Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Davy Jones RIP

One of the first songs I ever had, recorded on a reel to reel machine I got for Christmas 1970. Thanks for all the memories of a great show and some cracking pop songs Davy. Oh, and for causing another David to change his name to Bowie!


Count your blessings #Lentlink 8

count your blessingsChristian Aid is inviting people to Count Your Blessings for Lent 2012.

Lent is a time to take each day to reflect, pray and be thankful for the goodness of God and the blessings that we have received.
Make Lent count this year in a fresh way by joining us on the Count Your Blessings journey and supporting some of the poorest communities in the world.

There are a variety of resources including a weekly reflection and you can also take part via Twitter and Facebook. Count Your Blessings has been endorsed by Tom Wright:
'As economic and political troubles increase around the world, many of us forget just how much we ourselves have to be thankful for. ‘Count your blessings’ is a great way of using the discipline of Lent to remind ourselves of just how fortunate we are – and of the very practical ways in which we can share our blessings with those in greatest need.
For more information about Christian Aid campaigns including Trace the Tax check out their website.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

40 #Lentlink 7

‘For my thirtieth birthday I gave myself some time away from it all.’ Check out this beautiful reflection on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.

h/t St Mary’s Great Baddow.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Fairtrade Fortnight #Lentlink 6

What do we buy and where do we buy it from? During Fairtrade Fortnight you are invited to Take a Step in 2012 as a way of engaging with justice for farmers in developing countries. If you want to know why you should bother then watch this video.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Together #Lentlink 5

Together is the title of the Church Urban Fund email newsletter. This months edition has some great ideas for individuals and churches during Lent. Here are some examples with links:

Lent starts here
Lent is traditionally a period of spiritual reflection; time to give up luxuries and treats and to take on an activity that encourages spiritual growth and transformation. If you've downloaded or ordered our new Lent poverty course then we hope you're getting ready to start exploring some of the challenging issues of poverty in England. There's still time to download the free course or order it from us - we can also send Lent collecting boxes or Gift Aid envelopes, and there are lots of Lent fundraising ideas online.

Growing church through social action?
There is a hypothesis that when a church looks outward - actively loving and serving it's neighbours, especially the 'least of these' - then the church will be healthier and will grow. We tested this theory for our latest research, which was carried out by Christian Research Consultancy amongst Anglican parishes - around 900 clergy were surveyed, and in-depth interviews were held with eight church leaders who had successfully transformed their churches from failing, poorly-attended buildings to lively community hubs. You can read the research findings online or request copies of the reports.

If you want to know something of what CUF is doing to transform lives then watch this video.

Broken by drugs - transformed by God's love
Raised in Clubmoor, Liverpool, Craig was a teenage alcoholic who soon became addicted to drugs. When he met Jo - at a detox facility during one of his many attempts to kick a cocaine habit - life seemed to be getting better. But the strain of trying to make things work lead to rows and violent fights and when Jo realised she was pregnant, she feared that Social Services would take their baby away. Things looked bleak, but with the help of a Church Urban Fund-supported project at a local church, a different future was possible.

Why not check out the CUF Youtube page, follow on Twitter, or become a friend on Facebook?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Sun Rise service

the sunI know it’s short notice but like most people I was caught unawares by Rupert’s latest wheeze and so I am announcing a special Sun Rise Service to be held tomorrow at our local shopping centre. We will meet at the church at 6.30am for a brief period of reflection as we remember the late lamentable News of the World. Then I will lead a procession to the local newsagent for the purchase of the Sun on Sunday, the latest publication to grace our culture from the Antipodean media mogul. This will be followed by a reading of the journal at the coffee shop. When the three minutes of looking at the pictures are up we will remain at the establishment to finish our beverages before returning home. Participants are then free to do what they usually do with products from News International; in my case it will be lining the floor of the rabbit hutch although our rabbit refuses to do his business on anything coming out of Wapping and Thomas More Square.

the Nail #Lentlink 4

Passion nail in His handYou hold in your hands a nail that was used to crucify Christ. If you accept it, this nail is the beginning of a deeply moving and personal journey through the Passion story.

The Nail is written by Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, and it is a powerful series of reflections on the crucifixion of Jesus seen through the eyes of some of those who witnessed his death. Would we have behaved any differently? Each reflection includes a Bible passage, a narrative from the perspective of the character and a short prayer.

Will you accept the nail that crucified Christ?
Lord Jesus Christ,
We confess that just like your first disciples we have failed you,
We have run away when we should have stayed,
We have blamed others and excused ourselves,
We have stored up treasure on earth
and ignored the treasure of your way:
Lord forgive us, Christ have mercy. Amen.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Nature and Origin

I managed to watch the excellent debate between Richard Dawkins, Rowan Williams and Anthony Kenny from Oxford on Thursday afternoon. The topic was 'The nature of human bdawkins williamseings and the question of their ultimate origin.' I also followed the Twitter stream on the debate for a few moments before giving up because it was just so tiresome and predictable. The debate is available to view on the Archbishop’s website.

A few brief reflections. I was really impressed with the tone of the debate. There was no grandstanding, chest thumping or brow beating which has sadly marred many of these debates. (I think for example of the Stephen Fry & Christopher Hitchens verses Ann Widdicombe & Archbishop Onaiyekan bout in the Intelligence Squared debate on the Catholic Church.) This may have been for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the audience was asked not to applaud and so the debaters didn’t play to the crowd in a Question Time way where each contributor raises their voice to a frenzied crescendo on every point to elicit clapping. Secondly, we had some real experts in their fields who had the intelligence to engage in rational debate and interact with each other’s arguments. There were also a few moments of genuine wit as well as wisdom. Those of us engaged in apologetics would do well to learn from the gracious manner in which the debaters engaged in the process.

However, I was genuinely surprised at how out of depth Richard Dawkins seemed once the debate turned to philosophical matters. At one point he said ‘I am not a philosopher’ and virtually excused himself from the discussion on the rest of that point. The problem for Dawkins is that he is continually trying to make philosophical points or at least engage with matters of philosophy and theology in his statements and writings. If you are going to comment on the discipline of others then you need at least to be able to engage with the language and concepts. By contrast, although both Kenny and Williams stressed they weren’t scientists it was clear that they had read Dawkins’ work and were familiar with some of his evidence. Kenny at one point challenged the research Dawkins appealed to regarding choice and free will (the processes involved in picking up a glass of water) and I thought convincingly exposed it weakness.

My second reflection leads on to my third. It seemed to me that both Kenny and Williams were comfortable engaging with Dawkins on matters of science and acknowledging his expertise. Williams went out of his way to praise Dawkins’ writing on the beauty of the universe. They not only accepted but celebrated science and displayed a humility about the subject. It was clear they had both thought long and hard about Dawkins’ evidence base and its strengths and weaknesses. By contrast Dawkins wanted to reduce everything to the purely scientific. Everything, he said, could or would be explained within the discipline of science. Therefore Dawkins sees no need to go outside his discipline in order to understand the subject of the debate. This perhaps explains why Dawkins doesn’t give the disciplines he doesn’t respect the courtesy of studying them in any depth.

Some may have found it frustrating that Williams was prepared to live with questions and uncertainty, for example on the problem of suffering. Anyone who knows the Archbishop’s writings and theology will understand that this is characteristic of his approach. His faith in God means he doesn’t feel he needs to have all the answers neatly tied down, that’s God’s problem not his. This for me is the heart of the matter; the contrast between someone who wants to have everything understood and explained and someone who is content to live with ambiguity and uncertainty within faith in One who doesn’t explain the gaps but encompasses everything. Or as Williams put it, a God who is ‘Love plus Mathematics’.

Pray one for me #Lentlink 3

It’s OK to pray. Many people do and about a wide variety of subjects. Some big, some small, but all important.

By posting a prayer request at the Pray One For Me website, you can be sure that it will be prayed by Christians on your behalf.

Your prayer can be about almost anything. Some of the most frequent topics are family and friends, thanking God, guidance, healing and worldwide problems. When you post you will be offered the chance to say what category your prayer falls into and you can add your own tags. But if it’s about something else, that’s fine. Your prayer is unique and it will be treated like that.

Pray One For Me is run by the Church of England for Lent.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Imagine a changed world #Lentlink 2

Read this excellent article on Lent by Jane Williams: Lent is a chance to take stock and imagine a changed world.
This is how the New Testament tells it, and that's why Jesus's followers "do" Lent. For a few weeks, we try to see that the world doesn't crumble if we don't have everything we want; we try to make ourselves and our resources that little bit more available for ends other than our own…
…there is really no point at all in a Lenten discipline that isn't about reimagining the world so that it revolves less about our own desires and more about the good of all. When Lent ends, that vision of the world doesn't. It's a world that is less about what I want, and more about what we all need, in which the good life for me is unimaginable unless it is also the good life for you.
jesus lent 1

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Don’t give up #Lentlink 1

‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ I have lost count of the number of times I get asked that question each year. Perhaps people think there are lots of things I need to give up! This year I have decided to give up asking the question ‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ because it strikes me that it is a negative question that reinforces the idea that Christianity is all about things we can’t or shouldn’t do.

Instead I want to ask the question ‘What are you doing for Lent?’ Lent should be a positive experience for us as Christians; a time for us to reflect on our relationship with God and each other and a time to creatively engage with God’s will for our lives and his world. If you are going to give up doing something for Lent then ask yourself what is the creative positive alternative? Some people give up eating chocolate or biscuits for Lent; a positive alternative might be to change to eating Fairtrade chocolate or biscuits. Of course if you need to give up eating too much chocolate or too many biscuits then you should be doing that anyway and shouldn’t need to wait for Lent and use God as the excuse for a crash diet.

During Lent we will be continuing our series on the Fruit of the Spirit in our morning services at St. Mary’s. One positive action might be to take one of the Fruit of the Spirit each week and think of a practical positive way of cultivating that fruit. For example, think of an act of generosity you might offer towards someone you know or do something joyful as a celebration of God’s gracious love.

There is an excellent resource to help us creatively engage with Lent called Love Life Live Lent which has suggestions for celebrating Lent as individuals and families. For more information check out the website.

May this Lent be a positive experience; a time when we grow closer to God and become more alert to his will for us and for his creation.

Oh, and I’ll use any excuse to post one of my favourite Peter Gabriel songs.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sunday, 19 February 2012

This little tweet of mine

I was getting ready for bed on Tuesday evening when I caught part of a news report that a vicar had been found dead under suspicious circumstances in the South West. Saddened, I offered up a prayer and then my wife asked if I knew who it was because the vicar had recently moved from Witham which is not far from Chelmsford. I asked if she had heard the name and Kate said it was John Suddards. My sadness tuned to shock because I had known John for quite a few years and we were colleagues on a particular diocesan working group. I tweeted a brief message about the news and then went to bed. Here’s the tweet:
Shocked and saddened to learn of the death of a friend and clergy colleague John Suddards on this evening's news bbcnews.
The next day I headed off to Norwich with the family for a few days break and on the way happened to phone the parish office to check on a couple of things. It was then that I discovered the national and regional press had been trying to get hold of me because of my tweet. I didn’t respond to any of the messages as I was on holiday and I didn’t want to discuss the matter with the press anyway. Over the rest of the week I’ve followed the story as it has gained prominence in the news but felt it unwise to comment further about the matter via social media.

So why have I put up a post about this on my blog? Simply as a reminder to me and my colleagues that everything we publish is out there, can be read by anyone and we need to be alert as to who might pick up on it.

I give thanks to God for John’s life and ministry and pray for all who mourn his death; especially his family, friends and brothers and sisters in the churches where he served so faithfully.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What’s Darwin’s book called?

The Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason and Science has commissioned some research to discover ‘the extent to which adults recorded as Christian in the 2011 UK Census (or who would have been recorded as Christian, if they had answered the question) believe, know about, practise and are influenced by Christianity, as well as their reasons for having described themselves as Christian in the Census’.

Dawkins was joined on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme by Revd Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul's, to debate the survey and here is the recording of their discussion.

The highlight for me comes at about 3.15 when Fraser says ‘Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of The Origin of Species I’m sure you could tell me that.’ Dawkins responds ‘Yes I could’ and Fraser says ‘Go on then’. Dawkins' response is rather revealing as he struggles to remember the full title. The point Fraser is making is that you wouldn’t  dismiss someone’s belief in evolution just because they can’t remember the full title of the book, yet, this seems to be the approach taken in the survey regarding the Christian faith. Fraser goes on to critique the survey and the interpretation placed on it’s findings.

 Are the UK"s Christians religious enough? (mp3)

I must say I am fascinated by the amount of effort expended by Dawkins and his chums in opposing the Christian faith. I am greatly encouraged that they take Christianity so seriously they feel compelled to devote so much time and energy to their cause. Perhaps as Christians we should feel challenged to be as serious and energetic about the faith we espouse.

Monday, 13 February 2012

A whinge and a prayer

There has been plenty of comment in the aftermath of last week’s ruling by Mister Justice Ousley in the High Court that Bideford Town Council could not hold prayers during council meetings.

Quick off the blocks were the National Secular Society who had championed the cause of ex councillor Clive Bone in his case against Bideford Council. Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood claimed a great victory for secularism:
This judgment is an important victory for everyone who wants a secular society, one that neither advantages nor disadvantages people because of their religion or lack of it. This is particularly important for activities which are part of public life, such as council meetings.
There is no longer a respectable argument that Britain is a solely Christian nation or even a religious one. An increasing proportion of people are not practising any religion and minority faiths are growing in number and influence. This underlines the need for shared civic spaces to be secular and available to all, believers and non-believers alike, on an equal basis.
In fact the NSS hit the track so fast that one wonders whether they had made a false start. Certainly more considered reflection on the judgement tends to suggest that their perceived victory may not turn out to be all they have led themselves to believe.

Heresy Corner summarised the grounds for the ruling succinctly and he observed that the NSS had failed to win its case on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights:
Mr Justice Ouseley rejected the main part of the NSS case, that incorporating prayers into its order of business the council was unlawfully discriminating against Councillor Bone and abusing his human rights…
The decision to "ban" prayers was a narrow one, resting on what many would consider a point of pedantry: whether the prayers could be tabled as part of the formal agenda, in which case they had to be integral to the council's business, or whether they had to take place informally before the meeting was called to order. The case turned on the interpretation s.111 of the 1972 Local Government Act, which by coincidence has today been superseded by the Localism Act.
The piece went on to comment that the NSS’s intentions had been frustrated:
What the NSS plainly wanted was a declaration that council prayers violated the human rights of non-believing councillors. That would have provided them with ammunition to continue their battle against other manifestations of public religiosity. By confining his decision to a narrow point of statutory construction the judge denied them anything more than a symbolic victory.
The Heresiarch developed the point that the Act on which the judgement was based has already been superseded:
The second reason why today's decision may not mean anything is that (as I mentioned above) the Local Government Act has now been superseded by the Localism Act. Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, today criticised what he thought was the decision (it was an instant reaction) on the grounds that "we are a Christian country" and that "the right to worship is a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty." But he also mentioned that under the new legislation councils have "a general power of competence - which allows them to undertake any general action that an individual could do unless it is specifically prohibited by law. Logically, this includes prayers before meetings."
Jonathan Chaplin writing in The Guardian has also pointed out that the implications of the High Court ruling may not have been as the NSS would have liked.
The quality of comfort that the National Secular Society (NSS) can take from the ruling that Bideford council prayers are unlawful can perhaps be summed up in Alan Hansen's familiar comment about top Premier League football clubs going through a rough patch: "It's important to get a result even when you're not playing well." NSS certainly takes home a point, but their lead arguments – that such prayers, lasting about three minutes and allowing an opt-out, are so imposing upon nonbelievers as to violate their human rights – didn't make it past the halfway line at this particular meeting. Mr Justice Ouseley concluded that the mere fact that non-religious councillors like Clive Bone might feel "uncomfortable" during council prayers did not constitute a discriminatory disadvantage serious enough to warrant the protective intervention of the state. When a senior judge acknowledges that mere temporary subjective discomfort in the presence of religious or other beliefs or practices we happen to dislike isn't enough to justify the blunt instrument of legal proscription, religious freedom is strengthened.
However, Chaplin also posted a warning for Christians anxious to retain the place of religious practice in formal civic process.
But Christians who have backed Bideford council on this occasion would be well advised to get to work now preparing their counter-arguments for the time when a local authority in an area like Tower Hamlets makes what might then be an entirely lawful majority decision to open its meetings with readings from the Qur'an – from which, of course, Christians would be accorded an opt-out. Christians who have hastily leapt to the defence of Christian Britain and denounced the ruling as yet further evidence of the marginalisation of Christianity from the public realm should perhaps be careful what they wish for.
I can’t help feeling that in all the fuss over this ruling and other cases perceived to be hostile to Christianity we are missing something very important. A few weeks ago I was involved in a diocesan conference for about 1,000 people focusing on our vision Transforming Presence. Overall it was an excellent day and you can read a summary of the outcome here. However, early on in the discussions on my table of 10 people we quickly became side tracked. One person commented about the way Political Correctness was preventing Christians witnessing effectively and before I knew what was happening several people had launched into perceived PC anti Christian anecdotes drawn from local situations and well known stories in the national press.

After a while I asked the group to tell me why it was that we had been so ineffective in sharing the gospel before these ‘PC’ rulings took place. I don’t remember us doing such a great job of witnessing before British Airways staff were told not to wear crosses or B&B owners were told they couldn’t discriminate against homosexuals. Quite the contrary; during a period of time that, according to my table mates, was perceived to be much more favourable to the Christian faith we quite spectacularly failed to see lots of people come to faith in Jesus Christ and the church grow.

The reason why we are where we are in the church is not because we can’t have prayers on the agenda at a civic council meeting. The sooner we grasp that fact then the sooner we can turn our attention back to the task that we have been given as Jesus Christ’s followers; to share his Good News by word and deed with a society that desperately needs it.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Time to Talk: Stephen Cottrell

Bishop Stephen’s closing talk at the Time to Talk conversation a couple of weeks ago in the Diocese of Chelmsford. A thousand people gathered together to reflect on Transforming Presence, our diocesan vision. Just one quote amongst many in his address:
It’s not the Church of England I care about, it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ.