Tuesday 24 April 2012

Not to be read by children!

I think that I was about 7 when by father made a serious mistake at a primary school service in the parish church where he was vicar.

In the run up to Christmas, in a talk on gratitude, he foolishly made the remark, “Of course some of us know who we really need to thank for our Christmas presents.”
The fuse was lit.

A small girl went home after school in tears because that vicar had said that there was no Father Christmas.  Her parents were outraged and rung the local newspaper who immediately picked it up and ran an article the next day.
Within hours of it going to press the vicarage was inundated with phone-calls from the press – local newspapers, nationals, radio stations, and finally, a photographer from The Sun turned up on the doorstep asking for a photo of my father and I playing with one of my toys from last Christmas.

In the midst of this the BBC rang the Bishop of Manchester for comment.
“Did he know” went the question, “that one of his clergy was going around telling children that Father Christmas doesn’t exist?”

The Bishop thought for a moment, and then simply replied, “I didn’t know that belief in Father Christmas was a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith.”
I have been prompted to tell this story because of news coming out of the GAFCON meeting this week.  According to the Daily Telegraph they have, ‘criticised what they called “revisionist attempts” to abandon basic doctrines on issues such as homosexuality and “turn Christianity merely into a movement for social betterment” during Dr Williams tenure.’

As a result they think that the Archbishop of Canterbury should lose his role as figurehead of the world-wide Anglican Communion.
Now there is a debate to be had as to whether it is appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be so caught up in the strife of world-wide Anglicanism that he (or hopefully in the future, she) is inhibited from displaying the right kind of leadership in the Church of England….

But... and this is a big BUT…  I have to ask the question,
Since when has a doctrine of homosexuality been a basic doctrine of the Church of England – let alone the Christian Faith?

Did Jesus say anything about it in the Gospels?  - No. 
Does it appear in the Creeds? – No. 
Does it appear in the 39 Articles of Religion or the 1662 Prayer Book? – No.

So how is it now being portrayed as a basic doctrine of the Church?

What is more, if this is true, it only provides more evidence that the Church of England is institutionally homophobic.  After all, if it is a basic doctrine of the Church, then our whole existence as a church has, as one of its foundational doctrines, an anti-homosexual faith.  You can’t get much more institutionally homophobic than that.
In truth, however, the traditional understanding of homosexuality is not a basic doctrine of the Church of England, the Church in general, or the Christian Faith as a whole.

Like belief in Father Christmas, it has acquired a status in some parts of the Church which might lead the unwitting observer to that conclusion, but to mis-quote a former Bishop of Manchester,

“I didn’t know that belief against homosexuality is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith – because it isn’t!”

Monday 23 April 2012

Is the dam beginning to break ?

This has been an extra-ordinary week in the debate on same-sex partnerships in England and Wales.

First the Archbishop of Wales made same-sex partnerships the subject of his Presidential Address to the Church in Wales Governing Body.

He said that the church needed to find ways to be good news to gay people and that they should not be treated as second class citizens in church.  He also recognised that there is no single Christian opinion on sexuality.
Turning to the Government consultation on same-sex marriage, he became the first Archbishop in the UK to say that we should engage with the idea of same-sex marriage rather than simply opposing it,

“If the legislation to allow civil marriage is passed, I cannot see how we as a church, will be able to ignore the legality of the status of such partnerships and we ought not to want to do so.
“The question then as now is, will the church protect and support pastorally, faithful, stable, lifelong relationships of whatever kind in order to encourage human values such as love and fidelity and recognise the need in Christian people for some public religious support for these.”
Then on Saturday morning, the Times newspaper published a letter from 15 leading members of the Church of England including 5 Bishops saying that the church has nothing to fear from Civil Marriage for same-sex couples and calls for theological discussion and prayerful reflection on the nature of marriage.

Marriage is a robust institution which has adapted much over the centuries. It has moved beyond the polygamy of the Old Testament and preoccupation with social status and property in pre-Enlightenment times.

While the Prayer Book states that marriage was ordained first for ‘the procreation of children’ the modern marriage service begins by emphasising the quality of relationship between marriage partners ‘that they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind.’

The Church calls marriage holy or sacramental because the covenant relationship of committed, faithful love between the couple reflects the covenanted love and commitment between God and his Church. Growing in this kind of love means we are growing in the image of God. So the fact that there are same-sex couples who want to embrace marriage should be a cause for rejoicing in the Christian Church.”

And then later the same day, The Bishop of Salisbury made a major speech to the Cutting Edge Consortium in London in which he said that "it is disaster that we have allowed the Church to be seen as the opposition to equal civil marriage."
“There is an evangelical imperative for the Church to recognise that covenantal same sex relationships can be Godly and good for individuals and society; that they are at least like marriage for heterosexuals, and this is a development that many Christians in good faith warmly welcome.”

So what are we to make of all this?
For some time now, it has been relatively easy to have private conversations with Bishops and other senior church leaders where they have expressed private support for same-sex couples.  What has not been possible until recently was to get them to say so in public.  Indeed a network exercise I took part in recently found evidence that almost half of the House of Bishops are personally open to a change in church teaching on sexuality, but a combination of loyalty and fear keeps them from saying so openly.
Pressure is now growing behind the dam wall of silence and holes are appearing in the fa├žade of uniformity which the Church of England has erected.  People are starting to speak out - the debate is beginning to change.  How many more holes will it take before the dam starts to collapse – who knows?
But the cracks are showing as the water of honesty begins to flow.
I hope that this week’s events will encourage others to be more honest and open in their doubts about the church’s current teaching on homosexuality – I hope it will inspire others to speak out and be counted.  After this week, they will know that if they do, they will no longer be a lone voice in the wilderness, but part of a move of God’s Spirit.

Friday 20 April 2012

Pain in the Body of Christ

I have recently gained a new insight into Paul’s analogy of the Church as the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12.
It came from a helter-skelter on the pier at Weston-super-Mare last week. As I reached the bottom of the spiral slide, it suddenly switched direction and I was thrown to the other side, and managed to crush one of my fingers in the process.

A visit to the local hospital revealed that I had shattered a bone into 3 pieces.  It was just one bone, and a small one at that, at the tip of my middle finger on my left hand.  It has to be splinted up for a month and I have been told not to use it.
But the impact on my day to day life has been out of all proportion to the size of the bone which was broken.

For the first few days, I had to keep my hand elevated in a sling to reduce the swelling.  I am left handed so I have had to learn how to do things with my right hand.  Simple things like brushing my teeth or eating a bowl of pasta have become a real challenge.  Typing with one hand – doing the washing up without getting my splint wet – the list of implications could go on and on.
And when I forget to be careful and knock my left hand against something – it hurts!

Just as Paul said about the body, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”
Paul was painting this picture to teach us about the Church – different parts joined and knit together to make the whole – every part important – every part interdependent on the other.  When one part of the church is in pain – the whole body is in pain.

As I reflected on this I found myself thinking about the pain which the continuing controversy about same-sex relationships, Civil Partnerships and same-sex Marriage is causing in the church.  Which parts of the Body of Christ are hurting now in the midst of Government consultations, uncompromising statements by leading church figures, and banned bus poster campaigns ?
Certainly, there are gasps of outrage and horror from the conservative Christian groups.  There is also deep discomfort among clergy and ministers who find themselves having to face same-sex couples in church who might challenge their preconceptions or church allegiances.  But this is not real pain – it is the discomfort of a slight bruise or a shallow graze.

The real pain is amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians who are constantly having their identity, faith and sexuality questioned – treated with suspicion, distrust or open hostility.  The ones who face the invisible sign outside many churches which says “Not welcome here”, or “Please find somewhere else”.  The couples whose love is not recognised or accepted by churches which refuse to pray for God’s blessing on their committed partnerships - or are prevented from doing so by authority or fear of others.
These are the people who are truly hurting in our current intransigence, and the hurt runs deep – right to the bone.

As a consequence, the whole body is in pain.  Just like my broken finger, that pain and injury affects the whole body.  Tasks which should come naturally, almost without thinking, become unfamiliar and burdensome. Some activities even become impossible until the healing takes place.
There are some in the church who say that they are fed up of all this sexuality stuff – “It’s all we ever seem to talk about” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once. “There are much more important issues we should be addressing” is another.  But like Paul said (and my broken finger bears witness to) when a part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers – even when it is a comparatively small part of the body as a whole.

The truth is that we will not function properly as the Body of Christ while we continue to inflict this pain on our gay brothers and sisters.  Our mission, our presence in society, even our message will continue to be severely impaired by this pain.
I like ‘The Message’ translation of the verse I quoted earlier (1 Corinthians 12:26).  It goes beyond most when it says,

“If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing.”
The time has come for the Church to minister in the way that Jesus did, by focusing on healing rather than judgment.  It is time to open our hearts.  It is time to be the Body of Christ.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Soundtrack for Holy Week - He is Risen!

'They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord'

May the Joy of the Risen Christ fill your heart, your mind, and your soul this day - because Jesus is Alive!

Todays final song comes from YFriday - best played loud!

To view the other Soundtracks for Holy Week follow the links below:

Saturday 7 April 2012

Soundtrack for Holy Week - Easter Eve

Easter Eve is a time of waiting.

Between the trauma of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday, it sits caught in the middle, calling on us to wait for what we know is to come, and yet not quite here.

Living in the moment of this day is an expression of our Christian lives - caught between the now and the 'not yet' - the trials of this life and the hope of what is to come - the new life we have received in Christ and the old life that clings to us so tightly.

The truth is that most of us don't like waiting.  We live in an instant society where increasingly we expect to be able to get what we want whenever we want it .  At the click of a mouse or the swipe of a credit card we want it now, with next day delivery guaranteed.  Lord give me patience - and give it me now!

We often forget that there is value in waiting for the important things in life.  Relationships are not built in a day - neither is faith.  Both need creative patience if they are to grow deep and strong.

And so on Easter Eve we wait, longing for the joy that is ahead - and in the waiting God is there, deepening our relationship with him as we wait on him.

Today's song is by Iona and the images are mostly from Jerusalem as we wait for the resurrection...

To view the other Soundtracks for Holy Week follow the links below:

Thursday 5 April 2012

Soundtrack for Holy Week - Maundy Thursday

Now the momentous events of Holy Week really start to unfold.

The tension of the week has been building as we approach the story of the Passion - and today it begins.

I have always associated Maundy Thursday with sadness.  The poignancy of the Last Supper - the anguished prayers in Gethsemane waiting for Judas and the guards to arrive - the betrayal, arrest and midnight trial.

I have been fed by songs like "Stay here, keep watch with me" from Taize as I have kept the watch of prayer after the Maundy Thursday service.

But there is another side to Maundy Thursday - the sense that finally, it has all begun.  All that Jesus was leading up to - all that he had been preparing for - everything his life had been waiting for, was now about to unfold.

Time and time again Jesus has told his disciples of coming arrest, death and rising in Jerusalem, and now it was underway.

So today's song is not one of sadness, but one of steely determination and quiet confidence.

It is 'Hello Hurricane' by Switchfoot - the waiting was over...

I've been watching the skies
They've been turning blood red
Not a doubt in my mind anymore
There's a storm up ahead

Hello hurricane
You're not enough
Hello hurricane
You can't silence my love
I've got doors and windows boarded up
All your dead end fury is not enough
You can't silence my love, my love

Every thing I have I count as loss
Everything I have is stripped away
Before I started building
I counted up these costs
There's nothing left for you to take away

Hello hurricane
You're not enough
Hello hurricane
You can't silence my love
I've got doors and windows boarded up
All your dead end fury is not enough
You can't silence my love

To view the other Soundtracks for Holy Week follow the links below:

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Soundtrack for Holy Week - Peter

It wasn't just Judas who betrayed Jesus - Peter did too.

After promising to die with Jesus, he denied him three times when the going got tough.  All his words - all his bravado - all his grand gestures crumbled away as the cock crowed.

But Peter wasn't like Judas - perhaps because he knew Jesus in a deeper way.  Peter had got it wrong before, and Jesus had stuck with him. His mouth had got him into trouble more than once.  He had even seen Jesus on the mountain shining like the sun, and spoken pure drivel in the presence of God - but Jesus stuck with him.

Even so, I bet that Peter's joy at the resurrection was still tempered by the sadness that comes from failure.  His joy at seeing the risen Lord slightly blunted by wondering if he had screwed it up just one too many times...

Then Jesus came to them by the lake - a distant figure on the shore.  He called to them to let down the nets on the other side of the boat, just like the first time Jesus called him.  And the nets almost burst with fish - just like before.  Peter knew it was the Lord.

And as Jesus called Peter's name, I wonder what went through Peter's mind?

"Simon Peter" said Jesus, "do you love me?"  Three times Jesus asked and three times Peter replied "Yes Lord - you know that I love you". 

Peter knew what Jesus was doing.  He was taking him back to the night before the cross - back to the courtyard of the High Priest's house - back to those awkward questions, "Aren't you one of his friends?"

Yet as Jesus took him back to that night, he also took him back into his heart - the heart of love and forgiveness - the heart of unconquerable hope and trust.  And three times Jesus responded, "Take care of my sheep".

When we get it wrong (and we all do) the temptation is to run away, not to face the God we have betrayed.  But running away never solves anything.  It is in the sticking around that we discover the depth of Jesus' love for us. And as he helps us face what we have done, as he calls our name, so he makes us whole.

Pieces - by Red

I'm here again
A thousand miles away from you
A broken mess, just scattered pieces of who I am
I tried so hard
Thought I could do this on my own
I've lost so much along the way

Then I see your face
I know I'm finally yours
I find everything I thought I lost before
You call my name
I come to you in pieces
So you can make me whole

I've come undone
But you make sense of who I am

Like puzzle pieces in your hand,

Then I see your face
I know I'm finally yours
I find everything I thought I lost before
You call my name
I come to you in pieces
So you can make me whole!

I tried so hard! So hard!
I tried so hard!

Then I see your face
I know I'm finally yours
I find everything I thought I lost before
You call my name
I come to you in pieces
So you can make me whole
So you can make me whole

To view the other Soundtracks for Holy Week follow the links below:

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Soundtrack for Holy Week - Judas

Judas is the antithesis of Mary.

He was the one who criticised her for pouring her expensive perfume over Jesus feet at Bethany.  He was the one with connections in high places.  He was the one who held the money bag for the Twelve - and who helped himself.

But why did he betray Jesus?

The answer to that question remains a mystery.  Was it jealousy, disillusionment, greed or despair?  Was he trying to force Jesus' hand by putting him in a position where he had to reveal his true power and set Israel free?  Was it simply an act of madness that led him to take the soldiers to Jesus in the dead on night and betray him with a kiss?

Whatever the answer, one thing is for sure.  There was a fight going on inside Judas, a struggle for supremacy between the Judas who chose to follow Jesus and the Judas who ultimately betrayed him.

That fight goes on within us all, to a greater or lesser degree.

We want to follow Jesus but we also have our own plans, dreams, and ambitions.  We come to the one who calls us to unconditional surrender to God, and yet we want to retain control.  We sometimes wish that God would act according to our time-scales and our judgements, and we get disillusioned when he doesn't.

For Judas, the fight inside finally led to his downfall.  The betrayers kiss, the guilt and despair, and finally the place which he hung himself.

But the fight is there within us all...

Today's song comes from American band 'Red' and is called "Fight inside".

(If you get an inane advert at the beginning please don't give up - the song is worth waiting for)

Monday 2 April 2012

Soundtrack for Holy Week - Mary anoints Jesus

One of the most moving acts of Holy Week was Mary pouring perfume on the feet of Jesus and wiping them with her hair.

John tells us that this was not the 'sinful' woman who came to Jesus in repentance, but Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

She was the one who sat at Jesus feet when Martha was doing the chores, and once again, Mary chose love over practicality when she took a bottle of costly perfume and broke it over Jesus feet in preparation for his death, just 6 days later.

Her devotion is a sign to all of us that following Jesus sometimes means throwing caution to the wind in overwhelming outpourings of love and compassion - extravagant, extreme, even wasteful love.

When she was attacked for being wasteful, Jesus rose to her defence and said that her actions would be told wherever the Gospel is preached even to the ends of the earth - and we remember her wonderful extravagant love today.

The music comes from a wonderful CD by 'Chrisitan City Youth' called 'No longer I' and is available from Amazon

To view the other Soundtracks for Holy Week follow the links below:

Sunday 1 April 2012

Soundtrack for Holy Week - Palm Sunday

There are times when it is right to set aside controversies and arguments to focus on that which draws people together, and closer to God.

So like last year, I will be taking a break from the twists and turns of trying to work towards a more inclusive church, to focus on the most inclusive act of human history - the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Even as he was nailed to the cross, he prayed for forgiveness for the people who were driving the nails into his hand and feet - for the people who had beaten and ridiculed him - for the religious and political leaders who had framed him and washed their hands of him.

So this week, I will be posting some music each day, looking at the events and people who lived out this week with Jesus.

Today's song is performed by Seventh Day Slumber - an American rock/worship band.  Its a remix of a well known song to priase for the day when the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with shouts and songs of celebration and praise.

How great is our God...

To view the other Soundtracks for Holy Week follow the links below: