Friday, 30 January 2009

Helping Gaza

Those who know me well will be aware of my views on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied/ Disputed Territories. You will probably also know that in preaching, sensitive to the differing sensibilites that you may find in any congregation, I often seek to retain a more balanced public opinion,
a BBC-esque lack of political bias if you will ...
but it is a balance that does not occupy the same space in my more personal conversations, actions and prayers.

I suspect the BBC finds itself in a similar difficulty over the 'broadcast or not' debate.
I rather think there is a the conflcit between the percieved public necessities of the corportation and many personally held convictions by those witin the organisation.
Personally I think the BBC (and Sky) are wrong on this one
(there were politics and conflict underlying many another humanitarian disaster and DEC appeal) but instead of pointing the finger and accusing them of beleiving one thing in private and doing another in public (no matter how good the intentions are behind the decision) ...
instead of that, I am going to look a little closer at myself
examine the differneces between my public and private convicitons
and start to put my own house in order.

In the meantime You can donate to the DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal at by calling 0370 6060900 , or at any Oxfam, Red Cross, Save the Children or Islamic Relief shop, high-street bank or post office.

Comments to the BBC about its decision may be made here:

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

And talking of Radio 2 Pause for Thoughts (see below)
here's one of the ones I did earlier this month.

My young daughter has finally sussed the TV remote control. I don’t just mean that she knows how to change the channel or the volume: I mean she’s figured out the whole record to Hard Disk and play it back at your convenience thing as well. So gone is any hope I may have had of watching the morning news with my cereal and toast … she wants to wake up with the favourite show she missed the day before.

All that’s a long way from this very day in 1983, when Breakfast Television was broadcast for the first time. Some of us may remember Frank Bough and Selina Scott bringing us the news or maybe we were stretching our muscles with the famous Green Goddess. Back then we were still getting used to having a fourth channel on the telly … but now we have hundreds to choose from.

There’s more on the radio as well … and of course we have the internet of instant information. We have lived through a communications revolution since the day we first turned our Televisions on at Breakfast.

But for all the new technology, I can’t help wondering if we’re any better off at listening to one another or saying what is important?

Has anything changed at all since Jesus told the people that their ears were open, but they didn’t understand the world around them … that they could see all right, but they couldn’t perceive what was going on. Jesus said they kept missing what was important because their hearts had grown hard …
they were only interested in themselves.

But if we could learn to really listen to each other
If we could see ourselves as others see us,
As indeed God sees us,
then families would be better at telling one another that we’re loved
politicians would be free to say they’re sorry
nations could talk seriously about making lasting peace:
And surely that would be good news worth communicating.

Have another go Mr President.

Last Friday I was doing Pause for Thought on BBC Radio Wales.

UnliKe the Radio 2 things I sometimes do, this is not prerecorded so I have to able to speak clearly by 7:20 am. Not my favourite moment of the day. But anyway this is what I said:

Sometimes in a wedding ceremony the bride or groom may stumble over their vows. It’s understandable … they’re nervous … it’s a big occasion and everybody’s watching. That’s why so many couples choose the option of repeating what is said by the minister or priest.

But if, in the midst of the emotion, the happy couple fluff a line or two, I usually remind them that this what it’s like in marriage … mistakes will happen. I tell them that the Christian life is about giving one another second chances. Often I go on to share the story of when Jesus was asked by the disciples how many times someone should be forgiven: he answered them ‘seventy times seven’ … in others words, keep at it.

I thought of weddings like that and those challenging words of Jesus when Barack Obama hesitated over his presidential oath this week. Of course he knew the phrases off by heart, but on the auspicious day itself, he was charged with simply repeating the lines spoken by Chief Justice John Roberts. And it was the judge who got that one word out of sequence and caused the president to stumble.

So yesterday, they both were given a chance to put things right … the oath was sworn for a second time, with the Whitehouse claiming it was done out of an abundance of caution. Now he and others may feel that such prudence is warranted in the first week of the new job, but President Obama has also given every indication that his time in the Oval Office is going to see America return to being a nation of risk takers.

He knows he comes to office amidst gathering clouds and raging storms … unrest at America’s international reputation … doubt over its role in bringing peace to the Middle East and dissatisfaction at home over issues like the economy and health care. Barak Obama has a lot to do if he’s going to put some substance on the rhetoric for a changed America and a better world and if he is to answer the tremendous burden of expectation that rests upon him then this new President knows he going to have to make some bold decisions.

No doubt as he confronts these challenges, he and his government will sometimes hesitate to long, stumble over policies and even get things wrong … but I hope he can carry on as he has begun this week …
giving and receiving second chances …

I hope the waiting world will afford him that at least
And I hope the nation he now leads
will grant the same grace to us all.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I've just finished reading Moshin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Anybody else read it?
I really loved the book
but I want to make sure I understood the ending?

Upside down Christmas Tree

Today I finally took down my Christmas Tree and put in in its box!
Not the tree in the house or at our church but the upside-down one we used in worship at our Carol Service. Following on from where I began in Advent and the thoughts on credit cards etc we ended up in our church thinking just how upside down ( or right way up) the coming of Jesus makes your life as a Christian ... how kingdom values really can be topsy turvy to those around us.

So one trip to the B and Q pre-Christmas sale got me an upside down tree at a bargain price. (Yes, really the base is at the top and the star goes on the bottom) and it all became a useful icon for our reflections. Even more when at a suitable point in the service we were invited to hang credit cards (sadly they were cardboard ones I had made up for the occasion) on the tree ... reminding ourselves of how much the Christmas story stood at odds with the God of Mammon who curiously seems to share the feast day of Dec 25th.

Am I right or wrong?

Am I Right or wrong?

A while back now I gave a lecture to the students at South Wales Baptist College, Cardiff on the spiritual practice of discernment.

One of the things I said that seemed to challenge them at the time ...
(and it has been making me think about it ever since)
was an idea taken from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
but I am still working out if he (and I) were right
or were we wrong?

What is said was this:
At the core of discernment is Jesus Christ and so we must answer the question Who is Jesus Christ for us today?

How is Christ revealed and encountered and shared with the world in real life today?

In Ethics he says this:

In Christ we are offered the possibility of partaking in the reality of God and the reality of the world, but not in one without the other.

The reality of God disclose itself only by setting me entirely in the reality of the world and when I encounter the reality of the world it is always already sustained, accepted and reconciled in the reality of God.

The purpose of the Christian life is to participate in the reality of God and on Jesus Christ today and this participation must be such that I never experience the reality of God without the reality of the world of the reality of the worlds without the reality of God.

Spirituality and the process of discernment must be concrete.
After all we want to live in ways that glorify God
We want to know what this all looks like in real life
We want to know what it looks like in particular for us as an individual
For you, here as a college
Or for you somewhere else as a congregation.

God’s purposes needs to be particular to a person, a situation and a context
Unique to that time and place
As well as being in some continuity
with the general understandings of God we have gleaned from history and tradition.

So it must be a living word for a living world
Not a dead set of rules to be applied rigidly whatever and wherever.
And because it is living
It may not always be predictable.

Because it is living
it may make subtle distinction between what was said in the past.
It may call us to change!

There is, as the Baptist hymn book puts it
Yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s word.

If you want a God who offers you clarity and certainty in every situation, a set of rules to be applied whatever the scenario then you need not worry about listening or discernment
But then I fear that if that is you then Christ is not the one you want to follow
Because with Christ that is not what is on offer.

Christ calls us to be responsible human beings capable enough of discerning his word for today
Courageous enough to make decisions in the grey areas of life and carry it through.

Bonhoeffer found this time and time again as he probed the mind of Christ. As he prodded the heart of God he realised that the will of God cannot be defined in advance by means of general theological or ethical or spiritual principles

It’s not about a universal statement of good and bad. That is a lazy one size fits all discipleship …

But that tendency to think it terms of right or wrong, bad or good is not a helpful one when we are seeing to discern God’s purpose in our life.
Discernment isn’t about how can I be good
Or How can I do the right thing
It is concerned with ‘What is the will of God?’

Putting things into two conflicting spheres of good or bad
Wrong or right
Orthodox and heretic
Is exactly the voice of the serpent in the garden.

What does the serpent promise Adam and Eve?
You will be like God … knowing the difference between good and evil.

But it was never our calling to be like God
It was never our calling to know the difference between right and wrong
And to make judgements on it
That is for God and God alone

We are asked to be faithful to our relationship with God
To listen to the word that God speaks to us
To the Christ who reveals himself to us.

Our vocation as Christians is to discern the will of God
And we do that through being attentive to Christ
Christ who occupies within us that space which before conversion was occupied by our longing for the knowledge of good and evil.

For the redeemed in Christ we are called to give up that desire to know good from evil
For that is us behaving as if we were God
Naming those we deem to be aligned on any axis of evil
At that is idolatry of the first order
It is us playing God

And it’s what got humanity into such difficulty in the first place in the garden.
Apologies to those people who thought this blog was beginning to look like one of those early New Year's Resolutions that lasted a month or so and then crashed and burned.

Its not that there's been nothing worth reflecting on ...
it has been getting the time to put in on the blog.

So there'll probably be a flurry of stuff for a day or two now as I play catch up
it is all a bit like reading daily Bible Notes ...
or is that just me???