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- Page 5

  • Crusts and Crumbs

    Going a way back this was a chase game that we loved playing as children.  Two teams lined up along the centre of a hall.  One called 'crusts' the other call 'crumbs'. An adult who was capable of rolling their Rs would say crrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrusts or crrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrumbs and one team would chase the other.  Anyone 'tagged' had to join the other team.  All good fun, a great way of tiring out children and nothing to do with the thought processes that inspired this post.  Oh dear, I really am morphing into Ronnie Corbett (... but I digress...)

    As part of my preparations for the Passover Seder I am planning for Maundy Thursday, I have bought some new resource books, one a Christianised Seder Haggadah, and two Jewish book, one a kind of numpties guide to hosting a Seder (lots of recipes and practical advice) and the other what turns out to be a Jewish Feminist resource book for female-led family or all-female Seders.  The last of these is especially interesting, as it gives a glimpse into how Judaism is facing some of the same challenges that Christianity on questions of inclusion/exclusion, marginalisation, minority groups and so forth.  One chapter was curiously titled 'an orange on the seder plate' and is built around the idea that a new symbol can be added to represent the continued marignalisiation or exclusion of various groups. 

    The back story is interesting, and seemingly it began with a rabbi speaking on human sexuality and saying "there's as much room for a lesbian in Judasim as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate."  Irrespective of anyone's views on human sexuality, the power of the comment is incredibly striking.  Seemingly people started sneaking crusts of bread onto seder plates in a form of ritualised defiance.  The use of oranges (I am guessing a literary reference, the book doesn't say) is more subtle, it does not defile the seder plate (the crust of bread introduces leven which is prohibited) and, arguably, can be used to serve as a reminder of any or all marginalised groups - the author notes that she has expicitly used this to symbolise the subtle marginalisation of widows.

    I think what looking at these books has done for me, already, is to offer crumbs of understanding of the shocking nature of what Jesus did in the upper room.  If putting a crust of bread or an orange on the seder plate transforms the significance of the whole experience, then how much more so someone having the audacity to lift up the matzot and claim it represented his body and the cup (whichever one it was) and claiming it stood for his blood.  I think it is curious that both Christians and Jews are tinkering with the details of the Haggadah in order to make it meaningful for their own contexts.  I don't think I wil be putting oranges, or indeed any, non-traditional symbols on my seder plate, and I certainly don't plan on using levened bread for the communion bit, but I am challenged to consider the power of the symbols used and not used in expressing profound messages.

    More little gems from these books may well appear over coming weeks:

    The Women's Seder Sourcebook Ed Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfield, Tara Mohr and Catherine Spector pub. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003

    Passover Seders Made Simple, Zell Schulman, Idg Books, 2001

    Celebrating an Authentic Passover Seder, Joseph M Stallings, Resource Publications Inc, 1994

    The last of these is the Christian one.

  • Giving In Gracefully?

    I have lost count of the number of 'friend' requests I have received from people on Facebook (though I have also discovered that after about three years they do stop sending reminders!).  I am a bit wary of it as platform, so when I finally gave in today and signed up (I'm the one with my name who has the picture of a cat if you are wanting to look; the other one lives about 20 miles away) I set my privacy settings pretty high - or at least those I understood.  I seriously hope I do not fall prey to Facebook addiction, I spend more than enough time online already.  For the foreseeable, I will remain mostly a blogger... I find this kind of platform easy to use (even if commenting is unpredictable) but, yes, I finally gave in and joined the ranks of sad Facebook folk.

    Amusingly, I already have three Facebook friends, as I had three extant, outstanding requests.  I think I sent about three myself then gave up... If you are on the dreaded platfom and want to be my online friend, I'm sure you'll find me, and/or my namesake easily enough.

  • The Letter of James

    This week PAYG has centred on extracts from the letter of James, so I am happy, as this is my favourite book of the Bible.  It has been good to hear other people's thoughts on aspects of what it says, and to be reminded of the challenges it brings.

    Today was my absolute favourite part, the 'faith without deeds is dead' bit, and the example of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (I typed only descendant, but that's clearly not true, as Ishmael predated Isaac).  Abraham saw in Isaac the fulfilment of God's promise that he would be the forebear of many nations, and now God demands Isaac back as a blood sacrifice.  It is a horrible story, a horrible portrayal of a God who, it seems, gives and then takes back in a very gruesome fashion, what has been given.  PAYG noted that Abraham, however he may have felt, was willing to do whatever God demanded - even if that meant losing his future.  Of course, we know how the story ends, and how the unfortunate ram entangled in the thicket becomes the substitute acceptable to God.  And of course many of us know the story of the judge Jephthah who offered his daughter as a blood sacrifice and no ram appeared.  And of course we can expend endless energy trying to make it all make sense in a nice 21st century western world where our values and mores are very different.

    But, James say faith without action is empty, meaningless, dead.  Dogma and doctrine without compassion and generosity cannot salvation bring.  And Abraham, willing to abandon his future hope is the exemplar.  Gulp.  Where is my/our future hope located?  In the houses we own?  In the qualifications we work hard to attain?  In the pension plans we pay for?  In our children?  And would we hand any of these back to God in order to fulfil what we understand as God's will... even if there was no ram in the thicket?

    When I sold up to train for Baptist ministry, I can honestly say I would have walked out of my front door in what I stood up in, and done whatever the college and the BU had demanded of me.  Now and then I hear of ministers, or people wanting to be ministers, who quibble over the demands fo the BU or the college, who say they cannot afford to sell up, or to move here or there, who say that God is not calling them to sacrifice... It troubles me.  Not because I am especially virtuous or spiritual, but because it reflects a poverty of confidence in God, and possible even an unwillingness to put God at the centre.

    Looking back, it amazes me that I was so confident in that moment, but I was.  And it is good to remember it on the days when the temptation to a more self-directed, self-determined life style lures me towards comfort in the here and now.

    Faith without deeds is dead.  Faith that is willing to sacrfice its dreams and hopes is living.

    Stern stuff indeed!

  • Baptist Stuff

    Today brought an 'extra' edition of Praxis (the joint Baptist/Methodist/URC public issues team publication) urging action on two live and important issues.  I know readers of this blog will have diverse views on each of these, and especially the second (it impacts the employment of some of my friends whichever way it goes) but it seemed right to bring them to your notice.

    Firstly, the minimum pricing of alcohol measure for measure campaign where we are invited to write to our MPs urging action.  Several nights a week our premises are used by support groups for people with addictions, one of which is Alcoholics Anonymous.  Walk in any town or city on a Saturday night and the results of cheap booze are self-evident.  I'm not saying everyone should be like me and be TT, but if people are unwilling or unable to be responsible in their drinking habits, then action is needed - and ending cheap booze has to be a first step to moving away from a culture that promotes drunkenness.

    Secondly, the replacement (or not) of Trident on which BUGB Assembly passed a resolution two years ago (I was there, I recall it!).  If the resolution is to move from rhetoric to reality, then people need to get off their metaphorical rear-ends and do something... again, writing to MPs is suggested.

    You can find out who your (Westminster) MP is here

    Then a reminder of the Beyond 400 bloggy thing to which I have a link in the left sidebar.  Some interesting conversations, though the level of active/public participation is small, if measured by comments left.  It does seem to be, so far, very much the 'usual suspects' and even the writers I don't know seem to be part of a similar mindset.  It really needs more people to join in - agreeing or disagreeing - so why not visit it if you haven't done so (or haven't for a while).  Anyone of any persuasion can comment, it's a public blog!

  • Golden Days

    Fifty years ago to the date, my parents married in a register office ceremony in London, attended only by them and a few close friends.  I know, because she told me, that my Mum hand stitched a green dress for the occasion.  There were no photos, no grand reception, no presents and, so far as I am aware, no honeymoon, though they did spend some time in Scotland during that first year.  Today would have been their goldden wedding day, had my Dad still been with us; in fact it is now almost 22 years since he died, meaning that my mum has been a widow almost as long as she was married... a sobering thought.

    I am under no illusions that my parents' marriage was idyllic, they faced many challenges along the way including chronic illness, loss of a child in infancy, poverty and unemployment.  They had some real humdingers of arguments at various times too.  But I am also convinced that they loved and cherished their children, living sacrifically to give us opportunities they had been denied.

    I'm not a great one for sentimentality, my parents brought me up to be practical rather than romantic, but today, on what would have been their Golden Wedding, it seems right to pause for a moment in gratitude and respect.


    [and yes, gentle reader, it also means I have a golden birthday in ten month's time]