NATURE?

CAN’T SLEEP. Watched Rev which helped the winding down process after the Annual Parochial Church Meeting. Ate pizza with friends – for which oh so many thanks. But can’t sleep – again – and the diary’s full tomorrow, and pretty much for the rest of the week. And actually it’s not the church meeting itself that’s keeping me awake – not this particular one, anyway! But I’ve been haunted all weekend by a photo-piece under “World” in the Times.

The full horror of nature: A heavily pregnant zebra shows dignity in her final moments as she is eaten alive by spotted hyenas in Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya … she remained stoic and dignified to the end – photographer Marc Mol

I cried. Her beautiful eyes looking straight ahead – as though directly into mine – whilst being savaged to death. Oh, dear God, I cried. And I cannot erase the photograph from my mind. And the trouble is that the mind’s eye picture is a flickering one. Sometimes the eyes are those of a beautiful, beautiful zebra. Sometimes the stoic dignity is to be seen in the eyes of a young Syrian mother in a hospital bed – recovering (?) from having set herself alight, a living beacon of human distress at her enforced inability to provide for the children who stood by her whilst she burned – being savaged. Sometimes they’re the eyes of beautiful people, deeply in love – being savaged by an institution that preaches about love like there’s no tomorrow.

How’re ya doin’ Vicarage?

Well: wide awake actually. Again. And wondering how on earth I find myself spending hour after hour listening to debates about hymn books and service papers when we live in a world that’s crying out – looking me dead in the eye, whilst being savaged – stoically crying out for mercy.

I cannot bear to share these pictures here. Better to share a raindrop, a tear, if you like, reflecting a whole wide world. And I don’t want to hear that it’s not a vicar’s job to keep innocent zebras free from the threat of hyenas. They taught me that in the seminary a long, long time ago. But it is the vicar’s job, and everybody’s job, to keep persons protected from savagery – and at any rate I’ll never stop longing for the day when “the lion shall lie down with the lamb”.

Pray, pray, pray. Let’s leave the hymn book on the shelf for a day or two. No more beating people over the head with the Bible (anyone’s Bible) – lest some sad day we ourselves be knocked dead by our own crude and blunt weapons. Couldn’t we have a few days off spouting badly-understood creeds and misused sacred scriptures? – Reflect a bit upon our terrifyingly destructive ignorance? – Try to get a handle on the richness, the unity in diversity, the poetry of life?

And ACT. Gird up our loins. Speak up. Speak out for an end to each and every act of human savagery and self-centred, self-satisfied, religious obsequiousness. In God’s “dispensation” either everyone’s in or everyone’s out. And anyone reading this is called to be human and humane – and not a spotted hyena.

LORD OF LIFE, help me never to stop reflecting upon the grace with which zebras – and you alone know how many beautiful humans – “remained stoic and dignified to the end.”

Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy. And thank you. Thank you that Jesus wept. And for that resounding and tomb-shattering clarion call – LAZARUS! COME OUT!

DESKTOP RETREAT

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NEARLY TEN HOURS at the desk today. Sometimes I have to tie an ankle to the leg of the desk, you know – ? – and just get down to it. Concentrate. Stick to it. Clearing the backlog. Emailing. Letter writing. Doing the thinking, planning, phoning. Poetry in the coffee breaks. Preparation. Praying – yes, praying for the loved ones, near and far, who are as much a part of my daily life when they don’t know it as when they do. And reading. And writing. And bank statements. Catching up with the 1001 things on the to-do list. Odd that a job primarily concerned with the things of God should fairly frequently involve being desk-bound? And yet, as with all things of God, not so very odd …

As it turned out, some concentrated graft at the desk today became something of a desktop retreat. For it’s sometimes in taking stock of all the little details of life that one discovers richness. God-ness. I’m struck by the huge number of people with whom I relate every day. Struck by the number of people who pray with me, and for me. Struck by the miracle that – notwithstanding the ups and downs of life as a parish priest (and there are some of those!) – I’m still enjoying it, and being challenged by it, after 32 years. Each of the hundreds of books on my library shelves has an associated story – a life and a meaning all of its own. And the letters in the filing tray, and the hundreds of emails, and the blogs “to read later”, and the photos propped up at the back of the desk – all add up to perpetual recourse to the prayer “Thanks be to God”.

Nearly ten hours at the desk. Time to call it a day for today. Perhaps it was just such a day that caused Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Leonard Cottrell) once to say – or perhaps to pray –

Near here is the land
That they call Life.
You’ll know when you arrive
By how real it is.
Give me your hand.

from God Speaks to Each of Us

SOWING THE SEEDS OF LOVE

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EARLY NIGHT with books called for. But what a great day. An hour’s less sleep but warmth and early evening light in exchange. Good deal. And 150+ lovely folk, young and old, sowed the seeds for our Resurrection Garden at Kaleidoscope Mass (link) this morning to the strains of Louis Armstrong reminding us all that it is, indeed, A wonderful world. Afternoon communion with very long-serving mothers in our local hospital … many, many shades and hues; many, many rich colours; many, many perspectives on the glorious gift of life we’ve all been given.

Love is a flower you’ve got to let grow John Lennon

POWER?

THE BLOGOSPHERE has been alive with joyful stories of the first same-sex marriages in the UK today. There’s been an air of celebration the length and breadth of the land – and I want to add my own warmest congratulations to all who are celebrating with joy on this bright day. Yes, an air of celebration, notwithstanding the sound of the opposition, for whom I feel today too. I feel for hurt people whoever they are, and wherever that hurt is experienced. The prayer of the Church must surely be for healing – wherever it’s needed. The prayer of the Church must offer thanksgiving too for existing and abundant blessings of happiness, love, security and peace for all. Equally.

One of the Tweets I followed up this afternoon was a piece by Damian Thompson of the Telegraph – Gay marriage will change the Church of England forever. And the line that’s been milling around in my head all afternoon is this:

It’s hard to overestimate the weakening effect this will have on the central structures of the Church.

What I’ve been wondering, for years, is whether a “weakening effect” might, precisely, be a good thing for the Church – and for all the religious traditions of our world. “Central structures” too easily represent too much power being held by too few hands. I’ve been hearing tonight of the horribly tragic story of a Syrian mother setting herself on fire to protest having been turned away once too often from relief provision desperately needed by her family – whilst her poor children looked on. “Central structures” are not helping them – and minor “churchy” preoccupations do seem obscene in the daily presence of such atrocities. If we really must get excited and insistent about a few scripture sentences let’s at least concentrate on some real LIFE priorities.

Tyrannical powers – political or religious, national, local or personal – will need to be shown the door in the twenty-first century. The God I worship doesn’t wield power in the sometimes brutal ways that some (by no means all) religious people do. All the world’s faith traditions constantly run the risk of anthropomorphising God “in our own image”. That’s hideously dangerous, not to mention presumptuous. No defence of selective readings of Scripture, Tradition or Reason can be defensible whilst people continue to be deprived of food, water, loving relationship – or even their very lives. And I’d rather forego “Church growth” for the time being if, by growth, is meant a grasping after imagined power to tell other people what to do with their God-given lives. There’s a better way – a more excellent way, that may well involve a weakening effect upon the central structures of the Church, and of all the world’s religious and political traditions. What is it about Pope Francis that’s touched a chord in multi millions of people worldwide?

Some glad day, God willing, I’m going to make a pilgrimage to the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco that I so admire from afar. Stephen Hough, another Telegraph writer, wrote in mid-February of a visit he made there, and of his having been so taken with words of welcome penned by former diocesan bishop William Swing that he quoted them at length. Here’s just a paragraph:

A Place of Anonymity – If you are passing by and feel hesitant to join the ranks of a particular denomination or to buy into the creeds of millions, please know most people who enter Grace every week are practicing no regular religious discipline. The rule of Grace is the stranger making himself/herself at home. All names are sacred here, but no one has to contribute one’s name to a membership list to be taken seriously. Perhaps you quietly dropped by wanting to reconnect in your relationship to God. Or to confess shame. Or to surrender a burden. Or to pray for a loved one. Or to bask in the beauty of holiness. Or to meditate on a hard personal dilemma. Or to find a moment of peace. A cathedral has a high ceiling and long aisles to allow the contained soul multiple directions without the encumbrances of forced community. Grace offers ages of spiritual space to which anonymous individuals may be on pilgrimage – Bp William Swing

Yes. Perhaps today’s air of celebration has something to do with a work of Grace being realised in the world at this very moment in the long and troubled history of our humanity. Perhaps we’re all heading for lives in which power plays a much less prominent role; lives in which every child, woman and man is encouraged and honoured in their “reaching for the sky.” God’s Grace offers ages of spiritual space to which anonymous individuals may be on pilgrimage. A weakening effect upon central structures? – well maybe; but a making space for each and all. Thank God.

WORLD VISION?

THEOLOGY FOR ALL. How I hope and pray that modern worldwide communications might bring women and men of goodwill to a richer theological understanding and communion – with God and with one another – before too many more months and years roll by. Theology is not just for specialists. Good theology is absolutely vital in the world of the 21st century. Good words about God will draw all human persons into a deeper unity. Good theology will not be “hell bent” on separating people, driving women and men of goodwill apart. Theology, properly understood and shared by the human community, will celebrate life in its unity and diversity. Good words-about-God need to be brought back into the public domain every bit as urgently and interestingly as do the other two great shibboleths: sex and politics.

Never bring sex, politics or religion into a conversation!

So runs the received wisdom. But at what cost over the centuries? Let’s not make so many assumptions about this sort of “wisdom” being good. Sometimes, actually, it’s absolutely bad – and definitely not wise. What ordinary, corporate, international, social, practical and personal catastrophes might have been avoided in the last 200 years if we hadn’t left all the “good words about” sex, politics and religion to dreary specialists on the one hand, and barmy hotheads on the other? Good news is properly disseminated by the prophetic conversations of ordinary, decent people all over the world. But the good news about ordinary, honest, decent people’s wanting to live in peace and in harmony with one another needs to be shared more persistently and widely.

The God of Peace, the Source of Everything There Is – is NOT a mean, angry, withholding, bible-bashing old tyrant. Who says? – Well THE BIBLE, actually. Try 1 John 4.16

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

How I hope and pray for teachers and prophets of imagination, grace and courage who’ll persuade humankind that good theology is as important to our long-term health, happiness and even survival as is clean water, good food and medical provision. Bad theology – or no attempt at all to work at a “gospel”, or good-words-about-God with and through, and for, and all around ALL human persons – sets humankind on a hiding to nowhere. Bad theology hurts, maims, wounds, and sometimes, too often, kills.

Does the God who is “Spirit and Truth” ascribe to the Bible the kind of unerring “biblical authority” that certain religious men do? I really, really doubt that. In fact I believe the very suggestion is bonkers. Didn’t Jesus of Nazareth, again and again and again, assert the supremacy of what the Apostle Paul went on to describe as “a more excellent way”? Isn’t the Aramaic language that was Jesus’ mother tongue rich with ambiguity and the all important and oh so necessary poetry?

Here’s a tragic little story – one amongst far, far too many. Lord have mercy!

Only two days after announcing it would hire Christians in same-sex marriages, World Vision U.S. has reversed its ground-breaking decision after weathering intense criticism from conservative evangelical leaders.”The last couple of days have been painful,” president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. “We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

The trouble is that change requires some of us stepping out of line! And it will and does hurt when we’re told that WE’RE being rude and / or unloving towards the literalists – who so readily bash others over the head (and worse) with their fundamentalist absolutism, consumed by their own certainties, often diametrically opposed to any real vision as to What Would Jesus Do? – and steadfastly able to ignore the tragic plight of millions. “Conservative evangelical leaders” of this sort are absolutely NOT bringers of good news.

Would that there could be a bit more “pain and a broken heart” offered up for the isolated, the marginalised and the perpetually threatened of this world. Would that the needs of real flesh and blood human persons – living and loving in this world today – might be paid more attention than the imaginary demands of a book to be held in higher honour, and afforded a higher measure of protection, than the very people its pages seek to advocate.

World Vision? – oh, come on!

 see Paul Robinson’s What the World Vision debate was really all about

MAGNIFICAT!

LET ME MAKE GREAT THE NAME OF THE LORD! – now there’s an impressive response, from a young Galilean girl, who’s just heard, she believes, the word of an angel, that she’s to conceive and bear “God with us” into the world. “May I be his handmaid“.

What yearning for brighter days lay in the heart of a prayerful girl, raised in a household that will have observed the world’s injustices with keen eye? What kind of a turning the world upside down would the young girl Mary have been dreaming about? Maybe even praying about? What measure of faith did she possess that allowed for the simple fiat – “May I be his handmaid”? Am I – a girl – to be allowed to play my part? What might that mean, now and in the future, for others hitherto “passed-over”, if each and all are to flower to their fullest divinely-given potential? Ha! – the whole world, every living thing, would be pregnant with messianic possibility!

God with usimagine that. A harsh and demanding black and white world would be raised to new stature, with height and colour, and glory and honour, and music and praise, and unexpected non-conformity, and the push people need towards prayer, and faith and groundedness, and hope, and love. And grandeur. And – incredibly surprising – littleness, too. And the ancient and the youthful. Perspectives would be changed. God’s awe-inspiring art and incarnational creativity would the better be seen in, and through, and for, and all around every living person. A holy human family. Oppressive powers put in their place and the downtrodden raised.

Humankind and mothering, art and craftsmanship, perseverance in the ways of love and of peace – all these, equally, internationally and interfaithfully, will be “living temples to God’s glory”. Imagine the possibilities, the architecture, the shapes and sizes, the breathtakingly stunning irregularities, the angle of the morning light, in a world of living temples. Yes, yes, yes. I’m up for that – Magnificat! What Wisdom lay at the heart of this young woman? – (and she knew full well in advance, women often do, that there’d be a cost to all of this) – What Wisdom lies in the hearts of each of us, on this day of annunciation, still? What Wisdom bides her time until today’s the day. Until the time to well up, like Living Water, healing us, laughing in us, one and all, like an inundation of redeeming joy within?

… new
Patterns from new disorder open like a rose
And old assumptions yield to new sensation;
The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation

from Mutations, Louis MacNeice

God with us in a baby? A Christ-baby? An anointed baby? Any baby? – Magnificat! May I be his handmaid …

The Service Order for Mothering Sunday
at Bramhall Parish Church on 30th March at 10am is here

COLOURFUL ARRAY

Let us build up the true Church!

Archbishop Oscar Romero
shot dead whilst celebrating Mass

24 March 1980

I’M THANKING GOD TODAY for Ralph & Sue, first rate churchwardens. Their ministries equate to full time jobs in a parish like ours … and for Administrator Janet, Fr David, Deacon Paul, Ordinand Tracy, Pastoral Worker John, Schools Co-ordinator Jill, Sexton John, Yvonne and the work at Barnabas, all kinds of other missions and people-focused work, the finance and buildings team, the pastoral team, the Kaleidoscope team and other worship planners, the lunch providers, the support network around The Mill, the pray-ers, the hospital visitors, the youth leaders, the washer-uppers, the vacuumers, the loo cleaners, the church council, a 5 year old altar server, 300+ committed Christians – all engaged in a colourful array of apostolic witness to “the Kingdom of God”.

What are we here for? – to Live! – change, compassion, communion, crying, delight, failing, fairness, forgiveness, grieving, healing, inclusion, laughing, love for all, open doors, open hearts, open table, peace, poetry, praying, thankfulness and thanksgiving, justice, weeping, worship and well-wishing, all day, every day, at work, rest and play. This is Church.

www.bramhallcofe.com & facebook & @bramhallcofe

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