Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos
Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Imaginative Hope - 2020

Imagine a charismatic young man who questions the status quo; who champions the poor, sick and disadvantaged. Imagine that many people follow him for he has given them hope that there is a better way. Imagine, then, how the establishment might view him. Imagine that they take their resentment to the ultimate conclusion and have him murdered in the cruelest and most cowardly way possible.
Imagine then that the body was buried but somehow was taken from its burial place.
The world then (for the imagined story is 2000 years old) was a place where the very air you breathed was laced with religion; it was the accepted world order. It had been so for the young man and for his followers and so it is not surprising that the absence of the body and the whole story of his life was reinterpreted in religious terms. I wonder too whether, when you really want to believe something, it in some way becomes true. The encounter on the road to Emmaus may perhaps be an example.
Could this be the story of Jesus? And if it is, is that it?
At heart there was what some people call the Nazareth Manifesto:
"The Spirit of the 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."
I just wonder whether the reversal of the world order, of which the young man spoke, is possible? Perhaps now, with the world turned upside down, its time has come for 'imaginative hope' to take the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury in his sermon for Easter, 'we dare to have hope in life before death'.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Easter 2024

Easter presents the greatest challenge to faith, surely as experienced most by the first followers of Jesus, yet it contains too the rock upon which faith is built; or so they say.
There is a prayer I used to use as a Reader which went something like, ' I believe, help thou my unbelief'.
These two states live together.
Giles Fraser's article in today's Guardian ( articulated this conundrum very well. He did not, though, grasp what to me is an increasing crucial distinction between faith and religion.
Philip Pullman's excellent short book, the Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, explored, through a fictional account of the gospel stories, how Jesus was in effect stolen from ordinary people by men of religion. Jesus was and is a man for all people, not just the religious or righteous. So it is a tragedy when good people turn away from religion to atheism abandoning Jesus on the way.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Half-forgotten faith

I wrote this in January 2012.
I assisted with Communion on Christmas Day and witnessed an astonishing variety of half-forgotten devotion. This is not to belittle. We had people from so many traditions, but I would swear much half-forgotten in the rush of the modern world.
It is in this half-forgetting that I have found signs of hope. Half-forgotten also means half-remembered; it means that once there was something. Perhaps it is to these who once were here, to whom the cathedral should direct its attention? If they were here once, then why not now? It is perhaps a good question. But there is more.
My sense on Christmas Day was of the importance of the sacramental act in which they were participating in their half-remembered way, rather than the meaning of any finely crafted words, and they were finely crafted. Yet at Christmas perhaps more than any time, words are part of the half-remembered act: ‘In the beginning…’ goose bumps rise on my arms as I write. Half-remembered words which have a deep echo in the hearts of those who once were here.

Prime Ministers and Church

I posted on Facebook a short piece expressing my sadness that we now have Prime Minister who does not see fit to go to Church on Christmas Day. Some people agreed; one, however, preferred this to the hypocrisy of someone attending without believing.
This got me thinking, yet again, about what we mean by faith.
I have no doubt that some people are the recipients of a 'gift of faith'; they just have it. They have placed their trust in Jesus Christ, and live out their lives on that basis. There are then those, and I was one, who longed for such faith, but could never quite grasp it. I tried every which way, not least by attempting to create an intellectual framework that would justify belief. I failed.
There is more. I have previously written about those who come to Christmas Day Eucharist with a 'half forgotten' faith. A friend expressed is slightly differently as being 'hard wired' with a belief system that had been taught from the cradle and which is there for life, however much the owner may intellectually dismiss it.
There are many more who will speak quite happily of a loved one, who has died, looking down on them. Just watch any edition of BBC's Repair Shop where treasured possessions are brought back t life. Such a belief in Life after Death was a comparative latecomer to Judaism in the centuries before Christ's birth, but it was embraced by the early Church.
A church at Christmas is a meeting place where all these people can come together for their disparate purposes. It is a gathering where the individual is not centre stage, and where a group of otherwise unconnected people can spend an hour thinking (or praying) about those others who are less fortunate. It gives space for contemplating big questions. It can be a space where people gather around a shared ethical framework.
I would have thought that this is just the place for a Prime Minister.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

What is faith?

What is faith, what is religious experience?

Is it the flood of tears that met me on the way back from Launde all those years ago after the exploration of the passover and the eucharist? Was it then those with whom I shared the experience; were they special?

Is it Sunday evening in Kirby Bellars church with Graham, Malcolm and me robing to the smell of the portable gas fires after which we would say Cranmer’s words and read the King James Bible and offer our gloss on it to the faithful few?

Is it Sunday morning at Portloe with those faithful and questioning Christians who would want to argue the toss rather than accepting whatever I said? Was it Ruan, Wartnaby or one of the churches in the Vale where the speaking out of the liturgy week by week offered a transfusion to replenish that which dispels into daily life? 

Ironically is my faith too grounded in church? Is my experience of the Christian life too church centric? The awakening in Thrussington over twenty years ago by that retired priest whose name is lost in time, whose words are lost so that all that remains is the man in his cassock. Which brings me of course to the other man in the cassock whom I met in Philleigh and whom initially I thought of as too much caricature, but who possessed a deeper understanding of our faith than anyone I have ever met.

This then was shattered by the institution of the church which acts in so secular a way. It demands power and obedience. It ignores love and strives only for success.

Jesus failed. He was nailed to a cross. That we can find in this, victory is the Christian ability to turn things on their head to deny entirely the things of this world and to think only of a better realm. Is this realm to come? That is the question: in some sort of life after death for the individual, or at some future time in human existence? 

Does this look in the right direction? My Jewish friends find refreshment in the faithful acting out of the forming events of their religion or race. This is not to knock, but that is what it is, a devotion to what has gone before. Is it then some Christian ritual which, by its intricacy and method, can draw from self a response.

A little while ago I heard the suggestion that it all about hard wiring. Those of us brought up with church and Christian teaching cannot totally let it go; it has become part of our DNA. Or is it something else, in us but apart from us?

The journey goes on.

Good Friday 2016 saw me in St Nicholas Newport Lincoln after Jane’s lunchtime lecture on Macbeth. Jane was at her most brilliant digging as she always does into the air the writer was breathing. The Hermeneutic Tradition fed the English Renaissance through people like Francis Bacon who were breathing into the same air. Shakespeare would pick up the ideas and thinking. He added these to stories handed down through the ages, for example of witches - who in Elizabethan times were still being burnt. Jane explored the psychology of just what it was that entered Macbeth and indeed Lady Macbeth.

This links to the account of the passion, certainly through Luke who talks of Satan entering Judas.

So to St Nicholas and the liturgy of the passion. We heard a prophetic reading from Isaiah, a short passage from Hebrews and then the St John passion. This was followed by a long period of prayer when we admitted to the wrongs done to Jesus. I visualised the children drowning in the Aegean, the woman who went alive into the furnace at Auschwitz, the airmen who died on the long march and the crew who died in bombers. The long list of those innocent who have died or suffered as a result of man’s sin.

I wonder whether Jesus died for them, the sinned against, to be alongside those who suffer? 
With thanks to Jim Newton

The hijacking of Jesus

They have taken my Lord…and I know not where they have laid him

These well known words of Mary are of course words of Easter, and now we are approaching Advent, so why?

The ‘why’ is serendipitous. Last year Maggie told me of a review she had heard of a Man Booker Prize shortlisted book, I promptly added it to my birthday list and my daughter, Jo, duly gave it to me. I started to read it, but failed to get into it; I put it down. This September I took it up again and have found it revolutionary, or do I mean revelatory?

Colm Toibin’s immensely moving book, the Testament of Mary, seeks to tell the story of Jesus from the point of view of his mother. From this vantage point we are shown a number of the events familiar through the Biblical accounts, principally the Wedding at Cana and the Raising of Lazarus, though nothing can prepare us for the account of the crucifixion. A mother witnessing unbelievable agony in her son is an image for which we cannot prepare. In the book it is short and sharp and stuns.

Whilst this image is central, the theme of the book is that Jesus, a good man, has been ‘hijacked’ by those who want more. They form an hysterical group around him and egg him on. The chill in the story emerges with grey shadowy men who seek to control Mary into her old age. They want from her an account of what happened that fits with their agenda. She resists. Everything seems to be orchestrated by men in power, essentially weak men who exert control through fear.

As she approaches her death, these men tell her what her son has achieved. Phrases which might be recognised as articles of faith are trotted out and fall flat in the context of what Mary, the heart broken mother, knows. She concludes, that, no, it wasn’t worth it.

The whole book is powerful. There are passages which strike strong chords with ‘middle C’ of my previous post. The scene where there are men in hierarchies who demand to be listened to - surely a deliberate construct of the author, but one which seems to fit. The painstaking but angry work of the fictional ‘gospel’ writers as they wrestle with the difference between what Mary remembers and the theme they are determined to project.

The book, as did Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, again poses the question of whether the man we know as Jesus was hijacked by the religious men of his time, as, I might suggest, he is perhaps hijacked by the architects of great churches, composers of the great choral works, painters and sculptors, even preachers who use his stories to perfect the composition and delivery of ten minutes of thought provoking Sunday morning prose (present company excepted!).

Monday, 24 December 2018

Christmas 2018

Christians are taught that it is Easter and not Christmas that is the major feast in the calendar, because it was at Easter that Jesus rose from the dead to save mankind.
If I step away from the theology and dig, if not deeper, then certainly in a different direction, I am drawn back to Christmas as the birth day of an exceptional human being, perhaps the exceptional human being. The historical Jesus was by any measure remarkable. He did ‘love his neighbour’, he did welcome the outcast and stranger, he did live an exemplary life. He walked the walk.

So, it is with a mixture of joy and challenge that I, and perhaps other people of any belief and none, can celebrate this, his birthday.
The crib in Lincoln Cathedral just by the altar, just where it should be

The nave is ready to welcome all to explore this mystery that has troubled humankind for two millennia