Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Never just a username.

Good afternoon God,
I've spent a significant amount of time online this week, engaged in various forms of ministry: prayer support by email, fellowship via blogger, twitter and facebook, bible-study via the, theological education via moodle, pastoral care and evangelism in second life. I have to be honest, I really enjoy this ministry. I 'meet' people from all over the world, am challenged by what I encounter and am frequently supported in my own ministry by the general grace of the online community.

Thank you - for making the digital world such a means of grace sometimes.

But of course, there is another side to all this: there are the abusive emails, the offensive tweets, the lurkers and spammers with their malicious viruses and trojans.. The digital world can be every bit as unpleasant a place to minister or just spend time in, as the 'real' world can be.

Perhaps it has something to do with the anonymity of the internet. It is easy to forget that there are 'real' people behind the usernames.

People often 'say' things in emails, blogs and tweets that they would never say face to face, and can behave in the most inappropriate manner. I have known friends whose careers have been ruined by being tagged in edited facebook photos and by having bad references posted about them in Linkedin & Plaxo.  Internet bullying is a significant problem which effectively results in the victim being too scared to go online to see what else has been blogged/tweeted/Digged about them. This is more common than many realise: Half the people surveyed by BeatBullying last year, for example, had heard of people setting up a fake profile pretending to be another person; one in five had seen hate sites or groups set up to bully someone online.

Much as I love this digital world - especially the always on variety - and the ways in which it can be a means of grace, I am bothered about the level of fraud, abuse, deceit and manipulation that I encounter online these days. And even more concerned about the less obvious, but just as harmful snide remarks, cutting comments, thoughtless tweets and breaches of confidentiality.

I may not set out to scam or phish or defraud - but as part of my own ministry, I need to keep checking - am I as considerate as I can be, as thoughtful and as sensitive to the fact that behind each username lies a real person, with real feelings, who can be hurt deeply?

I believe those of us who are logged on and online could help by practicing 'ministry' more effectively and deliberately in the virtual world. The online community can be an amazing place for people to learn of you, to study your Word, to witness to your grace, to proclaim your gospel, to minister genuine care and compassion, as well as to campaign against racism, violence and abuse wherever these are found.

But all this requires each of us who aspire to such a ministry to remember that people are not just a username - they are never just a username - YOU have called each and everyone logged in, by name, they are REAL and they are YOURS - no matter how crazy their avatar or icon is!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Clerical Errors: Child abuse and Women's Ordination

Good afternoon God,
I've been needing to talk to you about the fuss caused by the Roman Catholic Church's recently published


The part that has caused several of my fellow bloggers to get all excited is:
Art. 5

 The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

1° With due regard for can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

2° If the one attempting to confer sacred ordination, or the woman who attempts to receive sacred ordination, is a member of the Christian faithful subject to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with due regard for can. 1443 of that Code, he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

3° If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition[31].

Put in English this means that both the woman and anyone daft enough to try and ordain her is automatically and instantly excommunicated.

Now there is nothing new in this - this is NOT what has upset people - it is the fact that the next item in the document is:
Art. 6

1. The more grave delicts against morals which are reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are:
1° the delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years; in this case, a person who habitually lacks the use of reason is to be considered equivalent to a minor.
2° the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology;
§ 2. A cleric who commits the delicts mentioned above in § 1 is to be punished according to the gravity of his crime, not excluding dismissal or deposition.

Again - to translate this into English - a cleric who has sex with a minor (or vulnerable adult) or who acquires, produces, uses or distributes pornographic images of minors will be punished 'according to the gravity of his crime - which could mean that they get dismissed or removed from office.

People (including some newspapers) have therefore assumed that the Catholic Church is equating women's ordination with child abuse. Not so. They are simply recording in one document all the changes that have been made to the document which details delicts against the faith.

Ok.. so the Catholic Church has shot itself in the foot maybe by putting both things in the same document - but the document collects a number of changes together - including the prohibition against con-celebration, and; 'the taking or retaining for a sacrile­gious purpose or the throwing away of the consecrated species'

There ARE things that I would want to take the Roman Catholic Church to task over - but sorting out their clerical errors, their admin and documentation is not one of them.  Putting these things in the same document was bad PR maybe, but there was no intent on the part of the Catholic Church to equate the items in the document in any other way than as willful acts or crimes against the faith and its moral and sacramental standards

I'm more upset that the attempt to ordain women results in automatic excommunication for both parties whereas abusing a minor may result in dismissal - now that IS something to get upset about.

Why.. because it says that the Church is more afraid of the influence of women on faith than it is concerned about the lives of children. It says it really still hasn't got the message that abuse is NEVER acceptable in Church - that it destroys not just the individual's life of faith, but the Church itself.
I abhor the hypocrisy of a Church that can preach suffer little children to come unto me - but which will not take steps to ensure that those same Children are as safe as they can be in the Church's hands.

I really don't mind that the Catholic Church is scared of my influence on the life of the Church - it should be - that's why You call women to Holy Orders - to challenge any human attempt to limit Your action in the world - or in Your Church. I don't mind because if the Church really is of You God then your will, will be done in the end - whereas if it is not - then the Church will simply die.

When the Church sends out signals that effectively says the Church is more at risk from women than from abuse - I am afraid for us all - we really have lost the plot.

As a Methodist, I don't believe in excommunication anyway - it is a denial of your grace God - (as though WE can decide who is and who is not a part of your body!)  But I do understand that for Catholics and Orthodox, excommunication is a serious matter - a matter of life and death for all eternity as there is no salvation outside of the Church according to this way of thinking.

SO - it time to end the abuse - to work on the text

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt 18:6)

No, I can't get excited about the Catholic Church's attitude to women - I just don't need the catholic Church to approve my ordination - and as I am not and never have been a Catholic - the threat of excommunication doesn't bother me. I have Salvation by faith, not by belonging.

I do however need their clerics to stop abusing Children and making a mockery of the good news of Jesus Christ's invitation to 'let the Children come' - and I suspect the threat of automatic excommunication might have more of an effect than the threat of deposition.

I think God, that there are some clerical errors  still in need of correction in that document.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reasonable Religion

Good morning God,
Thank you for the gift of reason, and for the invitation you extend to all of us to use it to understand, appreciate and evolve, to grow as your children into the inheritance you have prepared for us.

There is, of course, a world of difference between the genuine attempts of both science and theology to understand why and how the world is as it is - and the less distinguished (but understandably human) efforts of all too many to find someone or something to blame for the mess we are in.
It is much easier to blame than explain. Its often much more rewarding too - especially if we can blame those who are at the top of the current scape-goat list: In the past this list has included Jews, Blacks, Communists, Gays, Liberals, Fundamentalists, Catholics, Muslims, Politicians..
You know the list I mean, the people it is fashionable to blame for holding humanity back, for the wars, for the hatred, for the economy, for.. well, whatever it is we want to have a rant about really..
No matter how apparently rationally it is presented however, blaming is not the same as explaining - and does nothing to further human growth and development.

Science and theology require an openness to reason without prejudice, but most people are too willing to sacrifice reason on the altar of prejudice. Take Dawkins for example, and the new breed of militant atheists. Many will happily throw away all scientific objectivity to take a pop at religion - as though 'religion' is a genus, easy to categorize, define, analyze and generalise about! All 'religious' are fanatics, 'Bible Bashers', irrational etc etc. Yes, yes - of course, just as all Politicians are liars, all Communists are evil, all Liberals wishy-washy etc etc etc.

What fascinates me is the way in which those more interested in blaming than explaining seem to think that they actually KNOW how 'the religious' (whoever they are)  or 'Politicians' or 'Gays' etc behave, think, act etc..

The Social Sciences may have proven that violence begets violence - that even watching acts of violence can lead to violence, but the gospel doesn't allow us to blame the TV or Computer games, or politicians or 'the religious' or anyone else for it. You have repeatedly shown us that the violence that really destroys this world begins in ourselves.
In the life of Christ, you showed us the best of what humanity is capable of, and in the death of Christ you showed us the worst of what humanity is capable of.  The gospels thus become an invitation to do more than blame others for the past, they invite us to consider an uncomfortable explanation - that the violence we claim to abhor, begins in ourselves.

We may have mapped the human genome, but to the best of my knowledge, we have yet to find a way of accurately and predictably mapping the thoughts of a single human mind..  Even though we know this, even though we know that we cannot really know the mind or heart of another human being, we persist in pretending that we know enough to identify, label and blame..

Because it is easier to blame others than it is to look to ourselves.

You gave us reason - for a reason. Not to make a god of our intelligence (time and time again we see how wrong we are and how little we really understand). You gave us reason as an invitation to learn and grow and understand. Reason enables us to recognise that we are made in your image, to wonder, to be curious, to explore what it is to be. And not content with this, you gave us the ability to develop our reasoning to remember and to imagine, to learn from the past and envisage a new future. A future where we take full responsibility for our own acts of violence, greed, fear and prejudice - and so learn how to deal with them before they create more of the same in others.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Scientific proof

Good morning God,
Today I was amazed to realise that it's only taken us 20 centuries or so since the time of Christ to figure out  (and I quote from today's edition of the New Scientist, a leading scientific journal)

You can't fight violence with violence 

Yep.. we have now scientifically proved the obvious..
The fact that you have been repeatedly telling us the same thing doesn't really count God, I mean  we don't really believe things these days unless scientists tell us do we -
so I wonder what we will do now that they have?

Will we kill the scientist too?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Captain of Israel's host and Guide

Good morning God,

I was moved by our Church yesterday, by its willingness to engage in difficult debates on sensitive issues with care, compassion, and conviction that social holiness means wrestling with issues of justice, even with, or rather especially with, friends.

The debate on Justice for Palestine and Israel was always going to be difficult, there are strong feelings on both sides..
Just how many Methodists will boycott settlement goods remains to be seen. Here in the UK we are only a small Church with no real clout - but we are also part of a much larger international body, and this resolution and report may yet contribute to the work of the social responsibility committee of the World Methodist Council.

We cannot claim we do not know about the pain of the Palestinians:
Neither can we ignore the question
'who is my neighbour?'
Especially not when they lie bloodied and broken in the streets of what was once their home town.

There is no magic answer to the problem, and I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to live in constant fear of a rocket attack or suicide bomber.. but this I do know, you cannot combat fear with terror, and racial injustice is a denial of the gospel - wherever it is found, in London or Palestine..

There is now in Christ, neither Jew nor Gentile - that includes Palestinians...

I do not take sides either for or against Jews or Palestinians - but I pray I have the courage to stand for something more important - the equality of all humanity before God, and the right of all people to live as the words of the Conference closing hymn says 'As Far from danger as from fear'

CAPTAIN of Israel's host, and guide
Of all who seek the land above,
Beneath thy shadow we abide,
The cloud of thy protecting love;
Our strength, thy grace; our rule, thy word;
Our end, the glory of the Lord.

By thine unerring Spirit led,
We shall not in the desert stray;
We shall not full direction need,
Nor miss our providential way;
As far from danger as from fear,
While love, almighty love, is near.