Wednesday, 31 March 2010

still broken

About 11:30am on Monday I glanced out of my diocesan office window and wondered what was going on as I watched various cassocked men heading for Chelmsford Cathedral. Then I remembered that on Monday of Holy Week the cathedral hosts the ‘alternative’ Chrism service. Each Maundy Thursday a Chrism service is held in the cathedral and all the clergy of the diocese are invited to attend. It is an opportunity to gather together; to renew ordination vows; to bless oils which will be used in parishes throughout the year and to celebrate the meal Jesus gave us. However, as I said, an alternative service took place on Monday.

When the Church of England decided to ordain women as priests in the 1990s arrangements were put in place for those who could not support the move. These arrangements were set out in Appendix B to Ordination of Women to the Priesthood: Pastoral Arrangements and provide sacramental care as well as oversight for opponents of the ordination of women to the priesthood. Basically, provision is made in each diocese for a Provincial Episcopal Visitor, sometimes known as a ‘flying bishop’, who offers oversight to those who cannot accept the ministry of the diocesan bishop because of his acceptance of and participation in the ordination of women. It was these clergy who I saw going to the cathedral on Monday for their alternative Chrism service in Holy Week.

I thought back to another view through a window during Advent 2008. I was looking through the window of the small Franciscan church called Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives. The church is constructed in the shape of a tear and the view looks out over Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem. This is traditionally remembered as the site where Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).

So there you have it: Holy Week, when we remember what God has done for all of us through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ and we have two separate services because we can’t agree on what Jesus calls us to be and do in his name. We can’t even share together around the Lord’s table.

Jesus wept and we should hang our heads in shame.

from dominus flevit

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:20-22

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Crowd trouble

One of my favourite Holy Week hymns is Samuel Crossman’s My Song is Love Unknown. The third verse always stands out for me:

Sometimes they strew His way,

And His sweet praises sing;

Resounding all the day

Hosannas to their King:

Then ‘Crucify!’ is all their breath,

And for His death they thirst and cry.

Doug Chaplin has posted an interesting blog questioning whether the crowd that welcomes Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is the same crowd that then turns on him on Good Friday. Doug comments:

Every year, on or after this day, someone – sooner or later – and usually in a sermon, draws our attention to the “fact” that the crowds crying “Hosanna” on Sunday were crying “Crucify” on Friday.

I’ve already noted that in Luke’s Gospel it is the accompanying disciples who cry “Hosanna”. Luke, for one, doesn’t make the psychologising identification beloved by preachers, but which is read into some kind of harmonised “gospel story”.

Borg_Crossan_The_Last_Week_sm[5] I happened to be reading the section in Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan’s book The Last Week yesterday, in which they reflect on the role of the crowd in Mark. They make an interesting comparison between the Gospels and stress that in Mark the crowd is supportive of Jesus, forcing the hostile authorities to abandon any attempt at a public arrest (Mk 14:1-2) and therefore dependent on Judas to betray Jesus. They note:

  • Mark has five references to a supportive/protective crowd between Sunday and Tuesday (11:8-10; 11:18; 11:32; 12:12; 12:37)
  • Matthew has three of Mark’s five (21:8-9, 26, 46)
  • Luke three or four depending on how one understands ‘the whole multitude of the disciples’ during the entry. (19:37-38, 47-48; 20:6,19)
  • John only has the entry into Jerusalem (12:12-18)
  • They also cite Josephus for a pro Jesus crowd and anti Jesus authorities: Jewish Antiquities 18:63-64.

What is clear is the recognition of a supportive crowd forcing the authorities to abandon any confrontation in public. Even if Luke is only referring to the disciples for the entry into Jerusalem, the crowd are still identified as supportive early in the week. Is this the crowd that turns on Jesus? Crossan and Borg argue against this and suggest a smaller, different crowd provided by the authorities. They don’t give much support for this argument except to say that it is unlikely the crowd from earlier in the week would be allowed into Herod’s palace.

To return to the hymn. Why I find it so powerful is that it reminds me how fickle I am in my own faith. Times of passion, joy and dedication are so quickly followed by periods of apathy and complacency. I may not be shouting out ‘Crucify’ in open hostility but the blandness of my discipleship is still depressing. It is also sobering to remember that one of Jesus’ most dedicated followers may not have shouted ‘Crucify’ on that first Good Friday but he did deny any knowledge of Jesus when the crunch came.

So I make the last verse of the hymn a prayer for this week:

Here might I stay and sing,

No story so divine;

Never was love, dear King!

Never was grief like Thine.

This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise

I all my days could gladly spend.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


A work of genius in praise of The Daily Mail with a nod to the great Robert Zimmerman.

h/t The Media Blog and echurchwebsites.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Rambo managers

Yesterday I blogged about Rambo priests and it seems football managers don't want to be left out of the action. Here is what is normally referred to in football circles as 'handbags' between Roberto Mancini of Manchester City and David Moyes of Everton from last night's match.

Manchester City 0-2 Everton in case anyone is interested in the score.

h/t the always entertaining Off The Post.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Rambo priests

The Roman Catholic Brooklyn Archdiocese has made a video inviting men to consider joining the priesthood as part of the Year of the Priest. The video is well made with stirring music reminiscent of the opening scene of some great action adventure film. The call to priesthood is presented as a challenge and concludes with the caption: ‘Accept the challenge of priesthood and enjoy the rewards for life’. I don’t have any problem with presenting the call to ministry, any ministry in the service of God, as a challenge and perhaps we have underplayed that aspect of vocation. Yet, I found myself unable to identify with just about every aspect of the video in its presentation of ordained ministry as male and celibate; no surprise there as I am an ordained, married, father of two who is an Anglican!

Resources for exploring vocations in the Diocese of Chelmsford can be found here and here.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

‘fasten your missional seatbelts…’

Just one of the comments welcoming yesterday’s announcement that the new Bishop of Chelmsford is to be the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Reading. This is great news and there is much rejoicing in the diocese at the appointment. It was a real joy to attend the press conference in Chelmsford and to hear +Stephen speak so passionately about the Gospel. Here are a few excerpts from what he said:

StephenCottrell “What sustains me in ministry is the joy and beauty of the gospel. I want us to be a church that is gospel centred, servant hearted and mission focused. I am hungry for us to be a church that connects with every person and every community.

“I am excited by the prospect of getting to know and working alongside the parishes and communities of East London and Essex that make up this great diocese. I look forward to working with new colleagues and making new friends. Building upon the work of those who have gone before us in the faith, together we can do something beautiful for God in the communities we have been called to serve.

“For me coming to Essex and East London feels like coming home. However this is not the end of the journey. We must set our sights on the glory of God and on his son Jesus Christ and on the needs of the world - this is the path we will travel together.”

During the conference +Stephen spoke about how as a teenager he watched the crucifixion scene from Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. He went to his bedroom weeping, overwhelmed by the sense of what God had done for him through the cross. So began the journey that has brought him to serve as Bishop of Chelmsford.

The only down side that I can see is that +Stephen is a Spurs supporter, though he also seeks to support his local team wherever he lives. In his youth he supported Southend Utd, who really could do with all the help they can get at the moment, and it has to be said that his support for Reading doesn’t seem to have done them much good.

Anyway, great news and I look forward to +Stephen’s installation which is likely to be in the autumn. For a perspective from the Oxford Diocese have a look at +Alan Wilson’s blog Chelmsford! Essex! You lucky people!. Further details about the announcement can be found on the Diocese of Chelmsford website.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Grace & Passion

Grace and Passion

The latest exhibition from commission4mission is to be held at St Laurence Church, Upminster during Passiontide. The exhibition's centrepiece will be the first showing of a contemporary set of Stations of the Cross by Rosalind Hore. The Stations of the Cross have been a big influence on Rosalind and her work. Each of her Stations feature three rose buds as a sign of the Trinity. On display around the church will be Rosalind’s series of clay and plaster sculptures.

Also featuring in the exhibition will be work by c4m artists: Adam Boulter, Colin Burns, Ally Clarke, Ann Creasey, Michael Creasey, Valerie Dean, Jonathan Evens, Mark Lewis, Nadiya Pavliv, Caroline Richardson, Joy Rousell Stone, Henry Shelton, and Peter Webb.

Rosalind Hore and Henry Shelton will be in conversation about their experiences of producing Stations of the Cross at a commission4mission networking evening to be held at St Laurence's Upminster on Monday 22nd March, 7.30 - 9.00pm. Henry's Stations of the Crown of Thorns have just been installed at St Paul's, Goodmayes.

commission4mission aims to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches, as a means of fundraising for charities and as a mission opportunity for the churches involved.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Spirit Talking

Do not miss this fantastic conference in May: The Holy Spirit in the World Today. The speakers are as good a line up as one could wish for and include: J├╝rgen Moltmann; David Ford; Rowan Williams and Miroslav Volf.

moltmann david-ford
rowan-williams-1-sized volf 2

The conference will also include Seminar times for short papers and interactive discussion. This will be an academic conference with a difference, providing the best possible theological input and discussion in the context of worship, prayer and ministry.

The conference is hosted by St Mellitus College and Holy Trinity Brompton on 20th-21st May 2010 at HTB and themes explored will include:

  • How does the Spirit work in the Church?
  • In what ways is the Spirit at work in wider culture and the workplace?
  • How does the Spirit relate to the Trinitarian life of God?
  • How does the Spirit relate to the mission of the Church?
  • Is the Spirit at work in other faiths?
  • How does the Spirit affect Christian life and ethical choices?
  • What does ‘openness to the Spirit’ mean?

For further details about the conference and booking arrangements go to this link.

I’m booked in, what about you?

Update: There have been some enquiries about cost. The prices are: £75 full; £50 student. The detailed programme for the conference is available here.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

killer victims

The less edifying of our media outlets are in full cry again. This time it is over the news that Jon Venables, one of the two convicted killers of James Bulger, has been returned to prison for a breach of the license under which he was released. People are demanding to know why Venables has been taken back in to custody and the press are engaged in a hunt to discover what he is supposed to have done. The Sun is heading the chase and an injunction has been sought to prevent information being revealed that might prejudice a future trial. There is also concern that Venables’ new identity might be revealed with the risk of putting his life in danger.

Nick Baines has made some important points on his blog about the Venables’ case and the demands to know what he is accused of doing. Nick rightly points out the following:

I remain puzzled as to (a) why the public needs to know what he has now done, (b) how the public will benefit from such knowledge and (c) why we assume that such knowledge will contribute to the common good of society. I hear the scream for blood very clearly and I recognise the voyeurism that we both gorge on and get fed. But, I have heard no reasonable account of why we should know anything other than that the processes of law are being followed in the interests of society and Venables. (I understand the response of his mother, but are we to be consistent and let every victim of every crime shape the future of the criminal involved? Think through the consequences…)

While agreeing with Nick about the demand for details, I would want to argue that there is a public interest issue in this case. The two boys convicted of James Bulger’s murder have been heralded by some concerned with the justice system as examples of what can be achieved with regard to rehabilitation. Lord Woolf’s decision to reduce their minimum tariff was partly based on the desire not to damage that rehabilitation by exposing them further to the negative impact of a young offender’s institution. Now it seems one of them has raised enough concern to be returned to prison under the terms of his license. This raises issues about the future handling of such cases and public perceptions about justice.

At a time when the prevailing narrative in the media is that the law favours the criminal over against the victim this case is grist to the mill. I think this is a false narrative but the speculation is inevitable. I would want to separate out the legitimate questions about punishment, justice and rehabilitation from the voyeurism of some of the press and public. The recent case of the Edlington brothers, convicted in January of a near fatal assault on two other boys, highlights that the issue of how society deals with these young people remains a pressing concern.

There is an interesting comparison with a case in Trondheim, Norway; the murder of Silje Raedergard (1994) by two 6 year old boys (and possibly a 5 year old), which was handled completely differently. Five year old Silje and friends were playing in the snow on a football pitch. The two boys became aggressive and stripped her, stoned her and then ran off leaving her unconscious in the snow where she died.

The city was stunned by Silje’s death, but what is surprising is the response of the community, which expressed grief and a level of responsibility rather than anger and a desire for revenge. Over the following four years the two boys were given counselling and they were treated as victims rather than killers. A week later the boys were back in school and the parents of other children accepted the situation. Silje’s mother expressed an extraordinary degree of understanding in the midst of her grief:

'I forgive those who killed my daughter. It is not possible to hate small children. They do not understand the consequences of what they have done...I can sympathise with the boys' parents...They must be going through a lot now. I do not know all of them yet, but they are welcome to contact me if they so wish.'

This is what Trond Viggo Torgerson, the Norwegian ombudsman for children, argued:

‘We must all ask ourselves some pertinent questions in order to prevent similar cases. How should we teach ourselves and our children to distinguish between playing games and committing abuse? How can we make our children want to copy our good habits, our good intentions without also copying our conflicts and inadequacies? This is what the Trondheim accident is all about. It does not serve any purpose to blame those who were involved in the accident itself. They are already unhappy.'(Dagbladet, 22 October).

The boys’ identities have never been released by the Norwegian press. One of the boys continues to receive psychiatric support while the other appears to be completely rehabilitated. It is worth noting that the legal age for prosecution in Norway is fifteen years and it is ten years in England and Wales. It is also worth noting that when Silje’s body was found the press chose not to publish photographs or a description of the dead girl, in contrast to the sensationalist reporting of the Bulger case in sections of the British press.

Now my questions are these:

  • Can we possibly conceive of our society being able to engage in a discussion about the merits of the way the Bulger case and the Raedergard’s case have been handled?
  • Is our media capable of considering the issues raised without a sensationalism engendering blood lust?
  • Do our politicians have the courage to raise these difficult matters in a way that doesn’t pander to a law and order populism?

Most importantly; do we want a criminal justice system which is primarily about revenge or rehabilitation?

Update: It is difficult to find out all the facts surrounding Silje's tragic death, partly because of the way the case was handled, and there are conflicting reports about exactly what happened. The autopsy stated exposure as the cause of death. My summary of the case is based on contemporary media reports, including the BBC and The Independent, and on Open University material.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Name in vain

Call me old fashioned but one of the things I really don’t like is hearing people taking God’s name in vain. It’s one of the Ten Commandments most frequently broken and I guess most people don’t understand why I might find it offensive. I certainly don’t want to go down the Leviticus 24 route where blasphemy was punished by stoning, but it depresses me to hear people, including many Christians, using God’s name as just another expression of surprise or frustration. OMG or a more extreme version is a constant abbreviation on Twitter and whenever I see it something in my heart sinks. Likewise, when I hear youngsters using the phrase in the school playground or on the streets.

Perhaps it’s my upbringing, which I thank God for, but I'm sure it is more than that. As a Christian I believe I have a personal relationship with God and that relationship is as precious to me as my relationship with my wife, children and family. To treat God’s name as a curse or exclamation is to denigrate one I love.

I was surprised to read a report in The Guardian about Domenico Di Carlo, an Italian football coach, who has been suspended for uttering a blasphemous expression during a match between Chievo and Cagliari in Serie A. Last month the Italian football federation decided to take action against players and coaches heard taking God’s name in vain. The federation’s president declared it would "intervene with official decisions to make clear that blasphemy is within the definition of 'offensive, insulting or abusive language' in the rules (that warrant sending-off)".

The first thing that occurred to me is that if the rule was applied to football in this country then most pitches and dugouts would soon be empty!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Reel Issues

Looks like some useful material from the Bible Society. Reel Issues are a set of free resources to help groups discuss links between big-screen themes, everyday life and the Bible in a relaxed setting. There are three formats described as:

  • Epic – for small groups
  • Clip – for quick and friendly chats
  • Scene – for youth groups

A quick look at the films listed held few surprises but that may be no bad thing; there’s not much point discussing films no one’s watching. However, it wouldn’t hurt to stretch people now and again and I was disappointed that Babette’s Feast for example wasn’t on the list. I also tried to find a couple of relatively new releases including Up and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince with no success and was left wondering how quickly they are able to add resources for new DVD titles. Difficult to judge how good the resources are without using them so I’ll be interested to see how useful groups and churches find them.

Check out what David Suchet and Nev Pierce (Empire Magazine) have to say about Reel Issues.

h/t Fellow devotee of Man Utd Pete Phillips

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

spot, rot and mildew – the message (3)

I’m ploughing my way through Leviticus at the moment, though not on the Sabbath (see Exodus 34:21), and have reached the chapters about skin diseases, mould on clothing and mildew in houses (Leviticus 13-14). I have to admit it’s been tough going and I find myself continually asking what has this got to do with the mission and ministry of the Church today. Of course leprosy still exists; however, as Christians we follow The Lord who reached out to touch and heal rather than one who drove out the ‘unclean’ (Lev 13:1-46). Likewise, there are plenty of houses that suffer from mould and rot but again our approach to dealing with these problems is somewhat different from that suggested in the scriptures except as a last resort (Lev 14:33-57).

Leviticus raises the perpetual question for the Christian and the Church; which commands still apply and which can be ignored or set aside? There are some commands that have almost universal acceptance, do no murder for example, though societies seem to find ways around that one when it comes to capital punishment and prosecuting wars. Other laws are ignored or dismissed by most Christians who think nothing of tucking into a prawn sandwich unless like me they are allergic to prawns. Then there are those commands that remain a source of contention. Until relatively recently our society sought to keep one day a week special and banned trading on a Sunday. The law may have changed yet many Christians still feel uncomfortable about Sunday shopping. One of the issues threatening to split the Anglican communion is whether or not the Old Testament commands relating to homosexual acts are culturally relative or permanently valid (Lev 18:22, 20:13).

We are all very good at picking and choosing the commands we feel obligated to obey and those we can dismiss as irrelevant or redundant. But I wonder how many of us can give a considered explanation for our choices? As I was reflecting on this I remembered a scene from The West Wing in which the fictional President Bartlett challenges a radio presenter over her use of Biblical commands.

Now where did I put that stone?

Monday, 1 March 2010

34 and counting…

That’s the number of trophies won by Manchester United under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson. Yesterday’s Carling Cup victory against Aston Villa shows that SAF isn’t finished yet, despite all the doom mongers predicting the demise of Utd following Ronaldo’s departure. It was a great day at Wembley with Graham Tomlin and my first visit to the stadium since the rebuild.Phil & Graham Wembley 2010 The afternoon kicked off with an excellent meal in the Bobby Moore club before taking our well positioned seats three rows back above the players entrance with a fantastic view of the pitch and the team benches. To be fair the Villa supporters were making the most noise pre-match, but then they don’t get to a final that often.

The start of the game was a disaster with Utd’s defender Vidic giving away a penalty within five minutes and Villa scoring from the spot. Vidic was lucky to stay on the pitch and one of the advantages of our seats was being awembley 1ble to see the Villa manager‘s reaction to the lack of a red card. A few minutes later and great relief as little Mickey Owen, granted a rare start, slotted the ball home to equalise. Sadly Owen didn’t last the half and hobbled off with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Wayne Rooney. It was Rooney who settled the game fifteen minutes from the end with a perfect header from Valencia’s cross and a few minutes later he hit the post with another header. A desperate last few minutes of all out attack from Villa before the final whistle and another cup for the Old Trafford trophy cabinet. Cue the celebrations.

For those who moan that Utd should have been reduced to ten men early on, it is worth remembering that Utd played Villa a few weeks ago a man down for an hour and still drew. Villa played well but Utd dominated as the game developed, particularly in midfield, and once Rooney came on there was only likely to be one winner. As the song says, The Reds go marching on, on, on!

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