Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Politics and Religion DO mix

Dear God,

Although I lack both the stature and the beard of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I am still nonetheless frequently told that religion and politics don't mix. But this of course presumes that you have nothing to do with the just governance of your people – what nonsense!   Christianity has been persecuted for the last 2000 years precisely because it is political and poses a threat to anyone who dares to rule but who neglects to provide care for the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the foreigner, the outcast and the lost. There is even an argument which says that if the Church is not being persecuted it is probably not doing its job!  In scripture you make it clear to us that it is every Christian's calling, not just the Archbishop's and mine, to warn against bigotry and hatred, no matter who we offend by doing so. But you also tell us that we are called not only to speak out in the name of Christ, but to act out – to be living examples of how the kingdom could be – and should be. 

I think you are saying that the Gospel is good news because when people respond to it they begin the process of creating a real alternative political system which values every human life as you do, in terms of its divine potential, not its monetary or economic worth. We are ALL your children God, whether we pay our taxes or not!

Sadly we are not perfect – and I guess we have fallen far from the ideal of the kingdom proclaimed by Christ and spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles.  Knowing  this has made us much less confident in speaking out boldly than we otherwise might be – the words of Christ ring in our ears – let him who is without sin, cast the first stone. What baffles me however God, is how we ever became so  convinced that we have to be perfect before we can dare to proclaim the good news. 

I always thought that what makes the kingdom such good news is that it is doesn't need for us, or for anyone else to already be perfect it simply asks that we want to be other than we already are. The kingdom begins to be built when we want things to be different and when we are willing to receive your gift of  grace so that it can be. This was the reason why the initial condition for anyone wanting to be a Methodist was simply that they had to desire to flee from the wrath (sorry God) to come. They didn't have to be Christians, or even really believe in you did they God – they just had to want to be Christians, and be prepared to show their willingness to receive your grace by living the sort of life that you ask us to in Christ. The early Methodists knew that what mattered was to keep on trying – salvation is worked out with you God – not on our own – and you know we are not perfect God - yet. The good news is that even if and when it all goes wrong and we fail to live up to our own and your expectations God - we can keep on trying – and the best of all is – that you are with us as we do.

What is true for us, is also true for those we elect to serve us, whether in politics or in the Church, in hospitals or in education. Yes, people make mistakes, yes people sometimes abuse the trust that we place in them, yes, people are human – but they are also capable of being forgiven. The good news is that you do forgive them, just as you forgives me, and you call on all your children to work together to build a better kingdom.  So I will work hard to forgive those who might have let me down, just as you  forgive me when I let you down.

So yes God, I will continue to join my voice with those of Christians throughout the country who speak out against the BNP and against those who preach Islamaphobia or any other form of racism.  And Yes God, I will continue to do my best to preach the gospel of equality for all your people  regardless of their race, colour, age, gender or sexuality. I want to do this not because I am perfect – I know only too well that I am not but because I believe that you really want us to try to be perfect in love and that means really loving our neighbours – not just the ones like us. 

All this might sound hard but it really isn't. I see people doing it every day, whenever I walk into New Malden Methodist Church and our servery there for example. There your people already practice what we preach, not just on Sunday's but every day of the week. It's a work Wesley would be proud of God, for genuine hospitality is quietly offered in your name to men and women of every race, religion, age, gender and sexuality, both bearded and unbearded who come to enjoy good company and to discuss  everything under the sun - from politics through to religion.

The door to the kingdom is already open - we just need to persuade a few more to be willing to enter...

Thanks  God.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cowardly, cautious or just callous?

Good morning God,
I was more than a little shocked when I read an article which effectively described the Methodist Church's decision to not revisit the resolutions on human sexuality as a form of cowardice. It claimed that as a church we are too scared to have the necessary debate because it might be too damaging to us...
IS this true? Are we really cowards or justly cautious or - worst of all - are we perhaps just callous - indifferent to the insult, to the very real pain and suffering of those we discriminate against by leaving our existing regulations as they are? Have we become pharisaic? More concerned with the minutia of the Church's self-preservation than the proclamation of the Kingdom and of the good new of salvation for ALL in Christ?
God forgive me - I think we are.
But that set me to wondering.. what of me? What are the subjects I have been avoiding because I like to be liked or want to be included in?
Ironically I think it's YOU God.. I think I avoid talking about YOU for two main reasons
The first is because it gets me into trouble.
I WANT to talk about you, but people seem to think that that is just not the right thing for a minister to do. Theology (which is the name that other people give to these conversations) is too frightening for the Church to do anymore... Apparently talking about you (or even to you) is considered too difficult, too academic and too - well - time consuming, and unnecessary to real worship and love..! So I get into trouble when I do it, accused of being too cerebral or too academic and not really having any faith, as though faith and theology are polar opposites! So I live my own Nicodemus life of retreating to night time conversations with those who are still seeking to know the truth whilst playing the role in the day with those who wear the same robes.

The second reason follows on from the first - my wanting to talk about you is obviously a bit of an embarrassment to others (perhaps because so many people are scared that they cant).
Whenever I ask at meetings - what is of God in this? - people mumble things about priorities or budgets, or projects and clusters... And in order to not seem a complete idiot for Jesus, I nod sagely as though I understand - and shut up about YOU not the Church, needing to be in our thinking and in our acting - not just somewhere in our strategy.

Am I just being cowardly - no.. if I'm honest I'm getting quite callous about it. The proof of it is that I can actually read through a whole conference agenda and even a full set of Methodist Council briefing papers without getting angry or even saddened at how few mentions there are of your people, your grace, the gospel, scripture or the need for peace, reconciliation and justice. I read the management-speak and the business profiles and simply acknowledge that the general consensus of opinion is that we really don't need to discuss these things with reference to YOU any more God - not now we've got it all under clustered control with our reds and greens almost all in place now. But where was the good news - Ahh yes of course - in the balanced budget.

So here's my real question to you God - how can I move from cowardly, cautious and callous into confidently courageous?
Is it possible? Is there still time to recover some of my confidence in speaking of Christ?
I might not have quite managed Peter's three denials in my avoidance of certain conversations, but I do want, nonetheless to assure you - Yes Lord - You know that I love you...
But grant me please the courage and confidence that I once had to speak your name boldly, and dare to ask - and what is of God in this..?