Monday, 14 April 2014

Musing on a Musical

Travelled to Sheffield last month, to see Fiddler on the Roof at the Lyceum as a birthday treat. A good time was had by all, and it was surprisingly poignant to see Paul Michael Glaser singing Sunrise, Sunset in the role of Tevye, some 43 years after singing the role of the young revolutionary Perchik.

Now, here's the thing - I was actually thinking on the journey up from Lincoln what "the question of my life" could be summarised as. That is, what one question best encapsulates how I've lived my life so far. In many ways, I find questions more helpful than answers, for it is through attempting to answer the questions that we grow & change - moreso, in my opinion, than we do when we think we have the answers.

So, anyways, I think that for me, that question (or should that be Question?) is "How far is too far?" The pushing of boundaries - personal, political, relational, comedic, faith, work, physical, mental - has been the dominant question of my life to date. Of course, when you ask that question, the only way you get a definitive answer is when you've reached & breached the outer limits, which always exacts a cost. I've lost friends, hurt people, and damaged myself. I've been locked up, knocked down, thrown out, sent to Coventry, and had employment terminated. The things I've inflicted upon myself, they're my problem, but if you're reading this & you're one of the people who's been on the wrong side of my pushing too far, too fast, too hard - well, you I owe an apology to. No excuses - if you fit the bill, I am sorry (and if I can make amends, let me know). Working out my question doesn't give me the right to trample others.

That said, perhaps the reason that Fiddler on the Roof has such resonance for me is that at it's heart, it's a story about "how far is too far?" and that, perhaps, too far is a lot further away than we think.

There's an interpretation of the story of Abraham bargaining with God over Sodom & Gomorrah that asks 'was God willing Abraham on to greater efforts of intercession & mercy? What would have happened if Abraham had asked God to spare the cities even if no-one righteous was found within them?'
How far is too far? Is anyone beyond the reach of the love of Jesus?

So, what's the Question of your life?


Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Whole Big Fat Gay Thing...

Being a general epistle on the many & varied interactions between homosexuality & Christianity, for such brothers & sisters of my acquaintance as have expressed themselves profoundly worried, confused, upset, or otherwise discombobulated by the current controversies afflicting the church around this matter, and containing many diversions, discursions, digressions & meanderings, at the end of which the author expects to have no friends left whatsoever.

 I must admit, right at the outset, that there's a part of me that's actually deeply pissed off that I'm even having to write about this. But, if it's important enough for the new Archbishop of Canterbury to make it one of the first things he pontificates about as pontiff, then I guess that it's important enough for me to bend my mind to it. Personally, I'd have thought a better immediate use of his time would have been to take to task a national leader who claims the mantle of "Christian" whilst overseeing an administration that is instituting the greatest oppression of the poor in living memory. Still, what do I know...

 I think the first thing I need to make clear about "the whole big fat gay thing" is that THERE IS NO "BIG FAT GAY THING"! What we actually have is a range of topics (I want to try & avoid using the word "issues", as I believe that - in the current debate at least - it has become a synonym for "problem". More on that later...), which interact & overlap to differing extents at different times & places, somewhat like a Venn diagram. For the life of me, I truly cannot figure out how orthodoxy has been reduced to the single question of "Homosexuality; Right or Wrong?"
 [I was going to make some comment at this point about latent (and sometimes not so latent!) homophobia in the church, but, in all honesty, I don't think that that gets to the root of it. I think that if it wasn't 'homosexuality', it'd be something else. That the issue is the dominance of 'systematic theology' and putting the cart of Orthodoxy before the horse of Orthopraxy. Indeed, most denominations have been so obsessed with designing the "perfect" cart of orthodoxy that, not only have they let the horse of praxis wander off over the hill, they've forgotten the horse even exists! In the systemic atomisation of scripture, we have lost a vision of the grand narrative and the correct ordering of things - we have failed to remember that the majority of the New Testament is a response to practice, not a precursor. The Epistles are a reflection on what the Body of Christ has already been doing, and suggesting what might be helpful going forward and what might hinder the ushering in of the Kingdom of God. Our problem is that, as long as we're arguing about orthodoxy, we appear (are?) unwilling to put into practice what we claim to believe (For more on orthodoxy & orthopraxy, I thoroughly recommend Brian McLaren's excellent A Generous Orthodoxy).]

 On reflection, I think that many of us who disagree with this sort of reductionist reading must own some of the blame - we've tended to focus on trying to alleviate the physical & material suffering of the poor & oppressed in the world so much that we've neglected to fully appreciate the mental & emotional suffering of our LGBT brothers & sisters in the face of this "thought crime" being perpetrated against them.


 Is probably the easiest topic to disentangle first, and is also somewhat a priori of the others. Given that Jesus started the greatest liberation movement the world has ever seen, it amazes me that people who are part of that movement, who have claimed freedom for themselves, would seek to deny that freedom to others. Justice is depicted as blindfold & holding balanced scales for a reason. The truth is that the institutions of church in the West have held a position of priviledge for a long time - and they have abused that priviledge. Now, it's being taken away from them (not the first time that "God's people" have had their priviledges revoked by God for misuse - sadly, probably not the last either), and they're squealing like stuck pigs. it's what some have called "the distress of the privileged", and we do need to recognise that they are suffering distress - albeit that their 'suffering' is neither the same in substance nor extent as those they have oppressed - and we need to help them overcome their 'distress' in a positive manner if we are to avoid them doing untold harm in their lashing out in confusion.

 That said, we cannot permit the injustice of denying others what we allow ourselves to continue. This penchant for attempting to force those who do not believe what we believe to behave as we think they ought has to stop (and I'm not just talking about Christians!). It is simply not the way of Jesus - when engaged in conversation by the 'rich young ruler', whilst Jesus was perfectly happy to answer his questions on how he should live, when the young man walked away, Jesus didn't immediately rush to the Sanhedrin or the Governor to get the law changed in order to force him to live as Jesus had said he should. I cannot stress this enough - JESUS PROPOSES, NEVER IMPOSES. As the Apostle Paul wrote 'I have the right to do anything - but not everything is beneficial'. If we truly believe that Jesus came to set us free, then we have to allow other people their freedom also (with the proviso, of course, that they aren't (ab)using their freedom to oppress others), even if we disagree with their choices.

 Of course, for those of us who choose to follow Jesus, we want to try and live according to his teachings because we believe that they're the best way to live your life. This means engaging with Te Biblios.

THE BIBLE (a.k.a. Holy Scripture; a.k.a. "The Word of God")

Before engaging with the texts and their (various) interpretations, I feel it's important to address the idea of 'Sola Scriptura'. If you believe that the Bible is God's innerrant word & perfectly-revealed will (even the bits that don't agree with the other bits), then, of course, you can condemn homosexuals outright with a clear conscience (although I would remind you of Paul's caution on the matter of conscience). If that is your sincerely held position, then you are free to not read any further - I do not believe that anything else I have to say will be of interest to you. But, before you go, I would like you to consider a couple of questions: Firstly, the Bible may well be "God's perfectly revealed will", but how could we, as imperfect human beings, know? Secondly, given that Jesus said he would send his Spirit to guide us into all truth, and that we're clearly not there yet, surely it then becomes a question of how much in error we are? (This, by the way is why I don't believe anyone who says "Follow me! I have divined the truth of Jesus!" - I think that the truth of Jesus is so big, and so deep that no one human mind can apprehend it in it's entirety. It is only by coming together and sharing those 'bits' of the truth that we have each been vouchsafed that we can hope to even begin to approach a comprehension of the totality (not that I necessarily think that the 'truth' of God is "complete" yet - but that's a whole other line of thought...). This is why community is so vital to the life of anyone seeking truth and why the "privatisation" of faith has been so catastrophic - but I digress...)

 Right, with that out of the way, let us turn to what the biblical texts say.

 It is important that, right at the outset, we recognise the importance of recognising the 'influences' on our thinking - particularly if we have grown up within a given 'faith tradition' which has shaped how we understand pretty much everything to do with God, not always in a helpful way. For many of us, our ecclesiology has informed our missiology has informed our christology - in other words, our understanding of Jesus is framed by our understanding of the mission of the Church which is, in turn, formed by the structures of the Church. This is, of course, (yet again) putting the cart before the horse. We need to begin with our understanding of who Jesus was & what he did (christology), out of which should grow our action in the world (missiology), and from thence to the sort of support structures we need to sustain & nourish that work (ecclesiology).
 Concerning the passages which refer (or are alleged to refer) directly to homosexuality, I don't intend to disect them in detail (it's an epistle, not an essay) - this has been done ad infinitum to no great result elsewhere (you can easily find "learned" treatises on the topic if you're interested), but I will do a brief summary for those of you who might not know much about it. In short, there are very few references to homosexuality in the Bible - a couple of mentions in Leviticus and three in the Pauline epistles. Given that the Levitical references are contained within passages concerning the "purity laws", and Jesus kicked those into touch, we can safely ignore them.
 Of the Pauline references, two (1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10) are matters of substantial debate amongst scholars of biblical interpretation - the word translated 'homosexual' is "arsenokoites", and nobody really knows what it meant. At one time it was read as "masturbation", but medieval monk scribes began to translate it as 'homosexual' (anyone care to guess why monks might change the word 'masturbation'?) All we know is that it refers to some unspecified sexual act - any specific translation probably owes more to the translators personal biases than to divine revelation.
This leaves us with Romans 1.

 At this point, I do need to divert slightly to consider how how we relate to scripture affects how we react to & interpret it. A man I have a great deal of respect for is wont to say of the Bible that "we either stand under it or stand over it". I disagree. The first position leads too easily & too often to a theology of "a big boy did it and ran away!"; we never take responsibility for our own (in)actions, as it's all "God's will". The second position leads to 'Good As New'-style 'cut-and-paste' theology, where we simply ignore anything that is difficult or that we disagree with. I think we stand alongside the Bible - and we have to wrestle and argue and be formed by it 'as is'. It is the voice of those who have gone before in the 'church eternal', and we should allow neither the tyranny of the living nor of the dead. That's probably because I find myself within the Anglican tradition (albeit very close to the exit and feeling the draught!), which has tended to emphasise the balance of scripture, tradition, reason & experience - of course, they've represented them as the legs of a chair to sit on, which I don't think is a particularly helpful illustration (although undoubtedly apt for the Church of England!). I prefer to use the analogy of two sets of muscles needed to propel the church forward - if one set is too dominant, then we end up walking around in circles (apropos, no?).

 Returning to Romans 1, I think we need to be far more circumspect than we have about nailing a whole argument to a solitary reference in scripture, especially when there is no single, widely-accepted, response to it within the Body of Christ as a whole. Whilst there are a range of "professional" responses to the passage, from Tony Campolo's celibacy within loving community (important!) to Steve Chalke's recent "this isn't that" (he's by no means the first to argue this, but he's certainly the most high-profile British Evangelical leader to put it forward). Infinite are the arguments of theologians...
 However, I believe that it's not what I believe that's of primary importance here - that it's not about me telling my LGBT brothers & sisters what to think, but about me helping & supporting them in their walk of faith as they work out their response to the passage. Many of our LGBT bretheren have come to differing conclusions about this passage (unsurprising, given the lack of agreement even among the "experts"), and I want to encourage every single one of them to live out their lives in Christ as fully as possible, not to feel as though they have to be 'defensive' or to hide a fundamental part of who they are from the rest of us.
 Secondly - and it never ceases to amaze me how something so obvious is so often overlooked (or is it 'deliberately ignored' ?) - you must read verses in context. Romans 1 is followed, and given context by, Romans 2, in which Paul resoundingly turns the full extent of his ire (which seems to have been not inconsiderable!) upon those who judge. Ironic, given how Romans 1 has been used so often as a "judgement manifesto". One of the central themes of the Bible narrative is grace, yet in this matter the abuse of scripture has been anything but gracious. If [not big enough] IF homosexuality is a 'sin', then it takes its place alongside other sins and not above, and God treats it just the same: He forgives & loves.


 The big argument at the moment is, of course, "gay marriage", but in order to sensibly talk about the concept of marriage, we have to consider what we know and believe about sexuality. For something which is such a major driver in human behaviour, the Christian church has been remarkably reticent in talking about it, even if their behaviour suggests they're obsessed with it - but then, if you try to supress such a powerful psychic force, it shouldn't come as a surprise when it leaks out elsewhere... I've been a follower of Jesus nearly 28 years, and I can still count on the fingers of one hand the number of sermons I've heard which have addressed sex & sexuality directly. That can't be healthy.

 The first problem I think we come across in discussing homosexuality sensibly & openly is, for me, perfectly illustrated by the fact that, if I look for Christian texts on homosexuality, by far the vast majority of books will be in the 'Ethics' section & very few indeed in the 'Pastoral Care' section. Homosexuality has been abstracted as an "ethical issue" and problematised to an extent that Biblical scholars would never dream of attempting with heterosexuality. And the problem with 'the problem' is that when you start seeing people as "problems", you cease to see them as individuals worthy of respect and care. Let me be clear about this - homosexuality IS NOT an "ethical problem", it is a sexual orientation! As such, it is not a seperate "issue" from heterosexuality, but part of one integrated discussion of sexuality in all its expressions, including gender dysphoria.

 Indeed, in all the furore over Steve Chalke's comments, I think that people missed one of the main points of his argument - that, for him, committed homosexual monogamous relationships are far preferable to promiscuity & suicide. An argument which also holds for heterosexual monogamy. On that, I agree with him - the cheapening of our sexuality & sexual relationships is something I have come to believe is profoundly damaging to all involved. That the Bible often seems to have little to say about sexuality is not because it was seen as unimportant by our predecessors, but (as Rob Bell argues in Sex God) because it is so sacred, so special, so important, that it's not something to be cheapened by blabbing about it all over the place (Rob actually uses a very good illustration about 'celebrity' marriages & the tabloid press to make his point - too many people in a relationship is a bad thing).

 As Thomas Merton noted in The Ascent to Truth, we cannot throw science out the window and hide in an obscurantistic reaction against reason. Reason is God-given, and we needs must use it to make sense of our faith in light of all that the sciences have revealed to us of Creation between the time of the biblical writers and now. And one of the things we know now that they didn't know then is that homosexuality & gender dysphoria are not "lifestyle choices". Whilst we may not know exactly what does cause homosexual orientation, we do know that it occurs so early in an individual's life as to be effectively unconscious. Now, unless you're a five-star Calvinist, that raises some serious questions about how a God of love could condemn a large segment of humanity for something beyond their active control. I don't know how you'll answer that question, but my answer is that I don't believe He does.

 Some of you may, at this point, be thinking "But what about healing? I've heard lots of stories of God healing people of their homosexuality." To answer that, I would direct you toward a greater authority than myself: Tony Campolo, besides being an Evangelical preacher of some note, also happens to be a Professor of Sociology - he tells of how, when he did research on this subject, he found that all the "former homosexuals" he encountered still had same-gender sexual fantasies. In other words, whilst their sexual behaviour had changed, their sexual orientation hadn't. Now, with Professor Campolo, I would say that that doesn't preclude the possibility that God could change someone's sexual orientation, but it does mean that there is no substantive empirical evidence that people are "healed" of their sexual orientation (maybe God likes them fine as they are...). Indeed, even groups such as the (in)famous Exodus International have recently recanted of their previous statements on this matter. One's sexuality may or may not be "God-given", but it seems clear that it's not "God-changed" just for the asking; so we're all going to have to learn to live with one another 'as we come'.


 The word "marriage" suffers somewhat in the current debate from being something of a portmanteau term - it carries both legal & religious significance, and can even differ within those two realms. In the current arguments over "gay marriage", the heart of the struggle has really been over who 'owns the rights' to the definition of the word "marriage" - the legislators or the clerics (with LGBT individuals all too often simply cannon-fodder for one side or the other. Personally, I'd have thought definitions were best left the preserve of the lexicographer but there you go...).

 That the law has now been passed is, I suppose, an advancement of the justice issues I talked about previously, but that doesn't necessarily make it good legislation - actually, I think the whole thing's been appallingly handled by the Government, and I deeply distrust the motivations of the PM & other politicians behind the legislation (in which I am not alone - as a good friend points out).  If we are genuinely seeking a true equality, then heterosexual couples should also be permitted to have civil partnerships; after all, not every atheist is going to want to mark their committment to another human being with a term which bears such obvious religious connotations & baggage as "marriage" does. Andrew Rilstone suggests (not unreasonably, in my opinion) that a simple solution would be for all legally-recognised (state-sponsored?) monogamous relationships to be termed 'civil partnerships' and accorded equal status, leaving the term 'marriage' to describe the religious ceremonies and theological status of such monogamous relationships. Each faith, and denomination or sect therein, would then be free to make their own decisions about what does, or does not, constitute "marriage", and who can or cannot "get married". Of course, if you found yourself in a denomination which came to a conclusion other than that which you personally think is 'right', you're at liberty to remove yourself to one more in keeping with your own mind (unless you live in the U.S.A., in which case you just move 500 yards down the road & start a new denomination...). Of course, it's highly unlikely to ever actually happen, as it would require politicians to relinquish some of their beloved 'cod morality' ("defenders of marriage", "family values", etc.), and clerics to give up some of their temporal powers (not that I'm convinced priests should be acting as 'Officers of the State' anyway...).

 So, leaving aside the "legal definition", what do Christians believe about marriage? And what the hell do we mean when we talk about "Biblical marriage"? As far as I can see, being in favour of "Biblical marriage" covers just about everything from polygamy to a woman having to marry a man who's raped her (not the best of starts to a life of wedded bliss...). In short, there's a lot of crap talked about "Biblical marriage" - as Thomas Merton asked in No Man Is An Island :
 "Why do we get angry about what we believe? Because we do not really believe it. Or else what we pretend to be defending as the "truth" is really our own self-esteem." 
 In essence, how we view the 'purpose' of marriage defines what we think is and isn't an acceptable partnership to give the appellation of 'marriage' to (and if your objection to "gay marriage" is that it's somehow "disgusting" or "icky", then I'd like to point out that you really shouldn't be thinking about what anyone else gets up to in their own sex lives anyway!).

 Probably the two most common positions in the church generally are:
  1. the purpose of marriage is for procreation & the raising of the children "in the faith"; &
  2. that it is better 'to marry than burn' .
The first position leaves us with the problem of what to say and/or do about about married Christians who either cannot, or choose not to, have children. Are those who cannot conceive condemned by God for their failure to reproduce? (See my previous point about things beyond our 'active control' for my personal answer to that.) And are those who choose not to have children therefore wilfully & flagrantly disobeying the "will of God", and thereby deserving to be expelled from the fellowship of the believers? The second position leaves us with what I believe is an incredibly 'low' view of marriage, and is part of a "gospel of sin-management" (in itself a product of "worm theology") quite common to the more Evangelical end of the church spectrum. But again, if we can't talk honestly & sensibly about sexuality, then it's not entirely surprising if marriage becomes "the suitcase under the bed" into which all the embarrasing things get stuffed.

 Many of the translators of the Bible into English haven't helped, with their often downbeat interpretations of passages referring to marriage (and, whilst I don't want to go off on a discourse about 'patriarchal systems of dominance' and the like, it is worth noting that the translators have tended to be affluent middle-aged white males). I think we need to have a much 'higher' view of marriage & it's purpose; and I believe that Eugene Peterson strikes the right tone in his Message translation (remembering that all translation is a process negotiation - read Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat? for an excellent introduction to the subtleties & problems of translation) of Jesus' words in Matthew 19:
"Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace.
Marriage isn't for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. 
Others never get asked - or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons.
But if you're capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it."

 The 'invitation & challenge' approach is typically Jesus - he gives us the vision for marriage as a high & holy state, and warns us that it's hard work too! But, although this gives us a more positive view of marriage, it doesn't answer our question on the purpose of marriage. For this, I would point you to Jesus' answer to the Saducees on the question of divorce in Matthew 22:
"At the resurrection we're beyond marriage. 
As with the angels, all our ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God."
(Message Translation)
Here, I believe we see the heart of marriage as God intends it (As an aside, this passage also seriously damages the argument that marriage between a man & a woman is "God's perfect will" - perfection is eternal, marriage is temporal) - a relationship of loving intimacy which prefigures how things will be when the Kingdom of God comes in it's fullness. And here, laid bare, is the challenge of Jesus about "the largeness of marriage" - for who amongst us can say that our marriage is like a foretaste of heaven? Yet that is it's purpose, and not for the married couple only, but by engendering that 'heavenly communion', they can then invite their children and their friends 'up' into holy community (after all, marriage isn't just sex!).

 And, as far as I can see, there's nothing in that purpose that demands that the couple be male & female. Even if it wasn't part of God's "original plan", I'm certain that God's grace can cover it.


 I've left this one to last because I think that, to an extent, it's of lesser importance than the other topics. That there are a multiplicity of ecclesial structures & understandings of church leadership is well-established fact. That it has been so since the earliest days of Christianity is not a new idea (Burnett Hillman Streeter's The Primitive Church, written in the early 20th Century, expounds upon this), and this variety allows us to acknowledge that different communities will come to different conclusions at different times - and that that isn't automatically "wrong".

 When it comes to selecting leaders for the church, the writers of the Biblical epistles were quite happy to apply a "higher standard" upon those who would wish to take responsibility for the faith community. Interestingly, it's these leadership requirements that most people are often unconsciously thinking of when they talk of "Biblical marriage" - the strictures placed by the Apostles upon the marital affairs of leaders have become the normative behaviour within the church as a whole (which is worthy of note for those of us who take a "discipleship" approach). So, if a given denomination decides they do/don't believe that homosexuals/women/married/single/young/old individuals are/aren't suitable for the responsibilities of leading the faith community, they are (technically) within their 'rights' so to do.

 Where the difficulties arise is in the inconsistency of certain denominations in their approach to appointing leaders. I'll use the Church of England as my exemplum, as it's better to talk about yourselves than other people. No-one in the Anglican church is pretending that there aren't any priests of a homosexual orientation within the church, but what's lacking is any sort of logical consistency about their treatment (possibly because we haven't really talked about this openly & honestly - it's been classic Anglican fudge all the way along). As far as I'm concerned, the only logically consistent position is that, if you allow homosexual priests, you have to allow homosexual bishops - anything else is hypocritical. Now, it may be that, having decided to allow homosexual clergy, the Anglican communion could lay a "higher standard" upon these brothers & sisters, and insist that they commit to living lives of celibacy, but this then puts us in difficulty as regards Jesus' warnings to religious leaders who place burdens upon others which they do not carry themselves - we cannot claim to be one priesthood (& by extension, one body in communion) if some of the priesthood have to abide by different rules to the rest. Of course, there's also the problem of how one would ensure compliance over such an issue - as the recent travails of the Roman Catholic church have shown, just telling people they have to be celibate doesn't actually grant them the gift of celibacy.

 I think it is the balatant "double-standard" that is blatantly visible to those outside the church & which they find so derisible that we need to address, as it's undermining any credibility we might have when we try to talk of more urgent issues such as poverty and injustice. If we have consistency, then people might not agree with us, but at least they can respect where we're coming from. At the moment, it looks like we're just making it up as we go along, desperately kicking the can down the road hoping that we don't have to pick it up & deal with it.


 So, there you have it - some of what I think (obviously, there's a great deal more that could be said, but I didn't want to swamp you, just give you some 'starters'). Although mostly I think that what I think doesn't really matter terribly much, and I try to adhere to Thomas Merton's advice:
"Pay as little attention as you can to the faults of other people
and none at all to their natural defects and eccentricities."
(Seeds of Contemplation)
but I think there are times when one simply has to speak out. 

 There is a difference between enduring suffering oneself & permitting others to suffer, especially when you have the chance to try & make a difference for them.
 Right, I've wittered on enough - time to press 'publish' & be damned...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Talkin' Bout A Revolution

Spent the autumn reading Dave Andrews books Plan Be, Hey, Be and See and See What I Mean?, concerning the Be-attitude Revolution.

After much pondering over winter, I have decided to take the pledge:

I Want to Be the Change I Want to See...

I will identify with the poor in spirit.

I will grieve over injustice in the world.

I will get angry, but never get aggressive.

I will seek to do justice, even to my enemies.

I will extend compassion to all those in need.

I will act with integrity, not for the publicity.

I will work for peace in the midst of violence.

I will suffer myself, rather than inflict suffering.

If I don't live up to it, feel free to call me on it.
And if you think it's a good thing, consider signing up yourself....

Friday, 18 March 2011

Justice, Fairness, & Equality (+ Heaven & Hell)

There's been lots of talk recently around the whole area of Justice, Fairness, & Equality - there's even been a season about it on BBC4. Thing is, for all the effort that's been expended in the latter half of the 20th Century & early years of the 21st on providing equality of opportunity, it would seem that the gap between the richest & poorest has become larger than ever. So, if equality of opportunity isn't cutting it (and I don't think it is), then what is to be done? How about equality of outcome?
In Matthew 20 Jesus tells a parable in which the vinyard owner (God) pays everyone the same, regardless of how much of the day they'd been working for him - a clear image, I think, of the Kingdom of God, and therefore of the values of God. And we should also not forget the words of the apostle Paul in Galatians and Colossians about the equality of all people in Christ.
So, what if everyone did what they enjoyed and/or had a talent for & were all paid the same? What would our society look like if, instead of being driven by the fear of money, we were motivated by the joy of the task? Alright, so we might have more plumbers, nurses & musicians, and less administrators, accountants & merchant bankers (but not none! Some people do enjoy such roles, and they are needed in some measure), but would that necessarily be a "bad thing"?
Now, I know that's so far-fetched as to be ridiculous to many, and I can't wave a magic wand to transform society, all I can change is myself, but that doesn't mean this line of thought is completely pointless - consider the following question...
 What does a theology of equality of outcome do to our conceptions of hell/damnation/eternal suffering? A theology of equality of opportunity makes it easy for us to condemn others to hell ("I've told you the gospel, so I'm in the clear - it's all on your head now!"), whereas a theology of equality of outcome requires us to at least consider the possibility that all, in the final analysis, will be saved.
If what happens to the other guy is what happens to me (& vice versa), then humanity ultimately stands or falls as one.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Microsoft decided to close their Windows Live Spaces blog facility & "upgrade" everyone to Wordpress.
I happen to think that Wordpress is toss, so have shifted over to Blogger.

Have copied over posts from the old site, so you can still read 'em if you're interested.


A Harsh Lesson

A friend died recently, a good bloke who somehow managed to slip off my (and everyone else's) radar.

I guess that everything else just seemed more important at the time, and getting back in touch was always something that I could do another day -
and now it's too late.

It brings back to mind an old, old story about four people...

Everybody, Anybody, Somebody, & Nobody

There was an important job to be done,
and Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that,
because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it,
but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody
when actually Nobody asked Anybody.
It's a hell of a price to pay to be reminded that life's too short to put off contacting old friends - especially when I'm not the one picking up the tab.

Originally posted 10/11/10

The Priest in Modern Society

My vocational advisor gave me the task of writing on "What do you see as the role of the priest in modern society?" - didn't get terribly far with it, due to my life being chaos central 99.9% of the time, but thought I'd throw out the fragments I managed to come up with, just in case anyone's interested. When reading, remember the name of the blog...
The heart of priesthood is, of course, primarily about ‘Being’ rather than ‘Doing’ (Nouwen In the Name of Jesus). It is not, however, a Being dichotomised from Doing – an erroneous forced-choice either/or approach. It is not even necessarily a both/and approach, for at its best it is a seamless cycle of “prayer and ministry of the word” practiced by the first leaders of the church, and illuminated wonderfully by Brother Lawrence in his The Practice of the Presence of God.

 So what is this Doing which is the fruit of our Being in Christ? The original charge laid down by Jesus still applies today – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” – as indeed, does all the apostles good advice to church leaders contained within the epistles, but what does that look like in concrete terms in the early 21st Century?

  1. We need to help people reconnect with the context in which Jesus taught – Community. For, unlike Jesus, we live in a society which has increasingly fragmented and undercut many of the things which have acted for centuries as ‘social glue’. Even in the relatively short time since Vanstone faced a seemingly content secular community (as recounted in Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense), we have almost entirely lost the idea and practice of meaningful communities, and we need to re-establish these. The founding of meaningful communities of people dedicated to Christ and each other, where the Kingdom of God can break into this world, has to be a part of what we do.
  2. In a society driven by the constant need for ‘more’, even in the face of the current global financial problems, we need to live lives that say “enough”. We need to be the first of the least, to lead in living a ‘downwardly mobile’ lifestyle that shows there is a different way to do things – the way of God’s economy. In contrast to Vanstone, who found himself a priest in the church at a time when the State had all the solutions to society’s ills and the church was increasingly seen as “irrelevant”, we are living in a time when the State is reaching the limits of what it can achieve for its citizenry, and the church once again has the opportunity to play a real and vital role in caring for the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, and the alien.
  3. 1 Timothy 4:12 “…set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” And not for them only, but also for all those whom we live alongside and come into contact with. To hold out what Ramsey (The Christian Priest Today) called “the timeless truths” (p.73) of the Gospel to a post-modern world that often no longer recognises anything as ‘true’ by “living” Jesus every day.
  4. Not to do things “for” or “to” people, but “with” them. Never to condemn, but to raise up and release the God-given potential within each and every individual (for we must never cease to appreciate “the infinite worth of the one” (Ramsey p.42) in our attempts to reach/organise the many), that they might grow in grace and love and so fulfil Christ’s call upon their lives.
  5. To teach the teachers, to lead the leaders, so that the church can grow effectively. In order to be able to do this, it is vital that we not only have a vision for the place we’re in but that we can convey such a vision to people in a way that they can grasp it and move forward with it.

I want to wander for the love of Christ, like the peregrinati of old.
I want to teach, live & obey Jesus wherever I go.
I want to be a transmitter of ideas from one ekklesia to another.
I want to found meaningful communities of people dedicated to Christ & to each other,
in the Celtic monastic tradition, where the Kingdom of God reigns supreme.
I want to help the Church be all she can be.
I want to see a world in which all the resources of the earth are shared equally
between all the people of the earth,
so that even those most disadvantaged are able to meet their most basic needs
with dignity & joy.

Originally posted 22/08/10