Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year 2011

‘In this the love of God was revealed among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him’.
1 John 4:9
Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new;
transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Not very original but a classic.

May you know God's peace and blessing throughout the year ahead.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas, martyrs and peace

Today we are asked to remember Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and martyr, who died in 1170. I have found Becket a fascinating character since studying T S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral for a paper in Literature and Theology as part of my degree. I also enjoyed Richard Burton’s portrayal of Becket in the eponymous film from the 1960s.

A few days ago Clayboy drew attention to Becket’Murder_in_the_cathedral_poster_pictures Christmas Day  sermon from the play and it resonated with several issues I’ve been pondering at the moment including: The relationship between church and state; the nature of real, as opposed to pseudo, persecution and the corrosive effect of power. Eliot presents us with a profound reflection on Christmas, martyrdom and the meaning of true peace and I thought I’d post the sermon as it’s quite short and well worth a read.

'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' The fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Dear children of God, my sermon this morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should ponder and meditate the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth.  So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men'; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overborne by mourning, or mourning will be cast out by joy; so it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. 'But think for a while on the meaning of this word 'peace.' Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples 'My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.' Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbours, the barons at peace with the King, the householder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember then that He said also, 'Not as the world gives, give I unto you.' So then, He gave to His disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord's Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men. 

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world's is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.

I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ's birth day, to remember what is that Peace which He brought; and because, dear children, I do not think I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

20 for 2011

Grateful to The Church Mouse for including me in his blog list. I thought I’d mention twenty of the blogs I regularly read and others might find of interest in 2011. They are in alphabetical order.
  1. Always Hope
  2. The Banksyboy Brief
  3. Between
  4. Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
  5. Big Bible
  6. Bishop Alan’s Blog
  7. The Cartoon Blog
  8. Chrisendom
  9. The Church Mouse Blog
  10. Clayboy
  11. Elizaphanian
  12. Here Goes
  13. Lesley’s Blog
  14. Maggi Dawn
  15. New Kid on the Block
  16. Nick Baines’s Blog
  17. Off The Post
  18. Postmodernbible
  19. Re-vis.e Re-form
  20. The Ugley Vicar
And some absent friends. Those who have stopped blogging or have become very infrequent this year.
  1. St Aidan to Abbey Manor (David Keen took a sabbatical and enjoyed it so much he stopped for good)
  2. The Journey Home (Paul Trathen became Chaplain to Bishop of Chelmsford and called it a day)
  3. The Friends Meeting House (Tim Goodbody more Facebook than blogger now)

Monday, 27 December 2010

fifteen films meme

The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen films you’ve seen that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen films you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.
Not in order of preference.
  1. Babette’s Feast
  2. This is Spinal Tap
  3. The Long Good Friday
  4. Blade Runner
  5. Finding Nemo
  6. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 
  7. The Mission
  8. Unforgiven
  9. Alien 
  10. The Usual Suspects
  11. The Godfather Part II
  12. Diva
  13. Manhunter
  14. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  15. The Last Temptation of Christ
Tagged by Jon who got it from Sam. Consider yourself tagged.

Mitres are so last year

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, who began his ministry as Bishop of Chelmsford this year, models some new Episcopal headwear. I was privileged to hear many great talks and sermons during the year from the likes of Jurgen Moltmann, Jane Williams, Miroslav Volf, Rowan Williams, Graham Tomlin and David Ford. However, the standout moment for me was +Stephen’s sermon at his Installation in Chelmsford Cathedral:
I come with one burning desire. It is that, in all our activities sacred and secular, and social, we should fix our eyes on Jesus, making him our only guide.

Friday, 24 December 2010


The O Antiphons have ended so I thought I’d go for something different on Christmas Eve.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

Watch through to the end…

h/t to Rachel at Revising Reform.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Sometimes 140 isn’t enough

Interesting Twitter experience yesterday. I read an interview with the writer behind the excellent T.V. series The Nativity which is being broadcast this week on BBC1. I was particularly struck by some of the writer’s comments and decided to tweet a couple of quotes with some interesting results. Here’s the quote that caused a bit of a stir:
tweet jordan1
Immediately some Twitter friends, mainly male clergy it has to be said, responded with amazement that Jordan had come up with such a profound insight. The Jordan they had in mind was the ubiquitous celebrity Katie Price not Tony Jordan the scriptwriter. A previous tweet had included the full name and a link to one of several interviews Tony Jordan has given about his experience of writing Nativity, but for this message I ran out of characters. Twitter only allows 140 character messages and sometimes that just isn’t enough.

Anyway the interview in The Telegraph is well worth a read and in it Jordan comments:
"If you accept that Jesus is Son of God, why would you not believe that Mary was a virgin, and that God must have had some hand in the impregnation.
''Quite how – whether it was a whiff of steam that came through the nostrils and into the semen, or whatever – is beyond my comprehension, but to me, as a sequence of events, it makes perfect sense." That's a big "if" he's starting with. I thought he wasn't religious. "I have a distaste for organised religions," he corrects me, "because they tamper with stories, add a bit here, take a bit off there, and then start killing each other because the other one doesn't agree. The only thing I know for sure is that the words I read as coming from Jesus Christ are the most truthful thing I have ever heard. As a blueprint for mankind, it is so smart that it couldn't even have come from a clever philosopher. Who would have been smart enough to say 'He who is without sin cast the first stone'? Wow! That's pretty cool."
Several people have drawn attention to Jordan’s more negative comments about the church in his interviews. I think we need to listen and hear how the church is perceived by those with a genuine spiritual yearning who nevertheless don’t see the church as a home for them.
“I have a distaste for people who say to me if you come through these doors, walk down this aisle, sit on that wooden bench, and sing these hymns in this order, I have got God in a little bottle under my pulpit and I'll let you have a look," he says. "I don't think was God's intention.”
Tony Jordan is right, this experience of the church is not God’s intention and if this is all church is then I want no part of it. Jordan’s observation is sobering and challenging.

But I wonder whether this is a rather safe caricature that some people employ to avoid some of the harder aspects of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Being a Christian involves a change of life, abandoning one’s own priorities and values and seeking to embrace God’s love and purposes for the world. Being part of the church, the body of Christ, means learning to love and serve one’s sisters and brothers who are also followers, even with all their faults. The ‘blue print for mankind’ that Jordan speaks of, calls on us to dedicate ourselves to proclaiming God’s Good News to those around us by our words and our actions. It means patterning our lives not just on Jesus’s teaching but on his life, the beginning of which Jordan so powerfully and creatively celebrates in his writing. This is much more than a message in a bottle, it is a life changing challenge.

The one who said ‘He who is without sin cast the first stone’ also said ‘Follow me’.

O Emmanuel

The final O Antiphon is O Emmanuel (God is with us). One of the more well known of the names of the Messiah, taken from Isaiah 7:14. Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Maggi has an interesting piece about the hidden message of the O Antiphons worth looking at.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

O Rex Gentium

The O Antiphon for 22nd December is O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations).

‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ Isaiah 2:4

I am constantly amazed at the breadth of Isaiah’s vision. The Messiah is for all the nations.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Nativity, propaganda and equality

I watched the first episode of the BBC’s new mini series The Nativity last night. I thought it was a very promising start with the characterisation and pace of the narrative well judged. In checking out what others thought my attention was drnativityawn to this comment thread in the TES: Looking for equality from the BBC. The discussion is started in response to Ruth Gledhill’s review of The Nativity and this is the comment from cuteinpuce in full:
Over the next four nights, the BBC will be screening an adaptation of the nativity story written by Tony Jordan of Eastenders and Life on Mars fame. It has received some good reviews.  In The Times this morning, Ruth Gledhill writes:
"I have a confession to make.  After half a century of sitting through church Nativities, I am bored to tears with Mary and Joseph and plastic baby Jesus.  My heart sinks at the thought of those eternal carols yet another year.  So it was with a feeling of dread that I approached the BBC's Nativity.  It turns out to be one of the best written, cinematically magical tragi-comic religious dramas ever broadcast on television."
Don't hold back, Ruth.  And at mass yesterday, we were given a message from the Archbishop, who had been shown a screening along with other religious leaders.  He encouraged us to watch the series which he considered to be very impressive, even though it expanded on the Biblical version in places.
Well I'll be watching it for sure.  But Ruth Gledhill makes an interesting point at the end of her article.  "This is a powerful piece of Christian propaganda.  Now the BBC, if it is not to be open to accusations of pro-Christian bias, must do something of similar quality for Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and even perhaps for secularists."
Seems fair to me.
Now I want to challenge a couple of claims and assumptions made in the final quote from Ruth about propaganda and equality.

My first concern is the claim that ‘this is a powerful piece of Christian propaganda’. What does Ruth mean by this? The definition of propaganda in my dictionary is ‘a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position’. It is mostly used as a derogatory term, implying that information is not being objectively presented but is slanted and selectively employed. Now I’m not aware that the writer and producers of The Nativity set out to win people over to Christianity. My understanding is that the makers of the series set out to give a fresh telling of a very familiar story. Tony Jordan the writer explains:
The challenge for me was to retell a story that has been told countless times before, a story that everyone knows intimately, yet to do so in a way that will still surprise and move you, to see parts of the story you'd never seen before.
If Ruth can identify a statement from any of those involved in the project where they claim that their aim is to win people over to Christianity, then she may have a point. Trying to creatively retell a story while seeking to do justice to the original source documents, the gospels of Matthew and Luke, is not propaganda.

It may be possible to claim that the original story is propaganda; the gospels telling the story in a way to elicit a favourable response and this would be a reasonable comment, except the gospel writers never disguise their intention. Both Matthew and Luke’s gospels clearly set out to present the birth of Jesus as the fulfilment of Israel’s Messianic expectation. What is interesting is that the two birth narratives, while containing some of the same features, give very different accounts of the birth (Doug Chaplin has some interesting comments about this). If the gospels in general, and the birth narratives in particular, were a work of propaganda then surely the early church would have harmonised the accounts and removed any sense of them being two very distinct accounts? Philip Pullman, certainly no Christian apologist, acknowledges that the lack of a unified narrative in the gospels mitigates against them being dismissed as mere propaganda.

I can only assume that what Ruth means by the term propaganda is that The Nativity presents the story of the birth of Christ in a sympathetic rather than critical light. If the BBC had commissioned a programme that ignored the Biblical material and Christian tradition and simply dismissed the story as a made up fairy tale, then would that be propaganda? What if the BBC had set out to make a programme that suggested that Mary was a young girl raped by a Roman soldier, or a documentary that drew only on the work of the most sceptical of Biblical scholars? Would that be propaganda?

The second comment of Ruth’s that I am uneasy with is ‘Now the BBC, if it is not to be open to accusations of pro-Christian bias, must do something of similar quality for Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and even perhaps for secularists’.

I have to confess I don’t understand what Ruth is saying here. Does she mean that every time one belief system is the subject of a well made programme, then all others (including secularism) have to be given the same treatment by the BBC? What sort of distorted understanding of equality is that? Is it bias to retell the story that lies at the heart of the Christmas season well? Presumably if a broadcaster makes a programme that is negative and hostile to Christianity then the same treatment needs to be meted out to all the others. There have been plenty of programmes seeking to debunk the life of Christ and the veracity of the Biblical witness, but I didn’t hear a call from Ruth for the same treatment of other faiths. I trust Ruth is demanding the same policy from News International. Have her employers appointed someone to add up the number of column inches given over to coverage of each religion and secularism and is there a person to check the balance of positive to negative stories about each?

Channel 4 ran an excellent programme on The Qur’an in 2008. I don’t recall Ruth demanding a similar treatment of the Bible or the sacred texts of the other major religions. When the BBC ran a plethora of programmes celebrating the bicentennial of Charles Darwin I didn’t hear suggestions of propaganda.

I seek to treat my children equally, that means in a fair and balanced manner. That doesn’t mean that they get exactly the same things, that would be inappropriate and an immature understanding about what equality means. I would hope the same understanding of equality is applied by our broadcasters.

Let’s not forget that the BBC’s head of religion is a Muslim. He and the BBC should be congratulated for delivering such a high quality and well received production.

O Oriens

Today’s O Antiphon is O Oriens (O Rising Sun), sometimes translated as O Morning Star. This title of the Messiah is taken from Isaiah 9:2: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Retooning the Nativity

A few days ago the brethren over at Husborne Crawley delivered a dagger to the heart of school nativity plays everywhere with the revelation that there may be no donkey! But this is only part of the story, or not as it turns out, as the following makes clear…

Post slightly amended in the light of a comment received from the Beaker Folk.

O Clavis David

Today’s O Antiphon is O Clavis David (O Key of David).

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

For commentary check Maggi’s blog.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

O Radix Jesse

The third of the O Antiphons is O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), another of the great names of Messiah taken from Isaiah and applied to Jesus.

O Root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign of the people,
before whom kings shall keep silence
and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication:
Come to deliver us, and tarry not.
For commentary on the O Antiphons check out Maggi’s blog.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Christmas song

The 3 Minute Theologian is off to see Jethro Tull performing in Canterbury Cathedral tonight. I would love to go but can’t get to the end of the drive thanks to the snow, so I’m consoling myself by cranking up the iPod.

Here’s Jethro Tull’s excellent A Christmas Song which I’m sure they will perform tonight. The lyrics are produced beneath.

Once in Royal David’s City stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby.
You’d do well to remember the things He later said.
When you’re stuffing yourselves at the Christmas parties,
you’ll laugh when I tell you to take a running jump.
You’re missing the point I’m sure does not need making;
that Christmas spirit is not what you drink.

So how can you laugh when your own mother’s hungry
and how can you smile when the reasons for smiling are wrong?
And if I messed up your thoughtless pleasures,
remember, if you wish, this is just a Christmas song.
Hey, Santa: pass us that bottle, will you?

O Adonai

The second O Antiphon is O Adonai (O Lord).

You might like to check out the post from Maggi Dawn for more about it’s meaning.

O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and on Mount Sinai gave him your law.
Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.

Friday, 17 December 2010

O Sapientia

My Advent liturgical education continues. Apparently, today is the first of the ‘O Antiphons’. I’m grateful to Fr William Saunders for bringing me up to speed on what they are all about. He writes:
The “O Antiphons” refer to the seven antiphons that are recited (or chanted) preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23, with Dec. 24 being Christmas Eve and Vespers for that evening being for the Christmas Vigil.
The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.
The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.
Today is O Sapientia and here’s a setting with relevant passages of scripture beneath.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from beginning to end,
ordering all things mightily and sweetly:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

h/t Maggi Dawn for the translation and further commentary.

h/t Steven Maxon for the video clip.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Prime Time (rant alert)

I’m fairly relaxed about programme and film content on T.V. but there are limits. On Saturday night those limits were tested during the prime time family viewing slot on ITV 1 and to a lesser extent earlier on BBC 1.

strictlyFirst up Strictly Come Dancing: BBC1 6.30pm. Over recent years we’ve enjoyed watching Strictly as a family, confident in some genuine light entertainment as well as some heavy stomping entertainment. True, one has to cope with Bruce Forsyth’s decline and the producers keep messing about with the format. However, it’s great fun watching the likes of Anne Widdecombe and John Sargeant staggering round the stage, desperately pursued by professional partners trying to discover some semblance of rhythm or poise. Then there’s the pleasure in seeing someone emerge who discloses genuine hidden talent. This year has been no exception and we are looking forward to the final with, as Dr. Frank-N-Furter would say, anticipation.

Yet, I’m becoming uneasy with certain aspects of Strictly and I don’t just mean the sexism and ageism that led to the dumping of Arlene Phillips as a judge. There is a slight desperation about the way some of the male celebrities are encouraged to reveal their muscular spray tanned torsos before you can say the word Fleckerl. Certain female professional dancers appear to be in a competition to see who can wear the least without suffering a ‘wardrobe malfunction’. Then there are the dance moves that go beyond the subtly suggestive to the down and dirty. That’s fine in a film like Dirty Dancing (I think it was shown later in the evening) where it does what it says on the tin, but I’m not so keen on watching Matt Baker making sexual grinding motions towards his dance partner as she lies splayed on the dance floor at 7pm. Interestingly, the judges criticised Matt and Aliona for this particular contribution to their choreography, suggesting it was rather gratuitous.

xfactorThen it was over the channel for The X Factor: ITV1 7.30pm. This show is hard to watch and even harder to listen to at the best of times. It’s made more bearable by following the Twitter stream and full marks to a certain bishop from Liverpool who left the Twitterati in no doubt about his views on the qualities of the finalists. The kids enjoy X Factor and I’d rather watch it with them and discuss the merits of the latest victims of Simon Cowell’s bid for pop world domination, than abandon them to his machinations. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how far Cowell and chums were prepared to push the boundaries when it came to the performances of the guest singers.

Take That were O.K., though I nearly had a coronary when my wife declared that she wished she had tickets for their latest tour. Rumour has it Cowell stopped them singing a number called Kidz accompanied by dancers dressed as riot police. A spokesman for the band is quoted as saying: ‘It was decided after (the) afternoon's rehearsals that the timing and content of the performance was not appropriate so soon after the violence that erupted at protests in London’. Probably a wise move.

Rihanna and Christina Aguilera were a different story. I really don’t understand how anyone can say that this was suitable prime time viewing for the family. I can do without my young son being exposed to the joys of lap dancing clubs and burlesque shows at 8.30pm on a Saturday evening. I can do without my young daughter being encouraged to think that the only way for a female singer to get on in the music industry is to take off her clothes and bump and grind her way across the stage pressed between the bodies of other scantily clad women. And don’t give me the argument that Ms Aguilera was promoting a film; if she’d provided the soundtrack for the Exorcist I wouldn’t expect to see her covered in sores, strapped to a bed, head spinning and spewing all over the stage. All that was missing were the interminable adverts promoting Babestation and dodgy phone chat lines.

If broadcasters are going to schedule and promote these shows as prime time family viewing then they need to exercise some judgement and restraint when it comes to content. Both these shows were heavily trailed in the preceding days, attracted massive publicity and were likely to draw huge audiences given that one was a semi-final and the other the final. I don’t care if this is how these artists perform on tour, or if this is a taste of what their videos are like, I don’t expect it to be shoved in my children’s faces on early Saturday evening television.

Saturday evening was a good reminder that as a parent I shouldn’t delegate responsibility for my children’s television viewing and I can’t trust programme producers to observe mainstream broadcasting standards. It’s no surprise that the X Factor has attracted over 5000 complaints making it the most complained about show in ITV history.

I left blogging about this for a couple of days in order to avoid a rant. Sorry, I failed.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

One Artist meme

This was a Facebook meme but I thought I’d share it. Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, answer these questions. Be as clever as you can. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think...

Pick your Artist  U2
Describe yourself Running to stand still
How do you feel Magnificent
If you could go anywhere, where would you go  With a shout (Jerusalem)
Your favourite form of transportation Elevation
Your best friend is a Angel of Harlem
You and your best friends are Trying to throw your arms around the world
If your life was a TV show, what would it be called I still haven't found what I'm looking for
What is life to you Beautiful Day
Your current relationship Two hearts beat as one
Your fear Vertigo
What is the best advice you have to give Hold me, thrill me, kiss me, kill me
I would like to die... One step closer
Time of day 11 O'clock tic toc
My motto I will follow
I’ll tag Peter Banks, Gerardus, Simon Robinson and anyone else who’d like to have a go.

Outside in

xmas tree We got round to purchasing, transporting, installing and decorating the Christmas tree at the weekend. Went for something a bit smaller this year and, after the usual nightmare of sorting out which set of lights work, everything was up and running just as darkness fell. My favourite decorations are some carved wooden pendants that I brought back from Bethlehem after my visit there in Advent 2008; the kids prefer something a little less subtle and a little more bling and Kate is of course taste personified.

While looking at our tree I was reminded of something I read in Jane Williams’ imaginative little book Approaching Christmas.
Part of the charm of the Christmas tree is exactly that power to evoke the strange and wonderful. Simply by being a tree, yet indoors, it speaks of the fact that ordinary rules do not apply during Christmas. The outside world is brought inside, or perhaps the inside world is shared with the outside – who knows which is the right description? Either way, as we deck the tree, we are celebrating a time when barriers are dissolved, when we can see magic in the ordinary… 
approaching christmas The evergreen Christmas tree, which keeps its colour all through the seasons, is a reminder of the never-changing love of God, as is the blurring of the inside world and the outside world. At Christmas I believe that God, who made the whole world, comes to live in just one small part of it, as a tiny human baby. The whole, huge, mysterious ‘outsideness’ of God, so much more than we can imagine or domesticate, comes ‘inside’, into our ordinary human lives. We build our houses to keep the outside world at bay, to make safe, warm places where we can live in comfort. It is our way of managing the great world that might otherwise overwhelm us. But at Christmas we bring a tree indoors, a piece of wild nature, and we decorate it beautifully and give it a place of honour in our homes…

As we bring the wild tree into our homes, and cover it with beautiful decorations, we are commemorating a God who came from the glorious, divine world to share our lives, so that we can share the life of God. And that ‘we’ is not just a few of us: it is a promise for everyone.
I like the idea of bringing something wild and undomesticated into the heart of the home. Our dog regards the idea of a tree inside the house as a convenience.

Sunday, 12 December 2010


Today is the Third Sunday of Advent and it is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete means Rejoice and is taken from the the first word in an introit to the mass:
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice; let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. (Philippians 4:4-6).
In the midst of all the frantic activity of this time of year: end of term concerts and plays, the madness of Christmas shopping, trying to finish work projects before the break, preparations for worship over the Christmas season, and battling through the complexities of the Radio Times schedule, it’s good to be reminded that in the heart of Advent we are called to rejoice.

Thanks to Maggi Dawn for reminding me this morning that today is Gaudete Sunday. Coming from a more Evangelical tradition than some of my colleagues, this hadn’t really registered on my liturgical radar before.

To celebrate here’s my preferred version of a classic.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Head down and mouth shut

Anyone involved in leadership in public ministry knows there are times when a decision has to be made that may seem on the surface to be wrong, unfair or unpopular. I can think of times in the parish and in my current training role, for example, when I have had to ask someone to step back or step down from ministry. It may be that the person’s personal or family circumstances have changed, or that they have done something which compromises their ability to minister or that they are suffering ill health, there are plenty of reasons. For the individual’s benefit and for the well being of the wider church a decision is taken.

The problem is that for very good pastoral reasons it may not be appropriate for others to know why the person has been withdrawn. To the congregation, parishioners or their colleagues in training, the action may appear arbitrary and unjust. I’ve known the frustration of seeing action taken against someone and feeling it has been unreasonable, though I may not have been appraised of the full facts. But I’ve also had to take action and keep my mouth shut, even when people are accusing me of being unreasonable at best or a ‘little Hitler’ to quote a more extreme response. I’ve wanted to say to the critic, ‘well if you knew this then you wouldn’t be saying that’ but I can’t and I won’t because it might be very damaging to the individual concerned. This is one of the responsibilities and challenges of leadership in ministry.

I learnt an important lesson early in ministry. When I was a curate and someone asked me something difficult or a challenging situation arose, I had the fall back position of saying ‘ask the vicar’. When I became a vicar I discovered that sometimes I had to say no or to make a hard choice, even if it made me unpopular. I could give plenty of examples but I won’t because it would not be appropriate. Those of you in positions of leadership can fill in the blanks.

So the next time I see a senior colleague, say a bishop in the metropolis, taking flak over a decision or a course of action and my temptation is to fire up the computer and express my righteous indignation in blog or tweet, I hope I can take a moment to remember the times I’ve been on the receiving end. It’s hard to keep one’s head down and mouth shut rather than indulge in bouts of self justification but that’s part of the job.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Warning: religious symbolism!

When Claudia Winkleman captured the Film 2010 gig on the BBC I was non too impressed and doubted she was really up to occupying a chair once graced by Barry Norman and then sullied by Jonathan Ross. Winkleman has cornered the ditzy and sometimes wry presenter market with her role on Strictly Come Dancing. To be fair she does it very well in a format that suits her gifts. Having seen her in film reviewer mode I felt that the jury was out, until last night.

film 2010Ms Winkleman and her side kick Danny Leigh were reviewing the latest offering in the Narnia series Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Everything was going fine, some interesting insights into the making of the film and the direction Michael Apted had chosen to take the series. Part way through the segment Liam Neeson, who provides the voice of Aslan, mentions C S Lewis’s conversion from atheism to Christianity and a short clip of Reepicheep, the valiant mouse, saying ‘We have nothing if not belief’ underlines the point. Back to the studio and Winkleman and Leigh make some straightforward comments about the plot and the action sequences.

Then comes this comment from Ms Winkleman:
‘We ought to warn people… there’s a lot of religious symbolism…’
I had to watch the clip back a couple of times to make sure I’d heard correctly and that Ms Winkleman wasn’t being arch and I honestly don’t think she was. (Episode 9 26mins in on iPlayer) Ironically, Ms Winkleman goes on to admit her son didn’t get the allusions.

So this is the stage we’ve now reached. A presenter feels it necessary to issue a warning to people that a children’s film might contain religious symbolism. In times gone by parents feared their children attending the cinema because of the danger they might be corrupted by the loose morals of Hollywood. Today parents have to be warned that their children might be in some way infected by Christianity.

Bloggers Live!

I’ve now finalised the programme for our diocesan Lent and Eastertide Schools for 2011. I’m delighted to say that several eminent bloggers will be contributing to the programme. Although the Bible is an intrinsic part of our education and training programmes, for next year I have tried to include courses that link in with Bible Year 2011. Here’s a taster:

Maggi Dawn: The Writing on the Wall
Maggi2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of The King James Version of the Bible. But just how well do we understand the Bible, and its relationship to our culture? Maggi Dawn, author of The Writing on the Wall, will show how art, music, poetry, sculpture and film have been influenced by the Bible far more than we usually realize. But the arts do more than merely illustrate bible stothe_writing_on_the_wallries and characters: they also open up possibilities for interpretation. This day will open up some of the theological and devotional adventures that become possible when the riches of the Bible are recognized within the world of the arts, and offer all kinds of inspiration, for teaching, preaching and personal spiritual growth.

Elizaphanian (Sam Norton): The New Atheism
SamRichard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, A.C. Grayling… The aim of this module is to familiarise students with the main arguments and methods of the “New Atheists”, to understand where they stand in intellectual history, and to have renewed understanding of - and confidence in - the classical Christian intellectual tradition. Sam has blogged about his course here.

The Ugley Vicar (John Richardson): Revelation
John RichardsonWho's afraid of the book of Revelation? This course aims to show that Revelation is really not that difficult to understand, once we grasp the overall structure and see how it uses imagery from the Old Testament to address the situation of the Church in every age. The focus will be on teaching through the whole book, with an emphasis on interpretation and application. All you will need is a notebook and a Bible. John Richardson is the author of Revelation Unwrapped, and has been teaching the book of Revelation to church groups and courses for over fifteen years.

Phil's Treehouse (Phil Ritchie), Between (Jon Evens) & The Journey Home (Paul Trathen): Living the Story
philsLPS2Tom Wright has described the Bible as being like a five act play containing the first four acts in full (i.e. 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Israel, 4. Jesus) and the writing of the New Testament as forming the first scene in the fifth act and also giving hints of how the play is supposed to end. We are then called to live in this story improvising our part in Jonthe play on the basis of what we know of the story so far and the hints we have of how it will end.  PaulLiving the Story is something that Christian artists and writers have tried to do throughout Church history and continue to do today. In this course we will be examining a selection of contemporary uses of the Bible and the Christian story in popular culture and considering whether or not they can be said to be 'living the story’.

For details about dates, times and venues of courses go to Lent Schools 2011 and Eastertide Schools 2011 for the full programme. Contact details for booking at Lent and Easter schools 2011.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Minting the Word

I’ve been excited to see all the different projects being developed to give renewed attention to the Bible. In 2011 we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible and in Chelmsford Diocese we have made next year Bible Year 2011. But celebrations are not limited to churches and Christian organisations and just as encouraging has been the way in which the anniversary has been picked up in wider society and culture.

globe As part of their 2011 season The Globe Theatre is putting on The Word is God and the publicity explains:
Written in 1611, the King James Bible was the work of many hands, and has proved over the last four hundred years the undying power of the written and the spoken word. The Globe celebrates that achievement, and that long oral tradition, by reciting one of the great masterpieces of world literature from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday.

A team of actors will present these texts clear and simple, in a theatre which is constantly working to make Jacobean words become flesh.
The Royal Mint has produced a celebratory £2 King James Bible coin.
Commemorate a beloved cornerstone of our culture and language. Four centuries since its first publication; the King James Bible; still praised by scholars for its majestic style and poetic rhythms is now celebrated on the 2011 £2 coin.
I have to confess I am rather ambivalent about this coin, however, I like that on their site the Royal Mint has a summary explanation about the place and importance of the KJV in our nation's history and culture. The designers of the coin also explain their approach:
KJV mint Paul Stafford & Ben Wright 'Our design for the two pound coin, which marks 400 years since the first edition of the King James Version, celebrates this achievement. Printing matters are at the centre of the history of the King James Bible. After a ban on the printing and importation of the competing Geneva version into England, the King James Version became the most widely accepted translation. As a nod to this, and from the point of view of our own interests and backgrounds as a design agency, we decided to base our design on a representation of the printing process.Typeset in a replica of the black letter typeface used in the first edition, the reversed, raised text of the printing block (on the left) and the recessed text of the printed word (on the right), takes the form of the aptly chosen quote, ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (John 1:1).'
King-James The Royal Mail is planning to issue a set of commemorative stamps to mark the anniversary. Although details about this series are as yet sparse, they are likely to be released towards the end of 2011. In 1999 they did produce a stamp with King James 1st and the Authorised Bible as part of their The Christians’ Tale series.

A film of the story behind the King James Bible is planned for release on DVD. Made by Norman Stone and featuring John Rhys-Davies the docu-drama aims to set the publication of the KJV in its original context. Here’s a taste:

Further details about events to mark the anniversary can be found at the King James Bible Trust.

While it is great to see the various ways in which the Bible is being celebrated and its importance to our history and culture acknowledged, I hope people will also discover that the Bible is as relevant to us today as we read it in our own time and place.

If you would like to find out more about the Bible check out Biblefresh.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Gracious debating

The day after William Windsor and Kate Middleton announced the news that they are to marry, I happened to be in a coffee shop reading The Times (free copy). Tucked away amongst the mountain of waffle about the royal wedding was a fascinating interview with Professor John Lennox about his latest book God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?. I hadn’t read much of Lennox’s work nor seen him in action, so I did a bit of digging around and the more I’ve read and heard the more impressed I’ve become.

John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College. He’s developing a sideline in debating the New Atheists including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Lennox has also turned his sights on Stephen Hawking following Hawking’s claim that the laws of physics, not the will of God, provide the real explanation as to how life on Earth came into being. The Big Bang, Hawking argues, was the inevitable consequence of these laws 'because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.' You can read more of Lennox’s response to Hawking in this article.

However, the point I want to make is not so much about Lennox’s arguments, but about the manner of the way in which he engages in debate and approaches his task. Lennox is both reasonable and reasoned. No frothing at the mouth. No raging against the dying of the light. Rather, Lennox has a commitment to get to know and understand his opponents and to engage in friendly debate. He has confidence in the truth, doesn’t believe it can be imposed on any one and has a real desire to set his beliefs out in the public square for consideration. Underlying his approach is the conviction that as Christians we are called to love the Lord our God with our minds as well as with everything else.

If I was to sum up John Lennox’s approach to Christian apologetics it would be to describe it as a confident humility. To me that seems to be a good approach to take, as opposed to some of the defensiveness and special pleading from other quarters. Judge for yourself…

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Stop the Traffik

I read an interesting post by The Church Mouse earlier today. Mouse writes about one of the clergy who provided the inspiration behind the REV TV series.  According to a report in the Evening Standard the Rev Paul Turp is supporting a campaign to keep open lapdancing clubs in his parish, in the face of Hackney council’s ‘nil policy’ on such establishments.

I don’t know all the facts on the ground about this story and inevitably many press reports will present the story in the most sensationalist of terms. However, I am concerned about any impression or suggestion that lapdancing and strip clubs are harmless. The Revd Turp is quoted as saying:
I would prefer if it didn't happen, but Hackney council cannot impose a moral code on it citizens, it can only impose a criminal code. I've been here for 27 years and there have been no problems. They are not dodgy, back-street places where people are getting ripped off. They are well run and the council has done a good job at licensing them…

There are much bigger social problems that destroy communities for the council to be concentrating on than lapdancing clubs..
I’m not sure what is meant by there being ‘no problems’. The exploitation and degradation of women is a problem. The idea that women are commodities to be enjoyed for the cost of a tenner slipped in a G-string is a problem. The impact of the sex and pornography industries on our communities is a problem. A society in which 31 London councils have seen an increase in rape during 2010, while conviction rates remain pathetically low, has a problem. Eastern European women being enticed or forced to work in lap dancing and strip clubs across Europe including in the U.K. is a problem. Men, women and children being trafficked and traded across the world for the warped gratification of others is a problem.

Stop The Traffik is a growing global movement of individuals, communities and organisations fighting to PREVENT the sale of people, PROTECT the trafficked and PROSECUTE the traffickers. Those trafficked include those deceived or taken against their will, bought, sold and transported into slavery for sexual exploitation, sweat shops, child brides, circuses, sacrificial worship, forced begging, sale of human organs, farm labour, domestic servitude.

Now that’s a campaign well worth supporting.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

I think Sting gets it

One of my Christmas presents last year was Sting’s If On A Winter’s Night. I had seen his concert recorded in Durham Cathedral and thought the musicianship and arrangements of some classic carols and songs were beautiful. Unfortunately, a certain on-line supplier didn’t deliver in time so I received my copy well into the New Year, by which time the season had passed and it didn’t really sound the same.

As we enter the season of Advent it’s time to listen to the album again and it is powerfully evocative of winter and the seasons of Advent and Christmas in the church’s calendar. Reading the sleeve notes, Kate noticed that Sting makes some profound comments on the music and on our understanding of this time of year; Sting gets it. Here’s what he says about the birth of Christ:
Implicit in the story of the birth of Christ is the knowledge of his death and his subsequent Resurrection. This is what connects it to the secular songs about the cycle of the seasons. We are reminded that there is light and life at the centre of the darkness that is Winter – or conversely, that, no matter how comfortable we feel in the cradle, there is darkness and danger all around.
There’s a lovely story by the Beaker Folk which says something very similar in their inimitable style.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

How to speak Christianese

Ever wondered why no one understands you in church? Here’s the answer.

Just in case anyone thought we all take ourselves too seriously after the launch of Not Ashamed. If you are wondering why some of us are not too impressed by Not Ashamed check out Nick Baines.

h/t Chrisendom

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Conversation with Big Bible.

Here’s the audio of an interview I did this evening with Bex Lewis from Big Bible. Bex was interested to find out what we are up to in the Diocese of Chelmsford to celebrate Bible Year 2011. As well as talking about the wider initiative I spoke about Beer and Bible and #FavBible. Great to meet Bex in person as I’ve been admiring the work of Big Bible and Bible Fresh over recent months.


Philip beer and bible
Just to be clear, there is a Bible on my Blackberry (NRSV).


Kate was listening to one of her birthday presents the other day, The Proclaimers The Best Of... One of the tracks is called I want to be a Christian, written by Sullivan Pugh. Craig, one of the Scottish balladeers, comments in the track notes:proclaimers
We always loved it… My dad was Church of Scotland when he  was a kid and we had turned against it and when I said ‘I don’t want to go’ he said ‘Just don’t go’. It wasn’t a non-believing house but he was deeply cynical about the church and that’s how we grew up… but the idea of seeking to discover spiritual truth would certainly always be part of what I’ve done. The song says ‘I want to be a Christian’ – it doesn’t say ‘I can totally believe in it’, it says ‘I would like to totally believe in it’.
My young son listened to the song and when he heard the brothers singing ‘Lord I want to be a Christian’ for about the fifth time, he shouted out in frustration ‘Then become one!’. I think he’s on to something. Plenty of people say they want to be a Christian or wish they had the faith to believe, but in the end the only way to discover faith is by beginning to live in the story. As the psalmist says: Taste and see that God is good. Psalm 34:8.

I couldn’t find The Proclaimer’s version of the song on Youtube, which doesn’t really surprise me. However, you can find it on Spotify. Failing that you’ll just have to go out and buy the album, it’s worth it.

Monday, 29 November 2010

A bishop’s vision

Last Saturday’s Installation of +Stephen Cottrell as Bishop of Chelmsford was a wonderful celebration. I managed to fire off a few tweets and pictures during the occasion but as I was sitting directly behind the Bishop of London I decided to go easy on the social media activities.
The service included drumming, dancing, traditional hymns, singing led by an African group, anthems, as well the required legal bits and pieces. +Stephen was welcomed by political and civic representatives, bishops from our partner dioceses in Kenya and Sweden and other ecumenical brothers and sisters in Christ.

The heart of the service, however, was prayer and the ministry of the Word. +Stephen’s theme was 1 Corinthians 2:1-2:
‘When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom; for I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’
The sermon was recorded and I will include the audio once it is available, but for the moment here is the transcript:
Since the Prime Minister’s invitation to be the tenth Bishop of Chelmsford landed on my mat - the last PM (correct spelling) (laughter); and since I went to see the Queen to swear a not-very-ecumenical oath, and then chat about Essex . . . And I can offer, if the media are listening, the following exclusive:

‘Her Majesty likes, and eats, jam from Tiptree, but is not so keen on oysters from Colchester.’ (Laughter)

Though, for the record, I like both (laughter) and I am fishing for an invitation to the big oyster festival I missed this time round!
And since I learned that I do not have to change my name by deed poll - for surely I am the first Bishop of Chelmsford for 48 years who has not taken as his text Luke Chapter1 and verse 63 which, in case you don’t know, is ‘His name shall be John.’ And they were all amazed. (Laughter) . . .

Well, brothers and sisters, the amazement this time round is that you have got a Stephen and since it has been quite a long way to get here, from the arrival of that letter and all the other highfalutin shenanigans right through to this grand carry-on in the Cathedral . . . And, by the way, we clapped the dancers and clapped the singers – I think it’s about time we clapped the Choir! (Applause).

This is all becoming rather un-Anglican!

But since all this has transpired, people keep saying to me, with a mix of concern and consternation in their voice, sucking through their teeth like a builder surveying his predecessor’s work, ‘Chelmsford, eh?’ (Laughter) The good people of Berkshire – and I’m glad some of you are here – have been saying, ‘We thought you did quite a good job as Bishop of Reading. What have you done?’ (Laughter) So let me tell the good people of Essex that I’m glad to be home in God’s own county! (Applause).

People kept saying, ‘It won’t be easy’; ‘I don’t envy you that one,’ (this is the other bishops, of course); ‘How large! How difficult! How complicated!’ As though being a bishop in general and of Chelmsford in particular was like being appointed Captain of the Titanic’; or perhaps you think of the Church of England as the Marie Celeste!

Well, let me start as I mean to go on. I start here and now by saying to you, let us banish all talk of difficulty, of  complication. Yes, of course there will be challenges. Nothing of lasting value ever comes without a cost. But, brothers and sisters, what could be more joyful, more delightful – what greater honour can there be, than to follow in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ and be called to leadership and ministry in God’s Church; to be a custodian and a herald of the precious treasure of the Gospel?

Brothers and sisters, we have been sent with a message of Good News for the world! Therefore how can we be anything but joyful, animated, and eager to share with others all the goodness that we have received? God has called us to build the kingdom of his love where a new humanity is revealed and made available. And, if I can borrow for a moment the phrase of the hour, the ‘Big Society’ was always our idea first! (Laughter)

It is this vision of God’s new community and God’s reordering of the world that brought me into the Church in the first place; and it is this vision that sustains me. And it is this - and this only - that we will joyfully seek and celebrate together while I am your bishop.

Over thirty years ago, when I first started wondering whether God might be calling me to serve as a priest in his Church, I went to see Father Ernie Stroud, sometime Archdeacon of Colchester, now retired – and who I hope may be somewhere in the congregation . . .
He was the vicar of the church of St Margaret’s, Leigh on Sea, where my family and I discovered faith. We talked about the joys and demands of Christian ministry and sent me away with two biographies to read: the Life of Basil Jellicoe, the great slum priest and evangelist, and a life of William Temple, that great Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War. And both these books inspired me and have shaped my thinking about Christian ministry and faith.

I did indeed seek ordination (you will be relieved to hear that) and I thought it was Basil Jellicoe I would try to emulate. As an ordinand in this diocese, I was offered a parish in Loughton. And, with apologies to the good people of Loughton, I never took up the offer - rather pompously turning it down because it was not quite the slum that I was looking for! (Laughter). In fact I’ve already received a letter from the churchwarden of Loughton, wishing me all the best and praying for me, saying ‘I think I’m right in saying you were the person who looked at this parish.’ Goodness me, the churchwardens of the Church of England have very long memories!

And you will have discovered from reading the notes in the service book, while you’ve been waiting rather a long time for this service to commence, that I have travelled all around the country following a call ‘to make Christ known’.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my wife Rebecca and my three boys; because it’s not easy to be married to a bishop and have a bishop as your dad. And we have moved far too often and it’s hard for them. And I want them to know that I am here and we are here because we believe that God is calling us and that He has a purpose for our lives.

So, to my great surprise, the Church – and I hope God – has called me to be a bishop; first in Reading (and I give thanks for six very happy and fruitful years in the diocese of Oxford) and now Chelmsford, East London and Essex; returning to the places where I grew up and that I still think of as home.

And so, more and more, I find it’s William Temple that I turn to for inspiration; not just vision of a Christian society of justice and equity – though we need that vision today – but the way that he approached ministry. When he was enthroned as bishop of Manchester, this is what he said in his inaugural sermon:

‘I come as a learner with no policies; no plans already forged to follow. But I come with one burning desire. It is that, in all our activities sacred and secular, and social, we should fix our eyes on Jesus, making him our only guide.’

He went on:
‘Pray for me that I may never let go the unseen hand of the Lord Jesus and may live in daily fellowship with him.’

Brothers and sisters, I can do no better today than to make these words my own. Likewise, I make my own the words of the apostle Paul that is my text for today: that ‘I may know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’

You see, we do face many challenges. There is dis-ease and conflict in our world. We have forgotten how to live in peace with our neighbours; often we don’t even know our neighbour’s name. We abuse and exploit the natural resources of our planet and stress the equilibrium of its life. We spend vast sums of money on ever more sophisticated ways of killing each other: jealousy, fear and greed invade us, overwhelm us and, in so many cases, poison the well-springs of our hearts.

Meanwhile, thousands of people grow up knowing little or nothing about Christian faith and have no contact with the Christian Church. The values and disciplines of the Christian Church which we share as individuals and communities are left as personal choice where there is supposed to be public truth: Good News for a needy world.

You see, the Gospel is medicine. It meets us at our deepest need. It calms fears, forgives sins, wipes tears away. And this Gospel is not a set of rules or regulations; not a manifesto or a programme. It is a Person.

So fix your eyes upon Jesus. Know him in his death and resurrection. Make him your guide. And if, within the Church, we find ourselves swamped in disagreement on matters of profound importance; and where integrity is not the monopoly of one side or the other – that’s why it’s so painful. And, again, there will be only one way through. We must fix our eyes on the One who has fixed his eyes on us; who loves us with a love stronger than death.

You’ll probably hear me say this hundreds of times over the next few years, but let me say it loud: You can go to the Church of England for a lifetime and nobody gives it to you straight. You are loved. You are precious in God’s sight. He has a purpose for your life.

And, together, our task as God’s people in this great diocese is to know and reveal that love which God has for us in Christ. This is my prayer for myself and for our diocese. That is how I come to you. I do not have a master plan in my back pocket; I have only a prayer in my heart.

So when people say to me, ‘Bishop, what is your vision?’ you’d better get used to hearing me say, ‘I don’t have one. Not yet. Not on a plate. Not on my own.’ Once together, fixing our eyes on Jesus, making him our guide, we will discover – and, in discovery, be surprised, provoked, delighted that God loves his Church and has a purpose for his work.

Pray, therefore, that we, each one of us, may first of all live our lives in community with God. This must be our first priority. And when we live this vocation of prayer and service, within the community we call the Church, God can do great things.

Now, of course, the Church has many failings, and it is my sad duty to report that this bishop shares many of them. But if we fix our eyes on Jesus; if he is our guide, then from the wellsprings of our hearts, now cleansed by the Spirit of the living God, we will find joy in living and proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

So do not bang on about how difficult and complicated it all is. Put away all cynicism, gossip, prejudice and lack of love Stop taking yourself so seriously and, instead, join me in the great adventure of the Christian journey.

And, finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus says that his Church must be ‘salt’ and ‘light’.
And let me remind you that here salt does not mean you are supposed to be like the little sprinkling over your chips to make them taste a bit nicer. It is preservative. This is what Jesus means; like a piece of salted cod - you stop it from rotting. This is what Jesus longs his Church to be: a household of peace and joy where true and lasting values are held, taught and celebrated.

And light. We are supposed to be light; light that shines in the darkness. Light that reveals the way. Light that dispels fear. Jesus says that we, his people, are supposed to be ‘a city set on a hill’ receiving and radiating the light of Christ.

So, brothers and sisters, who are we - gathered in the midst of this Cathedral today; this motley band of muddled and broken humanity? We are the inheritors of a great vocation. We are the ones who are called to share the light of Christ today and shine with that light in our own lives.

This is what Basil Jellicoe did in the slums of London. This is what William Temple taught. This is what countless Christian people are doing every day in the diocese. And it is to this that we recommit ourselves: nothing less than the beauty of the Gospel and the building of God’s kingdom here.

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday, the beginning of the Christian Year. Let us begin again, inviting God into our hearts, letting his Gospel shape our lives. And let us know nothing other than Jesus Christ and him crucified. We have great Good News to live and share. Brothers and sisters, go back to your parishes - and prepare for government! Amen. [Applause]

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Friday, 26 November 2010

The perils of Twitter

This made me smile. With thanks to Sue Diplock.

But for a more serious reflection check out this from Dave Walker.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Oaths & allegiance

I’m an almost cradle Anglican who grew up in a vicarage and was ordained a Church of England priest over twenty years ago. To be honest it’s all I’ve really known, though I did have a brief and important dalliance with a home group of the Baptist church down the road during my teens. There are many things I admire about the Church of England and Anglicanism, but if I’m honest there was ever only going to be one denomination where I’d end up a minister, as much out of familiarity as out of firm conviction.

I never really had to think that hard about what being ordained into the established church involved. I can’t remember a single lecture at vicar school about the oaths I was going to take before the bishop at my ordination. When I had to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, it was with the same roll of the eyes that some colleagues reserved for awkward things like the historic formularies of the Church of England. I never had a problem with the 39 Articles but I’ve always struggled with the monarchy bit. I don’t know what it is really, probably just some quaint notions about what I think democracy is.
Nevertheless, I was content to swear the Oath of Allegiance and say:
I, David Philip Ritchie, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God.
I didn’t even have to cross my fingers, although my dad, who was present at the time,  glared at me as I let out a little sigh.

Then on Tuesday I found myself in discussion with a friend over the tribulations of the Bishop of Willesden. +Pete Broadbent had made some unguarded comments on Facebook about the Royal Family in general and the forthcoming  wedding of William and Kate in particular. He also revealed his republican sympathies. The main target of his comments, however, were the media and their coverage of the issue and not surprisingly the Daily Mail took it upon itself to splash all this across its pages in righteous (sic) indignation. Some asked how +Pete could be a bishop and keep the Oath of Allegiance if he was a republican. Despite a full and, I thought, gracious apology from +Pete, the Bishop of London felt he had to ask +Pete  to withdraw from public ministry, though no one seems sure what that means.

I confess I didn’t see what the big deal was and felt the responses to +Pete’s ill judged comments were completely out of proportion to the offence. Yet, for my friend it was a big deal because the Oath of Allegiance does really mean what it says it means. My friend had been an ordained minister in a non-conformist church and when he became an Anglican and considered ordination in the Church of England he had to think through very carefully whether he was prepared to make the oaths required of him. It wasn’t just a switch of denomination, there were ecclesial, theological and political consequences to the decision. Consequences my friend had to wrestle with long and hard before offering for ordination.

The way my friend put it was this: If the English Civil War were taking place today, those who have sworn the Oath of Allegiance are saying they are with the Crown and not Cromwell. Put like that it does seem a much bigger deal. Of course we aren’t facing that situation but it does highlight issues that I never considered to be important as a young ordinand back in the 1980s. So I’m going to have to do a bit more thinking on this one.

One last comment. I have tremendous respect for most of the bishops I have known and under whose ministry I have served. They have been Godly people striving tirelessly, often at great personal cost, for the Gospel. Some commentators have pointed out that other bishops have said things much more contentious than +Pete and not been disciplined in any way. I have to say the examples of bishops and comments they cite do seem rather selective and may reflect something of the commentators’ own position on controversial issues. How come these lists don’t include those bishops who have made a career out of denying just about  every line in the Creeds? What about the hypocrisy of those bishops who hold one position in public on matters of ethics and morality, while embracing or endorsing a contradictory position in private? What about those who have demonstrated high levels of incompetence in office, with very damaging consequences for those in their charge? As far as I am aware, not one of them was required to withdraw from public ministry and some were preferred for higher office. The lesson to me seems clear; you can say and do just about anything but disrespect the Royal Family and you are toast.