Monday, February 13, 2017

A Letter To Our General Synod Representatives post GS 2055.

To the General Synod representatives from St Albans Diocese (CC The Bishop of St Albans).

Dear all,

As Synod meets this week I wanted to assure you of my prayers as representatives of St Albans Diocese as you discuss, deliberate and listen. I know that this week’s business is not about a single issue, but for many within and outside the church, it is.

Having read the Bishops’ Report (GS 2055) myself I am writing to you to ask you not to ‘take note’ of the report in front of you.

I welcome the desire to change the tone of the discussions of which the report speaks but there are a number of matters that cause me - a happily married heterosexual man - to squirm with embarrassment and shame both emotionally and theologically.

Firstly, we are a denomination which has lived with divergent theology before. I am of course referring to women’s ministry within the three-fold order of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. There are some who, with good conscience, are unable to accept the will of the church regarding their ministry. I pray that a time will come where this will no longer be the case. Yet, either out of pragmatism or out of a sheer need to stop the church ripping itself apart we reached an 'Anglican compromise' offering pastoral care and episcopal oversight to those of a traditionalist position, allowing for a so called mutual flourishing.  This is not the only example as the Church of England has allowed it’s clergy to remarry divorcees in church under some clear guidelines. This pastoral accommodation has allowed me to minister to those who thought because of certain circumstances they were unwelcome and unwanted before the God of love, to find themselves welcome before God and for their marriages solemnised in Church. We’ve done it before, we can do this again and allow for differing doctrinal positions to be held and for our theology to grow and enlarge in the light of new Biblical understanding, new experience of God and new appreciations of what it means to be human and made in God’s image.

Secondly, I was not part of the Shared Conversations, but talking with those who were, through that process of attentive listening to one another and God, there seems to have been a move of the Spirit at work. People with differing views have come to see those views not as flags to be waved or drums to be banged, but genuine and heartfelt positions based on a interpretation of scripture, tradition, theology and experience. There seems to have been much gained by the Shared Conversations. Whilst opinions and convictions may not have been changed necessarily - those positions and opinions became people and human stories and it has been this incarnational work that seems to have been transforming. It surprises me therefore to find so little reference to the Shared Conversations or their outcomes in this report. Indeed it feels as one reads it, that the Shared Conversations experience has played none or certainly very little part in the writing of it.

Thirdly, I initially welcomed talk in the report of a new teaching document on marriage and of ‘maximum pastoral freedom' in terms of potential pastoral responses, until I realised that both were couched, not in the language of love, but of concession and therefore of fear. This is also perhaps why the appalling and dehumanising short hand ‘same-sex attraction’ is used throughout the report to describe the emotional life of LGBTI people. These people are people who love and laugh and cry and sing just as I do. They have feelings like I do. They experience the love of God as I do. They are invited into a life of discipleship as I am. In this climate, my fear is that any new teaching document on marriage will continue to perpetrate the myth that marriage is about procreation and property as our liturgy still hints at, rather than celebrating the crowning glory of what it means to be human - to be loved by another - into life. And talk of ‘maximum pastoral freedom’ sounds like ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’ As far as the church is concerned marriage is marriage regarding heterosexual couples whether it took place on a beach, in a hotel, on a cruise liner or in a church. 'New pastoral freedom’ makes me as a parish priest feel like I am still having to look over my shoulder to keep an eye out for the Archdeacon or indeed the Bishop. We should be in the business of celebrating love between two people. Anything less, reduces those two lovers, to something sub human and denies the being of God.

Fourthly, LGBTI people continue to be treated by our church as an issue to be solved rather than people that God loves; despite the talk of a new tone in speaking of and relating, GS 2055 fails to model it. I have found myself shocked and breathless at some of the language coming from Trump’s America in these early days of his presidency - partisan language that names people as ‘things' whether they are muslim, Mexican or women.  The report before you similarly objectifies LGBTI people but fails to temper that language by doing what the Shared Conversations did, and that is to allow their voices to be heard and their stories of faith and commitment under God to be told. If the Church were to speak of other social or ethnic groups in a report using the tone and language as this one, we would quite rightly be accused of racism or sexism, which as a national church we rightly speak out against. Why is it therefore somehow ok to use language couched in homophobia in relation to the sex lives of some of our servers, choristers, PCC members, cleaners, youth workers, Sunday School teachers and so on? That’s right, it’s not. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Fifthly, we ask the God of love to bless many things - people, pets, homes, ships, even nuclear submarines and yet we can’t bring ourselves to ask Him to bless all loving relationships. Who is making the distinction?

In my opinion GS 2055 fails to model the Church of England ministering well in England to the people of England. It models the very worst of poor compromises and fails to speak to our nation, to our church or for our church as it it actually is - even in a holding position.

I encourage you not to take note of this report and to vote against it tomorrow and instead call on the Synod and indeed the whole church to be bold, prophetic, inclusive and welcoming - to truly be a church in England for England - and not just certain sections of it.

With every blessing 

Rev'd. Simon Cutmore

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Salt and Light: David Beckham, Corrie Ten Boom & Gram Seed

David Beckham was the guest on the 75th anniversary edition of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. He admitted that he would look forward to the solitude of island life - a contrast to life lived in the media’s gaze - with a cook book as his reading matter and his England caps as his luxury item. The peace and quiet of a desert island is something we might all crave from time-to-time, a much-loved book to read, and a luxury item to enjoy, as we relax alone in the sunshine – idyllic!

However, the reality for most of us is that we live in a world that is fast-paced, full of complexities: Brexit, Trump’s travel ban, and the mosque shooting in Canada – they all point to a world that seems to be changing almost hour-by-hour. Yet, this is the world into which disciples of Christ in 2017 find themselves, and this is the reality into which we are charged to shine.

We meet Jesus this morning having been tempted in the wilderness, then moving into the bustle of ministry. In the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ which we hear some of this morning, Jesus reinterprets the nature of power relationships - blessed are the meek not the powerful - for they shall inherit the earth. But just when the crowd begins to wonder if Jesus is coming to sweep the Law away, He points out that He has to come to fulfiil it - in His life and theirs.

Jesus said: You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who hid Jews during the war. She and her family were caught and taken to Ravensbrook concentration camp. Her father and one of her sisters died there. After the war she went to speak to others about forgiveness. She was speaking at a church one day and at the end a man who was coming up to her. She recognised him as one of the cruelest guards from her time in the camp. She felt cold. He told her that he had become a Christian and had received God’s forgiveness and he had prayed that God would allow him to recieve forgiveness from one of his victims.She talks about what happened next below...


Light shines - but if you shade it - the light is simply directed elsewhere. If you shroud it, even if it cannot somehow seep out from around the edges, the light still burns resolute looking for a way to blaze out into the darkness of our lives, our choices, our hatred, our unforgiveness… It was the light of Christ that shone into the dark heart of that guard, possibly from Corrie Ten Boom and her family even whilst they were in the concentration camp, which in turn shone into her life from him years later - allowing her to forgive him.


Jesus said: You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Jesus calling us salt is a puzzling and rich image - salt is used to cleanse wounds, its used to season food, it’s historically been used to preserve food, it symbolises the covenant relationship of God and His people a few times in the Old Testament. Salt rapidly changes the chemical composition of ice into water, but in dough it not only seasons but it slowly enables that dough to keep more or the CO2 as it rises and to it strengthens and stabilises the whole loaf. But all of this can only happen when it’s not trapped in the cellar or put through the mill. 


Gram Seed knows what it is to be trapped in the cellar of self loathing and he certainly put others through the mill. Brought up in an abusive and ultimately destructive home - he was thrown out onto the street aged 15, ending up in a special youth detention facility. There he became increasingly angry and aggressively anti authority. After being freed he became the worst sort of football hooligan - his body still bearing the scars of stabbings, being bottled and and other unspeakable violence. By the mid 90s he was on the streets living life on the brink as a drug addict and drunk. Some people came and said to him - do you know that Jesus loves you? He chased the away but they kept coming back week after week with the same message. Months later, Gram collapsed and was taken to the hospital in a coma. On the 6th day in hospital he died and given the Last Rites. People gathered with his family to pay their respects including this small group of Christians who had got to know him. They asked whether they could pray for him - to which his mother replied: what good is that going to do? He’s dead. They prayed and as they did Gram came back to life. But he hadn't just revived - he no longer felt the urge to drink or take drugs - he wanted not longer to maim people but help them. The anger and self loathing had gone.  Those Christians on the street mixed into Gram’s world, got to know him and showed him the love of Christ - a love which ultimately healed his emotional wounds and transformed his very make up - strengthening and stabilising his life for good and for the good of others.


Gram Seed

What is Jesus saying to us? You are salt. You are light. These aren’t conditional things with Jesus - they are imperatives. Jesus is being emphatic - be salt; be light, but if we lose our saltiness we are good for nothing; if we hide our light we become pointless. In a dark world feeling like it’s getting darker we need the light. In a bland world of polarising politics we need the seasoning of God’s love. It may not feel like we can make much difference against the back drop of the muslim travel ban or terrorist attrocities in Canada and France; we may feel despondent at where our own Government or indeed denomination is taking us - but then I realised that it only takes one candle to make a difference to the darkness. It only takes a pinch of salt to season and give structure to the bread. You are salt, you are the light - corporately, but individually too…

St Benedict

The Benedictine moto is laborare est orare - to work is to pray. St Benedict encouraged his monks not to withdraw from the complex and difficult world, but to bring the world to God through their prayers, and by surrounding their entire day in regular prayer - everything that they did became an offering back to God. So we should pray - it only takes a little light; a pinch of salt is needed… But having prayed we should also work where God sets us. We may not be able to confront the politics of hate - but we can welcome the stranger and help them become a friend supporting Together 100 of the Catholic Worker Farm’s work with refugees; we can love those whom the church and others tell us are somehow less lovely - those with dementia, ex cons seeking to reintegrate into society, our gay, bi sexual and trans brothers and sister; we can work alongside others to enact justice and forgiveness. It takes one candle, one pinch of salt is needed. But as followers of Jesus they aren’t optional extras. They are visible signs that we are following.





Like David Beckham, we may crave the solitude of the desert island, how much better to be bearers of hope in this world – particularly in a week full of such chaotic headlines. On a deserted island there are no others to shine for, no life to season and strengthen. In fact, it is by being here, that we have the opportunity to shine here; and in doing so, to share the faith we have, so that those around us may also give glory to God.


~~~

If that weren't enough, during the intercessions (where candles were lit and we prayed that we would shine in the darkness), I even snuck in some prog, but it was the only thing we could listen to...



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Teddy Bear Blessing

We have reasonably recently started giving Baptism packs to the families of the children we baptised. The packs include a whole range of things:

A Teddy Horsley story called 'Water.'
A Mothers Union magazine
A Congratulations card
A small leaflet highlighting what fathers can do to support their children spiritually
A card for the parents to give to those who are the child's Godparents
A hand knitted teddy bear for the child in question.

This morning at our Candlemas Eucharist we asked God's blessing on all of the bears we will give away this year. Feel free to use, adapt, correct the prayer as I'm sure you'll do it better than me!


Almighty God, Creator and Lover of all.
We give you thanks for those whose care and skill have made these bears.
May your blessing + rest on them.
May those newly baptised children who receive them
know the love and care of you their Heavenly Father,
whom they cannot see,
through us, your family here.
Through Jesus Christ who became a child like us,
and grew and lived and died and rose
and reigns for ever. Amen

Teddy Bears And The People Of God



This is my teddy bear. It doesn’t have a name. It was given to me when I was born and has travelled with me into different neighbourhoods, homes and stages of my life. On the one hand it’s a lovely gift you give a child and yet on the other it symbolises something you cannot see - a love, a relationship that sustains you from childhood into the rest of your adult life.



These teddy bears have been knitted lovingly to be given away to the families of small children who come for Christening. On the one hand it is just a gift from the church community to that child and their family and yet on the other it symbolises something you cannot see - the blessing and presence of God who loves that child from conception to grave and wants them to love Him too. It connects that child and their family to a particular time and place by water and oil; but also welcomes them into a family of people of differing ages and stages.

This morning we meet Mary and Joseph going up to Jerusalem, following the centuries old traditions of their faith. They went with their first born son to honour the God who had been faithful to their forebears. What they were doing was common place and normal.

Encountering Simeon and Anna introduced an abnormality as Simeon takes their child and speaks not a blessing over the child but himself. No wonder they were amazed. But as Simeon blessed the couple, he turns to Mary and speaks of her child tipping the balance of power amongst their people to the point that he will be opposed - silenced, stopped, perhaps even crucified… her heart and soul now cleaved in two by such awful news.

This morning we encounter Simeon and Anna, who through years of faith filled tradition reveal their trust in the same God, who through those traditions, speaks, acts and transforms our today and tomorrow by the power of the Holy Spirit.

What’s clear to me is that Mary and Joseph did not come to the Temple to have their feathers ruffled or their received traditions challenged. They knew what they were coming to do and what to expect. They followed the Law of Moses to the letter - offering the thank offering of the poor for their Son’s safe arrival and for their own sanctification.

It sounds familiar doesn't it? We come to church week in week out. We carefully attend to the various practises of our faith that countless others have lived and shared. Honouring the God who had been faithful to our forebears. We certainly do not expect to have our feathers ruffled or our practise challenged. When we come many of us know what we are coming to do and what to expect. And we find it difficult, unsettling and uncomfortable when the liturgy is different, or the music changes or there is no Eucharist. But when two words I’ve heard recently to describe the church come again and again - buildings and boring - you know that we have got something badly wrong.


'...Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…'


Aerial performer Jennifer Bricker was born without legs. Adopted by a loving and supportive couple, both they and she never let it stop her reaching her goals.  By the age of 11 she was a gymnastics champion - having fallen in love with the sport after watching Dominique Moceanu win a gold medal for the US at the 1996 Olympics. She followed the ups and downs of her idol over the years. When Jennifer was 16 she asked her mother if there was anything they hadn't told her about her birth family. To her surprise, her mother said: "Your biological last name would have been Moceanu."And it turned out to Jennifer and Dominique’s surprise and delight that the two had a lot more in common than athletic talent but they were sisters.

I find myself surprised and delighted by Simeon and Anna. It is clear that they both played a very important role in revealing God’s love and purposes for Jesus to Mary and Joseph. They continue to challenge me to think and think again about the way we help young parents and their children hear of God’s love and purposes for them. But they offer me a further challenge.

Simeon and Anna offer us a pattern for living out our faith. Yes they clearly loved the traditions of their faith but they weren’t a means to an end, as it’s clear that as they meet the Holy Family, the Holy Spirit had tuned their hearts to the music of God. Their lives were a dance that told of a radical trust in that God who they knew would one day fulfil His long held promises in their day and in the their age. It is no accident that their encounter with Mary, Josephs dn Jesus took place in the heart of Jewish life and worship - the Temple - the place that enshrined the presence of God amongst His people.

Two words to describe the church that I’ve heard in recent days - buildings and boring. Yet the Bible talks of the church as a body; as people; as disciples as something organic, full of life and growth. There is a dissonance. How do we become the church we long to see - the people of God who embody His presence in in this place?

What is Jesus asking of us? Our traditions need to lead us to God and not be an end in themselves - constrained by expectations and time. Our worship needs to be engaging, beautiful and moving, drawing us into the presence of the God of tradition but with an expectation He will speak still through Scripture and sustain us through the Sacraments. We are part way through an experimental pattern of worship. We didn't change things for changes sake, but try to enable as many people as possible to encounter God. Change is uncomfortable. But our worship is something we offer to the God who loves us and longs to transform our hearts and lives. When it has been boring - sorry. Please journey with us as we seek to meet God in new ways together.

We need to allow our buildings which speak of God the Creator to be the places where the church gather to have the Holy Spirit rest on us; where we encounter God and be remade and transformed by Him. Our buildings are places where we the church should be expectantly waiting, hoping praying that God will do as He has said He will.

We need to radically trust the God we cannot see - expecting Him to fulfil His promises. That doesn't mean we do nothing - we should live that reality - being gracious with our time and our generous with our money for without enough of either we stop looking expectantly for God and instead see a few more empty pews & changing figures in our accounts. Simeon and Anna faithfully worshipped; Mary and Jospeh gave what was needed both expecting nothing in return but they did so responding to the God whose love and presence filled that place.

The Temple was the place that enshrined the presence of God amongst His people. The church is the people of God who embody His presence in in the communities of our parish.  Today we reorientate our gaze from looking back to Christmas as Christ’s coming amongst us to looking forwards to the mystery of His Passion - His Crucifixion and Resurrection. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, described our journey of faith like driving a car on the motorway at night - the only way the driver can keep to the road is by using his headlights. So will you help me steer this car following the light of Christ? Will you help me and each other to not look back to where we have been but to look ahead to where God is leading us? Will you help me by being gracious with you time and generous with your money so that we can focus on God and His leading and not those things? Will you help to ensure the times we gather to worship or study to be occasions where we encounter God and are remade by Him? Pray with me...

A prayer of St Thomas Aquinas:

Most loving Lord, grant me
a steadfast heart which no unworthy desire may drag downwards;
an unconquered heart which no hardship may wear out;
an upright heart which no worthless purpose may ensnare.
Impart to me also, O God,
the understanding to know you,
the diligence to seek you,
a way of life to please you,
and a faithfulness that may embrace you,
through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An Advent Isaiah Vision

Ahhh.... my much neglected blog. Here is my sermon from Advent 1 based on Isaiah 2:1-5...

~~~

Outside the United Nations building in New York stands a wall on which are written some of the words we heard as our first reading - they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more…’ Perhaps these words serve as both judgement and a call for justice in that context.


The Isaiah passages we read during the season of Advent pick out the positive pictures from an otherwise dark text. He prophesied at a critical point in Judah’s history - a time when both Israel, under Jeroboam II, and Judah, under Hezekiah had reached political and prosperous heights.  Assyria’s might was on the rise and their cruel reign sought to overwhelm God's people like the rest of the Middle East.  Isaiah’s ministry centred on calling God’s people back to faithfulness in the face of impending destruction by their arch nemesis.

The purpose of prophecy then as now, is to shake us and remake us – to change the way we think. It is always a challenge – either to shake complacency or, in this case, to hold on to a vision of identity and faith in tough times.  

What would we rather see on our tvs as we enter this holy season with it’s rapid slide downhill to Christmas? The reality of life in Aleppo as it’s recaptured by Syrian troops or Buster the bouncing boxer or Mrs Claus running the show almost like she’s a member of International Rescue? Most of us would rather enjoy the latter to avoid the reality of the former.


At the beginning of our reading we heard: '...The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem...' I’m not sure how one sees a word as what Isaiah is talking about here is not about reading. It is something far bigger, something all encompassing. This vision of weapons of war turned into agricultural tools, images of death dealing turned into food producing is more than some sort of utopian hope - we feel it in our guts - it is a right longing - which we encounter coming to us from the future seeking to shape the days in which we are living.

But this vision isn't one of humanity having grown up, realising the futility of war, or melting our weapons as some sort of show of strength. It is a response to an encounter and a relationship which shapes our direction of travel and renews a sense purpose and hope.


In these days of Advent Isaiah stands amongst us and points God out suddenly - LOOK! The ways of God will no longer be unknown and hidden, but He is coming and show and teach us Himself. The image is the difference between a child picking the book off the shelf an trying to learn themselves, and the teacher coming alongside that child, talking them through and taking time to help them learn and grow.

In these Advent days, Isaiah’s vision uses vivid imagery of reframed relationships - predator and prey co-existing (wolves and lambs, calves and lions) and us with each other - and of reshaped topography - recalling earthquakes in recent months and the shifting of tectonic plates - to symbolise a coup - God comes, urgently and unnoticed, and in so doing a new way of being together is established by Him that is utterly contrary to what we have experienced or could normally expect.

In these dark days, Isaiah’s words invite us to walk with this God whose light transforms this present darkness. But this light is like a blazing flame - inviting and protecting and yet also dangerous.

We are being sold a lie friends. Buster the boxer bounces because he distracts us from bombed out Aleppo. And then in the next ad break a smiling priest and imam affirm their friendship by surprising each other with a gift, because we are supposed to somehow believe we can choose to live like this for the other 300 days of the year? Look into the eyes of a Syrian refugee. Read the hate speech and swastikas spat from aerosol cans on shops and homes and tell me that we can… We need a new vision and new hope.
Through Isaiah God invited his hearers to see a bold new vision of hope blazing like light in the darkness that would inspire local communities to live it’s shared identity, values and faith in dark and difficult times.

Through Isaiah God invites us to seek a bold new vision of what it means to be a local community living out our shared identity, values and faith in what may be difficult times. And I invite you to join with me during Advent to spend some time working out together through prayer and conversation, who and what God is calling us to be - where are we together wanting to put our energy and resources? What are our top priorities? Is it work supporting the elderly and housebound? Or work with refugees? Or supporting and nurturing the faith of our children and young people and their families? Isaiah reminds us that God makes the impossible possible - His vision isn’t a dream but a  transforming of reality - we need to ask Him and each other how and where and when and who type questions if these visions are to become reality and not fade like a waking dream. If you have a vision, a hope a dream - tell us - God may be speaking through you like He did and still does through Isaiah.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Jack-In-A-Box God

In a photo by Mark Brunner,
Thomas is shown shielding an unnamed man believed
to be a white supremacist
In June 1996 a branch of the Ku Klux Klan announced planned to hold a rally in Ann Arbour, Michigan. A counter protest was planned. Keisha Thomas was one of several people that attended and protested from an area that had been fenced and set aside for the protesters. The protest proceeded until one protester announced over a megaphone that there was "a Klansman in the crowd".  The unnamed man was a middle-aged white male wearing a T-shirt depicting the Confederate flag and an "SS tattoo". The man began to run but was knocked down, kicked, and beaten with placards. Thomas, who was at that time 18 years old, instead of joining in the beating, found herself moved with compassion motivated by her Christian faith, shielded the man from the crowd and shouted for the attackers to stop and that you "can't beat goodness into a person". She said later that she had acted as she had also because she know what it was like to be hurt. A few months later, she was thanked personally by the son of the unamed man she helped that day.

This story of Keisha Thomas, powerfully demonstrates what we try to teach our children - do to others as you would have them do to you, or something similar. Talk of being a 'Good Samaritan' is common parlance - we know what the expression means from doing an unexpected good deed to someone else through to manning an emergency phone line. But if we reduce this extremely well known parable of Jesus to a morality tale - we lose it's power to shake us awake into living the values of the Kingdom of God.


Jesus is approached by a lawyer and asked a question to test him. Lawyers then as now are trained to know their subject - in this case the Scriptures - and to be able to get at the truth. The lawyer knew the answer to the question that he asked Jesus about inheriting eternal life - it's a classic example of religious legal exchange - a checking out of your opponent - and we know this by Jesus' two questions back: what does scripture say and how do you read or interpret it? And if a strict legal interpretation of Deuteronomy and Leviticus from which the lawyer quotes were what was required then today's Gospel reading would have stopped with Jesus' response - do this and you will live. But as is so often the case with Jesus' teaching, there is so much more.


But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Back in the days of unrest in Egypt in 2011, you may recall photos emerging of a group of Christians gathered hand in hand arm in arm around a group of Muslims as they prayed. This wasn't a one off as we also saw photos of Muslims repaying the gesture of recognition and kindness. This has spread. In Nigeria, Boko Haram the Islamic terrorist group is an equal opportunities destroyer - levelling Mosque and Church alike, so in just over the border in northern Cameroon on Friday's Christians protect local Mosques and on Sunday's Muslims reciprocate in the same way recognising each other's freedom to worship but also their shared humanity.

The lawyer's question isn't a bad one. The word neighbour used by the Lawyer is plesios - the one who is near. A next door neighbour. But we have a natural inclination to love those with whom we have a connection to by blood or friendship. And we would love it is Scripture could pat us on the head and tell us that. When the lawyer quotes from Leviticus (Love your neighbour as yourself...) the word there is re'a - my compatriot. Not whoever is near to me, but one with whom I have something to do - someone I am connected to. Phew! So imagine the shock in the crowd when Jesus opens the definitions of neighbourliness in Greek and Hebrew to include those far away from me and my family - religiously, ethnically and socially. A Jewish man is set upon by thieves and his kinsmen give him a wide berth whilst his ethnic enemy reaches out in compassion.
Rev'd Andy Griffiths

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man... He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.' A couple of weeks ago, my friend Andy Griffiths who is a Vicar in Essex, was on his way home from a meeting when he stopped off at a shop.  The person behind the desk (British Asian, mid-20s, has never lived outside Essex) told him he had just been racially abused.  A man had told him "We voted leave, now you have to leave" and "I'll come back every day until you leave this country or I glass you".  When he tried to point out he was British and that isn't what the word "leave" meant on posters, the assailant just kept saying "We voted leave, now you have to leave, we voted leave now you have to leave".   Clearly the assailant was the worse for wear, but that doesn't change the fact that a crime was committed. Andy stayed until the victim was feeling calmer, and had called the police.

The Samaritan, outside the Jewish law and not welcome socially or ethnically, is described as showing pity and mercy - two attributes of the God of Israel. The Samaritan acts as the Compassionate God in human form and therefore Jesus is identifying himself with this Samaritan - and suddenly not only is this a morality tale about being nice to people, but again Jesus blows open our tightly bound who's in and who's out view of our safe little worlds but also of the remit and extent of God's love - because God is clearly acting in a loving way not to the Samaritan (oh isn't that lovely) but through the Samaritan (sharp intake of breath.)



God has a habit of operating outside our expectations and leaping out of the box we put him in. This jack in a box God in Jesus: came as a vulnerable baby; taught a wild inclusive love; dared to die the death of a bandit; and is risen. All unexpected. Here the jack in a box God in Jesus, challenges us not just to see God in others, which is harder than ever it seems in post Brexit Britain, but to receive God in and from others - from those not like us, those whom we oppose, those whose lifestyles challenge our nice tightly bound morals or politics. So don't just reach out the hand of friendship to a next door neighbour - as good as that may be - but we need to go out of our way, across the road, and seek God out in places and amongst people outside your comfort zone - perhaps particularly amongst the refugees locally, amongst those who have the UK their home from Europe and further afield for work in recent years and amongst the gay community locally - not just because they need our love right now and by God they do - but because there we will find Jesus, the Samaritan, showing mercy and pity to us.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

St Peter And The Art Of Prediction

At Diocesan Synod yesterday, Bishop Alan began his presidential address speaking about a book called ‘Superforcasting: The Art and Science of prediction.’ In it, the authors look at the way that experts attempt to predict the future, such as what is going to happen to the financial markets in the coming year. It’s telling, however, that one of the authors has concluded that in a wide range of subjects “there was very little difference between the accuracy of so-called ‘experts’ and guesses made by the man in the street.”

Well that’s what we re-discovered this past week. Most of us went to bed on Thursday night believing the opinion polls’ view that there was a small margin in favour of the United Kingdom remaining in the EU. International money markets agreed and the exchange rates and share indexes reflected this consensus. Some of us stayed up to watch the results come in and as they did we discovered that we had decided to divorce our immediate European neighbours after a forty year marriage and we now want to have a different set of relationships with other countries.

But this fracturing of relationships on the global stage, only mirrors the reshaping of relationships that we see at an individual or cultural level where increasingly we as people distrust large institutions of power that tell us what to think or do - instead we constantly seek our own political ideologies and cultural identities (no longer are you a mod or a rocker but you might be a post punk or prog rocker or any other myriad of identities today and tomorrow be something totally different). Similarly traditional models of relationship such as marriage no longer enduring and are ultimately disposable because all that matters is my happiness. We are ever increasingly the ‘me’ generation or put another way - the L’Orel generation - because all that matters is my happiness - because I’m worth it.

Caesarea Philippi was a Roman town south of the Golan Heights. It was previously known as Banias but it was renamed by Herod Philip II to honour Caesar - and himself too - and their ongoing relationship of power and it was the administrative centre of Herod’s rule. It was also one of the places where the goat god Pan was worshipped who was said to have been born in a nearby cave, known as the gates of Hell.

Jesus asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Until last September few people in her native Macedonia had heard of Katica Janeva. As chief prosecutor in a small border town, her work mainly consisted of pursuing petty thieves and people-smugglers. But now she has been thrust centre stage in this turbulent former Yugoslav republic. Her new job is to probe claims of wrongdoing and corruption raised by a huge wiretapping scandal that has engulfed the government. Her identity has changed from being a basically unknown to being a widely known fighter for truth and justice.

Katica Janeva
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man - an identity with implications. He’s identifying himself as a ‘son of Adam’ the man in the street; he’s also contrasting the lowliness of humanity and the glory of God; but he’s also identifying with a future figure who’s coming will signal the end history and the coming of God’s judgement and justice. Do people in these early days of his ministry and in a place laced with political, kingly and spiritual power, know yet who Jesus really is - what his identity is, and what he’s come to bring about?

Jesus said: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. Pope Francis, the successor to St Peter whom we commemorate today, his ministry continues to cause controversy. In a visit to Armenia recently, he described the killing of 1.5 million Armenian Christians as genocide. This on the one hand is an olive branch to the Armenian Apostolic church from the head of the Armenian Catholic church as the Apostolic church canonised those who died at the end of the Ottoman empire as martyrs, but it’s also on the other hand a clear call for historic justice and ultimately reconciliation.

The Pope meets the Armenian Patriarch.
I have often wondered why Jesus renames Simon as Peter. Petros, the stone or rock. Peter doesn't seem particularly stable or reliable a person on which to build something as lasting as the church. Peter the fisherman; Peter the one who misunderstands; Peter the one with his foot so often in his mouth; Peter the denier of Christ. And then I realised Simon only becomes Peter when he lives in the life changing reality of the coming kingdom of Jesus the Son of Man. Simon is Peter not because Jesus tells him he is, but Simon is Peter because of who Jesus is and what He continues to lead him into and reveal to him about the love of God. Simon's new identity as Peter isn't something he earns, but something in grace that Jesus confers on him again and again and again. And no other power - political, cultural, or spiritual - can take that away from him.


What is Jesus asking of us as we keep the Feast of St peter today? In these days of a shifting political landscape in terms of our relationships with our European neighbours and each other depending on which way you voted; after, what I believe to have been a poor four months of debate from both sides leading up to Thursday’s referendum based on a small minded and visionless politics, we must now move forward together for the common good.

St Peter will have heard Jesus teach on the greatest commandment - to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbour. Like St Peter’s successor, Pope Francis, how do we now listen to and show love to those with whom we have disagreed in these days, but also, how do we ensure - as followers of the same Jesus that Peter knew - that the voices of those who were not heard in the referendum or the voices of those who are constantly silenced in our communities or our world are heard? As we prepare ourselves as communities to welcome Syrian refugees from the UNHCR camps and elsewhere in the coming months: How do we not only transform the name - refugee, migrant, scrounger, vermin an so on - that they are given by the media and our communities - but transform their lives to become people again?

Spend a moment in quiet and in your mind ponder: what does it mean for me to say that Jesus is the Messiah. How would I describe Jesus to someone who never heard of him before. How would I demonstrate that I am no longer Simon, or Paul, or Maureen or Julie, but Peter through whom God’s kingdom is coming to a child…or adult…or friend…or a Syrian refugee.


Peter saw in Jesus what’s possible even in the face of political might and the very real fear for some.  Rather than give into the threat of disease, Jesus healed. Rather than surrender the powers that control people’s lives, Jesus showed compassion. Rather than let people starve because there’s not enough to go around, Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus refused to be satisfied or limited by the status quo and invites us to do the same, because if Jesus’ life and death show us how much God loves us, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that that love is more powerful than hate and fear and even death.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

London Busses And The Rule of St Benedict

Like London busses because as soon as one blog post is writ, another comes along on quick succession!

I have been coming on retreat to Alton Abbey for a few years now, and I have been enriched and fed (both physically and spiritually) there. The first time I spent time with the Brethern, what struck me and continues to draw me back there, was the warmth of their welcome, the depth of the spirituality, the quality of the silence and space, that it really felt like I had come home.

Since my initial visits, I have felt deeply called to the Way of Life as taught by St. Benedict.

I have been pondering on for a while what it is that resonates so much for me and in my about the Benedictine way. This is not intended to be my final word on these things, but just the beginnings of a reflection of the new call that Christ is making on my life.

Since my earliest years as a Christian I have tried to seek out a way following Christ that fed me inwardly. I have looked for spirituality that had, as it were, authenticity and depth as well as enabling me to have a transformative encounter with Christ which has led from 'Lancashire Low Church', through the Evangelical and Chasismatic traditions, to Alt Worship and on into an earthy Catholic Spirituality.

On the way, I have struggled and failed with unstructured daily scripture reading (even making my way through a Gospel could see me diverted onto something else!), a regular 'quiet time', prayer triplets and so on. All of them, for me, felt burdensome. Now some of that was to do with my age, my experience of faith, my experience of life and so on and so on.

It has really only been as I have begun to learn from Benedict that I am finding that depth and authenticity for which I have craved for so long.

So what appeals? A cursory reading of the Prologue of St Benedict's Rule highlight a few things for me:

1. There is a taking seriously the call to obedience to Christ and to imitate His life of holiness.
2. Prayer is the beginning and the end of the matter
Christ speaks of the things of God to us still through Scripture.
3. Spiritual renewal - in every sense of that expression - is key to living the Christian life
4. That 'doing' is good and especially doing good!
5. Actively choosing to live Christ's Way.
6. Recognising that I am and always will be a disciple in the school of the Lord's service.

Pondering on these things, and increasingly inspired by Benedict's teaching about being rooted in a particular place (in my case in a parish) I am exploring becoming an Oblate.

To do this, part of what I need to do is to seek to draw up a simple Rule of Life. Having prayerfully thought about what this might look like, I share with you what may well become mine as I explore this new vocation:


A Working Rule of Life.

Pray - as a cleric I promised that I will say the Daily Office regularly and pray for the people in my care; the church of God everywhere and for the needs of the world. This is I do  and I am fed by the waxing and waning of the liturgical seasons and the rhythm of psalmody and the flow of scripture reading. But I will also find opportunities to give thanks for the simple beauty of a goldfinch in the garden or to remember a person before God as I take Holy Communion to them at home.

Attend Mass regularly - presiding at the Eucharist is a significant part of how I spend much of my time. And when I am not doing it, I am preparing for it by reading scripture and writing sermons. For me at least, meeting Christ in the Eucharist is an utterly transformative experience, and it is from there that I am sent out by Him, filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, to make Him known in word and deed. The Mass is profoundly missional as it calls me to participate in the Missio Dei. It's all in the name.

Visit Alton at leat twice a year on retreat - this won't be too arduous. I aware that I need to me remade by being on retreat. Indeed I write this whilst being away on retreat. Parish ministry is challenging and varied. Jesus took time away from challenging ministry to just be away and to pray. I have been fed and nourished at Alton in so many ways and I anti ate I will continue use to do so. Besides my current Spriitual Director is here. It is not burdensome. During this time I hope I will reflect on this rule and do some much needed self-examination. Is my life pleasing to God? Am I keeping this rule or is it keeping me? Where am I falling short and where can I grow?

Pray for the community regularly - See point above.

Lectio Divina - I discovered spiritual reading of scripture through reading Richard Foster's books. Since then it has been a regular part of my own spiritual discipline either  at the Office or certainly during sermon preparation. I love the way Scripture comes alive as we ask God to speak to us though it; to read it slowly and prayerfully; to dwell on words and phrases and wait for the Spirit of God to lead us into prayer though our reading

Read and reflect on the Rule of St Benedict regularly. Since answering this call of Christ on my life I have sought to read and meditate on the Rule of St Benedict most days if I can. There are several books that enable me to do this.

Attend the On Fire Mission Conference annually - St Benedict speaks specifically about spiritual renewal in the Prologue to the Rule. I am not certain that he was meaning Renewal as Charismatic Christians might understand it, but in some sense the principle is correct though. If I am to be a faithful disciple; if I am to be a loving husband and father; if I am to be a good parish priest - I need Christ to continue to transform my nature and will from the inside out. I need to be formed more and more into His likeness. One of the places I find this happens for me is at the On Fire Mission Annual Conference as through it God blends my spiritual traditions with friendships and I am fed.

Continue my vocation to the Sodality of The Holy Spirit - this is a calling that has in part risen out of friendships forged at OFM and elsewhere, but three of us have felt called out to a shared life of  3 charisms: of intentionality (Christ centred discerning, listening and acting), missional living (being an active part of God's mission and actively seeking spiritual and numerical growth) and expectancy (believing that God still intervenes and speaks supernaturally.)

Keep my day off weekly and take my allocation of holiday - part of spiritual renewal is Sabbath time. If Jesus can rest, so can I, and Jesus clearly saw rest as key yo his own renewing in ministry. That time is also key to ensuring a healthy relationship with myself, my wife and my kids who are my primary church.

Make space for music and the arts, cycling and walking - again this is about spiritual and personal renewal.

Almsgiving - this isn't about my already designated charitable giving but rather how I give financially and temporally of myself to the welfare and wellbeing of others. It is a witness to the self-giving love of God in Christ and an act of justice to and for the poor. This isn't about salving my First World conscience but about actively seeking to make a tangible difference to the world.

I hope to formalise this Rule with the Oblate Master and move to becoming an Probationer Oblate as soon as possible by the grace of God.