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  • Lent - William Wilberforce & Helen Prejean

    This week I get to lead two Lent meetings.  Tuesday lunch time we conclude Can We Build a Better World? the series based on the story of William Wilberforce.  Wednesday evening is the final part of our ecumenical one using Life Source exploring prayer; this week 'prayer as caring' which seems to me to cover both intercessory prayer and life as prayer, and suggests a clip from the film Dead Man Walking.  I tracked down the DVD via Ebay, and then via Amazon the book and its more recent follow up Death of Innocents.  Although the books are very informative they get a bit repetitive, so you need to be determined to keep going, especially if as I've done you try to read them in about three days.  You also need a strong stomache to deal with some of the graphic descriptions, so be warned.

    What emerges clearly is the link between poverty,edcuation and race to being executed under US law.  If you happen to be of African-American extraction you are likely to be poor and unedcuated, therefore more likely to face 'cruel and unusual' punishment.  If you are African-American you are also more likely to be descended from slaves - the ugly legacy of slavery continues to this day.

    It is good that we are commemorating the work of Wilberforce and others, good that the C of E is recognising its part in slavery (would be good if other denominations were as honest), but if we don't recognise the immense legacy of past slavery and act to address that, then it all becomes idle talk.  Helen Prejean is quite clear that murder is wrong, that some sort of appropriate legal redress is needed; she is also clear that killing achieves nothing, noting the irony that the death certificate of an executed prisoner in the USA will read cause of death: legal homicide.

    Reading all this, and pondering it, in the run up to Easter is challenging.  A couple of thousand years ago the execution for blasphemy of an itinerant preacher changed the course of history.  Crucifixion was barbaric, but no more so than a decade or more on detah row waiting for someone to decide when to kill you.  I guess people can speculate what God might have had there not been a death penalty under Roman Law, or get into 'angry God beat up Jesus to save us' arguments.  It's an incredibly complex topic - beyond my brain on a Monday morning when I ought to be phoning the water board to get the chapel water suply cut off - but I'm glad that as I approach Holy Week I do so with a renewed sense of the horror of human inhumanity.

    PS if you want to find out more about Helen Prejean go to http://dpdiscourse.typepad.com/sisterhelen/

  • Away with the Fairies?

    Radio 2 listeners will know that around 6:20a.m. every day Sarah Kennedy shares with the world  'religious news' gleaned from the press - it is often pretty negative, even contradictory.  Today we had Archbishops Williams and Sentamu on the need for the C of E to offer apologies/make reparation over slavery and a piece in the Telegraph entitled 'Believers are Away with the Fairies' (here).  The arguments seem quite tired to me, though the title was vaguely amusing; even the speakers in the debate seem predicatable (here) but obviously it is a debate attracting lots of listeners - and that must indicate that the question of the relevance of religion is relevant, if nothing else. 

  • Donkeys

    medium_donkey_shrek.jpgmedium_eeyore.jpgNext Sunday I have services at Center Parcs (morning) and home (afternoon) which are loosely based on some Scripture Union material from their resource book Easter Cracked.

    The talky bit is meant to divide into two parts - who was there at the first Palm Sunday, and who is at this Palm Sunday.  In each case three "groups" are identified...

    • Donkey
    • Disciples
    • Crowd

    This got me thinking a bit about the characteristics of each group, and in particular about donkeys.  The SU theme is a nice neat 'service' motif but I felt that was not terribly inspiring.  What about the untried/unbroken state of the colt?  What about the reputation of donkeys (and mules) as stubborn?  Was there mileage in these?

    Someone I mentioned this too, said, "hmm what about Donkey in Shrek?"  Good point!  What about Eeyore too?  I am, I think, looking forward to a slightly playful service in which these characters will make cameo appearances as we ponder something of what Palm Sunday says to us in 2007.  Watch this space!

  • Revenge of the Red Hymnbook

    Today one of my lay preachers was taking our service; the fact that I was there, and had always intended to be there, caused some confusion, people having assumed it was one for my free Sundays, rather than, as is the case, my desire for these folk to serve us now and then rather than only preaching in places where they get paid.  Also, I feel that I have a repsonsibility to them, and to other congregations, to be sure that they aren't too far off the rails in what they are saying.

    The preacher who led today is very experienced and is a competent speaker.  That she was married to minister shows in some of her language, that she has not had any training shows through in other ways.  Nonetheless, I am more than happy that she leads worship, even if she did inflict on us a set of fairly grim hymns from the red book.  Some people loved them - old tunes with proper harmonies remembered by those who once sang in the church choir did make it a pleasant sound, even if most of these hymns were last sung in nineteen hundred and frozen to death and I struggled to connect them to the theme of 'ordinary people'.

    I have no problem with old hymns, some are truly inspiring and timeless, others would be better consigned to the waste bin.  I guess I can say I learned a cople of new songs today - just that new meant 19th century! So the red hymn book struck back - until next week when Palm Sunday will mean a real blend of old and new all on screen or large and giant print sheets.

  • In Praying Distance

    Today was our spring Association Day, reverting to its 'traditional' form after a couple of more experimental ones, and meeting in a rather run down primary schoool , the long-term-temporary-home of a small church in Derby.  As their minister welcomed us, he acknowledged the general culture shock of the surroundings after recent meetings in nice salubrious churches, but wanted to share with us how much it meant to the school that someone would want to book their premises for a Saturday conference - quite a humbling moment.

    Part of the more routine stuff is the welcome of ministers new to the Association, and the invitation to pray for them, usually by those near by placing a hand on their shoulders/heads as they do so.  Due to a slip, the invitation was given to "those in praying distance" which caused much mirth before it was corrected.

    It was a good day, and Richard Hardy of Care for the Family is a charismatic speaker.  He had come as out keynote speaker and then expecting to speak in special interest groups on 'single people and the church.' He had been advertised as speaking on 'church and community' so offered each group to whom he spoke the choice between the two sessions.  Although I'd gone in response to the advertised talk, I'd have preferred the one on singleness and was saddened when (a) I was the only person in the group who 'voted' for that talk (there was apparently one in the other group too) and (b) that the whole concept of single people having needs seemed to be seen by most as funny, with some patronising comments and derision from those around me.  To be fair, Richard did come to speak to me afterwards, and I think shared my concern that >15 years after the EA work on Singleness and about 5 years after Kristin Aune's work, churches were still not taking this seriously despite the fact that a third of the UK population is single (i.e. not in a relationship).  I suspect he had not expected me to be that knowledgeable though!  What he said about engaging with communities was good stuff, but nothing we aren't already trying to do here .

    One of his comments in his key note address was on the distinction between 'Law' and 'Grace and Truth' and what you ought to do if you felt torn between 'grace' and 'truth' - which way should you jump?  While he believes that grace and truth cannot be separated, what should one do if it feels as if they contradict?  He felt that we should err to the side of 'grace' - and I agree, but here's the rub, what do I do when my view of 'truth' tells me something is wrong - or at best it is something with which I struggle - and I long to let grace take priority?  I think that this idea is helpful in some of the areas where I struggle but I need to spend some time working out what it means in practical terms.  Care for the Family is a pretty conservative organisation and I was left wondering if there were relationships types where this stress on grace might find itself challenged, and/or where the 'abundance of grace' arguments maybe would be wheeled out.  Sometimes following Jesus is a tight-rope between 'legalism' and 'truth' on the one hand and between 'grace' and 'laissez faire' on the other.  It'll take me a life time to work it out, that's for sure, but at least help is 'in praying distance'