Non-competitive Ethics

I have been reading several books by Rafe Esquith, who is a teacher in Los Angeles. All three books say basically the same things – and reveal that being a good educator in difficult circumstances is not rocket science – but does demand several costly things:

Long-term commitment to the same location.

Perseverance in the face of endlessly changing demands but fairly static challenges.

Self-discipline and (material rather than emotional) self-sacrifice.

A desire to learn from others and an appreciation of their gifts – be those fellow educators or children.

I kind of wish I’d just bought one of the three books – but reading the same thing three times has been helpful revision, and I expect he can use the royalties. I like his common sense, and have picked up much useful advice, however part of what this very dedicated teacher wrote felt consistently incompatible with my teaching role as a priest… this was  not a worry as though there is a large educational and formational aspect to my role it helped me to think about the ways in which my vocation differs from a school teacher.

What Mr Esquith seeks to do is educate well-rounded individuals, with a sense that they can aim higher- he seeks to equip them with tools for life, ranging from time-management and self-reflection to simple but invaluable politeness and presentation… and it sounds like he is very effective at achieving these worthwhile aims.

But I could feel that there were a couple of places where my vocation diverged strongly from what I was reading… now it is quite possible that the context of one of the books means it was rhetorical style rather than an underlying difference in attitude, but whilst reading about a school trip, and Esquith’s analysis of how the behaviour of his students compared to the behaviour of those people around them I realised that what was winding me up was the comparison itself… silly I know since it was important to draw the comparison in order for him to illustrate what he was trying to teach. Again and again it was the very use of comparison that irked me… but then I realised there was no harm in its use in teaching, even in his attempt to build young people -however his classroom rule of cultivating ‘humility’ did not quite make up for the innate self-righteousness he was growing in his students which would be unbearable in a church context (and yet which is so often found there)… I have been there myself, in fact I was brought up to it by a pair of teachers (coming from an academic, atheistic and liberal perspective as well as a religious and class-based one) … the comparative  ‘you don’t want to be like THAT do you?’ as a learning tool… it works okay to channel bright children into clever, well-spoken, appropriately ‘humble’ and subtley competitive and self-disciplined members of society… but it doesn’t build bridges and it offers little room for real turnaround redemption.

It is an attitude that has all the hallmarks of the pharisee rather than the fisherman, ‘I thank God I am not like that publican!’… but all it often means is that unacceptable behaviours and desires are subverted out of sight, in order to maintain a socially effective persona.

I strongly believe Christian ethics is not founded upon interpersonal judgement – but I realise that it is often the system we seem to fall back on.

In fact I believe that Christ taught and revealed behaviour that was radically non-competitive…

Let’s think about some of the earliest ‘sins’ in the Bible:

Cain and Abel – they both worship God with offerings – grain from Cain and a lamb from Abel – but Cain is copying Abel, and when God accept’s Abel’s offering and doesn’t like Cain’s so much – Cain is so riled – he kills his brother from jealousy. It’s not about the lamb or the grain, competitive ‘righteousness’ doesn’t work.

In fact let’s go back a bit Genesis… that fruit which is not to eat… is it humanity’s jealousy that makes Adamah and Chavvah desire it? ‘You will be like God’… not like yourself but like someone else.

Stop looking at each other and comparing your behaviour, your gains and losses, your apparent successess and failures… forget them and look to your Creator – you will only find there your true form – everywhere else, no matter how enviable or worthy, is a misdirection!

Question is – how do we translate that into something teachable… I think we have to look to Christ… Emmanuel, God with us – but even there we have to be careful not to try and emulate him, context and all – or the first step in our code of ethics would be circumcision… so it’s a good job he still lives, we need to look at what he’s doing now in the Holy Spirit not just what he was doing then, in sandles and seamless robe. And you can’t teach people to see. Can you?



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A new heart I will give you

A new heart I will give you and put a new spirit within you, I will take away from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh… (Ezekiel 36:26)

I love those prophetic words in Ezekiel… God promising to change the hardened hearts of humanity for living, loving hearts of flesh. I also picked that line today as a follow up to my last post.

My mum is back at home after her heart bypass, and coping well with first stage of the long slow healing process.

I realise that I didn’t mention in that last post the other thing that was on my mind at the same time…  having been officially signed off from my curacy at the end of three years, I had been in the process of applying for a post in a new parish!

Well I have been appointed to a new role in a parish four hours from where we live now,  and so we are preparing as a family to ‘up sticks’ and decamp to a large coastal parish in the East of England; where I will be able to work with a team of lay and ordained colleagues in an exciting and demanding ministry, in what is ranked by the Church Urban Fund as the most deprived parish in its diocese, and one of the most deprived in the country. So lots of ministry potential and a lot of Good News needed!

I’m really looking forward to moving, and to working there, but it was only really after the appointment had been announced in both parishes, that, receiving all sorts of really lovely comments from the people here whom I have come to know – I realised that my task – in the new parish, as it was in this present one – would of course be to love the people there,  to get to know them and their stories, and to find out what God is doing or could be doing in their lives.

It’ll be a bit different from the curacy of course – I am allowed to have a plan, and ideas for long term vision (worked out together with those around me) and will have to form strategies and evaluate progress, to see what’s working and how to develop it and what maybe isn’t… but primarily, as always it will be about loving, and praying, and listening and discerning… so I’ll need a new heart… or at least a refreshed one, a heart ready for new challenges of loving.

… I lay in bed the other night thinking about all the needs and potentials in the parish, and the sheer number of souls in the parish to be cared for, ideas racing round my head; and then I said to myself – ‘I can’t do this job, it’s too big!’                                                                                            And I felt the sort of Divine common-sense reply, form like the responding ripples in a pool when you’ve chucked an idle pebble in: ‘Of course you can’t do it, it’s my job! – but if you are faithful and loving, then you will be able to help me in my task.’

Which reminds me – I’d better get on and do evening prayer now…




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Heart Bypass

 At this moment, as I type – my mum is in hospital awaiting a triple heart bypass. She is seventy-five years old, ten years ago she had a series of small heart attacks and had two stents put in, and gained a new lease of life.

She is now ten years older, and the operation is a lot more invasive… I don’t know what I thought a heart-bypass was, but I’ve learned that it involves taking a vein (or two) from the patient’s leg (or occasionally arm), cutting open the rib cage, and sewing the working pieces of vein in place of the patches of those arteries or veins round the heart that are blocked. Once the veins are sewn in place, all the other bits inside the rib cage are put back and the rib cage is wired shut, and then the huge chest wound is sutured shut, as is the long scar on the arm or leg – where the donor vein came from.

My mum doesn’t know this in detail.


I’ve been reading a book recently: Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal‘  – it is a superbly thoughtful reflection on the circumstances of growing old and infirm, or becoming mortally ill, and facing the approach of death.

Looking at innovative and life-giving care homes, and less imaginative solutions to elderly living; considering the way that hospitals and hospices respond to the needs of those who come to them for care, and considering the modern way that the end of life is physically and mentally approached (or infinitely, painfully avoided).

Atul Gawande is a surgeon and Harvard lecturer (I think) and has written other books  (which I have not read), but I thoroughly recommend this one. Above all he considers the way in which accepting our mortality, and discussing our declining abilities and what makes us love this short and precious life, are all important to how we live, age, grow old or ill, and ultimately die… at best – but more and more rarely these days, peacefully and at home, with loved ones near. He shares the personal stories of a variety of people as they approached infirmity and ultimately death.

Gawande is very frank about the way in which surgeons and consultants are not always good at approaching the difficult discussions which really ought to be had very gently with their patients, and have a tendency to offer any do-able ‘fix’, no matter how painful, unpleasant, or unlikely to succeed, rather than share their own concerns and ask the patient what matters to them in life. Gawande practises in America – but most of the reflections apply equally this side of the Atlantic.


My mum doesn’t know the specifics of the triple heart bypass operation because she did not want the doctors to tell her in any detail what the operation involves… but she chose it over an experimental attempt to stent the three awkwardly-placed blockages, which would have likely taken more than four hours, and would have required her to be conscious. Understandably, she couldn’t face that. But she didn’t want to think about what she is facing. And she has been waiting now in hospital, rigged up to a heart monitor, for five weeks – for a place at the ITU in the other hospital to become available.

So for five weeks I have been going back and forth to see her-  taking her news, fruit, digestive biscuits and drawings from my daughter every two or three days. My father has travelled in to see her every day. We do crosswords, talk about the other patients, discuss the family and the weather and the view from the window…  but we are not allowed to talk about the operation – as she does not want to think about it – it is too frightening and painful, and the only way to cope for my mum, is denial.

It is very hard. It was especially hard today – a handsome young hospital radio volunteer came round to ask for requests… my mum’s mind went blank but I remembered two of her favourite songs – Ronald Binge ‘Sailing By’ which always comes after the shipping forecast and which used to help her go to sleep when she lay awake in the night for hours listening to the radio, and Neil Diamond ‘beautiful noise’ – which my mum used to put on the CD player and turn up really really loud and dance around to when I was a teenager and she was angry and unhappy but wanted to be joyful. Perhaps it was a mistake to ask – but I just thought of them and she agreed.

The lovely DJ said he’d play them between 9pm and 10pm… and I left to make the long journey home at 7.40pm. I thought of his kindness, and the memories that music awaken and said as I left ‘I hope they don’t make you cry’. And at 9.40 she sent me a text ‘I cried a little bit’.

And I cried too.

My mum and I haven’t always had the easiest relationship – (that is such a stock phrase that I’m sure you’ll understand the understatement dear reader). I realise that denial has always been her way of dealing with things that are too frightening or painful to face… and the more afraid she gets, the more she gets short-tempered with the people close to her… about random things,  as though their very presence, and their kindness, were a wicked enticement to face the rude monster that she has determined to politely but firmly ignore.

I don’t have a solution about how to deal with difficult truths, or how to help other people to face their fears; and I don’t even know if that is always the best thing to do – perhaps not in these particular circumstances. But I know that the fear doesn’t really subside or back off if you ignore it – I can see that she is afraid and unhappy, but she has decided not to be afraid, and so she can’t talk about it, it just seeps out in little tears and anger.

Well I’m afraid. I’m afraid first of the post-op recovery – of how demanding and depressing it will be for her – of how my father will cope with her fragility… I can be there to look after her – but it will be volatile and I am afraid of that – I have not lived at home since I was 18. I am afraid of how afraid she will be when she comes round and has not thought about the consequences of the op, and is not really ready to work hard to live again, let alone to face the suffering. I am afraid that she might die, and that my whole family would then have to move from her denial and glib conversations about the weather, and judgements about “thewomaninthenextbed”… To loss and total bereavement, without any preparation. I am afraid that although I think I am in some ways the strongest in the family – ready to tend wounds, hear confessions, even prepare services… that in fact I am perhaps the weakest of all. I am afraid that my father will wear himself out with the methodical busyness that passes for emotional concern in his partitioned life, and that he might manage to accidentally die before mum does!

But I am also hopeful.

I am hopeful that a bed will soon become free and that mum will be able to go ahead and have the op. I am hopeful that the experienced surgeons will manage well, and that the operation will be a success, and I am hopeful that my mum’s good lungs and muscles and strong mind will all help her to physically recover well. I am hopeful that she will not contract an infection, and that we as a family will be ready for her when she comes home several days later. And I am hopeful that I will be able to care for her for those first few days, as dad cares for the house, and I am hopeful that, though I may not be able to take the pain away or stop her feeling low – still I will be able to gradually ease things emotionally and physically, and rub along cheerfully with my dad. I am hopeful that she will regain her health and improve, supported by her family, and live to become an interfering old pest for many years, and will see my sister’s new baby safely born, and my own family all settled in a new house and job.

Yes – I think that is the way to cope with fear… voice it thoroughly, and then see what’s really left, what lingers. And what lingers on is hope…. not optimism, but hope,

HOPE, because no matter what – God loves us, and one day, when my fleshly clothing has been destroyed, then I will see God – and my own eyes will see him – and not another… and perfect love will cast out all fear. Hope because we will all die eventually, but God has sorted that out, and it’s not as bleak as all that, but it is fair… very very fair. And even though I rarely think of heaven, I think of eternity a lot, and eternity is already underway… so somewhere, on some level, I am already dead, and God has not abandoned me… and I have a sneaking suspicion that, that is where a lot of the hope is seeping through from.

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A Covert Reformation?

Just a reflection: With thanks to J H Newman… a new tract for these times?

I am just a fellow priest like you, so I am not going to broadcast my name, in case my person distracts from the subject matter itself. But I must speak, because there is something very wrong going on – but no-one is speaking up.

Do you disagree? We all look to one another’s interests and yet remain unmoved. We all complain about the state of the church in various ways, and yet day by day watch its decline as though the problems were a world away. So let me try to goad you from your easy chair, and from the pleasant, stipended and supported sanctuaries with which we’ve been blessed; to take a look at the state and future of the church of England in an attitude of concerned responsibility; and aware that WE, the body are responsible for the health of the body – and that it may be time for a serious workout.

Firstly, I want to say – don’t blame the bishops. Don’t blame ministry division. Don’t blame the church commissioners. We are no longer a feudal society – 800 years of Magna Carta have had their effect. Do not expect dictatorial leadership and we do not exercise cringing obedience – indeed we could perhaps afford to offer the hierarchical authorities more obedience without seeming spineless… but it is not that – like all modern ‘freeborn’ we expect to have freedom of expression and freedom to question and be guided by our own vocations – but unlike our head and Shepherd of the shepherds, Christ, we do not seem to expect the same freedom of self-sacrifice and self-offering; the freedom to exercise humility and to pay a price for our faith.

So let me come to the subject which leads me to address you. Should the Church so far be guided by Economics, Government and Society, in order perhaps to retain this time its temporal honours and substance, as to cast off Christ crucified, and turn aside from the way of the cross. On what will you rest the claim of respect and attention which you make upon your flocks. Shall we continue to eat curds and clothe ourselves with wool as we diligently ‘hatch, match and despatch’ the wandering sheep – but care little where else they wander or to what purpose?

Gone are the many secular advantages of birth, wealth, connexions… and now even of wealth. You have been till lately been upheld by your service to society, by your after-school clubs, toddler groups, support meetings, elderly care and charity sales; by your voluble charity work, all worthy outworkings of a deeper vocation… but should these outward and visible signs be now the entire justification on which Christ’s ministers depend? Is not this a serious theological question?

We know now how miserable is the state of religious bodies dependent on the support of the State; a lukewarm spiritual death more to be feared in eternity than the fate of religious bodies persecuted by the State. Look at the Dissenters on all sides of you – how they and we now find ourselves subject to the same confusions and the same pressures – torn between a desire to hold our former place, as more encroachments and concessions are made to Society’s expectations; and a desire to move to higher ground. We know now and formally accept, that the Spirit enlivens other churches too – and that their ministers continue to challenge their people. And yet they too struggle to speak outside Society’s expectations, and rely upon a good name for good works to preach the Nazarene crucified. What is it therefore that we are ALL afraid or unwilling to concede, in order to respond in truth? More and more the people choose their own prophets; and they invariably choose within a narrow parameter fixed by their own falling expectations; and funded as far as possible by someone else’s sacrifice.

If our spectrum of influence is to depend on a combination of cautious middle-class provision, well-healed appearance and olde worlde charm; or conversely upon a vibrant and marketable spiritual prosperity, a clan of self-help gurus and a justifiable funding stream with evidenced outcomes… then where will be the awkward truths? How can we “keep the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus” if our influence is to depend simply on our popularity or usefulness? Is it not our very office to oppose the world, can we then allow ourselves to be conformed to it?
Are we to endlessly offer signs to the dissenting tribes or to preach reasonable and logical things to the dwindling ‘Greeks’ of popular academia; are we to endlessly prophecy peace when our nation’s children go in search of war? To make the Christian way of life easy and accessible to the indolent and indifferent; and offer alternative worship, exotic liturgies and successful speakers to the wealthy and hard of heart? To slip out of touch entirely with the humbler people, who even now would follow Christ out onto the hillside for a meal of loaves and fishes… because they have nothing to do and little to eat? Surely it must not be so; and the question recurs, on what are we to rest out authority, when the State or wealthy Society deserts us?

Christ has not left His Church.
There are some who rest their divine mission on their business credentials; others, who rest it upon popularity;  still others, upon the length of their publisher’s list. But we still have a claim to something beyond worldly credentials or temporal preference. Our apostolical descent, by the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit. We have been faithful and diligent, in carrying out the prayerful discernment of God’s will; in gathering together in prayer and worship – for the reading and consideration of God’s Holy Word; and we have not been hasty in the laying on of hands. Long debated and long prayed over has been the journey to our present priestly ministry; and now it is at risk.

We have been born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The Lord Jesus Christ gave his Spirit to his apostles; they in turn laid hands on those who should follow, praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower them. At our priestly ordination we receive authority from God to preach the gospel of Christ and to minister his holy sacraments; we are to pray earnestly then and at all times for the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower us for this task of service, which is too great for us to bear in our own strength… Do we seek now to act in our own strength, or under another authority, or strengthened by another Comforter?

Are those high churchmen who mistakenly fear that ordination is not what it was, so blind to the movement of the Holy Spirit that they would simply relinquish baby and bath water; as though the church of Scholastica and Benedict, Hilda and Cuthbert, Blessed Mary and Beloved John, had somehow ceased to be full of the glory of the Lord and as though holiness was therefore not worth pursuing?

Can those academics who delight in the Scriptures have so little hope for our future understanding, that they will abandon the future generation of teachers to a new dark age – only without, as had the centuries of ill-educated friars – the basic training in daily prayer upon which they utterly relied?

Are all the carriers of the crosier so distracted by our present and future state of impecunity; that they feel the bar must be set lower, education and transformation reduced, the world’s ways embraced and the weak and foolish things of the world rejected, in place of the world’s better value choice of the strong and wise, and ‘talented’? Do they expect God no longer to exalt the humble and meek, and to send the rich empty away? I am certain that is not the case.

Or is it simply that recent issues which have occupied our theological focus for so very long, and which are so very secondary to the Gospel; have left us all weakened and insecure in the crucial message which we have to share?

My dear brothers and sisters, for one week forget the parish share, return to God in prayer, seek him with your whole heart; return to the creeds – make your mind up to believe in them – and if you do not yet, to seek to do so with your whole mind rather than admit yourself a liar at your ordination; place your trust in God and not a pension plan; and remember – whether you are fortunate to receive a stipend, or whether you are noble enough to support yourself; you are called to holiness of life and chosen as a whole person, not just 40 hours a week.
We may be called to give up all that we have on earth, but we will not be called to give up our heavenly hope – wait not for the times. Do not be compelled by the church’s lack of funds and the World’s disinterest, to take up a life of holy poverty, to live humbly and honestly. Change now, before you are forced, both as seeking true integrity, and to ensure a serious audience amongst your people.

A notion has gone abroad, that if we cease to balance our books – the church will cease to be. That unless we fill the buildings on a Sunday, the people are without God and without faith. They have been deluded into a notion that present palpable usefulness and produceable results, are the tests of Divine commission. Enlighten them in this matter. Magnify the Lord… and seek to serve Christ in faithful prayer and loving service. DO NOT SEEK SUCCESS, SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS.



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Mission and Ministry

As the final months of my curacy approach, it is very like being right back at the start of the discernment process…

I’ve come a long way, and worn through a few pairs of shoes, and once again it is time to try and discover where God may be calling me to live and serve and learn next. Who knows, you may even be a potential parishioner!

I’ve been having conversations with people in the parish, about my strengths and weaknesses, and about where God may call me and my family. And a fairly simple pattern seems to be emerging: I am an encourager – I am hopeful and joyful in my faith and that is infectious; I am a good communicator; and I engage easily and naturally with people on the margins of church and social life.

I sort of hoped for a very specific set of strengths and weaknesses that might draw me tidily into a particular ministry, but the fact is I’m just a person who loves God and loves People, and loves to provide a safe space where people can begin to explore their relationship with God and grow in confidence in living out that relationship in their wider lives: basically I reckon I’m a general ‘parish priest’ type. No unusual specialisms, no preference for an age range or locality, just a pretty good ‘all-rounder’.

Which is no use to me  as I try to work out what exactly to do next!

Oh for a nice clear vision of ‘the man from Macedonia’ (Acts 16:9) calling out for help.

Well actually I have had a dream in the last couple of weeks – one of those sort of dreams I have to take a bit more notice of: I was in a flat – I think I had offered to kind of babysit or keep an eye on some youngsters – and more and more children and babies were dropped off at this flat – all under the age of about 14 – and many with parents only just in their twenties till the flat was full. So these young parents were dropping their kids off at this flat and heading out for an evening of social activity – and I somehow was left very faintly in charge, though largely ignored. And as the sun set, this band of children just started to sing, led by the eldest children – it was like a hymn, like a tradition, kind of liturgical but so vague and emotional that it seemed totally agnostic, an unknowing hymn… and they sang with a lot of emotion – But all the words they sang were simply, ‘Where is he? Where is he? Where is she? Where is she?’

It was so intense and sort of sad that my heart burned within me and I thought – ‘They don’t know! They don’t know who to sing to!’

… I suppose I could use that as a starting place…

But as far as the ‘dream’ location went – all I could gauge was that it was a built up area with a lot of young families and not much childcare! Which could be all sorts of places. It certainly didn’t have a name neatly built into the dream to clarify.

Still , for discernment, that’s as good a place to start as any, and a lot better than starting with clerical ambitions or desires for fancy housing I reckon. Speak up please God – give me a few more directions!

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A Merry Dance?

Right since the beginning, well at least since they were kicked out of the synagogues, the gatherings of followers of Christ have tried to organise themselves, and often made a bit of a hash of this.

I’m always cheered up to read the New Testament Epistles, full as they are of advice to badly behaved elders, confused and nervous leaders, and argumentative groupies… whether it’s what to eat or wear, or how to organise a gathering and a Eucharistic meal; quite often through the epistles it’s basic reminders we read, that the Gospel is all about Jesus Christ – his crucifixion and resurrection, and our salvation through him… and not about more rules upon rules upon rules.

Fast forward two thousand years and we’re in the same place. The Church has quite a few organisational groups, with a variety of ministries in each, and a lot of rather anxious people in charge, trying to remember that it’s all about Jesus.

In a few months time, I will reach the point of my curacy where I can begin to start looking ahead to where I and my family are supposed to go next. I’m already spending a lot of time soul-searching and trying to separate things I rather fancy myself doing, from things I’m really gifted for.

‘You need to be thinking about where do you want to go?’ so said a diocesan advisor.

But the trouble is I’m no good at all at vaguely ‘wanting’ things… until I see the thing I did not know and know I am meant to want it wholeheartedly… I don’t project any desires or plans into the future, I just wander along in the moment, considering the problems thereof sufficent unto the day, and spiritually following my nose, until like that lovestruck cartoon skunk, Pepe le Pew, I happen upon my desire. Then I’m unstoppable.

Pepe le Pew

If I wanted to be a bit more biblical I suppose I could refer to the Song of Songs… ‘on my bed night after night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but I did not find him – I must arise now and go about the city; In the streets and in the squares I must seek him whom my soul loves’…

I certainly don’t think I’m going to get a clear vision that fits with the modern advertisements for roles within the church: ‘I think my beloved is waiting for me to go to a small town in Werthingtonshire with a large modern rectory, enthusiastic team of lay assistants and an Average Sunday Attendance of 135 people’… that’s not going to happen. I’m never going to look at an advert for a church and think – ‘there’s a hole the shape of me – I’ll send them a CV and tell them why I’m right for the job.’

Because I’m not! I’m a sinner who relies upon Christ and who is impelled by the love of Christ to simultaneously go searching for him in the streets and in the squares – even if it gets me beaten up by the watchmen… and also who is drawn, by a sense of kindred-spirit and mercy, to share with fellow wanderers and sinners – the good news that the lover whom they seek has a name, and that name is Christ.

I am more than faintly suspicious of anything that smacks of ‘successful ministry’ – though I admire immensely those many friends in ministry who work bloomin hard and who manage to do a reasonable amount of stuff to the glory of God, and without giving up or being disgraceful. But I admire most, those many revered and saintly people of years gone past who were misunderstood and even rejected by their contemporaries, for not ‘keeping with the programme’.

But I’m not stupid – I don’t think that I’m special in feeling this way… in fact pretty much all the ordained people you talk to (including some brave bishops) will admit that being officially in the Church – is perhaps the greatest test of faith in Jesus Christ you’ll ever have – and sticking it out is… well… the way of the cross.


Well in my experience – you never face much spiritual resistance and trial unless the thing you are doing is worth doing, and the time you are tempted most to chuck in the towel, is probably an important moment to stick it out and stay put. So the church must be doing a lot of things right actually… it’s been ‘dying’ since the very beginning, ‘For your sakes we are killed every day’… but it has also been resurrected in every generation… because though we may not all speak the same language, and we may have some pretty wacky turns of phrase or traditional forms… we may at times and in some places be out of step or limping (we are a company of sinners in need of redemption after all)… still in our heart of hearts we are in love and we’re not going to stop being in love, or trying to follow in the dance, even though our Lord and Lover has lighter feet than we do.



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God is with the suffering

God is with the outsider.

For a long time, gods were emblems of tribes and groups – totems who represented strengths and fears of a community; in wartime they provided a common figurehead to fight under, and in peacetime they provided a common focus for fear and awe – to whom fealty was due to preserve the peace… Such were the nature of the manmade gods.

The God of Abraham and Isaac, the God of Jacob… the one true God himself, is rather different. Even before Jesus Christ walked the earth, God revealed himself to be a defender of the outsider – forgiver of sinners and protector of the widow and orphan; God has always identified with the human outcast and underdog.

Not for nothing are the heroes and patriarchs of the Old Testament taken from those displaced or rejected by human society… from the barren and wandering Sarai and Abraam (later Sarah and Abraham); to the  exiles Jacob and Moses…

King David – the youngest child of a family, not even called in from shepherding to join the family feast – HE is the one chosen by God. And then Jesus… with nothing to commend him physically, he identifies with the sick, the stranger, the despised foreigner, the sinner and the rejected. Of course there is room in his forgiving heart for the social climber and scribe as well – providing they are ready to repent… but it is most clearly the outsider and the oppressed who has the Lord’s heart.

And yet for some wicked, unknown reason – people still don’t get it… it is not enough to sit inside the comfy circle of society and have passing pity on the outsider or the oppressed. If you want to be where God’s heart is – you need to get up and go outside the circle – and identify with the oppressed and rejected, the weak and afflicted.

And right now – in the relentless and largely random bombing of Gaza by heavily armed and fortified Israeli troups…

If you don’t know, or your heart is unmoved to prayer, then search images online  with the phrase “who can save children of Gaza”; I don’t dare post the images of war here – they are too distressing – and might appear merely sensational but I include an image of a sculpture of Christ whose wounds, though neat and clean by comparison,  remind me of the current pain of Palestine.scarred Christ crucified

I don’t know that it will do any good for me to say this – it certainly doesn’t redeem me-  I am not a doctor or a soldier or a politician, so I cannot help in any practical way. I am not advocating violence to overcome violence, or retribution to fight against injustice. Only expressing horror; and praying for peace, and praying too that those who are suffering now, will not do what I would undoubtedly want to do if I were a mother in Palestine – and that is to find someone responsible for the suffering of my children and make them understand, without mercy, what they had done.

I don’t know how God judges – but I have always believed it was with complete truth and simultaneously complete love for humanity… but to see even partial truth and feel even partial love in this case is so painful that I cannot imagine that those in power and responsible for decision-making in Israel right now will escape eternal destruction – I can’t see how, to hold in truth in one’s arms the blackened corpse of a baby, and to feel the reality of its little life, and the reality of a mother’s love – and to have been the one responsible for this and so many other innocent lives needlessly destroyed… I can’t see how one could survive that. Pharoah, Herod, Caesar, Nero, Hitler… the Israeli Security Cabinet…  I really don’t know when I look at these images, will anyone speak in your defence on the Final Day… and, when you finally know and understand fully, just as you are fully known, then will you even WANT them to?

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