Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos
Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The right place, at the right time

‘When Quirinius was governor of Syria’: an almost throw away phrase in St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is fundamentally important in placing the life of Jesus fairly and squarely in the world at a particular place, at a particular time.

A couple of months ago as you read this, a group of scientists reported that they had managed to analyse the chemical make up of a comet. The scientist being interviewed was excited that the material he had found (light years away) would, under the right conditions, have produced life. I share his excitement. The earth is what it is because that lump of material of which it is made enjoyed just the right conditions for life at the right place at the right time. I am not a scientist, but I wonder whether a parallel might be our own experience in the garden where seeds thrive if they have the right amount of sun and rain etc.

We also know from our own experience that, as individual human beings, we are what we are because we were born in a particular place place at a particular time. We also know that for so many it is the wrong place at the wrong time. The refugee crisis, coincidentally also in Syria, is just one manifestation of this.

We could perhaps say that Jesus was born in the right place and at the right time. That far eastern end of the Mediterranean was where cultures met and so his message could spread. It was a time when human beings were hungry for understanding; he would be listened to.

At about the same time as the news about the comet, I read a discussion comparing Christianity and Islam. I was shocked by the bald assertion by one protagonist that, of course, ‘the Prophet actually lived, but Jesus was made up’.

For me, it could not matter more that Jesus lived and walked the dusty roads of Palestine as an angry young man. I am sure, and have said before, that much that has been written about him might well have been ‘made up’, but I believe that the man, the extraordinary man, is real. A man born in the right place at the right time, ‘when Quirinius was governor of Syria’.

The ‘stuff’ on that comet produced life because just then the conditions were right. Jesus taught us how to deal with that life. He told us that it was not ours to fritter away for our own pleasure. It is to be relished, but can only truly be relished if shared. His teaching is, in a sense, part of the condition for ‘successful’ life. By successful, I mean enduring, sustainable, good life. Like those other conditions for life all those millennia ago, it is a vital ingredient. It is thus more than tragic that a large minority of the human race choose to ignore it to the dreadful detriment of so many.

Friday, 7 August 2015


I stand in awe at the writer and all those involved in producing the final episode in the series of Rev. I know how Adam felt. Faith is not something that sits there as a fixture; it does desert you; it is allusive. The heart of the calling is perhaps to be there for those in need, and rightly so. My question is whether in twenty year's time the old lady dying will ask for the last rites, as she did with such moving effect in tonight's programme. It gave comfort; it was at the heart of the calling, but if the story of Jesus is known less and less, from where will comfort come?

The programme, seen by many, perhaps has the potential to help. At the very least it portrays the church as it is, warts and all. 

Mythos, logos or what?

Karen Armstrong's strong defence of myth in her Short History of Myth takes some reading. This is not because it isn't well written, it is as indeed you would expect of such a well acclaimed author. The reason is that she is putting her finger very close to the heart of the matter for Christian believers.

She rightly points out that the inheritance of Greek philosophy has been damaging to western Christian thought, whereas the eastern church has benefited from its warmer embrace of the power of myth. At the very heart of her argument she suggests that St Paul created a myth out of the life of Jesus. This is seen in a very positive way in the Eucharist which both recalls what Jesus did and re-enacts it for present day believers. It does what myth should do. But I set this alongside PhilipPullman's wonderful book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, and I find myself impoverished both by Armstrong's myth and the Greek demand for logical proof. Here is a reality, a man who lived and who reflected as well as any human being ever could the mystery that is God.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The church risks looking absurd

So says the leader in today's Guardian. It is right. The church risks flying in the face of society by denying women the oppportunity to be Bishops and by robbing itself of the services of an astonishingly able man simply because he has been honest in entering into a civil partnership.
This though is nothing. The Christian faith has always been ridiculed. It is foolish as St Paul acknowledged, but it is also true. We risk denying the world of something of incomparable value if we insist on our crazy adherence to outmoded attitudes. What about love? What about the Golden Rule? What about giving our fellow citizens something worth believing in. Let's get rid of the fairy tale and stick to the truth of that feisty man Jesus of Nazareth who gave us the way and who gave his life that we might be free to follow it.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Meeting God in Mark

I am sure that this isn’t the first time that I have mentioned Chariots of Fire as my all time favourite film. It is about the small group of young men and women who, still in the shadow of the Great War, form the British team for the Paris Olympics. One of the characters is a Scot, a runner of huge courage, the son of a missionary and also himself a minister. In one scene he has won a race at an athletics meeting in an industrial town. The rain is pouring down and he is addressing the crowd likening the running of a race to the Christian journey and pointing to the source of energy being within. He quotes St Matthew, ‘The Kingdom of God is within’. It is many years since the first time I saw the film and this phrase has stuck with me. 

Just before Christmas, I happened upon a short book by former Archbishop Rowan Williams entitled ‘Meeting God in Mark’. I didn’t buy it straight away,  but it kept beckoning and so eventually I relented. What a good decision. I always used to think of Rowan Williams as far too clever for me, all long words and deep theology. This book, and actually quite a few others, is definitely not. It is lucid and compelling. 

It is of course about St Mark’s gospel, the shortest and the earliest of the four in the Bible. Its central thesis is built round the same idea as my Chariots of Fire runner, that God is not some magician ‘out there’, rather He is within us, most particularly within Jesus. Williams argues that St Mark challenges us to place trust not in a God who is powerful as some men are powerful, but as a powerless God found in the abandoned Jesus. He stresses that this is both hard to grasp and hard for Jesus to explain and Mark to write. It is why that, so often in St Mark’s gospel, the disciples fail to grasp what is being said. It doesn’t make sense in earthly terms. It is a wholly new way of thinking. 

Possibly one of the most powerful points that Williams makes is that Mark may well have written what St Peter remembered of Jesus. This is powerful when we recall how often Peter failed to grasp what Jesus was saying, failed to see the new way and, crucially, failed to admit to knowing Jesus just at the point when Jesus was most powerless, and so most Godly.

It is hard. I most certainly fail to do it justice, so I encourage you to read Rowan Williams for yourself, although, even then as he himself acknowledges, as soon as you think you have grasped it, you too will flounder. So back to St Mark himself, not once or twice, but many times to nudge us closer to St Mark’s life changing realisation.