Sunday, November 28, 2010

Past Present and Future Advent expectations

Good morning God - oh, and happy new year to you.
Today is the first day of the Christian year and we begin it by focusing on your absence.
Here we are again waiting, longing, aching.. for your presence, for your incarnation..for our salvation. As though you are somehow magically missing from our lives - as though we don't know what our 'salvation' requires (do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God)

Of course, this is only the liturgical year, its not a 'real' year - its just something that we have made up in order to try and tell your story and our stories as the seasons pass and the festivals cycle round. We use time as a narrative medium.. and rehearse the events of long long ago in the hope that they will help us make sense of the world today.
And on the whole, it works.
We like order in our lives - and the Christian story has a very definite time-line. We hold on to that because it tells us something of the reality, believability of the story. This isn't  a myth, we say, Jesus really did exist in time and space.. he was born on a particular date (although it was unlikely to have been December 25th) and he died thirty something years later.. He is a historical figure, other people from that time wrote about him, historians wrote about him! - this is no son of Zeus, this is a real person we are talking about...

Time and dates matter to us in grounding our beliefs.. the 'When' of things is profoundly theological.
In the fullness of time God sent his son - says scripture.
'In days to come' -says Isaiah
'You know what time it is' says Paul
The Son of man will come at an unexpected hour' says the author of Matthew's gospel.

So where and when in the narrative we start our New Year matters - theologically. It is a part of how we understand the narrative..
So why start with the time when it was once believed Christ was absent?
Is that really where the Christian story begins?
In spite of the way it contorts trinitarian theology, some would insist that it is - because that means that we start with the sin of humanity and the need for salvation rather than with the grace of God and the gift of redemption.

So liturgically, we begin each new year by wishing it away in longing for a future which is based on a condemnation of the present.
The reformation didn't go far enough - it needed to reform the liturgical cycle as well!

Now I agree that there is much that is wrong with the world, the injustice, inhumanity and violence that we show to one another shatters me, makes it difficult to hope that we will ever evolve.. but there is also much that is beautiful, loving and inspiring which is evidence of your presence, your love and your grace in creation. And I want to be motivated to keep up the hard work, not be encouraged to damn it all and wait for the coming of Christ to fix it! I want to look forward to the second coming of Christ as a celebration of what we have been able to become by your love and your grace. I am tired of denying you, and of being asked to play make believe about your presence in my life.  You are not absent to me, you are very present!

So I wonder, isn't it time to stop inducing this longing for a second salvific coming, and start living with the reality of the current eschatalogical incarnational presence of Christ? Is there no way that we can start our story with your presence and grace? Is it possible to  acknowledge what you have done, and are continuing to do in our lives without dwelling on some mythical tale of an absent God?

I want to start each new year in the same way that the Bible starts its narrative - no - not with some mythical fall - but with the statement that You have made all things GOOD. That you are in the world and engaged with your creation, that in the fullness of time you expressed that belonging and being incarnationally to share with us the how and the wherefores of what we were created to be.

I want to dance with delight at another year in which Christ is present as promised.  I want to be so full of joy at God's presence that by the time Christmas comes, the retelling of the nativity narrative will inspire me to grow in grace as well as fill me with the wonder of love.

Today is the New Year - today we celebrate the presence of Christ in the world, the love of God in us all and the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us into understanding the truth that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again - in each and every one of us as promised.
And great will be our rejoicing on the day that we share with Christ all that we have been working with You, God, to achieve.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The missing generations...

Good morning God,

'I get it'
 I get why so many young people are turning their back on the Church, I get why so many young people feel disenfranchised and disillusioned and - lets be honest disgusted.
As they should be. It is disgusting, despicable and undemocratic for children as young as ten to have been corralled and kettled, charged upon and in some instances even beaten like criminals for daring to have an opinion and being willing to use their democratic right to protest. All whilst the Church was busy preparing for Advent.. or engrossed in a debate about 'Draft Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2010'

I get it God
I get why young people think we are so outdated and irrelevant, after all, where were we when we were needed ? Did the city centre Churches stand in solidarity with the young people? Did they help by  providing blankets against the cold, refreshments against the hunger, basic first aid, support, encouragement.. Did we - as Church - shout with them, protest the appalling conditions that they were forced to endure for daring to speak against the government?

Could the Churches have responded - and shown that they too believe in a future based on meritocracy not inherited wealth, where all have an equal right to the best education that they can aspire to based on their ability not on their parent's status? Didn't the Church have a duty to stand with them and denounced the way in which the hopes and the dreams of so many of the nation's children were being dashed under the hoofs of the horses ridden against them and beaten out of them by the truncheons of those they are supposed to be able to consider the guardians of justice and peace!  Should not the Church have protested - really protested - such violence and abuse of our young people?
Or do we simply mutter 'suffer little children' at baptisms? Yesterday was certainly a baptism of fire for many young people who had their first taste of so-called democracy, and discovered it to be bitter indeed.

But did the Church offer anything sweeter?

I get it - we flunked again.

Once again we demonstrated that what matters to young people, doesn't quite matter enough to us to get involved, to make our own concerted protest on their behalf. What matters to young people doesn't quite excite us enough to dream with them for a fairer future for them - after all - we wont be here to enjoy it. The Church is clearly too busy with ecclesiology and liturgy to get too involved with reality. How can any young person see anything other than betrayal in this - the Church's apathy concerning their highest aspirations? Is it any wonder that another generation is slowly but surely being added to those missing from the Church?

Is it too cynical of me to suggest that the Church's apathy concerning education might just have something to do with the fact that it is easier to peddle the gospel amongst the poor, uneducated and uninspired of the world...?

As the Church prepares for the coming of Christ as an infant, as it gets itself embroiled once again in whether these are the 'winter holidays' or a Christian festival, as it fights its campaigns for Jesus as the reason for the season.. my prayer God is that it also remembers that what matters to Jesus is not His name, but what is done in his name... for the sake of the Children everywhere - including those who hope to go to university one day, who dream of being the first in their family to have a masters degree, or even a doctorate. Children who want the chance to discover who they can be, and what it is that they could do if they were no longer defined and penalized by the class-ridden stereotypical expectations and limitations implicit in this government's educational policies.

Please God, help us.
Let the Church's Advent sermons cry out to you God, as the God of Justice, for you to inspire us to participate in making way for the future you dream for us, instead of simply expecting our Children to make it for us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Science, Hellfire and Damnation

Good morning God,
It would appear that there is a link between support for religion and a willingness to inflict punishment. The New Scientist has a report on a team of scientists, led by Emst Fahr of the University of Zurich who have been wondering how religion survives in spite of the fact that it can be so painfully costly.

I have to admit God, I wonder too.
I too wonder at how people can tolerate the perversion of Good News into Bad News, week in and week out. I confess that I had long ago come to my own private conclusion that a frighteningly large percentage of religious people take a perverse pleasure in abasing, humiliating and punishing themselves and others.. they must do.. to do it so often and with such enthusiasm - and be prepared to pay for it too!

The Good News says - your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.
The Good News says - Perfect love casts out fear
The Good News says - you are a child of God - and there is nothing better, higher or more important.

But somehow, by the time religion has finished with it - what is often proclaimed is

God loves you BUT you are a miserable sinner
Even though Christ died for your sins, that's not enough, you must confess, beg forgiveness, say three Hail Mary's, wear a Cilice (a spiked chain worn around the upper thigh), and a horsehair shirt for the next x number of days
God forgives only those who love Jesus
Only those who love Jesus are Children of God

Truth be told, the Church historically probably talked more about sin and hellfire than about You and your love God.
The Church has tended to use punishment and the fear of punishment as a means of control and cohesion, to bind the people together and draw in the weak and fearful.

IF you do/do not (delete as appropriate) ___________ (fill in the blank)
When you die, you will be damned for all time and cast into the eternal fires of hell..
If you believe what we tell you, do what we say
Then we can ensure that this wont happen...
In fact... you might even get to go to heaven (so much nicer than hell)


so sorry... I thought Jesus had dealt with sin?

The scientific team investigating - wondered how religion survived despite the predilection to punishment and came up with this:
"The punishing may be unpleasant but it's in the service of the greater good for that particular group or religion, enabling them to thrive and spread the word,"

And I find myself wondering - what word - the word of truth that declares us worthy - or the lie that demands we punish or be punished?

I'm Wesleyan through and through - Christ died to save us.. from the worst in ourselves  - and others.
For me that includes the push to dwell on, and hence empower, what people call 'sin'.
I am saved from the perverse habit of repeatedly revisiting, anguishing over and punishing myself or someone else for what has already been done and cannot be undone, what has long been forgiven, but not yet forgotten. I am also saved from my worst fears about how unworthy and undeserving I am.

The Good News is that I am in Christ - therefore I can sin no more.
The Good News is that Christ has declared me worthy
The power of sin has been broken - 'no condemnation now I dread' - nor punishment do I fear.

Sure, I still make mistakes, get things wrong, and regret my actions or words - but I take heart from the fact that as I work to overcome such imperfections, You forgive them because You know how I am made, and You have called it Good.

No Punishment needed (or wanted!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How do you read yours..?

Cadbury's creme egg by Saatchi & Saatchi 2008
Good afternoon God,
Several comments and posts on the Blogosphere lately have had me wondering about the way in which other people read the Bible... and how I read it.
Each day I read the set lesson from the Methodist lectionary from the Bible I was given at my ordination. As part of my discipline of discipleship I spend some time with that text, not in exegesis as such, but reading and reflecting on what I have read. What verse (if any ) jumps out at me, what does the text say to me about you, or about me, or about other people and the world we live in. I then write a single page of 'commentary' in my journal - as a way of not just reading and moving on.
I gain much from this practice, a deep appreciation of the text, a love of your Word, a knowledge of the peoples and places of the Bible, and a conviction of the power of the Bible to speak to me and to the World today, not in an authoritative commanding manner, but as a challenging transformative opportunity.

But I have been provoked into thinking more deeply about how I read the Bible.
'How' do I read it? Do I read it as a feminist, as a liberal, as a Methodist, as an Evangelical, as a preacher, as a pastor - or as all of these things?
'How' do I read it? Do I read it as your truth, as history, as a source of inspiration, as instruction, as a conversation with you - or as all of these things?

It matters because how we read the Bible determines what we bring to the text and what we expect to take away from our encounter with it.  There are some people who are fortunate enough(?) to know exactly how the Bible should be read. They often beat us over the head with it.. but I'm not so fortunate.
I find that I am very inconsistent about how I read the Bible - it all depends on why I am reading it, and who I am reading it for. Like the best of friends, I find the Bible offers its wisdom and wit in the manner best suited to the occasion or the query. So if I am reading for a Sunday service, to preach the Word - the Bible reads differently than if I am reading for personal discipleship, or for class meeting, or for Bible Study..

The words don't change - but I do, according to my needs and expectations the text seems to suggest first one meaning, then another - and then invites me to be transformed by that interpretation.
As a result, I can't read the Bible as a straightforward text.. I find no 'plain' meaning - instead I find revelation (and revelation is a complex and tricky act of grace!)

As I read Scripture, it reveals to me my prejudices, presumptions and needs - it reveals to me my hopes dreams and deepest desires for myself, for those I love, for the whole world. The Bible reveals the gap between where humanity should be and where it actually is - and repeatedly it reveals to me the wonder and majesty of creation and of your love for it all. 

And then reveals to me the need, and sometimes even the best way, to change/act/do something as a result of what I have read!

That's a lot of revelation - but it doesn't come all at once - or every time I read..
But I do read expecting revelation - and that's really the 'how' of how I read the Bible. I don't read it specifically as anything or anyone in particular - but I do read it every time in expectation, believing that YOU are particular - and that you can and will use this means of grace to enlighten me.

So to answer my question - How do I read Scripture? 
Expectantly - from the inside out, nibbling at the edges as necessary to ensure I can dig deep for our transforming gift of grace.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Royal Weddings..

Good monring God
Here we go again.. another Royal Wedding to delight the masses. Forgive me if I can't get that excited about two highly privileged people who have decided to do what thousands of other people are not yet allowed to do by the laws of this land - regardless of how much they love one another. 

And yes, what troubles me most is the way in which the Church colludes with this.

The Church has a stake in marriage, you could almost say that it has defined what Marriage is meant to be. From being a legal contract defining possession of goods, it has been transformed into a 'holy state', a 'Sacrament' even,  but most of all - an expression of love.

But it is this relationship between love and marriage that makes our current laws so repulsive and offensive. By refusing to allow same sex couples to marry, the law is essentially saying that some people do not have the right to love, or do not have the right sort of love..
So says the law - and so says the Church..

Shame on us.
Shame on the way we use our oh so clever theological and biblical arguments and Church discipline to defend such injustice. If you have seen fit to let love flourish between two people God,  then who on earth are we to deny either its validity or acceptability? Do we really think that you, the God of love, are best served by our denial of love just because we are uncomfortable about the sexual dimension of a relationship?

As a result of the Royal Wedding next year many more young couples will decide they really do want to get married. Some will be able to. Some will not. Not because they can't afford to, or because they don't love one another enough to make this life-time commitment but because society will not let them. It is a lie to say we are an open tolerant society. The fact is that civil partnerships are not the same as marriage. Both legally binding forms of relationship should be open to all,  otherwise all we are doing is practicing a form of love-apartheid.

And the Church could lead the way.. it could have the courage to face the fact that you love everyone and that, in spite of our protestations, you do not partition us by either our gender or our sexuality. You give us all the gift of love and the ability to express it.
It's time to own up to the fact that you did not create marriage - humans did, as a way of keeping control of certain things(women and their money mainly!).
That you have blessed the state of matrimony is amazing, a gift of grace - but surely that makes it all the more important that marriage should be open to all your children?

If the Church were to clamor for marriage to be open to all - the state would very quickly concur.
What on earth are we waiting for - a Royal civil partnership?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Persistent Memory

Dali - The persistence of Memory
Good morning God,
Memory is clearly both a gift and a curse. It is essential to everyday living, but it can also play cruel tricks with us. It can betray us when it falters, leaving us bereft and empty of names and faces we once loved. It can surprise and delight us with childhood moments in adult years. But it is also frighteningly easy to develop false memories and to create a selective memory which chooses to remember only the 'good' things or (in certain cases) the 'bad' things about someone or some situation.
By far the most disturbing aspect of memory however is its persistence. Dali recognised this and depicted both the horror and the morbid fascination of persistent memory in his surreal landscape  of the same name.
In the picture he brilliantly captures the distortion of human form that occurs when we cannot forget.
Ask most people who have suffered from abuse about the persistence of memory about the way in which it is impossible to forget - even when the claim is made that the abuser has been forgiven. And about the way that the persistence of the memory of their abuse continually shapes and defines their world and their self-image.
Forgiveness is seemingly linked inextricably to the ability to forget. The argument is simple enough, if the hurt and the harm can be forgotten, then it will prove easier to forgive the person who inflicted it.
But this is not really forgiveness, this is merely forgetting. 
Real forgiveness is related to the persistence of memory, it's what make forgiveness so difficult to do and what makes the simple statement 'Your sins are forgiven' so mind-blowing.
To be able to forgive remembered sin (real or otherwise) takes grace and the unique ability of grace as your power to transform life, regardless of who committed the sin.
Your grace alone can provide us with a place where we can stand in safety to look into the past and truly acknowledge it, to feel the power of its hold on us, before learning how to forgive ourselves and others for it. You offer us a new life where memories can be hung as pictures, rather than used as weapons to continue to hurt and harm, and where forgiveness transforms and empowers us to try again to build a new world..

And this is as true for inherited memory as it is for personal memory.
I do not personally remember the crusades, the inquisition, the shoah - but they are part of our inherited memory - as are the masacres in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, the acts of terrorism in Israel/Palestine, the USA, UK and Ireland and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 
And as long as the memory of those acts are used as weapons to create further hatred and fear there can be no peace: we are doomed to repeat what we remember. When we say - we will remember them - what will we remember of them? What will we change as a result of them? What is the power of this persistent remembering? How is this remembering shaping us and our future?

The Scriptures make it clear, our own history similarly teaches us that forgiveness is essential to transform the power of memory into a force for good - no matter how evil the deeds were or are.
How long oh Lord, How long will we harbor grudges, remember grievances and build new prejudices on the memories of the dead?

Only by your Grace God, can we obtain the power to forgive as needed and to proclaim that in spite of the memories of the past, in spite of the agitation of those who try to bind us to the past, we choose to build a new future free from its bitterness and gall. 

Why - because you have declared - your sins are forgiven, and have said to us:

Do this in remembrance of me -
forgive your enemies,
love those who spite you
go in peace and sin no more.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Of Saints and Heroes

Good morning God,

One of the most moving moments at Conference is always the service of remembrance. This is a small intimate service of remembrance held in the ministerial session of Conference to which the immediate families of those ministers who have died that year are invited. There is no long sermon, no point to prove - the Scriptures alone are needed to speak the truth that we all hold dear - of service to God, of life everlasting and of the communion of the saints.
And then the roll is called.
Each name sounded as a word of truth and and thanks for a life sacrificially spent in service to God for the sake of God's people.
Time is taken, to remember, to give thanks and to honour the saints.
 Christ is present in grace and fellowship, in the word and in the love and respect that each saint is shown. It is a service I would hate to miss, and a service I have often paid to attend as each minister has the right to attend at their own expense if they are not sent to Conference as a representative.

The same cannot be said of this Sunday's services up and down the country - and on TV and radio!
This Sunday is not one of my favourite days of the year. As a local preacher I blocked the date as one that I would not be available to preach on, but as a minister that is seldom an option. This year, as I am on sabbatical, I am thankfully spared the dilemma of trying to reconcile my belief in the Gospel with what people 'want or expect to hear' on Remembrance day. I will not be attending worship this coming Sunday morning.

I agree with the principal of a national day of remembrance, but I believe it should be a secular and civic affair, when we honour and recognise all those who have died in the service of their country, soldiers, firemen, police, spies...regardless of their religion or ours. Dying the in service of one's country has nothing to do with Christianity per-se - although of course, as Christians we would want to pray for the dead and acknowledge our part in the communion of saints.When more people attend the Mosque on a Friday than attend a Church on a Sunday, it is foolhardy to presume that only Christianity can and should address the grief and remembrance of the nation. Besides, this is a secular state we are repeatedly told, a state with the power to deny the real meaning and purpose of our high-days and holidays, turning them instead into vacuous commercial feel-good factors.

So let the state - this secular state that is so intent on ridiculing religion - host its own service of remembrance - and from its Constitutional texts and dispatches from the field, let them find some fine stirring words that truthfully declare why these young men and women are remembered. I'm sure Churchill must have said something worth repeating - Blair likewise - how else could the nation have been persuaded to go to war?
I could understand and respect a civic service of remembrance that gave thanks for all the lives that have been lost in service to the state - that at least would be honest. In spite of my objection to the war and to the idea of 'might = right' peacemaking, I could join in and give thanks and remember the lives lost doing what our govenments have asked them to do. I could accept in humility the gift of heroism that some in the past have displayed to defend my freedom to blog, to criticise, to speak my mind without fear of imprisonment or worse.

I guess I just need my Saints and Heroes to be properly separated -  and for the difference betweeen their sacrificial giving to be stated:
The Saints are those who sacrificially give their lives in service to God

The modern day heroes are those who sacrificially give their lives in service to the state.
Some Saints are also Heroes - thank God
Some Heroes are also Saints - thank God
I will take the time to remember and honour them both,

but above all this, this Sunday I will remember that only Christ has died that I might live.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I promise..

Good morning God,
Can I be honest and tell you now that, as much as I love you, as much as I recognise your supreme authority over my life, I will not kill for you, neither will I hate for you - that is my promise to you.
That, regardless of how I may be provoked and stirred up, I will strive to hold to the core of your teaching and own that any violence I commit is my own - and that you have no part in it. I will remind myself daily that human righteous wrath does not exist, except as the hatred which fills the empty hearts of the lost.  I will fill my heart with your love and find the means to grieve every brother and sister lost to such empty, life destroying passions, and hold fast to your call for us to pray for the perpetrators as well as the victim of such pains.

I make this promise and state it deliberately in the hope that others will do the same so that the blood that we smear you with, and the hatred we place in your mouth might cease - before it destroys us all.

One of the tables in our cafe at New Malden Methodist Church is unofficially reserved for a small but loyal handful of Iraqi refugees, many of whom are Christian - Syrian Catholics and Orthodox. They repeatedly remind me that their homeland is part of the cradle of Christianity. Their presence in our cafe, enhances our faith and enables us to be obedient to our own calling here in the West.

And last week we were witnesses to their grief at the massacre in the cathedral. I sat and listened and was told the stories the newspapers are only now getting hold of, the stories of faith hope and persecution. The dilemma of whether to stay or flee. (a question exacerbated by what is seen as the lax Christian standards here in the West.)
I learned that this is not just about the preservation of life - but of faith - real faith. The faith that is bound to the heart, to the land, and to the world. Faith that has enabled these Christians to live alongside Muslims for centuries, the faith that promotes unity and peace. This is a faith that refuses to deny the evil in humankind, but will not bow to it either.

I was ashamed at how small we make it by reducing it to a question of survival, of asylum.

They know that this is not just a question of whether Christian's should flee - but whether people of faith can ever be people of peace. Can Iraq ever be healed? Can the middle-east ever find peace? This is not just about avoiding another massacre, this is about denying fear and hatred the right to decide the future of humanity and partition the world into pseudo religious states. They are convinced that there can be no peace in the middle east (and hence in the world) until Muslim, Christian and Jew are able to live as neighbours not strangers.

I am likewise convinced this will never happen until Christian, Jew and Muslim alike promise not to kill or hate in your name. When the veil of religious fanaticism is removed,  the greed, hatred, fear and politics that are the real root of this discord will be exposed and rendered impotent.

So I make you my promise God -  my covenant of faith
I will not kill or hate for you,
but will live to share the love of you,
regardless of how I am provoked or stirred up.
I will pray and grieve for my brother and sister 
who are lost in violence and hatred.
I will do all that I can to hold to your covenant of peace

'Your will not mine be done in all things,
wherever you may place me,
whover my neighbour may be,
Your love be in all that I do
and in all that I may endure.'

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's not fair.

Good Morning God,
When did we stop being human and start being body parts? 3706 organ transplants were performed by the NHS this year, but apparently this is still not enough, people are still dying for lack of suitable organs. To borrow the phrase of the  TV campaign designed to shame us into signing the donor register - It's not fair!

No, it's not fair.
It's not fair on the whole human race that one gene pool, sick and diseased though it is, can come to dominate the species gene pool through the direct application of medical science simply because it can afford to do so..

Here in the West, our bodies have become the essential but uncomfortably fragile vehicles that we travel around in through this journey of life. It's not fair that our life-style and social evolution results in our bodies becoming diseased or broken, but we can generally find some way of patching them up - for a price. Life and health are commodities, the must have accessories to 'being' who we really are. They are a costly luxury for the sick and the poor, but the sick can harvest what they need from the poor - if they can pay.

Money is effectively halting the genetic and spiritual evolution of humanity - and we will all pay the cost later. Leave aside for one moment the sick irony of the growing market in organs which results in some of the poorest people world-wide selling their body parts to donor banks in order to survive. What is really happening here is the ultimate in the commodification of life. People get the life that they can pay for.

YES - of course, I would want to see those I love live longer lives - but only because I am selfish, not because I believe it is right for them - or for me - or for society. Grief is the bitter-sweet side of love that we do not want to taste. But we can't have everything we want - no matter how badly we want it, usually for good reasons!

So, even though I know that good people, even young people and new born babies, friends and family members might otherwise die, I still struggle with the idea of organ donation:

Firstly there is the inequality of it all - the cost of one liver transplant could pay for millions of newborn tetanus vaccines... whose life is more important - why is it the one who can pay? Where is the justice in this? Where in the gospel does it say that only those who can pay can have life?

Secondly there is the subtle but insidious signal that it sends to humanity that 'death' is the devil which must be defeated at all cost, that sickness and dying are not 'normal', and that it is imperative that we do everything we can to 'keep people alive' - as though dying is not a normal part of living. Dying is so normal that even you did it God, to show us it is not the end of us. We need have no fear of dying.

Thirdly there is the presumption that all that is necessary for us to live are bodies that work.  We start treating bodies as something separate and distinct, which fail us or let us down. We stop thinking of ourselves as whole human beings with a physicality and spirituality which are intended to combine to create a reality which transcends both.

Fourthly - and perhaps most importantly, we start behaving like gods - making decisions over who lives and who dies according to the organs that we have. We start convincing ourselves that we have life sussed, we don't need your help. We can now create life in a test-tube, clone it when we need to, educate it, milk it for its worth to society, mate it and when we deem it necessary or expedient to do so, heal it or fix it when it breaks and kill it humanely if we must. But what we create and manipulate is but a shadow of life in all its fullness.

Lastly, keeping people 'alive' in this way stops humanity evolving, growing, changing, developing. It keeps the diseased genes in the gene-pool, whilst we kid ourselves that it doesn't matter - we will find a medical fix for that too!

I am aware that what I have written is not confined to organ transplants, but transplants epitomize the problem underlying the demand for 'right to life' medical care. They are at the pointy end of a very sharp and pressing pair of questions which will in the end define us all...

What is the price of a human life?

And what is the real cost to humanity?

Personally, I think these questions were answered over 2000 years ago, by someone who paid the ultimate price so that we could learn how to obtain real healing, and gain life in all its fullness.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Disowning the Church

Good morning God,
I've been thinking about the vogue to publicly disown things, Children disown parents who have abused them, parents disown children who have shamed or humiliated them, politicians disown parties when they are no longer happy with their policies and, of course, people disown churches - often for the strangest of reasons..

I confess there have been many times this week when I have seriously contemplated disowning the Church. I have wanted to distance myself from the very valid accusations of what Christians have done in the past - and what many still do today, to Jews, to Muslims, to non-believers.. and worse - to one another. The blogosphere has been an uncomfortable place recently to try and be a means of grace in.

In some ways this is nothing new. As you know I have struggled often with what it means to belong to this family of faith with its irrational hatreds and violent dogmas. I hate the caricatures of the Christian and the religious in the media and in novels like Pullman's 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' because I know they are all too accurate.. Why, I wonder, would anyone want to belong to something that has such a negative image,  that is so ridiculed and scorned, most often with just cause? What is it that holds people to this historically corrupt and self-serving body called Church?

Belonging. The defining issue of this age. The freedom to disown, disavow, disconnect and divorce is enshrined in law in most western countries - it is a human 'right'. You can no longer be forced to 'belong' to that which you do not choose to belong to. Don't like your country and nationality - emigrate, don't like your family - divorce or disown them, don't like your politics - change parties, dont like your religion - change it or drop it altogether. This is the libertine age when we are all free to cast off the chains that once defined us. We are able to decide for ourselves who and what we are - aren't we?

It was once normal to think that blood was thicker than water - that we should always put the family first - that charity begins at home. Family was something people were taught to value - and if necessary defend - even if they didn't really feel that they 'belonged' - they were 'part of the family' regardless of what they had done or how they behaved - and the onus was on everyone else to make people believe that they were really welcome, and not outsiders.  Which is what made the parable of the prodigal so powerful,  the opening words of John's gospel so redolent with meaning.. and Paul's insistence on  Christian adoption so important. Above all, it is what has given the Trinity, the core of Christianity, its theological rationale. The mutual self-giving Parent - Child relationship modeled  for us by the Trinity sets the standard for our own belonging.

Salvation, are were taught, is all about being a part of your family God - Today salvation has come to this house, for he too is a son of Abraham' says Jesus of Zacchaeus. And from the Acts of the apostles onwards, the Church has worked to foster this doctrine of belonging and preach the idea of of one human family overseen by you as our divine parent,  a family of natural and adopted children living in peace and growing in grace and holiness. But the Church has also tried to insist that it alone knows who is, and who is not - a  part of your family, And historically only the Church could sign the 'necessary' adoption papers of baptism or write of excommunication which would decide if someone belonged or not.

Now of course, we are part of a generation which does not care about 'the Church'.  They are happy to not be associated with it, they even pity those of us who do belong to it. As do I. If I am honest then I would have to acknowledge that there is little that can be said about the Church worldwide that is redemptive, or even uplifting.  As a whole, the Church takes more from the poor in terms of moral and intellectual growth than it ever provides in terms of bread in mouths. It slaughters millions for the sake of its 'doctrines' concerning contraception and abortion and knowingly whips up hatred, fear and prejudice of anyone who is 'different' from the Church's idea of the 'norm'. It subjugates and humiliates women and children alike and does all this in your name.

Why would anyone want to belong to something so sick and abusive, so anti-intellectual and repressive?

Because as broken and disturbing as it is - the Church is still the only vessel charged with carrying the real gospel of belonging - of being a new thing - in you. Of belonging to something so much bigger than all of our petty human tribes and parties, something worthy of complete loyalty, dedication, commitment and sacrifice. Of belonging to YOU, not the Church or the nation.
That Gospel is the only hope humanity has to evolve past its current self-obsession.
Though I often loathe what it currently is, and sometimes the part that I play in that, where else can I go Lord - for you have the words to eternal life?