Friday, 23 December 2011

Jesus Film

If you want to watch an excellent film on the life of Jesus then watch this film. Its from a website www.shockawenow.com which is worth a look for other short films containing debates with well know New Atheist speakers, thinkers and writers.

Funerals - Orthodox Style


As someone who takes a lot of funerals - the vast majority of the cremations - I was interested to hear of the Orthodox view on the disposal of the body after death. Although I believe - as I am sure the Orthodox do - that God can raise ashes into a resurrection body, there is something to what Abbot Tryphon says in this article from his blog:

"The first time I ever attended a funeral service where cremation of the body of the deceased had taken place was in Portland, Oregon, many years ago. An Episcopal priest friend had died and had requested his body be cremated. Walking into the church and seeing a small box sitting before the altar was a shock for me. Cremation was always something only non-believers practiced, Christians having always viewed cremation as something of pagan roots. I clearly remember feeling cheated out of that last goodby, unable as I was to view my friend for one last time.

In ancient times pagans always either burned the bodies of their dead, or left them for birds to consume, whereas Jews and Christians placed their dead in tombs, or in the earth, awaiting the bodily resurrection. For Christians the belief that the body was the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore sacred, made the burning of the body unacceptable. Bodies of our dead were always to be treated with great reverence. From the earliest of times the bodies of the martyrs and saints were buried in the catacombs, their tombs used as altars for the celebration of the Eucharistic offering, catacombs often being the only safe place for believers to worship without threat of arrest.

One of my earliest memories was going to a family plot in Spokane, WA. with my maternal grandmother. She would lay flowers on the graves of her loved ones, family members who were long dead before I was even born. Even though many had been gone from this life for a few generations, to my grandmother they were still alive. She would sit on a tombstone, flowers in hand, and tell me about her sisters, her parents, and other family members. Her shared memories were made all the more real seeing the names of these loved ones chiseled in stone. The ritual of visiting graves was common back in those days, with families keeping alive the memories, while showing their love and respect for their dead relatives by tending to the graves, and leaving flowers. It was even quite common, especially in Western Europe, for friends and families to take picnics to graveyards.

There is also the role cemeteries can play in our own spiritual lives, for they are clear reminders of our own mortality. I have already picked the plot where my own remains will be placed on the grounds of our monastery. Seeing where one will eventually be laid to rest is a good way to remember one's own eventual death, reminding ourselves of our own mortality, and to use our remaining days wisely.

 The Orthodox Church forbids the cremated remains of anyone to be brought into the temple for services, or for any other reason, and funeral services over cremated remains is strictly forbidden. The practice is seen as a denial of the bodily resurrection, not because God can't raise the dead from ashes, but because the practice does not reflect the Church's teaching that the body of a believer housed the Holy Spirit. It is also ignoring the fact that believers receive, in their lifetime, the very Body and Blood of Christ, and the body is therefore made holy in preparation for that day when we shall be united in both body and soul, to live forever with God.

My parents converted to Orthodoxy in their mid seventies and are buried in the church yard next to Saint John the Baptist Church in Post Falls, Idaho. Having them in an Orthodox cemetery, side by side, means a lot to me, and I visit their graves whenever I am in Northern Idaho on visits to my family. Having a plot to visit continues that connection and allows me a chance to show my love for them by placing flowers on their graves as I offering prayers for their souls. It saddens me that so many people have deprived themselves of such moments, having spread their loved one's ashes over golf courses or on beaches. The loss of family cemeteries has contributed, I am convinced, to the breakdown of the all important extended families that were at one time so important to the cohesiveness of family values.

For those who would say that cremation is more ecologically sound, I would point out that the particles dispersed in the atmosphere are by no means good for the environment. A new way of burial, known as green burial, is gaining popularity throughout the country and is far more ecologically sound than cremation. Green burials require a simple pine coffin with no metal, nails or glue, using only wooden pegs and natural materials. The body is not embalmed (in keeping with Orthodox tradition), so nothing goes into the earth that is not natural. This is one of the most inexpensive ways of internment and is in keeping with the canons of the Orthodox Church. This is the way my own body will be laid to rest."

Fixed Point Foundation

I want to recommend a website called Fixed Point which engages with the New Atheists etc in open and cordial conversation about belief and unbelief. Their website is found here.

In their 'About' section this is what they say about their mission:

"It is our mission to seek innovative ways to defend and proclaim the Gospel and to prepare Christians to do the same. Whether it is our traditional concepts of human dignity and purpose or our understanding of what constitutes right and wrong, Christianity has served as the primary source of inspiration, giving light to law, government, the arts and sciences—indeed, giving light to what Dostoevsky called, “The Eternal Questions.”

That we have gradually lost sight of our Christian heritage is obvious even to the casual observer. In recent decades, however, we have witnessed aggressive efforts to demolish it systematically. Complicating matters is the fact that many Christians have imbibed any number of erroneous assumptions concerning their own faith, such as: Christianity lacks intellectual credibility; the Bible contradicts science; sincerity matters more than truth; Christian ethics cannot cope with the complexities of modern life; Jesus Christ is a way rather than the way; “diversity” is a value and “tolerance” means anything goes; and the list goes on.

Yet the mandate is clear. Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Unfortunately, many in the Church have ceased to love God with their minds. As a consequence, a substantive public Christian response to these trends has been absent to such a degree that one major newspaper asked pointedly, “Won’t anyone stand up for God?”

Fixed Point Foundation was established in 2004 with precisely this end in view and the results have been extraordinary. We have sponsored highly publicized events at universities ranging from Oxford to UAB and our resources are being used in universities, schools, and churches around the world. Fixed Point is an expression of the Church speaking into the culture, challenging the unbelief of skeptics and restoring the Christian’s confidence that the Bible is precisely what it claims to be—True.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church

The above quote is from an early church Father called Tertullian (160-220 AD). It's a reference to the fact that the persecution of the early church by the Roman Empire, rather than extinguishing the flame of faith, actually ended up making it burn brighter. One example of this is Polycarp one of the early bishops and a disciple of St. John the Divine, the writer of the fourth gospel. Please note that the speaker talks about Polycarp being converted as a child/youngster. That is an attempt to side-step the fact that Polycarp was baptized as a baby - a common practice then - and which all early Christians consider their 'conversion' to Christianity.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

SUMMARY: The Baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to several sacraments. The Baptism in the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation. At the beginning of the Church, Baptism was administered to adults who converted from paganism and who, made on the occasion of Baptism, an act of faith and a free and mature choice. Today it is substituted instead by intermediary parents or godparents. In this situation, rarely, or never, does the baptized person ever reach the stage of proclaiming in the Holy Spirit "Jesus is Lord". And until one reaches this point, everything else in the Christian life remains out of focus and immature. Miracles no longer happen and we experience what Jesus did in Nazareth: "Jesus could not perform many miracles because of their lack of faith" (Mt.13.58). The Baptism in the Spirit's effectiveness in reactivating baptism consists in this: finally man contributes his part -- namely, he makes a choice of faith, prepared in repentance, that allows the that allows the work of God to set itself free and to emanate all its strength. It is as if the plug is pulled and the light is switched on. The gift of God is finally "untied" and the Spirit is allowed to flow like a fragrance in the Christian life.

Before talking about the Baptism in the Spirit, it is important to try and understand what the Renewal in the Spirit is all about. After the Second Vatican Council, many things in the Church's life were renewed - the liturgy, pastoral care, canon law, the constitutions of the religious orders and their dress. Although all these things are important, they are only external things and woe to us if we stop there and think the task is finished, because it is not structures but souls that are important to God. "It is in men's souls that the Church is beautiful," writes St. Ambrose, and therefore it is in men's souls that she must make herself beautiful.

God Is Author and Power
The Renewal is a renewal in which God, not man, is the principle author. "I, not you," says God, "make all things new" (Rev 21:5); "My Spirit -- and He alone -- may renew the face of the earth" (see Psalm 104:30). From the religious point of view, we tend to view things from a ptolemaic perspective: at the foundation there are our efforts -- organization, efficiency, reforms, goodwill -- with the earth here as the center which God comes to strengthen and crown, by His grace and our effort.

We must -- at this point the Word of God cries out -- "give the power back to God" (Psalm 68:35) because "the power belongs to God" (Psalm 62:12). For too long we have usurped this power of His from God, by managing it as if it were ours, as if it was up to us to govern the power of God. We have to totally change our perspective. That is, to acknowledge simply that without the Holy Spirit, we cannot do anything, not even say, "Jesus is Lord!" (I Cor 12:3).

Baptism in the Spirit and the Sacrament of Baptism
The Baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to a sacrament, to several sacraments in fact -- to the sacraments of Christian initiation. The Baptism in the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation. The primary relationship is with the Sacrament of Baptism. In fact, this experience is called the Baptism in the Spirit by English-speaking people.

We believe that the Baptism in the Spirit makes real and revitalizes our baptism. To understand how a sacrament which was received so many years ago, usually immediately after our birth, could suddenly come back to life and emanate so much energy, as often happens through the Baptism in the Spirit, it is important to look at our understanding of sacramental theology.

Catholic theology recognizes the concept of a valid but "tied" sacrament. A sacrament is called tied if the fruit that should accompany it remains bound because of certain blocks that prevent its effectiveness. An extreme example of this is the Sacrament of Matrimony or Holy Orders received in the state of mortal sin. In such circumstances these sacraments cannot grant any grace to people until the obstacle of sin is removed through penance. Once this happens the sacrament is said to live again thanks to the indelible character and irrevocability of the gift of God: God remains faithful even if we are unfaithful because He cannot deny Himself (see Timothy 2:13).

In the case of baptism what is it that causes the fruit of the sacrament to stay tied? The sacraments are not magical rituals that act mechanically, without the person's knowledge or disregarding any response on his part. Their effectiveness is the fruit of a synergy or cooperation between divine omnipotence -- in reality the grace of Christ or the Holy Spirit -- and human freedom, because as St. Augustine said, "The one who created you without your cooperation, will not save without your cooperation."

The opus operatum of baptism, namely, God's part or grace, has several aspects -- forgiveness of sins, the gift of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (these, however, only as a seed), and divine sonship -- all of which are operated through the effective action of the Holy Spirit. But what does the opus operantis in baptism -- namely, man's part, consist of? It consists of faith! Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). At the side of baptism, therefore, there is another element: the faith of man. "To all who received Him He gave the power to become children of God: to those who believe in His name" (John 1:13).

Baptism is like a divine seal put on the faith of man: having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and having believed in it, you have received (of course, in baptism) the seal of the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 1:13)

Baptism and Confirmation of Faith
At the beginning of the Church, Baptism was such a powerful event and so rich in grace that there was no need normally of a new effusion of the Spirit like we have today. Baptism was ministered to adults who converted from paganism and who, properly instructed, were in the position to make, on the occasion of baptism, an act of faith and a free and mature choice. It is sufficient to read the mistagogic catechesis on baptism attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem to become aware of the depth of faith to which those waiting for baptism were led. In substance, they arrived at baptism through a true and real conversion, and thus for them baptism was a real washing, a personal renewal, and a rebirth in the Holy Spirit.

The favorable circumstances that allowed baptism, at the origins of the Church, to operate with so much power was that the grace of God and man's response met at the same time, and there was a perfect synchronization

Infant Baptism in Non-Christian Environments
But now this synchronization has been broken, as we are baptized as infants, and little by little this aspect of the free and personal act of faith no longer happens. It was substituted instead by a decision by intermediary parents or godparents. When a child grew up in a totally Christian environment, this faith still could flourish, even though at a slower rate. Now, however, this is no longer the case and our spiritual environment is even worse than the one at the time of the Middle Ages. Not that there is no normal Christian life, but this is now the exception rather than the rule.

In this situation, rarely, or never, does the baptized person ever reach the stage of proclaiming in the Holy Spirit, "Jesus is Lord." And until one reaches this point, everything else in the Christian life remains out of focus and immature. Miracles no longer happen, and we experience what Jesus did in Nazareth: "Jesus could not perform many miracles because of their lack of faith." (Mt 13. 58)

God's Will
Here, then, is what I feel is the significance of the Baptism in the Spirit. It is God's answer to this malfunctioning that has grown up in the Christian life in the Sacrament of Baptism.

It is an accepted fact that over the last few years there has been some concern on the part of the Church, among the bishops, that the Christian sacraments, especially baptism, are being administered to people who will not make any use of them in life. As a result, it has even been suggested that baptism should not be administered unless there are some minimum guarantees that it will be cultivated and valued by the child in question. For one should not throw pearls to dogs, as Jesus said, and baptism is a pearl, because it is the fruit of the blood of Christ.

But it seems that God was concerned about this situation even before the Church was, and raised up here and there in the Church movements aimed at renewing Christian initiation in adults. The Charismatic Renewal is one of these movements and in it the principle grace is, without doubt, linked to the Baptism of the Spirit and to what comes before it.

Release and Confirmation of Faith
It's effectiveness in reactivating baptism consists in this: finally man contributes his part -- namely, he makes a choice of faith, prepared in repentance that allows the work of God to set itself free and to emanate all its strength. It is as if the plug is pulled and the light is switched on. The gift of God is finally "untied" and the Spirit is allowed to flow like a fragrance in the Christian life.

In addition to the renewal of the grace of baptism, the Baptism in the Spirit is also a confirmation of one's own baptism, a deliberate "yes" to it, to its fruit and its commitments, and as such it is also similar to Confirmation too. Confirmation being the sacrament that develops, confirms, and brings to completion the work of baptism. From it, too, comes that desire for greater involvement in the apostolic and missionary dimension of the Church that is usually noted in those who receive the Baptism in the Spirit. They feel more inclined to cooperate with the building up of the Church, to put themselves at her service in various ministries both clerical and lay, to witness for Christ -- to do all those things that recall the happening of Pentecost and which are actuated in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Baptism of the Spirit is not the only occasion known within the Church for this reviving of the sacraments of initiation. There is, for example, the renewal of the baptismal promises in the Easter vigil, and there are the spiritual exercises, and the religious professions, sometimes called a "second baptism." and at the sacrament level there is Confirmation.

It is also not difficult to discover in the lives of the saints, the presence of a spontaneous effusion, especially on the occasion of their conversion. The difference with the Baptism in the Spirit, however, is that it is open to all the people of God, small and great, and not only to those privileged ones who do the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises or make a religious profession.

The Will of God in History
Where does this extraordinary force that we experienced when we were Baptized in the Spirit come from? What we are talking about is not just some theory, but something that we ourselves have experienced and therefore can say with John, "What we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what our hands have touched, this we also announce to you, so that you too be in communion with us." (see l John 1:1-11). The explanation of this force is in the will of God -- because God was pleased to renew the Church today by this means -- and this is enough.

There are certainly some biblical precedents, like the one told in Acts 8:14-17, when Peter and John, having heard that Samaria welcomed the Word of God, went there, prayed for them, and laid hands on them so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. But these biblical precedents, are not sufficient to explain the vastness and depth of the contemporary manifestation of the effusion of the Spirit.

The explanation therefore is in God's plan. We could say, by paraphrasing a famous saying of the Apostle Paul: Because Christians, with all their organization, were not able to transmit the power of the Spirit, God was pleased to renew the believers through the foolishness of the Baptism in the Spirit. In fact theologians look for an explanation and responsible people for moderation, but simple souls touch with their hands the power of Christ in the Baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:1-24).

We men, and in particular we men of the Church, tend to limit God in His freedom: we tend to insist that He follows a compulsory pattern (the so called channels of grace) and we forget that God is a torrent that breaks loose and creates its own path and that the Spirit blows where and how he wants (notwithstanding the role of the teaching of the Church to discern what actually comes from the Spirit and what does not come from Him). What does the Baptism of the Spirit consist of and how does it work? In the Baptism of the Spirit there is a secret, mysterious move of God that is His way of becoming present, in a way that is different for each one because only He knows us in our inner part and how to act upon our unique personality. There is also the external community part which is the same for everyone and consists mainly of three things: brotherly love, laying on of hands, and prayer. These are non-sacramental but simply ecclesiastic elements.

Holy Spirit Proceeding from the Father and the Son
Where does the grace we experience in the Baptism of the Spirit come from? From those around us? No! From the person who receives it? No! It comes from God! We can only say that such grace is related to baptism, because God acts always with coherence and faithfulness and He does not do and undo. He honors the commitments and institutions of Christ. One thing is certain -- that it is not the brothers who impart the Holy Spirit, but they do invoke the Holy Spirit on the person. The Spirit cannot be given by any man, not even the Pope or a bishop, because no man possesses by himself the Holy Spirit. Only Jesus may give the Holy Spirit; all the others do not possess the Holy Spirit, but rather are possessed by Him. As to the manner of this grace, we may speak of a new coming of the Holy Spirit, of a new mission by the Father through Jesus Christ, or a new anointing corresponding to a new degree of grace.
Fr. Cantalamessa, Papal preacher to Pope John Paul II's Pontifical household. Originally from the (ICCRS) newsletter, this article is apparently based on a talk given to a gathering of religious men.

I believe in prayer

I believe in prayer for all kinds of reasons. Personal answers, recurring coincidences after prayer, the testimony of others - saints and people I trust - etc. I also believe because I believe in Jesus and, for me, He is the beginning and end of my faith when it comes to anything as supernatural as prayer.

However there have been lots of scientific studies aimed at proving or disproving the power of prayer. Here is an extract from an article I picked up on the web:

"Does prayer’s power heal the sick, change lives, or fulfill our needs and desires? Should you bury a statue of Saint Joseph, if you want to sell your home, or put Saint Christopher on your dashboard as you travel this holiday season? There’s no definitive way to prove the power of prayer, but it’s not for lack of trying. Humans, including scientists, charlatans, and medical experts, have attempted to prove and disprove the efficacy of prayer since the beginning of intellectual curiosity.

The most surprising thing about these studies is that we’ve learned nothing. Some studies seem to showconcentrated group prayer, whatever that is, has a measurable effect on AIDS patients. A decade ago, Dr. Elisabeth Targ’s famous double-blind research convinced some that AIDS patients who were prayed for lived longer than AIDS patients who were not prayed for by a controlled group of prayer-sayers. How do you control that?

Reading University's studies are interesting, but confusing. Some show cardiac patients who believe in God do better than those who don’t. On the other hand, in a Harvard study, it looks like cardiac patients assured of receiving prayers of intercession didn’t fare as well as others, and Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, determined that if a king’s subjects prayed for him, the poor guy lived a shorter life than other kings.

Consider this: Studies aside, nearly everyone has stories of friends, family, and acquaintances that lived a miracle brought about by prayer or devotion. A widow accidentally drops her keepsake wedding ring in the ocean. She prays daily that she will find it. Years later, it turns up in the local fisherman’s catch. A missing child is inexplicably recovered when his whole community gathers to pray.

My husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness ten years ago. We prepared ourselves. We prayed a lot. He’s still around, and his medical team is astounded. He should not have had a positive outcome. There are thousands of stories of humans visited by angels – some of them seem inarguable. We can’t get enough of George’s angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, and books about causing change through prayer fill the bookstores’ shelves.

You can drive yourself to distraction Googling for answers on whether prayer has power or can effect change. The Online Surgical Technicians Course has a comprehensive list of formal, rigorous, scientific studies. You can find first-hand prayer testimonials on the Experience Project Web site and, I dare say, all over the Web.

Maybe the most rational conclusion was drawn by Wendy Cadge from the sociology department of Brandeis University, Massachusetts. An expert on how religion and medicine impact each other in today’s American culture, Cage remarked, “With double-blind clinical trials, scientists tried their best to study something that may be beyond their best tools; and [this] reflects more about them and their assumptions than about whether prayer works.”

In other words looking to science to help us with regards to the efficacy of prayer is probably not the best place to start (or finish). The best way to go about testing prayer is to do it, but to do it with a copy of the Bible in your hand and with the advice of a priest or a seasoned Christian ready to guide you. Also it almost goes without saying - and this is where everything unravels for the wannabe pray-er - a relationship with God through Jesus is not only indispensible but pretty fundamental. The disciples quickly discovered this early on and asked Him to teach them how to pray (they had probably been trying and failing or saw in Jesus someone who had the authority to teach them). His response - known as the Lord's Prayer - takes it for granted that prayer is fundamental to their relationship with Him and His Father, and on that basis answers are assumed and expected.

I would also add one other thing which is often inferred but not always explicit. Being part of a Church - or The Church - is very important. Why? It is there that the New Testament assumes all progress in the Christian walk - plus th walk itself - is made. It is there that you can pray and learn with others. THere that you can find advice and encouragement. There you will discover a tradition of prayer and praying that goes back to the beginning. There that you can best keep to the straight and narrow because there is nothing more debilitating to your prayer life than disobedience, pride and sin. Over and over the Israelites discovered that when they disobeyed God His voice would fall silent.

So get into a relationship with Christ, His Church and His cause. Read His book which contains not only His teaching and guidelines but also examples of how prayer works. And you too will discover that prayer really does work. And with not a science textbook or study in sight!

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Archbishop on Advent

David Cameron on the King James Bible

Today, at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, the Prime Minister did God. He delivered this sermon on the importance of Christianity and of the King James Bible in particular (His Grace will forgive the lower case 'p' in 'Protestants'):

It's great to be here and to have this opportunity to come together today to mark the end of this very special 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible.

I know there are some who will question why I am giving this speech.

And if they happen to know that I'm setting out my views today in a former home of the current Archbishop of Canterbury...

...and in front of many great theologians and church leaders...

...they really will think I have entered the lions' den.

But I am proud to stand here and celebrate the achievements of the King James Bible.

Not as some great Christian on a mission to convert the world.

But because, as Prime Minister, it is right to recognise the impact of a translation that is, I believe, one of this country's greatest achievements.

The Bible is a book that has not just shaped our country, but shaped the world.

And with 3 Bibles sold or given away every second...

...a book that is not just important in understanding our past, but which will continue to have a profound impact in shaping our collective future.

In making this speech I claim no religious authority whatsoever.

I am a committed - but I have to say vaguely practising - Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith...

...but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.

But what I do believe is this.

The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history.

And none of us should be frightened of recognising this.

Why?

Put simply, three reasons.

First, the King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage...

....from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art.

We live and breathe the language of the King James Bible, sometimes without even realising it.

And it is right that we should acknowledge this - particularly in this anniversary year.

Second, just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.

From human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy...

...from the role of the church in the first forms of welfare provision, to the many modern day faith-led social action projects...

...the Bible has been a spur to action for people of faith throughout history, and it remains so today.

Third, we are a Christian country.

And we should not be afraid to say so.

Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith - or no faith - is somehow wrong.

I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion.

And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger.

But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.

The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option.

You can't fight something with nothing.

Because if we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything.

Let me take each of these points in turn.

First, language and culture.

Powerful language is incredibly evocative.

It crystallises profound, sometimes complex, thoughts and suggests a depth of meaning far beyond the words on the page...

...giving us something to share, to cherish, to celebrate.

Part of the glue that can help to bind us together.

Along with Shakespeare, the King James Bible is a high point of the English language...

...creating arresting phrases that move, challenge and inspire.

One of my favourites is the line "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

It is a brilliant summation of the profound sense that there is more to life, that we are imperfect, that we get things wrong, that we should strive to see beyond our own perspective.

The key word is darkly - profoundly loaded, with many shades of meaning.

I feel the power is lost in some more literal translations.

The New International Version says: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror"

The Good News Bible: "What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror"

They feel not just a bit less special but dry and cold, and don't quite have the same magic and meaning.

Like Shakespeare, the King James translation dates from a period when the written word was intended to be read aloud.

And this helps to give it a poetic power and sheer resonance that in my view is not matched by any subsequent translation.

It has also contributed immensely to the spread of spoken English around the world.

Indeed, the language of the King James Bible is very much alive today.

I've already mentioned the lions' den.

Just think about some of the other things we all say.

Phrases like strength to strength...

...how the mighty are fallen...

...the skin of my teeth...

...the salt of the earth.

... nothing new under the sun.

According to one recent study there are 257 of these phrases and idioms that come from the Bible.

These phrases are all around us...

...from court cases to TV sitcoms...

...and from recipe books to pop music lyrics.

Of course, there is a healthy debate about the extent to which it was the King James version that originated the many phrases in our language today.

And it's right to recognise the impact of earlier versions like Tyndale, Wycliffe, Douai-Rheims, the Bishops and Geneva Bibles too.

The King James Bible does exactly that...

...setting out with the stated aim of making a good translation better, or out of many good ones, to make "one principall good one"

But what is clear is that the King James version gave the Bible's many expressions a much more widespread public presence.

Much of that dissemination has come through our literature, through the great speeches we remember and the art and music we still enjoy today.

From Milton to Morrison...

...and Coleridge to Cormac McCarthy...

...the Bible supports the plot, context, language and sometimes even the characters in some of our greatest literature.

Tennyson makes over 400 Biblical references in his poems.

...and makes allusions to 42 different books of the Bible.

The Bible has infused some of the greatest speeches...

...from Martin Luther King's dream that Isaiah's prophecy would be fulfilled and that one day "every valley shall be exalted...

...to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address which employed not just Biblical words but cadence and rhythms borrowed from the King James Bible as well.

When Lincoln said that his forefathers "brought forth" a new nation, he was imitating the way in which the Bible announced the birth of Jesus.

The Bible also runs through our art.

From Giotto to El Greco...

...and Michelangelo to Stanley Spencer.

The paintings in Sandham Memorial Chapel in Berkshire are some of my favourite works of art.

Those who died in Salonika rising to heaven is religious art in the modern age and, in my view, as powerful as some of what has come before.

And the Bible runs through our music too.

From the great oratorios like J S Bach's Matthew and John Passions and Handel's Messiah...

...to the wealth of music written across the ages for mass and evensong in great cathedrals like this one.

The Biblical settings of composers from Tallis to Taverner are regularly celebrated here in this great cathedral...

...and will sustain our great British tradition of choral music for generations to come.

It's impossible to do justice in a short speech to the full scale of the cultural impact of the King James Bible.

But what is clear is that four hundred years on, this book is still absolutely pivotal to our language and culture.

And that's one very good reason for us all to recognise it today.

A second reason is this.

Just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.

The Bible runs through our political history in a way that is often not properly recognised.

The history and existence of a constitutional monarchy owes much to a Bible in which Kings were anointed and sanctified with the authority of God...

....and in which there was a clear emphasis on the respect for Royal Power and the need to maintain political order.

Jesus said: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

And yet at the same time, the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible also provide the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy.

The Torah placed the first limits on Royal Power.

And the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality.

In the ancient world this equity was inconceivable.

In Athens for example, full and equal rights were the preserve of adult, free born men.

But when each and every individual is related to a power above all of us...

...and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God...

...we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights...

...a foundation that has seen the Bible at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery...

...and the emancipation of women - even if not every church has always got the point!

Crucially the translation of the Bible into English made all this accessible to many who had previously been unable to comprehend the Latin versions.

And this created an unrelenting desire for change.

The Putney debates in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in 1647 saw the first call for One Man, One vote...

...and the demand that authority be invested in the House of Commons rather than the King.

Reading the Bible in English gave people equality with each other through God.

And this led them to seek equality with each other through government.

In a similar way, the Bible provides a defining influence on the formation of the first welfare state.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says that whatever people have done "unto one of the least of these my brethren"...

... they have done unto him.

Just as in the past it was the influence of the church that enabled hospitals to be built, charities created, the hungry fed, the sick nursed and the poor given shelter...

...so today faith based groups are at the heart of modern social action.

Organisations like the Church Urban Fund which has supported over 5,000 faith based projects in England's poorest communities...

...including the Near Neighbours Programme which Eric Pickles helped to launch last month.

And St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London's Bishopsgate...

...a building once destroyed by an IRA bomb...

...but now a centre where people divided by conflict, culture or religion can meet and listen to each other's perspective.

In total, there are almost 30 thousand faith based charities in this country...

...not to mention the thousands of people who step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations and yes, as churches....

...and do extraordinary things to help build a bigger, richer, stronger, more prosperous and more generous society.

And when it comes to the great humanitarian crises - like the famine in Horn of Africa - again you can count on faith-based organisations...

...like Christian Aid, Tearfund, CAFOD, Jewish Care, Islamic Relief, and Muslim Aid...

...to be at the forefront of the action to save lives.

So it's right to recognise the huge contribution our faith communities make to our politics.

...and to recognise the role of the Bible in inspiring many of their works.

People often say that politicians shouldn't "do God."

If by that they mean we shouldn't try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party...

...they could not be more right.

But we shouldn't let our caution about that stand in the way of recognising both what our faith communities bring to our country...

...and also just how incredibly important faith is to so many people in Britain.

The Economist may have published the obituary of God in their Millennium issue.

But in the past century, the proportion of people in the world who adhere to the four biggest religions has actually increased from around two-thirds to nearly three quarters...

...and is forecast to continue rising.

For example, it is now thought there are at least 65 million protestants in China and 12 million Catholics - more Christians than there are members of the communist party.

Official numbers indicate China has about 20 million Muslims - almost as many as in Saudi Arabia - and nearly twice as many as in the whole of the EU.

And by 2050, some people think China could well be both the world's biggest Christian nation and its biggest Muslim one too.

Here in Britain we only have to look at the reaction to the Pope's visit last year...

...this year's Royal Wedding...

...or of course the festival of Christmas next week, to see that Christianity is alive and well in our country.

The key point is this.

Societies do not necessarily become more secular with modernity but rather more plural, with a wider range of beliefs and commitments.

And that brings me to my third point.

The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country.

Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, "we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible."

Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love...

...pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities...

...these are the values we treasure.

Yes, they are Christian values.

And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that.

But they are also values that speak to us all - to people of every faith and none.

And I believe we should all stand up and defend them.

Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality.

They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths.

And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour.

I think these arguments are profoundly wrong.

And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people...

...what we stand for...

...and the kind of society we want to build.

First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths...

...simply don't understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.

Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.

Why?

Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.

And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.

Second, those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others...

...fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality...

...or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.

Let's be clear.

Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality.

There are Christians who don't live by a moral code.

And there are atheists and agnostics who do.

But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction.

And whether inspired by faith or not - that direction, that moral code, matters.

Whether you look at the riots last summer...

...the financial crash and the expenses scandal...

...or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world...

...one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn't going to cut it anymore.

Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality...

...has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots.

The absence of any real accountability, or moral code...

...allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society.

And when it comes to fighting violent extremism, the almost fearful passive tolerance of religious extremism that has allowed segregated communities to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values...

... has not contained that extremism but allowed it to grow and prosper...

...in the process blackening the good name of the great religions that these extremists abuse for their own purposes.

Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong.

"Live and let live" has too often become "do what you please".

Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles.

To be confident in saying something is wrong...

...is not a sign of weakness, it's a strength.

But we can't fight something with nothing.

As I've said if we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything.

One of the biggest lessons of the riots last Summer is that we've got stand up for our values if we are to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations.

The same is true of religious extremism.

As President Obama wrote in the Audacity of Hope:

"...in reaction to religious overreach we equate tolerance with secularism, and forfeit the moral language that would help infuse our politics with larger meaning."

Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism.

A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone.

It stands neutral between different values.

But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them.

We need to stand up for these values.

To have the confidence to say to people - this is what defines us as a society...

...and that to belong here is to believe in these things.

I believe the church - and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain - have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this.

I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics.

To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions.

So I don't think we should be shy or frightened of this.

I certainly don't object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics.

Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn't agree with something he's right to say so.

But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn't be surprised when I respond.

Also it's legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance.

I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities.

But to do so it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country.

The future of our country is at a pivotal moment.

The values we draw from the Bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country...

...and you, as the Church of England, can help ensure that it stays that way.

Facing your darkness

Peter Rollins honestly addresses the doubts we all have - priests and people - and challenges us to not only face but articulate those doubts in what we say, speak, write and worship. He is well worth a listen and although I can't go all the way with him - in the sense that I don't really know where it's leading - I think he has some really important things to say to the Church today.

How should we pray?

They asked Abba Macarius, "How should we pray?" And the old man replied, "There is no need to speak much in prayer; often stretch out your hands and say, "Lord, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me." But if there is war in your soul, add, "Help me!" and because he knows what we need, he shows mercy on us."

Relevant Magazine

Just a quick recommendation of a website that may/may not be interesting to Christians who want to think or read about how their faith relates to the culture of today. You may not agree with everything written there - I don't - but there is a lot of thought-provoking material there to get you thinking and talking about the various issues that challeneg us today.

Here is the link: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Importance of Being Obedient

The following is from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and it is a wonderful illustration of the importance of obedience (and faith):

It was said of Abba John the Short that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, "Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit." Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. The old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, "Take and eat the fruit of obedience."

The consequences of not praying

"Let him who does not pray expect nothing whatsoever from God- neither salvation nor renewal no direction nor grace. Rather, he is consigned to the whims and fancy of his own mind, the will of his own ego, and the direction of his own thinking. He is like one who has rejected the intervention of the Lord Jesus in his life, like one who hides himself from the Spirit of God. A man who does not pray is one who is content with his own condition. He wishes to remain as he is and not be changed, renewed or saved. His life unconsciously changes from bad to worse. He recedes spiritually day after day. The ties that bind him to the earth and to the flesh increase without his awareness. His ego remains the source of all his desires and ambitions.

As for his relationship with Christ, it remains only superficial and outward. It has no power to change or amend anything. The possibility to even deny Christ at times of danger, temptation, illness, or poverty becomes imminent.

So if man does not pray, he can never be changed or renewed, and he who is not changed or renewed can have no genuine or effective relationship with Christ. His worship, however active, is nothing but an outward protrusion or a superficial growth. In the end it breaks off, bearing no fruit."
From “Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way” by Fr. Matthew the Poor

Friday, 9 December 2011

Paying attention to the readings in Church

“If a man should come here with earnestness – even though he does not read the Scriptures at home – and if he pays attention to what is said here, within the space of even one year he will be able to  obtain  a  considerable  acquaintance  with  them. For we do not read these Scriptures today, and tomorrow others that are quite different, but always the same section and consecutively. However, in spite of this, many have such an apathetic attitude that after such reading they do not even know the names of the books. And they are not ashamed, nor do they shudder with dread, because they have come so carelessly to the hearing of the word of God. On the other hand, if a musician, or a dancer, or anyone else connected with the theater should summon them to the city, they all hurry eagerly, and thank the one who invited them, and spend an entire half-day with their attention fixed on the performer exclusively. Yet when God addresses us through the prophets and apostles, we yawn, we are bored, we become drowsy.”
St. John Chrysostom: Homily 58 from the Gospel of John

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The lost house of me

“We find that, more and more nowadays, people say to us that life is too individualistic, that their life is too materialistic, that there’s consumerism everywhere and that they’ve got more superficial pleasures in life and yet at a deeper level they are not happy.” Those are the words with which Abbot Christopher Jamison began each episode of the television series The Monastery, a fly on the wall documentary which followed a dozen men around as they spent 40 days in silence, prayer and contemplation at Worth Abbey.

Looking at that description of life in modern Britain today it is easy, as a Christian, to apply it to the many men and women who have no real discernible belief in the good news of Jesus Christ. As a preacher I have used similar words in many sermons outlining people's need to discover their joy and happinness in Christ. But reading them now in the "cold light of day", so to speak, the scary thing is that the Abbot's words actually hit much, much closer to home and apply to me, and I suspect, to large sections of the Christian Church.

How materialistic am I? Looking around my house as I prepare to move I note just how much 'stuff' I have accumulated over the years in books, dvds, cds, gadgets, etc.. And am I really immune from the consumerism that gives shape to our western society and which promises Nirvana when we buy that car or that 3D television? How superficial is my faith? If I am honest, when I move the camera closer and take a deeper look at the real state of my heart, what I see are layers and layers of pretence, falsehood and a rather polished 'Christian' gloss covering the corruption beneath. And am I really happy or does my happiness wax and wane depending on external factors like money, good days and fine weather?

Abbot Jamison has put his finger on a lot more than the ills of society. He has poked me in the chest too and I see that unless, and until, I apply them to me first, then my ministry - let alone my Christian walk - is going to remain crucially flawed. Before ever I say a word or offer an opinion I will already have been disqualified. Jesus once said that he came first for the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24). What about the lost house of the Church? What about the lost house of me?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Contemplative Prayer and following Jesus

"We have been taught as Christians, and presumably have believed, that "we are created for union with God" - but in practice we seem not to dare to accept the full implications of this on a subjective level, to really embrace is as the central truth of our lives. least of all, perhaps, are we prepared to trust that this is god's passionate desire for us. (How frustrating, for the Lover!)

At best, perhaps we vaguely accept that somehow, somewhere, "in heaven," we will come to this union of love. But Jesus' life and teachings concern our lives here and now: "The kingdom of heaven is within you"....Repent, and believe the good news": you are beloved of God! His message is that we love Him in loving one another, and that that love is the love of God, living and loving through us in this world, as its source, meaning and end.

It is this love which becomes experiential in contemplative prayer, and gradually in-forms our lives to become more and more a presence of God's love in the world. That love is not confined to time and space, and exerts a creative power which is the one true source of hope in a world tempted to hopelessness in the face of threatened extinction. It has been bluntly stated, "If you do not believe that evil will be overcome by good" - (or hatred by love) - "you are an atheist."  Nevertheless that "overcoming" will not take its course without us, but through our active engagement with God's love and our surrender to it as the only power that will save the world.

Contemplative prayer is consent to that love. It is not "pie in the sky by-and-by when you die," but part of a lifetime process - often costly and painful - of self-emptying and reorientation to selfless love, i.e., a serious following of Jesus. It is, therefore, vitally important today."
Thelma Hall: "Too Deep for Words." pp2-3

John Wesley and the call to faith

John Wesley was almost in despair. He did not have the faith to continue to preach. When death stared him in the face, he was fearful and ...