Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos
Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Sunday, 1 April 2018

A Reflection from stir up Sunday 2017

I went to a service in Portloe on Sunday, some six and a half years since I took my last one there before moving to Lincoln. Much has happened and the time has come to stand back and reflect.

My five years in Cornwall were in a sense steeped in religion. I was a very active Lay Reader taking services most Sundays. I took school assemblies and certainly put energy and structure into the school's Friday visit to Veryan church. I visited the elderly and loved them very much. I took funerals. In my studies, I more than touched on theology. I made a very dear friend in Peter Durnford and we had many conversations about faith. We took services together, which was wonderful.

I put myself forward for ordination and spent time with Julia, the DDO, exploring and searching. I went to a selection conference and was turned down. I was about to try again when I was approached about taking the job of Chapter Clerk and Chief Executive at Lincoln Cathedral. I am certain I was right to take it, since living in Cornwall was not good for Maggie and me, being so far from our family.

As I reflect on my time in Cornwall, I feel positive about my work with older people. On many occasions, as I would take Holy Communion to them in their homes, I would become aware that they were reciting from memory the words from the Prayer Book: something deeply engrained from happier times, perhaps.

I also feel positive about bringing school into church, but I do worry. We tell the children the bible stories and they believe them like all the stories they hear. As they grow up they realise that, like those other stories, they were not true in any literal sense and the stories and all that went with them are consigned to what was once the nursery floor. I hope that something stays that will itch from time to time and prompt a little quiet reflection.

There were three quite distinct congregations in each of the three villages. One was simply but fiercely determined that the church would keep going. Another was confident in its place. A third was prayerful and enquiring. All, I am sure, were a force for good.

Lincoln Cathedral was a huge challenge and more on that elsewhere.

I tried to exercise a Reader Ministry in Waddington, a funny old C of E congregation. One man, whose name I forget, said to me after one service that I preach very well, but 'you don't really believe it'.

He was right.

I didn't; I don't believe as required by the 39 Articles. My world is explained without a god. The stories in the Bible are just that, stories, but like all good stories they hold meaning for those who would listen. I shudder at many bible passages, at the words of hymns and prayers.

I went to morning prayer ever weekday in the cathedral and there read much of the Bible. I was struck by how I would pray and so place into someone else's hands all the problems of the world. I put my energy into the institution and the building, really as I had done during my years as Diocesan Secretary.

Once I had left the cathedral, I didn't go to church for ages, but then started going occasionally to St Nicholas, with Hugh its wonderful priest. It didn't work. I didn't fit and, however good Hugh was, belief eluded me. I stopped going.

CompasssionateLincoln, a short time in Lesvos working with refugees and efforts to keep the Drill Hall open have become my exercise of christianity. Doing rather than praying. It feels better.

So at Portloe on Stir up Sunday, the new vicar, Phil, preached on Matthew 25:31-46 speaking of doing and of people, not of buildings or institutions. Doing fulfils both the doer and the done to. He read George Herbert's poem Peace with its organic link into the eucharist. He didn't labour judgement, but confession mattered.

I am drawn to a passage from Luke 17:21, words use by Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, 'the kingdom of God is within'. Can I say that what matters is inside each of us, how we use it and not laying it off to some all-powerful being outside us?

As is obvious, I am still on a journey.

Christian doubt and St Mark

This Easter morning, I ate a meal of bread and wine (and fish) with about fifty people on Pendower Beach on the south Cornish coast. I had walked the mile to the beach and had listened to the dawn chorus. We watched the sun rise over the Nare Head.

A few years ago I would have been swept up in the greatest of the Christian festivals. Now I doubt.

I wrote on Good Friday how that for me is the most significant day in the Christian year. Easter Sunday with all its rejoicing just jars. Good friends post on Facebook, Alleluia Christ had Risen. I love them for it. I just no longer know what it means.

St Mark, who wrote the earliest of the four gospels may have had a similar difficulty.

I wonder if I am alone in valuing the way St Mark approaches the Easter story.

The women go to the tomb early and find it open. They see a young man who tells that the Jesus is risen and that they should follow him to Galilee.

St Mark then tells us that they go away terrified and bewildered; more than that, they tell no one of what they have seen. And that's it.

Yet, possibly like St Mark, I don’t walk away. The life and death of Jesus is abundant in significance, relevance and meaning. It is the rest that I have trouble with. I guess I am with Philip Pullman, but not entirely.

The life and death of Jesus hold an imperative to us who inhabit the world. We must love our enemy, we must care for those left out, we must tend our planet.

Happy Easter!
The sun already up! A few years ago.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Good Friday

In recent years, Good Friday has become more and more important to me and is now the most important day in the Christian calendar. Let me explain.

The historical character, Jesus, stood unequivocally for love.

I place that assertion in its own paragraph because it is so hard to grasp. Can anyone do this? Should anyone do this? Is he an historical character?

For the third question, I refer back to this article and my observations on Philip Pullman’s book The Good An Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

For the first two, I turn to the gospel accounts of his life. He really did.

It is, though, something we just can’t stomach. It’s not practical; it’s not how the world is. It goes against the flow; it runs counter to how societies work. It was for that reason that he was killed on Good Friday.

He stood up for love and we couldn’t hack it. If this weren’t bad enough, he stood up for outcasts, for people who have left or never belonged to society. On Good Friday his love drew him to the depths of human suffering.

If this is at the heart of the Christian message, then it is the inspiration we need for right living.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sinner or Miracle

All human beings are miracles to whom the only possible response is to offer love.

This, said to me by a clergyman friend, jars so completely with a church convinced that we are all sinners and which sees its sole job as saving them.

The world and humanity are, of course, messy. We might be miracles but we are not all or always good people. We do though manage to do good things from time to time, perhaps despite ourselves.

Imagine a church where we don't confess our sins in the hope of the slate being wiped clean by absolution, but rather reflect on what good we have done and plan to do.

St Mark and Easter

I wonder if I am alone in valuing the way St Mark approaches the Easter story.

The women go to the tomb early and find it open. They see a young man who tells that the Jesus is risen and that they should follow him to Galilee.

St Mark then tells us that they go away terrified and bewildered; more than that, they tell no one of what they have seen. And that's it.

On Maundy Thursday I visited Coventry Cathedral for the first time. All was ready for Good Friday. I was researching for my book on WW1 and the cross of nails couldn't seem more right.

I went to the Good Friday mediation at St Nicholas in Lincoln. The thoughts in my mind were of boys dying in the trenches, children in agony from chemical weapons in Syria, people of all ages starving in East Africa. This seemed to speak to the world of today.

On Sunday I went to a busy Church in Manchester full of people filled with the joy of Easter. This jarred. Whatever happened on the cross did not put an end to death; death still has its sting.

So, what did the cross do? Like the women on that first Easter Day, I am bewildered. I do believe that there is meaning in Jesus' life and death. In his life, he shows us a way to a fulness of living. In his death he stands with all the pain of world.

Perhaps that is all. If it is, it is still vastly more than words of Easter concerned mainly with some sort of personal salvation.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

What is love?

I wrote this just before Valentine's day in 2015; you read it at the earliest in Holy Week 2016 - two wonderful examples of the complexity of the question ‘What is Love?’; the word ‘love’ has so many meanings.

Every month I go along to Lincoln Drill Hall for something called the Philosophy Cafe, really just a group of people meeting to explore ‘philosophical’ questions like, ‘what is love’, ‘what makes me, me.’ On occasions I have been asked to introduce the discussion and I was working away at how to introduce the question ‘what is love.’ I decided to quote from St Paul Corinthians 13, Shakespeare Sonnet 116 and the four (or more) words the ancient Greeks had for love. I was shot down; to use an extract from the Bible would offend some people and that would destroy the discussion. We couldn’t agree, so someone else introduced the discussion using only the Greek words.

It set me thinking.

I accept that to some people the Bible might be divisive, but in one sense what it is, is just the thinking of a middle eastern people between two and four millennia ago. So, not so very different to the writings from around the same time from the Greek world.

The Bible, Shakespeare and the literature of the ancient Greeks are, together with a few other bits, the foundation of the English language; they are the ‘air we breathe.’ I suspect that no-one in the Drill Hall talking about what is love, will not have been influenced in their thinking by at least one of these sources and probably by all three. To exclude the Bible because it may offend is nonsense.

As Christians, we believe that the Bible is more; it is God’s word or at the very least an account of man’s relationship with God. The Bible responds to the question ‘What is Love?’ with the answer, God is love.

What fascinated me in the discussion about love without the Bible, was that many people saw love as underlying everything. Whatever Greek meaning was taken, romantic love, family love, friendship or love for mankind - charity, the meaning that St Paul used -,  we seemed to come back to the same point that love underlies everything, like God really.

May I wish you a very happy Easter

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

This book is both disturbing and rewarding. Whilst Pullman emphasises that it is a story, it does follow, in a great many respects, the story of Jesus as told in the Gospels.

There is a jarring early on as the Annunciation is replaced by a rather equivocal scene with Mary and an angel in the guise of a young man. The result is twins and this provides the machinery of the plot. The elder, Jesus, is a good man who does not claim to be God. His younger and weaker twin brother, named Christ, has no such scruples. Jesus is passionate about calling all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is very close at hand. Christ is altogether more circumspect.

There is real pleasure in coming across stories from the Gospels told so refreshingly and well. That of the Prodigal Son would come first on my list. But there are then those stories, which although based on the Gospel account, deviate in some material way. This can both upset and let the hackles rise, until the note on the back cover is recalled: This is a Story. It is a story and, for a story to work, particular actions and motivations must be present. On a second reading and on reflection these deviations begin to shed light. Some are precious Gospel stories and so the deviations also jar deeply.

Peter’s confession at Caesarea Phillippi is met by a furious denial by Jesus, but, in the context of this story, this is in character. The Feeding of the Five Thousand in this story is about sharing. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is given an intriguingly different twist. With others the precious elements are missing. The journey to Emmaus has none of the burning in the disciples’ hearts as the scriptures are revealed; Jesus is not recognised as he breaks bread. There is no Last Supper and so no washing of Peter’s feet. The Eucharist is introduced after the resurrection and then misunderstood.

For all the jarring, I found myself drawn yet more closely to Jesus of Nazareth and his goodness and honesty. Pullman has created vivid depiction of the man, even if many Christians would dispute his theology.