Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos
Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Questioning the existence of God

Archbishop Justin Welby questioned the existence of God after the Paris attacks. Matthew Paris provided a helpful summary of traditional theology on God and evil

The more I think about this, the more important it becomes that the leader of our Church should admit to doubt. I find it hard to conceive that anyone seeking Christian truth for a good number of years can have no doubts. Archbishop Welby thus affirms seekers like me, and I value that.


This single word was used by the Dalai Lama to name his religion, in response to a question by Duke of Edinburgh.

The sermon by Hugh Jones at St Nicholas Newport Lincoln on 24 January explored such fundamental questions in the context of the week of prayer for Christian unity and the very obvious differences within the Anglican Communion. I took away three key tenets of Christianity: a commitment to truth, an acceptance of difference, but above all a total dedication to human wellbeing

As I knelt for Communion, I felt a deep affinity for those many refugees I encountered in Lesvos. We didn't break bread there, we don't follow the same religion, be we are one, members together of humankind. Perhaps that is the ultimate primacy.

Is there then a place for religion? For many of those I met on Lesvos, it might be a commitment to the Prophet. For me it is a continual listening to/searching for the voice hidden in history of Jesus of Nazareth.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Has the Church been too successful?

“You know what the problem is with the Church?”

I waited for the pearl of wisdom.

“It’s been too successful.”

This conversation took place some years ago now, but I recalled it on two occasions recently.
The first was a gathering of over one hundred people who had come together to plan our response to the arrival in Lincoln of the first refugees from Syria. We talked about collecting clothing and household goods; we explored the possible problems that refugees might face. We began to plan a fundraising event and someone said, “this is what churches used to do.”

In the discussion that followed, it became clear that many there had been brought up with the church as part of their lives, but that they had long since stopped attending. My suspicion was that that early church going may have given us all that sense of concern for our fellow human beings that had brought us all together.

But there were others there, probably most, who had no history with the church. My colleague who had identified the ‘problem with the church’ would argue that christian teaching over centuries had entered the blood stream of the nation and so we all have, or can have, that sense of christian values. This is dangerous territory since atheist friends would take issue and point possibly to some shared set of values that come from our shared humanity.

In a sense it doesn’t matter, since, whoever we were, we all came together for a common cause.

This brings me to my second occasion. This was in Veryan church at the end of November when the school gathered for their Friday assembly, which they do each week. What struck me was just how at home everyone appeared to be. I remember my time as Reader working with the school and how the church had in recent times been an unfamiliar place for most. Not so now: mums, grandmas, toddlers, all happily chatting before the school children arrived. Then the children themselves came in, settling down to something that was part of everyday life.

They heard the story of Ruth wonderfully told by the Open the Book team. I was struck by how the story resonates with the refugee crisis. The children listened and then prayed. I went away happy that those children would have a sense of christian values which would last them through life.

Is that enough? Or should we worry that they don’t come to church on Sunday?

What matters, surely, is that that christian values are being learnt by another generation, but also that the church is being used for this purpose.

A stop along the journey

Two years ago I saw the Church of England at near to its worst and this put a stop on church attendance. I determined that I never wanted to return to what had been for me a faith that steered my life. I did, however, not let go and decided instead to seek a fresh expression of that faith. This is a work in progress about that quest.

A crucial part of not letting go was a commitment every other month to write a letter for the Veryan parish magazine. I decided that I should not stray too far from orthodoxy but that I could explore. Key pieces of exploration were three books that I view as important. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, by Philip Pullman; The Testament of Mary by Colm Tobin and Meeting God in Mark by Rowan Williams.

So where am I?

My very dear friend and priest, the late Peter Durnford, held that Jesus was central to his faith. This remains for me the corner stone, however.....

We need to acknowledge that much of the gospels is creative theology. The Jews had to understand the story of this young man in ways that made sense to them. It follows that to get anywhere near to the man, we need to strip all this away. This is something that both Pullman and Tobin tried to do. In a way Williams gets closer as he argues that the miracles get in the way of the teaching.

The teaching that we find when all else is stripped away is that that is needed for sustainable life on earth. It draws on much in Judaism. It is replicated to a greater or lesser extent in the other world faiths. It is mirrored in much secular moral teaching.

So that is the core, this person Jesus who taught us how to live.

In a way I would like to leave it there. However, there is one point that keeps bubbling in my mind, the nature of prayer. I have come to view it as the 'to do list', not by some mysterious 'God', but by us. It is good, for it is a time when those concerns for the world can be named. Some can to a small extent then be addressed by our individual actions, more by the concerted effort by many, others, of course, not at all.