Friday, May 20, 2011

FAQ for the Church in Wales in case of rapture

The Church in Wales bench of bishops has issued a helpful series of questions and answers for worried parishioners in the face of alarmist reports of the impending Rapture this weekend. I re-print them below, without permission.

1. If the rapture happens on Saturday, should I still go to church on Sunday?
Yes. This is the Anglican church. Hitler couldn't stop us, and neither will the Almighty.

2. If the Vicar is taken, who will lead the service?
It is statistically unlikely that your vicar will be amongst the elect. If, however, s/he is taken and you are left behind, your curate will be an adequate replacement. Parishes without a curate will find that lay readers are trained for eventualities such as these. The staff at the Diocesan Offices will be on duty and happy to help; all six Diocesan Bishops expect to be in parishes this Sunday.

3. How long will parishes be expected to continue without a Vicar after the Rapture?
Indefinitely. Replacements will be found where possible; a Ministry Sunday is planned for June 5th just in case, to encourage new vocations. This will take time to come to fruition as new ordinands are trained. But many parishes already exist without sufficient clergy coverage, and have found the experience surprisingly liberating.

3. If the Vicar is not taken, is he still worthy to preach and celebrate the Holy Eucharist?
Absolutely. Article twenty-six of the Thirty Nine Articles has long established the low expectation for Anglican ministers when it comes to holy living or the quality of preaching. Why should anything be different this weekend?

4. Are there appropriate texts that should be substituted for the lectionary readings?
Absolutely not. The Revised Common Lectionary for Easter 5 is to be kept by all parishes. It may, however, be pastorally sensitive for preachers not to emphasise John 14.3, "I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am," or Acts 7.56, "I see heaven open". Particularly after the Lord has not taken your congregation to be with him and heaven has shut again.

5. If most congregations are taken but clergy are left behind, will the services continue as usual?
Inevitably. Many clergy & all Diocesan Offices will only notice the difference when notified of the collection figures. It is just possible that some places will record record sermon lengths this weekend if, against expectations, clergy are left behind but some church wardens are taken leaving any remaining congregations defenceless against excess.  

This is a discussion paper for the Bench of Bishops, not to be circulated to parishes

Monday, May 09, 2011

fleeting thoughts

I've said it before, that holidays tend to be times when all sorts of things seem to find themselves pulled into perspective. Maybe it's the time out we take that allows the louder noises to be hushed and the more important voices to be more clearly heard.

Maybe the Lord simply uses these days to walk with me, to open my heart and my eyes and my ears.

But instead of being pulled along pell-mell by the rushing whims of life, I get the chance to stop. To think. To pray and to (just occasionally) listen to the odd answer or two.

Now this has been an unusual holiday. There were the traditional moments - Chris took Ben & I to Universal for a day, for which I was very, very grateful. We had a blast. Ben made me ride on every vomit-inducing ride known to humankind, and I pretty much made it through in one piece. I even enjoyed moments of the experience.

(And the gift shops are hilarious - of course, people here have Hispanic names, but if you don't remember that for a moment, shot glasses are an unusual gift when they come with the name "Jesus" on them...)

Talking of usual thing I do here on holiday... Shopping. Not so much this year. But here's a picture of Jazz the German Shepherd getting ready to help me. He is adorable. Still a pup, enormous, delighting in playing with every squeaky toy he can find, he snuggles up alongside you on the bed and barks in your ear if you won't join in his games. And he loves swimming in the pool. Though the strict dog owner in me rather recoils at Gill's habit of feeding him jelly beans and ice cream...

Gill. Of course. It's barely a month since she had the operation to remove the breast cancer. When I got here she was had only just had her first chemo. That first week was rough for her. My sister is a strong, feisty lady, and seeing her suffer was not nice. Worse for her. I am glad I have been here to get some groceries, go to the pharmacy, chauffeur her around, take her to the hospital and just feel a little helpful.

And she has been amazing. Sure, she's had a couple of dips. But when you are going at something as full on as she is (she went to work between the op & the chemo; she's back at work again, with hardly a break now) there are going to be dips.

Everyone here is wearing "Team Gill" wristbands. When she had her hair shaved off (she didn't want it just to fall out) around ten of her work colleagues had theirs shaved in solidarity. Even Ben had his beloved locks cut short! (See, they all want to look like me...) And both Gill & Ben look amazing.

She wrote on her Facebook: "If He brings you to it, He brings you through it." She's having the full show. Pretty much the full range of side effects. But the Lord is bringing her through it. One down, seven to go.

I went to church this morning with Scarlette, Chuck, Sydney & Trey. They are a wonderful family, and Scarlette is a good friend to Gill. Church & I had a beer & a chat earlier in the week, and it's his bike I've been riding for those of you who have been following on Facebook. The sermon was excellent - on letting go of people that damage us, moments & relationships that hurt. "Hurt people hurt people" was a good aphorism, not in a way that we should drop such people, but in the way that recognises our own hurts, and takes us from there so that we should seek to become healed people because healed people heal people. The preacher's points were that we should hand to God our grudges, our griefs and our guilt in the relationships that have broken us. I thought he made some very good points along the way, and there was a genuine sense of those present being touched by God through his words.  

I found it personally touching, not so much because of the particular subject, but because I guess of the stage I am at in preparing to leave Pontypridd and also in being here with Gill, I'd had quite a moving dream last night. I guess I'm going through a grieving process in leaving Ponty, and though all is going well with Gill it has been very emotional for all of us. So without boring you with all the details, there came a point in that dream when I found myself weeping profusely, and I was aware that it was due to the grief at all I was facing. And then in church, it was as if the preacher was taking me on from that place. Grief is good; but there is a time to leave it with God - blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. You can't live for today if you are consumed by the past. And as important as Friday is, we are Sunday people - we could not be who we are without the cross, but we live a resurrection life.

And I too felt the presence of God in the gymnasium in the High School where the church was meeting. Laying down some of the things that bring us sadness is not to forget or to belittle what has gone before; but it is to trust God and to let go of the things that we now cannot change so that we may live more fully today, in the day and amongst the people we still may affect for good. Love is present tense, a risen reality, not to be kept locked away in a tomb and to keep us there with it. We give our griefs to Jesus; he gives us his peace, and his joy. Behold, he does something new.

So it's time to get ready to come home. Time for something new. Time to live again after the restorative interval of a break away. Time out over; time to fly.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

voting preference

So are you ready to vote in the most bizarre referendum known to mankind?

For readers outside the UK, I should explain. As a result of last year's general election, the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, insisted on a referendum on electoral reform as a part of the deal that took them into government. It's been a mainstay of their political mantra for a generation.

However... In all honesty, I would have to say that I am rarely stopped in the street by people desperate to reform the way we elect our MPs. Of all the issues facing us as a nation, this is hardly at the top of most people's agendas - outside the political classes. Even inside the political classes, really. Still, here we are. And rather than facing a referendum on an issue that has vast popular opinion driving it, we are facing a referendum on a politically driven matter.

So what to do? Vote, of course. Yes, but how?

Andrew Goddard has a Fulcrum article on the issue. He argues for a Yes to reform vote - yes to AV, the alternative vote, the change. Andrew & I were at university together - actually, we were on the CU committee at the same time. He's very bright, and often the thinking person's conservative (theologically speaking). I found his piece a little... presumptuous, I am afraid, and took the opportunity to write a few comments on the forum page attached to the article.

Don't take my piece there by itself as meaning I think you should vote No. It means you should think and question and not accept lazy propaganda. This is democracy we are talking about, and democracy is to be protected at all costs. AV as a system is used in Australia (where voting is compulsory), Fiji & Papua New Guinea. Nowhere else. That's not the greatest recommendation for a system that will be used in the Mother of Parliaments. The Australians are looking at changing it.

If I have a serious question about AV, it is this, and so far no-one has answered this for me satisfactorily: under our current system everybody has one vote. Everybody is equal. Everybody, everywhere. With AV, you may vote as many times as you like placing the candidates in order of preference - 1,2,3,4,5 and so on for as many candidates as there are in your constituency. So a constituency has 5 candidates: you have 5 votes. Or it has 12 candidates: you have 12 votes. Or it has 3: you have 3 votes. But you don't have to use all of them - you could just vote 1,2 and leave it there. The politically savvy will work out whether voting on down the list will advantage their candidate; others will not know if this works or not. People will have different numbers of votes, and some will be disadvantaged by this system. We will not all be the same any more. We will no longer be equal at the ballot box.

I am not answered here by references to choice: choice is about taking responsibility, and voting for everyone is not taking responsibility. I have stood in a voting booth and stood and stood as I weighed my choice, a choice I have already weighed for weeks and then have had to seriously make in that moment. That is choice. One vote that counts. The same as the next person's.

Democracy is about everyone having an equal say; until I am convinced a replacement system takes seriously the right of everyone to be treated equally, and does not exist principally for the benefit of the politically adept, I am not sure I can wholeheartedly support it.

BUT - more than that: I do ask that everyone who may vote tomorrow does so. Yes or No; think about it, pray about it, read about it, consider the arguments before you and make up your own minds. It may be an esoteric referendum. but when we have the chance to participate in the democratic process, we should. It's one of the ways we get to change the world.

Monday, May 02, 2011

appropriate response

I was going to write a piece about my trip yesterday to Universal Studios with good friend Chris Berryman and my nephew Ben. We had a ball. For those of you who are Facebook friends with me, there are pictures; I may yet post some here.

But as I was fiddling with those photos, President Obama rather conclusively concluded his current feud with Donald Trump by taking the Celebrity Apprentice off US TV just before The Donald announced which of the losing girls' team he was going to fire - and instead we had the announcement from Mr Obama at the White House that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

(NBC never did return us to Nene, Star & Hope; one of them has been fired, but it all seems a bit trivial now.)

I thought the President's speech thoughtful and respectful. It is a difficult moment to manage: an enemy has been killed, but it is not the moment for gloating or cheap histrionics. He was dutiful, careful, forceful and walked the tight-rope of diplomacy well. The home audience heard the news they longed for; the world heard a statesman.

The subsequent response from many has been varied, and there is a live question as to what exactly the Christian response ought to be to this news. I wouldn't claim to be able to answer that in full, but I would like to make a couple of observations if I may.

First: Jesus is clear - the Christian individual and community is called to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us. We are instructed repeatedly to forgive those who wrong us, no matter what the wrong that has been done. People are people are people. God sent his Son to die because he loves all people, and to give all people the opportunity to be a part of those who live in that love.

Christians who crow too much about the death of anyone are forgetting important principles - not least that the God who loves them loves the person who has died too. Yes, even Osama Bin Laden. And parties and flag waving on such occasions look very like the parties and flag waving in other places on other occasions that made Western hearts so angry. Who are we to become those we despised?

Human beings, that's who. And being such, a little humility added to our memory and a little grace to the way we remember might go a long way.

But second: I am no lily-livered-liberal. This is not the calling of Christians. The Bible makes it clear that the State has a role to protect the weak and the disadvantaged and to look after its people. There are times when it will execute justice and that justice will be difficult and yet must be done. Revenge for the sake of revenge is unacceptable - Ghandi and his blind world comes to mind - but the performance of justice in order to preserve order and to protect the innocent and the vulnerable, that is the very nature of the state. Psalm 72 even celebrates it as the nature of God's King and God's kingdom.

However, I raise that last point as a warning, and again as a plea for carefulness. Everyone thinks they are either on God's side or that, God not mattering, they are simply in the right. Joshua, on the eve of destroying Jericho, is confronted by the Captain of the Lord's Army; Joshua asks is he for them or against them? The imposing warrior replies - Neither; the real question is the reverse: is Joshua on his side?

We make sides, take sides, create enemies and dig ourselves in. There will always be another Bin Laden. As long as people are people, it seems, it is how we work - are you for us or against us? "But we are in the right!" cry both sides, simultaneously, in virtually every dispute since the dawn of time. Don't get me wrong - the last thing I am being is an apologist for terrorists, I am simply pointing out the complicated nature of responding to victory.

Just after 9/11 I was in Italy on holiday. The only English language church service I could find in the small village where I was staying was (inevitably) a Catholic mass. I went (of course) and worshipped with everyone else - mostly Americans. I listened to them speak of the recent atrocity in New York, of how terrorism had suddenly begun and taken hold in the West, and I had the strongest and strangest reaction. I began to be very, very angry - with the Americans. And I knew I had to deal with it - the peace was coming up in the service, where I would have to shake hands with these people for whom I was genuinely feeling deep, deep loathing.

Why the reaction?

Because terrorism wasn't just beginning. It hadn't just taken hold in the West. Ask anyone in my country. These self-same American Catholics - and yes, for all I knew these very same people - had been funding terrorism in my country for years through their NorAid benefits. My home city of Manchester had had its heart ripped out not five years previously by an IRA bomb funded by American Catholic money. And now they were crying about terrorism arriving in the West? They were its sponsors!

And though it still sometimes takes me time to forgive these people, yet I know this is what we are called to do. Forgiveness is godly. Anger is not. We are followers of Jesus. To be a worshipper is to love what Jesus loves and to live it out. There in that Italian church I had to make that decision to be a worshipper - to love the people he loved and to live it out by exchanging the peace with them. It was damned hard. It almost broke me. It was gloriously life-giving. They had no idea what I was going through.

Osama Bin Laden had family and friends. Whatever he felt about them and did to them, whatever they feel about him, we as Christians are not to rejoice in his death or the manner of it, but to respect those who mourn on all sides. So much hurt. So much suffering. His death is a profound moment. A truly historical moment.

And I understand especially why members of our armed forces, serving and retired, and those who belong to the forces of our allies, have been so emotional about this moment: this man has been the focal point of their military combat for a decade.

But though as a Christian it is not my role to be a bleeding heart Liberal, it is my role to remind gently that we have a conscience, a better heart, a belief system that must not be overlooked at the moment when seminal battles are fought in the wars of this life. Our enemies are not flesh and blood but the ideologies of hate and disrespect and oppression that came from and within groups of people. We fight these. We oppose these. We fight to release those held captive by these and to ensure that we may live unencumbered by the miseries of slavery they bring, be they mental, physical, psychological or otherwise. In our victories we do not dance on graves, for other people yet mourn and we must remember what that feels like and feel for them - by doing this we proclaim who we are and why we do what we do: we are human beings, believing in the freedom and equality under God of all our fellow human beings.

To love our enemies means that Christians remember people are people. Today, this matters.

To love our neighbour means that we remember why we struggle on, and the love that carries us will not die.