Exploring Christianity

Church and Village, June 2016

Posted by on Jul 21, 2016 in thought for the week | 0 comments

A few weeks ago I read in the Hampshire Chronicle a letter written by a man complaining that the ‘Have Nots’ had been complaining about the ‘Haves’. I forget which issue he claimed the great unwashed were complaining about, but the issue itself is not important. I was shocked by it, because it clearly demonstrated a rare example, in vulgar terms, of a lack of compassion and understanding. And what’s more interesting is that the HC printed it – although they do print what I write, so perhaps pot and kettle springs to mind. I was troubled by the letter as the correspondent lived in a very privileged and glorious part of Hampshire, not without its issues, but broadly safe, wealthy and vibrant, with good housing, education and community spirit – a place I almost took for granted would possess social intelligence and understanding, and really importantly, compassion for those less fortunate. I/we live in a place of great power; people possess the ability to affect their own destiny and are in charge of their own lives. This is not something to be taken for granted, which is why I found the comments so shocking. There is a sociological theory that the more affluent and powerful you are, the more external influences are geared to support the structures in your favour – your privileged lifestyle becomes normal and weightless – literally, you forget how lucky you really are, because it’s normal: isn’t everyone wealth and lucky like me/us? Well no, they are not. At the other end of the spectrum you have many places across the country and in this county where the population are marginalised, even characterised as self-indulgent, or worse parasitic. Their behaviour adoptive and adaptive, they are their own worst enemy – they are work shy, their plight in poverty the making of their own fault rather than the structures around them. They find themselves devalued, deemed to be less well educated or resourceful, different because they have refused after a long process of neglect to comply with the social niceties of polite decent society – to be like the deserving gentleman who wrote into the HC who had decided the ‘Have Nots’ do not merit a say when it comes to a longing to share in the national wealth/resources/opportunities. The ‘Have Nots’ having the nerve to express through the political process an opinion – how dare they. Jesus made no distinction with the poor – He neither judged nor condemned them. In fact, he often sought their company preferring it to that of the perceived ‘deserving’. In the Gospel of Luke (6.21-26) Jesus says an amazing thing: ‘Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you who hunger, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh.’ This is followed by a warning to those that are wealthy: ‘Woe to the rich, the full, the laughing…for you will weep.’ Difficult to hear that isn’t it, perhaps as difficult as being poor and having your concerns and worries dismissed because your opinion is less powerful, articulate or deemed less...

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Hope….

Posted by on Jul 21, 2016 in thought for the week | 0 comments

When I was in training for ordination, the Principal of my college, whom if I am honest I rarely listened to, but on occasion had to, would with captured audience, in a rather disparaging manner, proclaim that we, when ordained, would inevitably become chaplains to congregations. This, it was implied, was a bad thing; and furthermore and rather less catchy, that we were to “take great care in our spiritual life as it is highly likely we would struggle to discern God in our everyday work”. I did wonder why he was a Principal of a theological college? “It will be hard to find God in the machine that is parochial ministry”, he informed us. This view, I assumed, was born of decades of disappointment and cynicism of ministry in the Church of England. He was a cheery fellow, whom I think was made the Bishop of Hakeldama just after I left – although that might not be right. Whilst I do think he rather over-played the grumpy old man card, I reflect his assertion may have had a modicum of merit. I have discovered myself that it is indeed far too easy to be diverted and distracted from the purpose, the aspiration of one’s ministry, to come alongside people, to meet them where they are, and without motive or caveat love them regardless of circumstance or station, seeking the joy of God in all people, wherever and whenever possible. This is a great privilege, after being a servant of the most worthy Lord – Jesus. That said, and following that proclamation of high ideals, I am guilty of letting the parochial stuff dampen my spiritual bounciness. I have discovered that as hard as I try, I get incredibly distracted by the sharpening of pencils, filing documents, answering-of-emails stuff, that gets in the way of the ‘Grace and Wonder of God’ bit I am supposed to do. This is obviously not what a sensitive religious type like me wants to do – but it seems impossible to avoid. Although, all that said, something truly amazing happened today whilst I was Chaplain at the Cathedral. I met two people there, a married couple. They had travelled to Winchester from the Midlands – they were full of sadness and despair and loss. They had left home not knowing where they were going; they found themselves in Winchester, and then in the Cathedral. The details of what drove them there are not important, but their emotion was heavy, the weight of the situation almost unbearable – we prayed for an hour, they told me it was the only relief they had felt in months, the only comfort they had taken as long as they could remember. They knew God was with them in that little side-chapel – He had put His hand on their shoulder, and they knew they were loved, and that everything was going to be alright. They left the Cathedral with their life different, reshaped. God’s unconditional love had done something really powerful. It had given them...

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Born again? Thoughts from Graham…

Posted by on Jul 21, 2016 in thought for the week | 0 comments

I was walking into Alresford town centre last week when, just as I passed the doctors’ surgery a man getting out of an enormous white van shouted at me ‘is there any difference between a new born Christian and a Christian?’ I hoped he wasn’t shouting at me, but he was. I wondered if this chap was wanting to engage me in a theological discussion, or just being provocative. It turned out he wanted a theological discussion, and he was being provocative. He was endeavouring to be challenging and promoting a number of perspectives, some of which I found quite bellicose. I answered that I felt there was probably not a difference. I explained that I thought a Christian is someone who proclaims themselves a follower of Jesus and lives their life according to the set of moral, spiritual, and practical guidelines as enlightened in Holy Scripture. A new born experience is not a prerequisite of Grace – I was accused of ducking the issue, which I had, but life is so short I’m already 48 and who knows how much longer I might have to live. I was of course also completely ignoring any attempt to hermeneutic to death John Ch3 vs.3-5: Nicodemus is told by Jesus ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ Luckily for me, in Greek every word has about eight meanings – so born again, might mean born from above – this passage needs some delicate thought. He didn’t like my answer. I was accused of completely missing the point and might as well take my clerical collar off, as there was – as far as he was concerned – clearly a difference. He continued to outline some of them, an ardent apologetic of doctrinal perspectives that undergirded a very exclusive view. He had a lot of opinions, many of them relying on scriptural nuances which I found hard to follow, but eventually it basically meant that he was probably the only person on the planet righteous enough to go to heaven. Priests were very low in the list of the righteous…. which I said was about the only thing he said which I could agree with. I am afraid at no point in our discussion did we address the unfathomable delight that God might just inextricably love all humanity and the world. Jesus the neon-flashing-light of hope, that does not require a degree in theology to understand. Using certain biblical references as battering-rams does not make anyone the arbiter of Grace. Loving God and loving your neighbour are the only fundamentals one needs to comprehend. That is not to say a little study isn’t a good thing – I might try it some time, but doctrinal battlefields only make casualties. Discussions and expressions of viewpoints in a loving and safe environment, without seeking advantage, permits questions to develop, and growth to take place, to take place in love. After all we are told ‘God so loved the world he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish’ – John 3 again vs.16. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but rather and very importantly to save...

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‘The Theory of Everything’

Posted by on Mar 21, 2016 in thought for the week | 0 comments

Recently I had the fortune to watch a rather pleasing film. My daughter had urged me to watch it for some time, but I had resisted because the title of the film left me thinking it was likely to give me a headache. I refer to the very surprising, pleasant and interesting film based on the life of Stephen Hawking called the ‘The Theory of Everything’. The reason for my reticence is that, ‘The Theory of Everything’ is, I believe, an idea that is conceptually rather misleading. Pursuing or claiming you have a ‘Theory of Everything’ implies first that it is possible – which is uncertain, if not impossible. The ‘Impossible Theory of Everything’ would be better. And secondly, to have a ‘Theory of Everything’ would imply that everything is predictable, as it would have to be to include everything – Quantum Mechanics kind of fuddles and messes with any theory that predictability is possible. In fact the need for an uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics predictably shows that everything needs to be thought of as unpredictable. Am I being over sensitive? I spent months as an undergraduate trying to remember, to not much avail, equations and formula. I spent years trying to understand mathematizable principles of the forces of nature – the fundamental quantities of things like light, gravity, ideas about relativity (special/general), universal constants, time…. blahdiblah. I remain traumatized by those supposedly informative, yet almost entirely content-forgotten years. I need to stop because I’m rambling ……… I wonder though if you can guess at my glee when I discovered that there is in fact a Lent course named and based on the book/film ‘The Theory of Everything’? well I can tell you I was very excited! The course is in fact called what I would consider a far better name theologically and scientifically ‘The Mystery of Everything’. I love this name. This is what, as we approach Easter, floats my boat, so to speak. I expect someone out there has an equation for floating boats, but keep it to yourself. As we approach Easter the course explores this Divine Mystery – not a mystery in the sense of unknowable or even inexplicable, but rather in the sense of awe and wonder. Human beings, as St Paul points out in ‘Now we see in the mirror dimly’, cuttting to the chase in theological as well as scientific understanding – no one is a know-it-all. Human beings search for truth. They do this through exploration and experience as well as spiritual revelation – spiritual revelation being of course, among others, the Easter event. In fact, there is no other more significant event bigger, theologically, than Easter: God Breaking into the world, humbling Himself on the cross and being raised again so that we might know Him, and know that through Him we have salvation. Twenty-eight words that can be seen as so radical and amazing it might just save your life, and so optimistic it might just also save your soul. Ask yourself what are you optimistic about? Try being optimistic about Easter – it is/was all for...

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Christian Faith and Ethic

Posted by on Feb 23, 2016 in thought for the week | 0 comments

A few Sunday’s ago I gave a sermon in which I tried to make the point that to have a Christian faith meant that you had to have a Christian ethic, and of course therefore to have a Christian ethic, one needs Christian faith. You cannot have one without the other and call it Christian – emphasis on the word Christian. You can have an ethic, and you can have faith, but If you are Christian, you must have both, and they must be rooted in the love of God and the love of Neighbour. I also made the point that following all the bad things that are going on in the world how easy it is to blame God – to point a finger and demand He intervene, that He stops all the bad things happening, that He makes good all the attempts of Human Beings to do evil, avoiding entirely the root cause of all this badness – Humanity itself. My wife who heard the sermon after the service said that she found my sermon ‘rather amusing’ especially the bit where I made the point about Christian Faith and Christian Ethics. When I enquired why this was so, she told me that broadly it was because…. ‘I was horrible, she didn’t question my faith but pointed out that I often get thoroughly annoyed when driving, that I have little sympathy when people are being blatantly stupid (I confess even I know that is an arbitrary judgement) I am inpatient, and that I often get agitated if I feel I am being wronged.’ Actually I have abridged this list as it was rather long. It was interesting though, because she made a very valid point about perceptions, and in particular perceptions of the Christian Faith. I have a friend who is now the Bishop of Whitby, but then was the Archdeacon of Cleveland. I remember him telling me once that he had had the most enormous row with his neighbour. The neighbour continually parked across his drive and when challenged simply dismissed the objections – eventually my friend lost his temper with his neighbour who was shocked and protested ‘you are a Christian you’re not allowed to be annoyed’ I made the point to my lovely wife that Jesus wasn’t always that nice or good either. In fact, Luke 18 just after Jesus blesses the children, which is good thing to do, the Rich Ruler address Jesus and asks ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered with a question ‘Why do you call me good? Going on to point out that no one is good except God alone. I recounted Jesus’ words to Peter ‘get behind me Satan’, Jesus’ anger in the temple – in fact Jesus invading the temple and going on a righteous rampage against the mercenary money makers apparent in the Temple yard – I like that story. Read Matthew 23 the entire chapter is entirely devoid of positive encouragement, railed entirely at the Pharisees and their followers. Jesus curses them – no dialogue, cooperation or collegiality only confrontation and condemnation, I again rather like this story. Jesus confronted religious error robustly and without theological pacifism – He challenged evil, greed, and self-importance, preaching a Gospel of Love, self-sacrifice, charity...

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Thoughts from Graham for January

Posted by on Jan 19, 2016 in thought for the week | 0 comments

Recently I was un-friended on Facebook by someone I had known since my teens. In fact, this was no ordinary friend. We had served in the same Regiment of the Army, in the same Company, the same Section – even in Northern Ireland. I cannot pretend it did not hurt. It followed a short intellectual tussle about philosophical and theological differences. The differences proved un-resolvable. Essentially I was un-friended because I am a Christian and hold a theistic understanding of the world and my existence in it….and he doesn’t. In fact, he holds that Christian doctrine and those of Abrahamic tradition threaten world security; yes, world security!! Meaning essentially that all religions, to him, are culpable mind-viruses designed to control and fracture society – and not to mend them. I soon grew weary of the argument, but we could not even manage to agree to disagree. His attitude was that any resistance to abandonment of faith meant simply that I was parochial, even medieval. Religion, and in particular Christianity, are, for my friend, at the centre of all the world’s troubles – not arms-dealers, political corruption, human greed, poverty, Illegal war or foreign policy designed to obtain resources and underserved advantage, and least of all never ever blame Capitalism….no never. Is it not a sign of the times that you can be de-friended for being Christian? I spent many hours thinking about what this all meant. I asked myself and God why anyone would be hostile towards Christianity, towards Jesus? Had my friend really never heard the peace loving Gospel of Jesus? Why didn’t I have the answer? Luckily there are many cleverer and more robust and dedicated Christians than I, in Holy Orders and not, and although I may have felt a little battered and bruised by the whole experience, I predominantly felt a sadness that my friend didn’t share the vibrancy of my faith. I prayed for him as I wondered what could have made him so totalitarian about something so beautiful. Albert Camus the French existentialist wrote: “without a master, the weight of days is dreadful”. He points to the unavoidable conclusion that without God – not the other way round – freedom and responsibility is too heavy a burden for humankind. Christianity is liberating and invigorating, not oppressive or devaluing. The Christian message is one of love; it is about value, potential, it is about God wanting only the very best for all His creation. It is only the human heart that resists these things. This whole event probably bothered more than it should. I suspect I am guilty of pride and self-reliance, and I know that I must guard against it and move on – get on with the proper business of proclaiming the life-giving, soul-saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Love my neighbour, love Jesus and love God, harmony, salvation – Love...

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Rector’s December thoughts

Posted by on Dec 10, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

It is a strange thing writing any kind of article for publication; because, by necessity, it is written a good time before the actual piece is printed – in this case a good two weeks before December, and a month before Christmas itself. Being topical can therefore be a challenge. For instance, in my current world it is mid-November, and I am not really feeling very festive, yet somehow I have to write about it. We have just marked Remembrance Sunday, All Saints and All Souls, which whilst dignified and important, for me they are among the most difficult services I perform – they form part of a season of sorrows, and I cannot be detached from it. Then of course, only a few days ago we had yet another example of people wishing to kill and murder in Paris, to bomb and destroy – hatred-fuelled destruction perpetrated by people perverting and abusing religion for their own aims, and to their shame. This is a really important point. People perverting and abusing religion is exactly the same as people abusing and perverting money, people, power or position. It is shameful, and not anything to do with religion – rather, it is selfish, egotistical and reprehensible. I know of no religion that thinks this is the correct way to live your life. It is not Christian, nor is it Islamic. Soon we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. The world He was born into was not less dangerous or evil – it seems humanity is quite good and persistent at perpetrating evil, especially against fellow human beings, and especially if they are weaker, or less important, or just less…… Jesus came from God to remind us that whilst the world is what it is, it does not have to be so. God felt so moved that he sent His son so that we might know God understands the sorrow of this world. God offers us hope through Jesus, Jesus the light among the darkness giving everybody salvation, especially those who are weaker, marginalised, persecuted; it is this that we celebrate at Christmas. In the Gospel of John Chapter 1, right at the outset, the Gospel writer wants us to understand this and says ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1, 4-5). This light is Jesus – just in case you were wondering. The sadness of the events in Paris, in Beirut, in Turkey.………. is depressing. Perhaps it causes you to think: 1st what type of world are we living in? 2nd how can we make sense of it all? 3rd how can we celebrate Christmas in the light of all that has gone on? Answers: the world is broken – but it doesn’t have to be; second we cannot, it makes no sense – it is pure evil; and third – well, we have to, it’s what we do. Christians celebrate Christmas, and Christmas reminds us that even in a world full of darkness, hate and persecution, God broke into the darkness to show us the way to salvation. The light of Christ is really, really important, especially this Christmas. We celebrate the prince of Peace. Peace be...

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Strings, vacuuming and above all, suffering…

Posted by on Oct 29, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

Over the last few days I have been suffering the most ghastly levels of pain. The pain is in my lower back – I want to tell you that it is a result of an injury sustained scoring the winning try playing Rugby, or as part of an intrepid mountain rescue team – saving someone in peril, abseiling, skiing a black run, husky racing, doing the Tuff Mudder anything other than the truth, the truth which seems utterly unbelievable, my injury, an injury that resulted in the most pain I have ever experienced in my entire life was sustained whilst hoovering – I know; I ask myself the same question, what on earth was I doing hoovering in the first place? What adds insult to injury is that I wasn’t even really doing the hoovering properly; I was sort of lazily pushing the thing about the living room completely preoccupied by the silly question ‘ in String Theory, what does it mean to say the point like points of particles interact with each other in one dimension?’ (I think that was what I was thinking but really like String Theory – who cares?) When, as I turned the corner of the coffee table I felt a pain that resulted with me lying flat on the floor for three hours unable to get up or to move at all. While I was laying on the floor in complete agony and unable to move, in a moment of complete sorrow I thought to myself, what would Jesus do? I concluded he probably wouldn’t dial 111 because he wouldn’t need to; neither would He have whinged as proficiently as I. I did conclude however, that whilst the idea of Jesus suffering back pain doesn’t really seem particularly valid, I do know that in fact Jesus very well knew pain and suffering – Jesus was killed in the most awful of ways, crucified so that we might see the Cross as something that speaks ‘for us’ in the vicarious atonement it offers, but also ‘against us’ when we consider the continued pain and suffering of the world. The Cross is a constant and powerful reminder that Christians are working for the Kingdom of God, which will be perfect, but it so evidently not yet, the world for many still despite all modern advances and wealth a place of injustice, hardship, poverty and neglect. What would Jesus do? We all know the answer; He would give up everything, even His life in agony and pain to see each of us have a chance of living in paradise, a gift truly undeserved but never- the-less on the table – a paradox isn’t it? God loving us so much He would suffer pain and humiliation just so that we might know He loves us – so what should we do? Well I cannot help but finish with the beautiful Benediction from the Prayer Book, ‘Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast to that which is good, render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honour everyone, and be very; very, careful hoovering....

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On the journeys of St. John

Posted by on Oct 29, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

I have had a brilliant summer. One great highlight has been to visit Ephesus in Turkey, although – and I have to write this in case she reads this paper – this only closely rivals my youngest daughter’s university graduation in Leeds (it goes without saying the architectural comparisons between Leeds and Ephesus are of course evident for anyone to see, should they wish to visit this magnificent northern city). Ephesus, even though a ruin, is simply an amazing place full of ancient monuments and incredible architecture, so much so it really is difficult to take it all in. Another simply amazing thing to know is that the first Christian community in Ephesus was founded by St John – yes I know, the very same St John who wrote the mind boggling brilliant Gospel delving the deepest mysteries of God Himself – that St John. He wrote his Gospel here in Ephesus, and he, St John, is buried in a tomb not too distant from the ancient city. St Paul also spent some considerable time in Ephesus, about three years, on his way back from visiting the city of Corinth in Greece. I walked along the same streets as St John and St Paul. I stood where they more than probably stood. I gazed upon the Christian markers set into the marble and stone that identified people and households as Christian; people and households who may have come to faith because they knew, saw, heard these two great Christian saints. It doesn’t stop there either. Just outside Ephesus on one of the high mountains, is the house attributed to be the home of St Mary, the Mother of Jesus – Mary the Theotokos, Mary the God Bearer! Now I have to say, by the time we visited Mother Mary’s house my wife’s patience was beginning, in an ecclesial sense, to fade – but I persevered and I have to say it was worth every moment of disapproval. St Mary’s house as a place was breathtaking. I was not allowed to linger as I was robustly moved along by a large paramilitary-looking fellow who seemed too important to argue with. But the space was what I can only describe in Celtic spirituality terms as a ‘Thin Place’, a place where the boundaries between heaven and earth collide. In such spaces people can seek God and feel God’s power in spine-tingling other-worldliness – like being punched in the chest by God’s very presence, literally breath-taking. This is what it felt like in this little room. As you come out of the house where Mary the Mother of God once lived, all are invited to light a candle and to write a prayer to be put on a prayer wall, a wall 60ft long and 6ft tall and covered head to foot in prayer cards. I do not know how many prayers there were that day for Peace, but my suspicion is that this was the predominant prayer, along with the one that went around my head for the rest of the day, ‘Hail Mary full of Grace, Our Lord is with Thee, Blessed art thou among women……pray for us...

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The brilliance of God’s Gift to us

Posted by on Oct 29, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

When I worked in York Diocese, the Archbishop of York was very fond of telling us that if we had nothing to say, then we should only talk about Jesus. This is I think a noble sentiment, especially, but of course not exclusively, if you are talking to clergy persons, which he was. He was also rather keen to tell us that if we think worship is boring, or goes on too long, then we should wait until we are in heaven, because in heaven the only thing to do is worship God. ABY pointed out that in the Book of Revelation among other places, we are quite clearly told that ‘from the throne of heaven came a voice saying, Praise our God, all you his servants, Worship God!’ The suggestion is that we were created to worship God always, forever, eternally, so this is what we will do in the heavenly realm. Now this might mess up your hope of what a heavenly paradise should look like, sat by the pool sipping a Piña Colada in your budgie smugglers, for instance. And the problem when you only have 500 words, which is clearly not an eternity, is how to succinctly and pragmatically express that future destiny of humankind – eternity in heaven – eternally worshipping God. Well actually this is far easier than you might think, and it is not at all boring, and I refer you to my first sentence – Jesus! That’s right there is nothing more fantastic, amazing and brilliant than the gift God gave to us first – Jesus Christ. Now, I realise that some of you reading this may not believe me when I say Jesus is fantastic and brilliant, which of course I affirm He is. But even if you do not worship God, you probably are likely already to be in a cycle of some sort of worship, whether you realise it or not. If it is not the righteous and spiritual, then it might possibly be a consumerist cultural god – television, celebrity, money, success, power or shopping – for instance. This does not make you a bad person, but it does mean you are missing the point of being alive – fulfilment is not an achievable consumerist goal; but it is a spiritual outcome. Worship of God is the inoculation against all the transitory garbage we are peddled in our everyday lives; it helps us to focus on what is really important in the world – justice, equality, spiritual love and mutual respect – worshipping God is life-giving and life-affirming. Living in this world does not mean that you are not able to taste the joys of God’s love today either, but one does have to do something about it – and that something is Worship God. Renewal of focus of priorities, and joy at being alive, starts with knowing Jesus Christ. Give Him a go, He never...

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