Honest Christianity: what is the best style of Government for our time? Not the right question!



Paul writes: when we look around the world and reflect upon history, we find there have been many ways humanity has sought to govern itself; Communism, Monarchy, Theocracy, Autocracy, Democracy, Republic, Oligarchy, Authoritarianism, Totalitarianism etc.

In the Western world, Democracy, has been chosen and valued by many countries as the most just and liberating form of government. The power of the population to choose their leaders in a fair and transparent manner.

It is not just recent occurances that have brought in to question democracy being the highest, final answer, pinnacle of human flourishing. The realities of the gap between rich and poor, double standards, nepotism, prejudices, oppression, valuing the 11th commandment – don’t get caught etc have shown the weaknesses of even this empowering style of government. Questioning, to raising concerns leading to protest and cynicism has lead many to question is this the best we can do? The clear warning, “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it”, is a sobering reminder of what can happen when we have to live with the consequences of our choices of the majority.

If many of us were to play Top Trumps over other forms of government exercised around the world, Democracy might still win with commonly held western values. When we observe the individual and corporate treatment of humanity, the spectrum of restrictions to outright oppression, it is understandable. We may have critiqued and assessed the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism within our democracy. Many of us may not be sure of all the answers but we have an equally growing dis-ease and confidence that we have not peaked, finished our journey towards our highest form of government for humanity to be we can be?

What else do we need?
Humbly I would suggest in addition, we always need value based leadership. Practiced humility, integrity, respect, desiring service over power, transparency, owning mistakes, fairness, courage over reputation, honestly, justice over personal wealth, embedded in individuals and all levels of governance and application of policies, is how to address the inadequacies of even democracy. I am not minimalising the complexity of local, national and world wide issues, but surely, we have enough evidence that even good policy is not the whole picture. What type of person, the virtuous nature of the individual, do we want in our leaders?

My hope for humanity is that the majority of us will put more value into values and virtues of our leadership. This is how the Kingdom of God can reign even in the midst of oppression.

Have I left any values and virtues out?


Honest Christianity: New Year commitment – vicarious Pride



As regular readers will know I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. What I do is have a thought, a focus for the year.

This year I was inspired by a story in the news today; 30 years ago 2 chaplains were involved in early Irish peace talks. An Irish government document reveals inmates, members of the IRA’s so-called army council told two prison chaplains that it was prepared to talk to the UK government.

My immediate response was pride to be a member of the same vocation as 2 chaplains that sought to encourage enemies to talk to each other. Wow, what a contribution to stopping decades of killing. Peacemakers in the places of conflict; prophets, speaking truth and forgiveness to power and hatred. Vulnerable beatitudes in the liminal places. Thank you chaplains for your inspirational courage.

I reflected upon the feeling I articulated as pride, not normally associating this as a positive personal virtue. Pride is referred to as a deadly sin, but it is also understood as a suitable feeling about personal achievement. Sally has been writing about vicarious shame and this got me connecting the 2 concepts together. Vicarious pride, pleasure in someone else’s achievements.

For 2021 I am going to focus on having more vicarious pride in other’s achievements. To be more vocal about other’s accomplishments. To celebrate other’s individual and team attainments. This must contribute to the encouragement of others, building positive self image, might even readdress some of the deficits of 2020. Now that would be worth doing!

Peace and hope for our times,
Paul


Advent Honest Christianity: Your very flesh shall be a great poem




Not sure I have ever thought of the Incarnation, the birth and life of the human Jesus as a poem. The following poem encourages me to reflect in such a way.

Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons,
and with the young, and with the mothers or families,
re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book,
and dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words ….

This not quite the beatitudes or the Narzareth manifesto but there are some resonances with the mission and life values of Jesus. There are many phrases that I think bring fresh perspectives, which ones struck you; hate tyrants, dismiss whatever insults your soul?

Many of us are frustrated by those who deny covid-19 or its severity. Some of us struggle with those who believe the conspiracy theories. How should we treat such people? I was asked how things were at the hospital, I said many are frustrated with deniers when we see so much evidence, such pain. My approach is to act graciously and gently with such folk, for who knows why they believe such things. It seems ungracious to imply what I am doing is “stand up for the stupid and crazy”. Today we call out people’s behaviour, not personalised labelling. But our frustrations are real.

Whatever irresponsible behaviour happens to us, injustices we observe, our response is never helped by personal hatred or even despisement, but always a gracious poem of incarnational patience and love. Yes, I know it hurts, but that is perhaps how Heaven felt with the sacrificial gift to us.

Preface to Leaves of Grass (excerpt)
Walt Whitman

Peace and hope for our times,
Paul




Covid-19 Honest Christianity: what is essential?

In the current lockdown (Nov 2020) shops in England are only open for essential goods. Now, I am sure we all think we know what “essential” means, food, drink, healthcare, diy, plants! I understand there are some exceptions. In certain shops that sell food and medicine, the must haves of life, there are aisles that sell other things, perhaps not normally assessed as essential. Obviously, I put coffee beans and cake in the former category!

The covid-19 obvious reflection is, what do we essentially need? Individually, corporately, societally? Most of us have figured out that many of the essentials we need to survive and thrive cannot be purchased, during covid-19 restrictions or at all. To love and be loved is what is essential reflection to me. But I confess that several times in my life I have thought or been tempted to think that what I really needed was in the middle aisle. Honestly, as well as feeling frustrated by the restrictions, we are also pleased to contribute to essential virtues of individual and corporate safety and well-being. Most of us have realised that we only have the capacity for so much deferred hope, what is also essential are a few safe treats, from whatever aisle!
Peace and hope for our times,
Paul

Covid 19 Honest Christianity:. Suffering is inevitable


The author, Nicholas Wolterstorff, was mentioned on the radio this morning. It was not a name I was familiar with, and having spent some time reading his story, I am disappointed to be coming to him so late.
He was mentioned in Radio 4’s Sunday worship, on the theme of it’s complicated. Very sadly, his son died in his twenties in an accident. I found this quote from the book he subsequently wrote insightful and moving:
“But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much, though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer”.
This is very close to the pastoral and theological perspective I bring to my bereavement care, “it hurts so much because you love so much”, just not so eloquent!
In my staff support work, I am preparing a resourcing session on building resilience about being prepared. It encourages people to imagine their very worst, deepest fear happening and then thinking about what we can do about it now.  Suffering will inevitably happen to all of us. If you take Wolterstorff as a truism to the nth degree, then we would desire a life of lots of suffering because we want lots of opportunities to love and be loved! One of the resources we can have to build resilience, is to expect it to happen and become prepared for it, mentally, emotionally, practically. Mine is managing finances if something were to happen to Sally. My main problem is, her telling me where the money is in the meantime! Perhaps, there is only so much preparation we can do, but I am trying!
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

Honest Christianity – lest we judge

(Paul writes) When we look back on historical oppression and prejudice: slavery, apartheid, treatment of children, women, disabled, unmarried pregnant women, segregation etc, we can be judgmental and incredulous as to how people thought such things were acceptable or even Godly.

I regularly reflect upon what future generations will think about the conduct, normalisation of my generation such as
abusing natural resources, materialism, consumerism, neglect of the disadvantaged, unbalanced life work balance, rushing around, greed etc

Might this be an even longer list of we include things of which we are complicit, turned a blind eye, did not challenge, do anything about, protest etc

Perhaps I will look back and think I should have come closer to being seen as an agitator, arrested, counter cultural, viewed with suspicion with who I associated with, or not associated with.

When teaching about such matters, I read and get students to contextualise “First they came for the….” Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany. There are several versions, but this is one of the most popular.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

For the past 15 years I have speculated with students that I expect the UK could name immigrants in this list. Who or what else should be on this list? Planet Earth?

My hopes for what I hope we are wrong about now for the future; a more effective system for real democracy, less consumerism, at least the questioning of capitalism as a given, refing rates of pay for professional sports players, community and individual responsibilities exercised as much as rights.

They say hindsight is a wonderful thing. But we have right now the Biblical principles and values of justice, mercy, compassion, love, care for the marginalised to address these now with current sight and courage.

Honest Christianity – when faith hurts


Paul writes, a friend of ours was on an online conference with this title last week. It is an excellent example of the values of Honest Christianity.

Sadly we are all to familiar with stories of abuse by Christians, even more tragically including Christian leaders. This physical, sexual, emotional, physiological, mental, spiritual abuse has been historically less acknowledged but more recently, rightly, well documented. An enormous slight on us as supposedly people of a faith of love and justice. I was brought up on a discipleship of, “there is only one thing worse than sin, and that is lying about it”. We welcome meaningful, ownership, apologies, reparations, in open dialogue with those we have hurt.

Going forward, I am mindful of those we have hurt and damaged by our regular teaching and pastoral care. What we have espoused as the authorative word of God about “not having enough faith”, “God’s retribution”, treating others with unkind words, offering a lack of grace, compassion and welcome. Being tired, frustrated, good intentions are not justified reasons. Expressions of faith have hurt others. We must also own and apologize and stopfor this type of hurt.

Is this not also abuse? I see this most frequently about how we have taught each other about suffering and mental health.

I am so sorry to those I have done this to. To stop doing it is my commitment to you and all of God’s people.

Honest Christianity – facing up to prejudice

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I am doing something that I have not done in the first 7 years of doing a weekly blog, I am re-posting one. I went to write something and thought i would check if i had written on the issue before. This is what I found and thought it was an interesting reflection that it seems to sadly stand the test of time.

Does this picture influence your opinion of me? Does knowing I am a Chelsea supporter make you feel more or less kindly disposed towards me or do you just not care about football? One of the questions I wrestle with is “Are all human beings inherently prejudiced?” There have been a few news stories this week (and most weeks) that have strongly suggested that one faction of humanity thinks ill of another and the immense tragedy that arises out of this. While many of us do not act on some of the thoughts and feelings we have, I sometimes find that you don’t have to push people very hard to find that sometimes we think well of ourselves and ill of others. As much as there is to wonder at the positive capacity of humanity we seem to be hard wired to look out for ourselves and our own. But what is so unhelpful is the temptation and sometimes tendency to scapegoat individuals or groups and to talk about them and treat them as less than.

I am persuaded that we are all inherently prejudiced. It may not be about the big things that most often get raised such as racism or sexism but our first response when we see someone reading a particular newspaper or book, the labels on their clothes, the drink they order in the pub, their hairstyle, weight, height, pet, car etc. Because of the very strong reactions certain sorts of prejudice (rightly) gets it then becomes very difficult to own up to our own as it opens us up to judgement – so often a case of the speck and the log (Matthew 7.3-5).

It is helpful to be aware of our tendencies and weaknesses in our attitudes and reactions to others, it is then very difficult to delude ourselves that we are not inherently prejudiced. Once we can acknowledge this we can be constantly vigilant as to the temptations we face. Our God is a God of love and our attitudes and actions need to mediate that in a world which sometimes seems to be far from loving. Surely there must be a way in which to deal with that which threatens us and with which we disagree without either violence or violation being the consequence?

Honest Christianity: Fruit of the light of which we have been made for and from

fruit hh

This was a thought around the fruit of the Spirit that I found while preparing for our Pentecost Sunday service today.(9 of us shared on one fruit each, very inspiring). I thought it really caught the essence of the fruit of the Spirit as we think about being filled and refilled with the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

By our fruits we will be known. Actions? Naturally. Words, yes as well. When speaking out against injustice, owning up and taking responsibility for past mistakes, sins, oppression. This is the potential for the quality of the light that can shine from us reflecting our God and Kingdom in whose image we are made, Jesus as the Light of the World and the Kingdom of Heaven here now on Earth.

If we want to know what we should be doing and being, let’s try being loving, kind, gentle, good, the list goes on, so can our light.

Honest Christianity: is this how the Church is seen?

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This is another picture from our recent holiday in Cornwall. It is of a low tide in St Ives harbour.

I have the utmost respect for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute)their volunteers are full of courage and sacrifice to help save those in danger at and in the sea. But this image did amuse me. I obviously don’t know why this boat was in the harbour during low tide, I am sure there were other boats available for this piece of coast.

As a fan and disciple of theological reflection, I am intuitively asking what insights of the Kingdom might I find during my everyday. This picture prompted me to think about how the Church is perceived. Is it there for for those in need but not really in a position to help? Is the Church seen as being beached and immobilised, looks fine, and ready, but unable to help because of where it finds itself. And even if it so afloat, is it only for those in danger for their life?

Thankfully so many Churches are so engaged in our local communities, these are non questions. We are serving, supporting, integrated into normal lives as well as there and ready when life gets difficult. We are seen to be important, valued and called upon for those in need.