Thursday, 24 December 2009

I'm a Christian?

In a recent interview with Martin Freeman who played Tim Canterbury in The Office, he quoted Maya Angelou. I checked her out on the net and came across this great poem by her which underline her humility in the face of people's questions about her faith:

I'M A CHRISTIAN By Maya Angelou

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting "I'm clean livin."
I'm whispering "I was lost,"
Now I'm found and forgiven.

When I say..."I am a Christian"
I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble
and need CHRIST to be my guide.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak
and need HIS strength to carry on.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed
and need God to clean my mess.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
but, God believes I am worth it.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain,
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not holier than thou,
I'm just a simple sinner
who received God's good grace, somehow.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Progressive or regressive?

"A proudly “progressive” Anglican church in New Zealand turned heads and ruffled feathers this past week when it put up a billboard featuring an illustration of Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, in bed. “Is the Christmas miracle a male God sending forth his divine sperm, or is the miracle that God is and always has been among the poor?” they posed. In the illustration (see picture), a dejected Joseph looks down as a sad Mary, lying next to him, looks upward. The caption, meanwhile, reads: “Poor Joseph. God is a hard act to follow.” “It is intended to challenge stereotypes about the way that Jesus was conceived and get people talking about the Christmas story,” church leaders explained."

The above story was reported on Christianity Today website and is another example of an Anglican Church that is slowly falling to pieces. Personally I think the Parish priest should be defrocked and the Church leadership disciplined. A bit harsh? Aren't they trying to be 'relevant' and up with the times? "Progressive" quotes the article? But how can you progress further or improve on what God has already done? And what is more relevant than God sending His Son into the world to save it?

And I must take issue with the statement: “Is the Christmas miracle a male God sending forth his divine sperm, or is the miracle that God is and always has been among the poor?” as if there were an alternative between the two. Why can't it be both Virgin birth AND God among the poor - which is what it is about anyway? I am sorry but the inuendo of the advert is disrespectful and irreverent, not because sex is bad - it most certainly isn't - but because it demeans the whole miraculous wonder of the Incarnation and insinuates that Jesus was not divine but the product of intercourse between a man and a woman. It suggests that the Church then dressed-up the whole thing as an act of propaganda to make it look like a miracle. How can anyone trust a Church or its message if it manufactured the story of Jesus?

I do not approve of the vandalism that was responsible for the advert being torn down - it made it more notorious than if it had been left alone - but I do believe the Bishop should censure the priest behind it. After all what are bishops for if not for overseeing the flock?



Biting the hand that has fed the West

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Hurricane Katrina)... Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'

In light of recent events... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide).. We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said okay.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.

If not, then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Common ground

Today I had the wonderful privilege of speaking at the local school nativity play (Gors Community School). To me nobody brings home the message of Christmas like children. I spoke about Jesus bringing light into the darknes of our world and leading us closer to God. I used a small candle to represent Jesus - small, fragile, yet bright - and encouraged those present to follow Him into the light so that as lights together we can push back the darkness.

Afterwards I met two Moslem women, complete with headscarves, one of whom I recognised and who I later found out works in my local Marks & Spencers where I occasionally shop. The younger woman introduced her mother who is over from Iraq. She unfortunately does not speak much english and relies on her daughter to do all the translating. But she recognised the story and she recognised Jesus - whom they call Isa - and hearing the familiar story felt very much at home. She wanted to thank me and reassure that the talking that was going on while I was speaking was not from them but by some rude couple behind them. She, and her daughter, were very grateful for what I said.

They were as lovely and friendly pair of ladies you could ever wish to meet and were a timely reminder that we should never brand any of the major religions as bad or evil for fear of missing the fact that there are good people there. Unfortunately every religion - including Christianity - has adherents who are hungry for power and will try and exploit their religion for their own ends. But at the heart of every religion there are also those with a good heart, people who are genuinely seeking God and demonstrate it through their kindness and humility. It is essential therefore that we avoid the danger of tarring them with the same brush as the more viscious and cruel extremists who maim, kill or persecute in order to achieve their own personal selfish ends.

God was there today and my prayer is always that I will be able to see Him in some way. Well I did, not only in the children but in the two polite and kindly strangers from another religion who came to speak to me and thank me for my message.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

John Harper and the Titanic

Most people would have seen the film The Titanic by now and moved by the stories of heroism of many of those involved. However not all stories are told as the film would have become too long. And not all stories would have sat comfortably with the atheists and secularists. One such story involved a man called John Harper. He was born to a pair of devout Christian parents on May 29th, 1872. When when he was 13 years old he gave his life to Christ and began to preach about four years later at the ripe old age of 17 years old by going down to the streets of his village and pouring out his soul for people to be reconciled to God.

As John Harper's life unfolded, one thing was apparent: he was consumed by the word of God. When asked by various ministers what his doctrine consisted of, all he would reply was , "The Word of God!" Soon, John Harper started his own church in September of 1896. (Now known as the Harper Memorial Church.) This church started with just 25 members, but had grown to over 500 members when he left 13 years later.

Ironically, John Harper almost drowned several times during his life. When he was two and a half years of age, he almost drowned when he fell into a well but was resuscitated by his mother. At the age of 26, he was swept out to sea by a reverse current and barely survived, and at thirty-two he faced death on a leaking ship in the Mediterranean. Perhaps God used these experiences to prepare this servant for what he faced next....

It was the night of April 14, 1912. The RMS Titanic sailed swiftly on the bitterly cold ocean waters heading unknowingly into the pages of history. On board this luxurious ocean liner were many rich and famous people. At the time of the ship's launch, it was the world's largest man-made moveable object. At 11:40 p.m. on that fateful night, an iceberg scraped the ship's starboard side, showering the decks with ice and ripping open six watertight compartments. The sea poured in. On board the ship was John Harper and his much-beloved six-year-old daughter, Nana. According to documented reports, as soon as it was apparent that the ship was going to sink, Harper immediately took his daughter to a lifeboat but instead of climbing in with his daughter he bent down, kissed her and told her that she would see him again someday. He then turned and went back to the people on the ship yelling,

"Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!"

It was only minutes later that the Titanic began to rumble deep within. Most people thought it was an explosion; actually the ship was literally breaking in half. At this point, many people jumped off the decks and into the icy, dark waters below. John Harper was one of these people.

That night 1528 people went into the freezing waters. John Harper was seen swimming frantically to people in the water leading them to Jesus before the hypothermia became fatal. Mr. Harper swam up to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris. Harper asked him between breaths, "Are you saved?" The young man replied that he was not. Harper then tried to lead him to Christ only to have the young man who was near shock, reply no. John Harper then took off his life jacket and threw it to the man and said "Here then, you need this more than I do..." and swam away to other people. A few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and succeeded in leading him to salvation. Of the 1528 people that went into the water that night, six were rescued by the lifeboats. One of them was this young man on the debris.

Four years later, at a survivors meeting, this young man stood up and in tears recounted how that after John Harper had led him to Christ, Harper had tried to swim back to help other people, yet because of the intense cold, had grown too weak to swim. His last words before going under in the frigid waters were, "Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved."

Hollywood does not remember this man but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that this servant of God did what he had to do. While other people were trying to buy their way onto the lifeboats and selfishly trying to save their own lives, John Harper gave up his life so that others could be saved.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Minarets and Muslims

According to a recent news report the Swiss people have voted against the erection of two new minarets in two of its cities. For some this is a 'triumph' over Islam and a halt to what they perceive as an erosion of the Christian faith in Switzerland. At present only four minarets actually exist in Switzerland, in the cities of Geneva and Frankfurt, while there are an estimated 200 mosques and prayer rooms throughout the country with Muslims accounting for about 4.5 per cent of Switzerland’s 7.6 million-large population.

What are we to think of this?
1. First, as with nearly all news reports, there is more here than meets the eye. Although the ban was approved by a 57.5 per cent vote from Swiss citizens it was a very small turn out and those who did turn out were heavily influenced by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and other conservative groups. Propaganda for the campaign included posters depicting minaret towers as missiles on top of a Swiss flag.

As much as I do not as a Christian agree with some Muslim doctrines, it is fundamentally unfair to portray every Muslim as a terrorist on the basis that a small minority are. Just as I take exception with being lumped together with gun-totting Serbian 'Christians' responsible for the atrocities of the Bosnian War or those at the forefront of the Medieval crusades, so I think it is unfair to tar every Muslim with the Bin-Laden brush.

2. Second, free will is a Christian tenet. God created us with the freedom to chose or reject Him. Jesus offers us life in all its fulness but will not force us to accept it. If people wish to become Muslims and to worship Allah then it is their choice. I may not agree with that choice but I am bound to uphold it on the basis that choice is what God gives us.

3. Lastly, I am the first to express outrage and anger at the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries. I agonize over the unfairness and discrimination my brothers and sisters have to face in Iran, Pakistan and the Middle East and I pray regularly for more religious freedom and an end to that aspect of Sharia Law which decrees the death penalty for any Muslim who wants to convert to another religion. But I have no basis to complain if I then try and restrict Muslims who want to practice their faith in my country. I must be consistent and Christian about this.

So the upshot of all this is that I disagree with the decision of the Swiss people and feel that it may become something they will come to regret in some way. For any decisions that are made on the basis of fear, discrimination or an attempt at giving one religion precedence or power over another, be they democratic or not, are not in the end very good ones.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Being and becoming myself

I was reflecting recently about why some of my children have not, as yet, embraced the faith they were baptized into and brought up within. There are several reasons I can think of:
1. I am a parish priest and have uprooted my family so many times within the course of my ministry, tearing them from schools, peer groups and friends, that they are understandably resentful of this God who has called their father away without considering their needs.
2. It may be because it is a natural part of the growing up process that children rebel against their parents at some stage? If I was an atheist they may have insisted on becoming believers of some sort because, subconsciously perhaps, they did not want to conform.
3. It may be a more straight forward reason like they genuinely don't/can't believe or because I have presented a form of Christian faith that is all about rules. In my behaviour and, lets be honest, transparent hypocrisy I may have presented a less than accurate presentation of a God who is pure love and grace or a faith that is old-fashioned and irrelevant?
4. Or it may just be that because Christianity is not 'cool' and it's always far easier - and more understandable - to conform with the beliefs and practices of your group of friends than be like your parents - the ultimate shame.

Perhaps you can think of other reasons that I may have overlooked? But there is one more reason that until now I had not considered. It may be that the impression is given that if you become a Christian you will in some way lose that sense of individuality which is the fear of every young person today. Ask any youngster and many of them want to be famous and different. Although they wear what is fashionable, listen to much the same music and have much the same role models whom they look up to, they will still tell you that they don't want to be like everyone else. They are individuals in their own right who want to stand out from the crowd. To be a Christian therefore is, for them, a threat to their freedom to be themselves. And I have to agree that there is always that danger. I have seen many a 'normal' person become a Christian and all of a sudden change and become in their dress, behaviour and way of speaking, like so many other believers. They do seem to lose the ability to think for themselves and become either clones of their ministers or priests or the person who led them to faith.

It happened to me, for a while, and it took some effort to break free of this conformity and become myself. In fact you could say that I am still in the process of discovering and becoming who I really am. It's only as I am honest with myself and God that this is happening and although I cannot claim to stand out from the crowd, I know that now, finally, I am becoming me. It needs honesty and acceptance. Honesty, about who I am and acceptance, that with all my flaws and failings God really does love me - the real me. In fact His Son died for that 'me' - the real one - not the actor or the false 'me' I have created in order to be loved. And so the Christian walk is a process of allowing God to tear off the layers of the false 'me' so that I can discover the real 'me' underneath. The one God made and died for.

So if my children are afraid of becoming like me, they needn't fear. For if they do discover God - and I pray every day that they will - they will find that God does not want them to be anything other than who they are. It's the only conformity that really counts.

In the words of St. Irenaeus: "The glory of God is man fully alive." Alive in the sense of being wholly him/herself, wholly human.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Starting as you mean to go on

I was listening to a podcast the other day by Fr Meletios Webber, the new abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. John of San Francisco. His podcast is called "Jottings from a Holy Mountain" and can be found via Ancient Faith Radio at http://ancientfaith.com. In this particular broadcast he talks about the need to start each day with God. He points out the findings of psychologists that we do most of our dreaming in the hours before we wake and, depending on the kind of dreams we have, it can have an effect on our thinking as we wake to a new day. To counter this he suggests that before we get up we should try and find five things to be grateful to God. Five things to thank Him for. One of the reasons for this is that gratitude establishes relationship. Another reason is gratitude is good because it "refuses to share the space with anything else". So for example you can't be grateful and angry or grateful and sad all at the same time. Gratitude "pushes out anything that wants to share space with it".

I find this advice so helpful. It strikes a chord with me as a parish priest because it ensures that whatever may come after I have climbed out of bed, at least I will have started the day right with God. Before the Adversary can steal a march on my day with the Lord, I will have already established that all important contact with God that will help me approach the things that the world throws at me in a better or best frame of mind. "In all things be thankful" says Paul (Ephesians 5:20).

Church for beginners?

In her book "The Word on the Wind" Alison Morgan makes reference to a young woman Sharon who was a respondent to a survey about ...