Don’t let the Fall get you down

imagesI enjoy autumn. It’s the colours of course, but also the cooling in the air and the change in the light.

There’s a hillside of trees near our home and showers of leaves cascade across the fields where squirrels dash in and out of the undergrowth and above lines of birds head south. Wonderful.

The Fall is starting.

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Prayer and Prophecy

signpost-517941__180In my last post I noted my sense of poignancy on learning that Kenneth Leech had died on the day Jeremy Corbyn was elected.

It seems to me a strange coincidence. I do not know whether they ever met. I do not expect that they would not entirely agree politically but they were, I think, likely to find agreement in their socialism and distaste for Capitalism.

For me Kenneth Leech was the voice of socialist challenge rooted in the catholic stream of the Anglican. His death marks the departure of a highly influential man from the second half of the last century. Carl McColman has written a fine In Memoriam.

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Leftie vicars hold services of thanksgiving for Jeremy Corbyn

empty-churchSo have they? At the time of writing I haven’t heard of any. Maybe they’ve happened in secret or this matter of thanksgiving was mentioned obliquely in the Intercessions last Sunday.

And that’s just it. When the Church does politics it does it obliquely. It rarely strays from what anyone could agree with or at least those who are qualified as centre-right or centre-left. In this age of Christian consumerism it would be a determined Church leader who braved the despair and wrath of their congregation and hailed the (second) coming of the first socialist leader of a mainstream political party since Harold Wilson.

So come on you leftie clerics; you’ve got what you’ve prayed for; let’s have some applause and praise and prayer in the congregation.

Ah, but not that’s how it’s done is it? Apart from a few like Giles Fraser and Kenneth Leech who died on the day Corben was elected Christian political involvement is more about nuanced commentary and compassion rather than excited political protest or celebration.

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He spoke fluent human!

Charles_Peter_KennedyIn a fond article Alastair Campbell used the arresting phrase – he spoke fluent human – of Charles Kennedy. He was bidding farewell to a friend and political sparring partner who had died prematurely at 55.

Kennedy had a long parliamentary career as a Liberal and often spoke firstly from principle than pragmatism for which he was widely respected.

To speak fluent human is a gift. Charles Kennedy was a heavy drinker and had a full share of the griefs and burdens that come to us. But this does not qualify you to speak human. He spoke in this way long before the turmoil that afflicted his later years.

It is a gift born out of the realisation that we are no more than human. No matter what our background, status or achievement we come from dust and to dust we will return. To speak human is an act of humility.

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The mistake they made was to pray to Jesus

Kenya University AttackAl-Shabab militants deliberately found and killed Christian students at the Garissa University in Kenya it has been reported this week.

I wondered how they knew who were Christians. Student Reuben Mwavita described what he saw. Three female students knelt in prayer before the gunmen and Reuben commented: The mistake they made was to say ‘Jesus please save us’, because that is when they were shot.

I find this overwhelming. I am humbled and appalled. I know little about African Christianity but people whom I have met from that part of the world have impressed me with the intensity and directness of their faith in God. Prayer is not a few grunts at the beginning of the day. It is woven into the material of daily life.

Devotion to Christ has exacted a terrible price. Their voice is now silenced but they still speak. They speak into the prayers of people all over the world who mark Easter Day as a signal event for their faith. In the words of an unknown author:

Resurrection is the touch of God’s hand on my scars and the invitation to breath again.

Like their Lord they did not raise their voice against their slaughterers.

May they rest in peace to rise in the new earth and new heaven; and may those of us who are left who pray in the same name never take the gift of faith for granted.

 Photo: Khalil Senosi/AP

The Berlin House of One

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There will be no survival of our globe without a global ethic:

There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the nations.

There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue and cooperation

Among religions and civilisations.

Hans Kung, Dissident Roman Catholic Theologian

Willi Gude was a deacon in the Baptist Church in Great Missenden in the 1970s. He didn’t come from Buckinghamshire. He had been a German prisoner of war in England during the Second World War and stayed on to marry a local girl, Evelyn. They never had children and are both buried in the Baptist graveyard in the village.

Their relationship had been a brave step by both of them. They did not have an easy time in their early years together. Willi was a gentle soul and would talk of his regret that he was never allowed to become a bell-ringer at the local parish church because of his nationality. He came eventually to the Baptist church where he spoke up for any chance for Christians to work together.

He used to speak of his home church to which he had never returned because it was in East Germany. It had a special building specially designed so that both Lutherans and Roman Catholics could worship.

I thought of Willi as plans for the Berlin House of One have emerged. I am not sure what he would have made of such place where Jew, Christian and Muslim had their own space in one building but I think he would have approved of the vision. His wartime experience had enlarged his heart and widened his horizons – helped along by a Buckinghamshire girl who was a cook for at the big house up on the hill.

 

There are only two pathways away from conflict. One sows the seeds of the next conflict by half-hearted reconciliation. The other strikes out in an impossibly hopeful new direction and has the courage to not look back. The latter was Willi’s pathway. And may the blessing of Willi Gude be on the efforts of the rabbi, imam and pastor both within and beyond Berlin’s House of One.

Image: Getty Images via BBCOnline

But it was not worth it

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In the week that Fiona Shaw completed her final performance of Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary at the Barbican theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral announced the arrival of ‘Martyrs’. This is the first of two video installations by Bill Viola and Kira Perov that will enhance the power of the St Pauls to explain what faith makes people do. The full title is ‘Martyr (Earth, Air, Wind Water)’ and depicts the agony and death that each element can inflict on a martyr. Intriguingly the other video will be about Mary.

Tóibín’s Mary is a severe, grief stricken mother deeply distrustful of what has become of her and her son. His name she cannot speak; for he had inflicted too much on her and for little good that she could see. The play ends as it begins with a wry, cynical questioning of his followers’ claim that the death would change the world.

Twice Mary says: it was not worth it. What he endured, what she suffered, was too high a price. But in the second saying of it there is a hint of a question. But it was not, worth it?

Martyrs raise the same question. There are always people who believe their death will make a difference. There are always those who believe that their death is the cost they will pay for what will change things for good.

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Father Frans of Homs

He refused to leave. He knew his place. It was his home.

He refused security. He knew his task. They were his people.

He refused safety. He knew his God. They were His people.

Jesuit Father, Frans van der Lugt had lived in Syria for nearly fifty years and refused safe passage out of the city of Homs. A brief cessation of conflict at the beginning of the year had meant that there was an opportunity for him to leave with the young and wounded but he refused.

He stayed in his monastery to serve the small number of Christians still in the city. He explained his rejection of evacuation in these terms:

‘I don’t see people as Muslims or Christians. I see a human being first and foremost. I am the shepherd of my flock’. Continue reading