's church. Rather, we need to look back not just to the Acts of the Apostles, but all the writings in the New Testament to understand the principles at work and then apply our reason to connecting them to today's world.
When I've finished 'The Audacity of Hope' the next book on my shelves is Tom Wright's 'Surprised by Hope'. There is so much to be depressed about today that we need people to keep hope alive. What I like about Barack Obama is that he argues for a hopeful and optimistic view of life, but with realism and thoughtfulness. Tom Wright does the same in a theological way.
Monday, 27 July 2009
It would be difficult to ignore the recommendation of the archbishops, but I really wonder if it is not an over-reaction. The problem with eliminating risk is that it becomes the opposite of faith. Not that we want to play with people's health, but where is faith if there is no risk? What about the risk the disciple Peter took when he got out of the boat to walk towards Jesus on the water? That was faith. Or the risks that the apostle Paul took continually to take the Good News round Asia Minor and Greece? That was faith. Can you imagine what would happen today? Peter would have to be issued with a life-jacket in case he sank, and Paul would have had to fill in a risk assessment form before taking his associates with him on his journeys.
I suppose there is a difference in taking a risk myself, and putting others in the place of risk, but that brings me back to my first point: what is the evidence for swine flu being transmitted by a common chalice? If there is no evidence, then it seems to me there is also no, or very little, risk. And furthermore, this type of flu is mostly very mild anyway.
At the risk of sounding like Jeremy Clarkson, or The Daily Mail, I feel this is just another example of the over-regulation that threatens the spirit of adventure and invention that is part of the human character.
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
'Father' is so much more significant, because it is all about a loving relationship, whereas calling someone by their personal name may only denote acquaintance. (I wish I'd thought of that on the doorstep!!). Calling God 'Father' is the highest privilege as it implies we are in his family, children of the King of kings, and brothers and sisters with all his children. Not only that, but we are brothers and sisters of Jesus himself. The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is 'not ashamed to call us his family'.
Over the years I've learnt that you can't score points off the JWs - they are too indoctrinated with a particular way of thinking (and so are a few Christians!). I pray that they will come to know God in that personal and familiar way as Father as they encounter him through his Son Jesus.
Friday, 10 July 2009
Monday, 6 July 2009
Monday, 29 June 2009
There is a place for logical argument and persuasion, but also a place for direct supernatural encounter. I have heard stories of people - though I have not actually met them - who claim that they encountered Jesus supernaturally through a dream. St Paul - the ultimate thinking theologian - knew about dreams and visions, and I see no reason why God shouldn't make himself known in that way if there is no other.
So that's my prayer for this boy - that Jesus would make himself known in a way that goes beyond rational and intellectual explanation, however simple.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Nicy Gumbel's book is compelling if you are familiar with such names as Cicero and Dostoevsky. I guess it appeals to well-educated middle class people who are sympathetic to Nicy Gumbel's background as a barrister. Again, the arguments he uses are fine, but I keep thinking about people on our local housing estates and, without wanting to be patronising, I wonder how many of them have heard of Cicero and Dostoevsky.
I looked in vain on the internet for a simple evangelistic booklet costing under £1 that puts across the Good News to the sort of person that might read The Sun or Daily Mirror. If there is one, I'd like to find it. If not, perhaps I'll produce my own.
To return to the boy I'm preparing for baptism: he deserves to be taken seriously, but the way I would usually share the gospel with people just isn't appropriate in this case. It challenges me to identify what is really at the heart of the good news; how can I express it in a way that he will understand. Intellectually he will probably grasp very little, but perhaps my just being there talking with him and his mum will communicate something of God's love, because that's what is as the heart: God loves us, Jesus shows us what God is like, and he gives us new life that gets better and better.
It's far harder to make things simple than to make them complicated; that's why I like the challenge of talking with children and preaching to a mixed congregation. I think every preacher should be forced to preach to children. I believe that if you can preach effectively from the epistles to children it shows you truly understand what they are saying.
So, watch this space for futher developments.
Monday, 15 June 2009
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
What a privilege to have this ministry of reconciliation (as St Paul puts it) - that is, helping people to be reconciled with God through his Son Jesus. And what a joy to see God's grace at work through his Holy Spirit restoring this 'prodigal daughter'.
Monday, 8 June 2009
Someone at the The Daily Express made a blooper today:
Oh dear! They haven't got many theologians at the Daily Express.
The dead person who came second was Princess Dianna. I'm not sure whether the picture on the Daily Express page is Jesus or Dianna. Maybe its a syncretist morphing of the two.
Well, it's good news for the church I think. Our church motto is 'Helping people to meet Jesus' - that is in THIS world, not the next. If the Express survey is true, then I think we're on the right track.
Thursday, 4 June 2009
But I think Obama should be applauded for such a strong speech, delivered with a winsome blend of authority and humility.
It would be great to think that he will succeed where other presidents and leaders have failed. Probably one speech won't do it alone, but at least it's a start.
I said that I thought the speech sounded messianic in tone. Well, this is what the true Messiah said, quoting from the prophet Isaiah:
"The Spirit of the Sovreign Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
Let's hope and pray that the president's words bring good news to Israelis and Palestinians who feel both threatened and oppressed by each other; to women in oppressive Muslim states; and to all those who are imprisoned by the hatred of those they don't trust.
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
Monday, 1 June 2009
Is there anything theological or biblical in all of this? I'm not sure, but maybe building and running a model railway reflects something of the creativeness of God, and his fatherly care.
Saturday, 30 May 2009
My beloved spake, and said unto me,
'Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Thursday, 21 May 2009
I shall be preaching on this on Sunday, although it hardly needs a sermon to explain it.
Monday, 18 May 2009
So perhaps we get the representatives we deserve - men and women who are no better and no worse than we are.
Whatever the case, I'm sure many of the people of Zimbabwe would wish for a government such as ours, even with all its shortcomings. The lavish opulence that Robert Mugabe lives in compared with the majority of the population makes our MPs' claims seem trivial, and the fear which his government spreads around supporters of the opposition makes our political shortcomings seem small. I guess that if people were brave enough to question the expenses of government ministers in Zimbabwe they might get severely punished.
Thank God that we live in a country where government is still relatively open and honest, and that we have the freedom to call politicians to account in the media and through the ballot box. I really hope that the main political parties haven't damaged their reputations so much that some of the the minority extremist parties gain at their expense in the European elections.
Friday, 15 May 2009
We've got people signed up till at least 4 am tomorrow morning, and then starting again at 6 am.
Nicy and I are doing the slot from midnight to 2 am as our daughter has her after-prom party and we'll be awake anyway. I'll probably fill in the gaps tomorrow and play all my favourite music.
I tend to get a bit grumpy if I'm deprived of sleep, but it's all in a good cause!
Thursday, 14 May 2009
One thing that a powerful person cannot do is to make you love them. No matter how powerful - even if they have the power of life and death. The opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Love encourages growth and more love, but power - with the possibility of punishment - will only lead to fear. Fear makes people wither and turn in on themselves.
So here is the paradox: God, the all-powerful, the almighty, the all-loving needs people to take the love that is at his heart and express in 'actions and truth', as John says, in order to make it complete.
What an amazing God!
Saturday, 9 May 2009
Friday, 8 May 2009
Monday, 4 May 2009
The thing is that it's possible to post almost anything on the internet without contradiction or comment. I know from this blog that more people read it than comment on it, though a few who know me have made verbal comments.
The ability to post at ease on the internet has made Wikipedia probably the most popular place to go to find out anything about anything or anyone, but I always wonder: Who validates it? I know it's supposed to be self-validating, but I will only really trust a source of knowledge if I know it has come from someone with a proven reputation. I suppose this is one of the big differences between 'modern' and post-modern' thinking. The 'modern' scientific approach to life is concerned with objective truth - truth that is the same everywhere and all the time. For the post-modern person 'truth' is subjective: it may be true for you, but it doesn't have to be true for me; it may work for you, but it doesn't work for me.
I wonder if the church, in its attempt to connect with contemporary culture, has accepted too much post-modern thinking and hasn't challenged it enough. I'm sure truth has to be universal, or it simply isn't the truth. But how is objective universal truth presented in a way that attracts rather than repels? Jesus was described as being 'full of grace and truth', and it seems to me that this is the perfect winsome combination.
None of us is perfect; I'm sure we would all want to be better people. Grace without truth leaves you with no reason to change; truth without grace does not help you to change - it's like the law in that it simply shows you where you are wrong. But grace and truth together hold out both reason and help to change. Thank God that in Jesus grace and truth go together and that he is the one who gives us a reason and the help to change.
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
We'll do it all Everything On our own
We don't need Anything Or anyone
If I lay here If I just lay here Would you lie with me and just forget the world?
I don't quite know How to say How I feel
Those three words Are said too much They're not enough
If I lay here If I just lay here Would you lie with me and just forget the world?
Forget what we're told Before we get too old Show me a garden that's bursting into life
Let's waste time Chasing cars Around our heads
I need your grace To remind me To find my own
If I lay here If I just lay here Would you lie with me and just forget the world?
Forget what we're told Before we get too old Show me a garden that's bursting into life
All that I am All that I ever was Is here in your perfect eyes, they're all I can see
I don't know where Confused about how as well Just know that these things will never change for us at all
If I lay here If I just lay here Would you lie with me and just forget the world?
With a lot of songs like this I'm never quite sure if it's just pretentious twaddle, or something more profound that expresses a deep inner longing for something better. Let's assume it's the latter.
It seems to me that the singer feels the same way as The Teacher, the name given to the writer of Ecclesiastes 2500 years ago. He's not sure about what life is all about, but tries to find meaning in something. In this case it's in intimacy - but it's an intimacy that tries to blot out everything around it; an escape from the world rather than an entering into the world. The funeral I am taking tomorrow is of a young man who committed suicide, and perhaps this is what he thought.
'I don't quite know...how to say... how I feel,' is a cry for help. It makes me think of Munch's painting 'The Scream': a wordless cry expressing something very deep but intangible. Is he afraid of life, or of living I wonder? But at the same time the singer wants life in all its fulness: 'Show me a garden that's bursting into life.' What a positive image of hope and new life. This is what Jesus offered: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." This is the life of the bursting garden for anyone who finds it.
'Let's waste time...chasing cars...around our heads.' The Teacher says there is a time for everything, even a time for wasting time - that's how I interpret his words 'A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.'
'I need your grace to remind me to find my own.' I don't know what the singer is trying to find, but it's true that we all need grace - God's loving grace that helps us not only to find him, but to find ourselves and be content with who we are.
''I don't know where...confused about how as well...just know that these things will never change for us at all.' That's what the writer of Ecclesiastes thought - nothing changes; it's all meaningless. But Jesus challenges that in the ultimate expression of change - from death to life. I read this morning about the possibility of God's power at work in our lives: 'That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead...' If that is true, then I want to know more of that power at work in my life.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
During this weekend the CYO has rehearsed for 3 hours on Friday night, 6 hours on Saturday and 4 hours today - a total of 13 hours concentrated rehearsal. It certainly paid off, as the creative heat generated by such intensive rehearsal resulted in a totally committed performance of this popular work.
Trinity School lent their newly refurbished hall for the performance, with its wonderful accoustics - surely it will be one of the best performing venues in the area when the work is finished.
Croydon has talent! and this afternoon it was shown in the brilliant Youth Orchestra.
Thursday, 23 April 2009
The LSSO is still one of the best kept secrets in English musical life. Easily as good as the National Youth Orchestra it gets very little publicity, even in London. With only 2 weeks rehearsal - most of that during the school holidays - the LSSO competes with the best orchestras. Last night they were directed by the Hungarian conductor and pianist Tamas Vasary who directed them from the keyboard in Chopin's Second Piano Concerto. He paid the orchestra the compliment of being one of the best he had played with in this concerto. Admittedly, the orchestra only acts as a 'backing track' for much of the concerto, but they followed impeccably.
In the other two works the orchestra was able to shine: Dvorak's Scherzo Capriccioso and Brahms' Symphony No. 2 (one of my favourites). Both are difficult works which would tax a professional orchestra, but the LSSO played with commitment and maturity. I was struck, as I have been when hearing them before, on the sense of ensemble: each player seemed to be aware of what the others were doing, balancing their sound as necessary. Unlike many young amateur orchestras they watched the conductor and avoided rushing in the fast passages, keeping their cool when the music was fiery.
Yes, there were a few rough corners, but this didn't spoil the enjoyment of live music-making which these 90 or so young people were so obviously committed to.
An English characterestic is not to blow your own trumpet, but on St George's Day I want to blow the trumpet for the London Schools Symphony Orchestra.
Monday, 20 April 2009
The incident left me shaken too, and also our daughter who had witnessed it, but I was also profoundly sad not just for the woman, but for both of them that they should find themselves in this situation. There was nothing I could do to help except just be there and stand with the woman while her husband drove off. The whole thing happened so suddenly and unexpectedly that there was an animal quality about it, and I think it's that which was so horrifying - that within our humanity there still lurks this sort of primeval rage. And to see this within what is supposed to be a loving relationship was all the more upsetting.
After the lady had gone I found myself praying for her. I had no idea what the circumstances were, whether either of them was to blame, or where they had come from, but it's in these situations when we are compelled to pray that Paul's words to the Romans are so helpful: 'We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.' I trust that the Spirit groaned on behalf of these two people and that somehow in the mystery of God they will find the peace and reconciliation that they need.
Friday, 17 April 2009
This link is to a comment on the Archbishop's interview by Simon Barrow. As one would expect, the Archbishop's comments are nuanced and carefully thought out, and Simon Barrow adds his own 'take'. At the heart is the issue of how people need to change when they encounter Christ. I think the Archbishop is saying that 'inclusion' implies that no change is necessary for people who are newly included, whereas 'welcome' implies that there is a community with certain values that the newcomer is welcome to embrace - and this may mean change.
When I encounter what Rowan Williams has to say, it makes my brain feel like the size of a pea. It's very easy to hijack what he says and turn it into soundbites to support one view or another. Anyway, if you have time read this article and if you can access the Dutch website all the better.
I've just got back from the hearing the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra again, so my mind is still full of Tchaikovsky and Bernstein. I'm glad to report that classical music is not dead, and that this week 58,000 people will have been through the Royal Festival hall hearing the orchestra (I had that from the head of education at the South Bank Centre, that I sat next to).
Thursday, 16 April 2009
It seems to me that Jesus was one to welcome people, to draw people to himself, but he didn't always include them. He was demonstrating that God was creating a new people in a new kingdom and that people were welcome and called to join, but if they chose not to then they would not be forcefully included. The rich young man who came to Jesus went away sad because Jesus had not included him. He just could not get rid of what was most dear to him - his wealth. Other people came to Jesus expressing a desire to follow him, but Jesus seems not to have included them - in fact he made it more difficult for them. For those who would put comfort and family before before following Jesus, he let them go.
But the good news is that Jesus welcomed so many who were otherwise seen as outcast and despised: tax collectors who collaborated with the Roman enemy, women with a dodgy moral past, those with diseases that made them ritually unclean amongst good religious people. These he welcomed.
This presents me with a constant challenge to know the difference between welcome and inclusion, and the difference between legitimate boundaries and hostile barriers. Also, to recognize the difference between my personal prejudice and gospel truth.
Whatever the answer I think it has to be slightly fuzzy. Could Jesus have made a mistake in welcoming the wrong person among the Twelve - Judas Iscariot? With hindsight we can say it had to be so in order for him to be betrayed, but I wonder if that is what Jesus really thought when he called Judas.
I know that if God, through his Son Jesus, had not welcomed me into his kingdom I would not be included, and I am constantly grateful for that welcome. I hope that I, together with the whole church, can extend the same welcome to the 95%, or more, of the population for whom there is an invitation but who have not yet responded to God's gracious call.
In Venezuela the government pays for every child to have free music tuition and an instrument. After 34 years in operation 'El Sistema', as the system is simply called, has resulted in a quarter of a million children - many from the poorest backgrounds - to be connected with classical music. The best players make up the Simon Bolivar Orchestra who are in residence at the South Bank Centre this week.
I heard them at the Proms last year and, along with many others, was bowled over by their enthusiasm for the music, their energy, their sense of fun and joy, and their dedication. It's not enough to simply hear them - you have to see them, swaying in time to the music and twirling their instruments in the South American numbers. But it's their dedication to music that really makes the difference. One of the players last night said that he was up at 5 am practising - and that is fairly typical. I guess that for may of these young people music has literally rescued them from a life of hopeless poverty.
There's talk of the UK introducing the system here, but I somehow doubt if the government has the guts to introduce something so culturally challenging. To get children away from their computer games, Wii, Play Station etc, and practice for an hour before school, and again when they come back...It's the only way to succeed, and perhaps this young Venezuelan orchestra might inspire them.
Ken Livingstone was derided for his fawning attempt to be buddies with the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and his deal to get cheap Venezuelan oil for London Transport. I hope, though, the UK might benefit from looking at 'El Sistema' and consider introducing it here. There is no doubt that children and young people can benefit socially, intellectually, culturally and even physically...and perhaps spiritually... by connecting with and performing good classical music.
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
Monday, 13 April 2009
I was blessed by two encouraging sermons during the day: one from our curate, Simon, and the other from our bishop, Nick. Simon preached from Mark 16 on the words about Jesus: 'He is going ahead of you...' We were reminded that Jesus goes ahead of us into every place and situation - at home, at work, at school. A simple message, but one that makes the Easter hope of the risen Jesus real and transforming.
Bishop Nick preached at our evening festival service to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the extension of the church. The first reading, from Johsua 4, was about the Israelites putting up stones to remind generations to come of how they crossed the Jordan. When their children asked 'What do these stones mean?' they were to tell them the story of their deliverance. The same could be said today of church buildings. We often say that the church is not the building but the people, but buildings say a lot - like those stones in Israel - and they can raise the same questions: 'What do these stones mean?' We can then tell people the story of why the church is here.
And so to Bishop Nick's sermon based on Luke 24 - the road to Emmaus story. Something Nick pointed out really struck me: how Jesus walked along the road and asked what the disciples were talking about. Then he went on to tell them the whole story of salvation, in a way that helped them completely reinterpret what they had experienced. I was left with the thought that if Jesus spent time asking what they were talking about, then the church needs to do the same - listening and asking what concerns people, then telling the story of God's good news in a way that transforms.
I sometimes go to Neighbourhood Partnership meetings set up by the Council. They are generally bad tempered affairs involving a few noisy residents arguing with the Council representatives. What these meetings seem to show is that people feel they are not being listened to, so they have to shout. If this keeps happening then they get cynical about local democracy and the possibility of ordinary people making a difference to the neighbourhood.
How does the church listen to what people are talking about? I suppose just by each church member using their eyes and ears - it's as simple as that. We are not called to provide another layer of local democracy - we have a much bigger story to tell - but we must listen before we can tell.
Friday, 10 April 2009
I think, that like many clergy, I'm a bit like a chef - perhaps more like a mum that's always feeding her hungry family. When I've been 'preparing' and 'cooking' sermons and services I'm not always in the best place to appreciate the message that I'm trying to convey. But later, in some quiet moment, I know I'll enjoy what I've prepared. Today, with my two clergy colleagues, I spoke about the transforming love of God on the cross. I was blessed by what they said, but it was only in the greenhouse later while I was planting out my tomato seedlings that I had the peace and quiet to really reflect and be thankful to God.
Tuesday, 7 April 2009
But then there is the odd bit of treasure as I prepare the next talk. For example, I was reflecting on the often quoted saying, by an unknown preacher, 'It was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross, but love.' My immediate thought: Yes, Jesus' love for us - for me. But there is another love, which comes out very clearly in John's gospel: the love between Father and the Son. This is such a strong love that Jesus, the Son, willingly submits to his Father's will to go to the cross and stays there until he can say, "It is finished."
It's impossible for us to imagine this in terms of the human love of a father and son, but what is characteristic of this godly love - true love - is that it is always giving. The Father gives his Son to the world; the Son gives his life for us; the Father and Son together give the Holy Spirit; the Spirit gives to us what belongs to the Father and the Son. It's this kind of love that compels me to respond to God's grace.
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
I thought I would post a few photos of our garden as a reminder of the power of Spring - amazing that just a few weeks ago this was under a foot of snow.
It's rather ironic, for garden-lovers such as me, to find that in the bible the story of God begins in a garden, but ends in a city. The love of the garden is probably related to the desire to return to Eden - the first days of creation before sin spoilt the world. For gardeners, there is an opportunity to create a little bit of Eden for themselves. So how do we respond to John's vision, in Revelation, of the holy city coming down from heaven, 'as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband'? Of course it's pictorial language and isn't to be like any city we know - at least I hope it's not like the 1970's Barbican development in London! But what is interesting is that there is a tree - 'the tree of life'. This must be the same tree that was planted in Eden - the one that Adam and Eve didn't get their hands on. An ancient tree that was in the beginning and has lasted to the end. The garden, as the dwelling place for God and man, has been replaced by a city, but the tree of life is still there.
I think that for me the attraction of the garden is as a refuge from the modern city, because though today's city is vibrant and bustling, it can also be cruel, unfriendly, ugly and life-draining. But the city of Revelation is one where God and people will dwell together in peace. It's beyond the imagination of city planners, but I'm glad it's in the imagination of God. I look forward to finding it one day.
Sunday, 29 March 2009
Friday, 27 March 2009
For me this comes as close as possible to how I imagine Jesus would have looked. His brown cloak and the brown background show someone who would not stand out in a crowd, yet his face is immediately attractive showing a sense of repose, but not inscrutable. This is a Jesus you could touch and talk to.
I can put the Jesus of this image into the first chapter of John's gospel, where he invites the first two disciples to spend the day with him. At the end of that day they say, "We have found the Messiah."
I don't surround myself with religious art, but in this picture I could say with those two disciples, "Here is the Messiah."
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
It seems to me that schools today are being asked, from central government down, to provide the cure for all social evils. Last year it was Gender Equality Duty', this year it's simply 'Equality', and now 'Community cohesion' is the latest duty that schools have to take on. Each school will have to show evidence that it is promoting 'community cohesion', as the government seems to believe that this is one way to stamp out discrimination, racism, inequality and, ultimately, terrorism.
The other big thing that schools are expected to do provide is extended services - from breakfast clubs in the morning to community activities in the evening. 'Eight till eight, twenty-four seven'. It's a good way, perhaps, to use the buildings efficiently as a resource not just for the immediate learning community but also the wider neighbourhood, but I'm concerned that schools are in danger of having more contact with children than parents in an average working day. A child who is dropped off at a breakfast club at 8 am, and then picked up from an after-school club at 6 pm spends 10 hours at school. Taking into account time for sleep, that's longer than he or she will be able to interact with parents.
Schools seem to be taking the place in the community that the church traditionally did, which is ironic as it was the church that set up most schools in the first place. It's a challenge to me as rector of a parish church to know what is left for the church to provide for the community. In our part of the world other agencies and organisations provide clubs for children, and recreation for the elderly - perhaps we're more fortunate than other areas. But what the church can provide, which no other agency can, is space for people to encounter God in a real and living way. Our church motto is 'Helping people to meet Jesus.' That's what keeps me going when I question what the church is here to do. Sometimes helping people to meet Jesus may be through providing community services as an expression of God's love, but I believe, at least, it's through meeting Jesus that a whole new world of limitless possibilities is opened up to us.