Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Peace-loving defiance......

I am writing this following announcements last week of an intended new generation of anti-missile defences, being considered by USA, UK and Europe. Son of Star Wars is a missile system intended to intercept possible nuclear missiles from rogue states or terrorist extremists. Scotland and Yorkshire are the most feasible sites for this new generation of defence hardware, if it is to be situated in the UK - a possibility at present being dismissed by 'those who know'. No one doubts that we live in an unsafe world; and that security is a key priority of all governments who can afford it.

But linked to this defence system are inevitable offence systems, and there are strong arguments and cogent reasons for asking whether this is simply another rationalised level of proliferation. I don't pretend to understand military strategy, the undercurents and sub-plots of political and international tensions. And no doubt there is 'credible intelligence' of a real threat, or in the jargon, 'clear and present danger'. But I am still sceptical, unable to trust the media who report what the government purports to be the case. How many exclusive exposures are orchestrated leaks? Anyway, recent history of 'dodgy' intelligence dossiers on weapons of mass destruction(WMD), of dubious defence budgets linked to bribing scandals, of permastain allegations of deception against senior politicians from Prime Minister to Lord Advocate, has created a climate in which trust does not flourish.

Isaiah of Jerusalem knew a thing or two about weapons of mass destruction, and about the erosion of trust in the integrity of the powerful. The sword, when wielded by a ten thousand strong professionally hardened army was the preferred WMD of the ancient world. And Isaiah, seeing the devastation of his home city, saw also a different future, not yet - but coming, when Jerusalem would be a centre of healing and wholeness, of blessing and benediction, of law and liberty, attracting the nations through the magnetism of promised shalom.

This Lent, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for the peace of our world's great cities. Cities are centres of population, and therefore frontline targets for those who walk the ways of war, terror, and destructive violence, those forces that erupt from the fears, hates and enmities embedded in our fallenness. Isaiah 2. 1-5 is an antidote to those visions of the future that fear the worst; the passage is an exercise in hopeful imagination.
Again, I've written three Haiku verses in the classic 5x7x5 form, as respectively, condensed hopefulness, daring invitation, and peace-loving defiance:

Isaianic Haiku

Walk the ways of God -
the politics of shalom
make peace the new norm.
Swords into ploughshares -
weapons for food production,
not mass destruction.
Double negative,
"We won't study war no more".
Future positive!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

MLK on temptation

You can't stop birds from circling overhead, but you can stop them nesting in your hair.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Killing Word/Ressurecting Word

In a definition usually associated with preaching, but applicable to the total life of Christian witness, it is said that 'truth' is 'mediated through personality'. Truth is mediated through 'self'. Yet in the Lenten pattern this 'self' needs to be that which rises from its death caused by an encounter with the transformative 'Word'.

Lischer: 'The prophets are universally annihilated by a conversation with God, only to reappear as powerful individual performers of the word on God's behalf. They do not lack a sense of self', (The End of Words, p. 35)

Jesus: 'Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it'.

Paul: 'For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh'.


Lord, in the embers of
annihilated self
May your killing Word
With resurrecting power
Bring to life...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

lent and advent archives

I've archived all the past lent and advent blogs, for anyone who wants to read.

advent 05

lent 06
advent 06
lent 07

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Symbols and Difference

This Ash Wednesday, I went to the College Chapel for the service. The sermon was about religious symbols; in a secular society, there is no place for outward symbols of faith. If, however, we are trying to live in a 'religiously diverse' society, then there is space to be different, and to celebrate our religious identity.

I had the ashes 'imposed' upon me in chapel, and we were challenged not to wipe it off until sunset. So I didn't. And I'll be honest and say that I did feel like a bit of a muppet walking around London with a big black cross on my forehead. But I also think it was a valuable exercise.

Being conscious of people knowing that I am a Christian (assuming most people recognised it) made me act a little more carefully. I felt less inclined to shout abuse at the bus driver who didn't stop for me, despite having space on the bus. I felt less inclined to aggressively force my way onto a full Tube carriage, and less inclined to take a seat when elderly people were around. Wearing an ashen cross didn't miraculously transform me, but it did make me conscious that I was suddenly representing more than myself as I walked around.

People looked at me very strangely. Elderly people knew what was going on, and I heard one older lady say to her husband "oh, it must be Ash Wednesday already... do you remember..." Being looked at like you're mad by people who have never heard of this practise could probably get you down, eventually. When I was on the Tube, I shared a knowing smile with two Muslim girls sitting opposite me who were wearing head-scarves. On the Bus, later, I shared a similar smile of solidarity with a Jewish man wearing the Kippah. Wearing outward symbols of faith is an everyday occurance for these people; I suspect that being looked at strangely is also part of their daily experience. I think it was very valuable to experience that, to place oneself in their shoes for a while, and to be able to empathise, just a little bit, with what it is like to be 'different' in our culture.

Friday, February 23, 2007

of football shirts and Buddhist monks

Two things during this first week of lent have got me thinking. Firstly was a story from my minister at our weekly church staff meeting. the night before he had gone to see wolves play ipswich (he's a wolves fan) ... and had been struck by the back of a shirt he saw with 'we 8 the albion' on it (there is a bitter rivalry between wolves and west bromwich albion). The story of this supporter's life (and probably many other supporters) was one of hatred and it was an unashamed hatred. Dave, my minister, wondered what was written on the back of our shirts? Is it a story of hatred or a story of grace? Is it a story of selfishness or a story of generosity? The season of lent is a call to assess our spiritual lives, to ask ourselves what kind of story does our life tell? Does our life reflect the image of the God made known in Jesus Christ?

The second thing was a visit by a local Buddhist monk to a colleagues RE lesson. If I think about kind of story this man's life was telling, it was one of simiplicity and contentment. Buddhist monks shave their heads and where simple robes in order to not get attached to passing fashions. A Buddhist monk will eat breakfast and lunch and then not eat again until the next day. A Buddhist monk will daily meditate and study the dhamma (the teaching of the Buddha). The simplicity of this monk's life (similar in many respects to the life of christian monks) and the focus on practising the middle path of buddhism was powerful example. Lent is a season to practise simplicity and to detach our lives from that which pulls us away and distracts us from the christian life. One of my favourite Stanley Hauerwas quotes is 'discipleship is quite simply extended training in being dispossessed. To become followers of Jesus means that we must, like him, be dispossessed of all that we think gives us power over our own lives and the lives of others' (The Peaceable Kingdom, 1983, 86). I pray that I might find a more simple life that more deeply reflects the life of Christ.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ashes for beauty

Last night at my church we had an Ash Wednesday Service to mark the beginning of lent. We focused on the story of the womon caught in adultery. (John 8.1-11) I could blog about all sorts of things that came out of it, but I want to focus on the final few words.

Jesus said, "then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin." We have such a loving Lord that despite the wrongs we do he gives us a chance to change our sin for something much more beautiful. We were each given a pot of ash during the service to remind each of us that we are sinners - then at the end as we listen to Ashes for Beauty by Kathryn Scott we had our ash exchanged for a flower.

As we approach Easter - and focus on God during lent remember two things. One you are a sinner and two your sin has been exchanged for beauty in Christ's death and resurrection.

God bless.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Isaiah, Haiku and subversive no-saying

Isaiah 58 is a stunningly straightforward critique of religion gone rotten. The prophet catalogues those attitudes that turn religion into just another service industry dedicated to the haves, the always comfortable, the never hungry. Over-indulgence is by and large our way of life in the affluent north and west. Consumerism is the preferred idolatry of our times.
By contrast fasting, not having, not buying, not spending, is an act of subversion in a consumer culture, a demonstration of self control as critique of self-indulgence. Consumer self-indulgent religion was Isaiah's target then; his words still sting with relevance now.

The call of God to the church bearing witness in a society where poverty is at best tolerated and at worst unnoticed, is to subversive no-saying. Fasting is such no-saying enacted; it is a periodic policy of non-co-operation with those systems and powers that bind chains of debt, that rely on overindulgence whether food, clothes or technology, and that are expert in the arts of exclusion, and in those transactions that clothe the rich and strip the poor.

Recently I have begun to write Haiku - I'm attracted to the constraint and sicipline required to write within a tightly controlled form. In a world awash with words, Haiku compels an economic, verbal stringency - in counted syllables, 5x7x5, the poetic form embodies Lenten resistance to waste, even wasted words.

Lent Haiku
Isaiah 58.6-7.

Un-Fairtrade coffees
Solder chains of injustice,
To weigh down the poor.
Food for the hungry!
Enough not obesity!
Slogans of freedom.
Embrace the stranger.
Welcome asylum seekers.
Veto exclusion!
Clothing the naked,
In garments of dignity,
We dress humanity.
Liberating Lent!
Costly hospitality!
Isaianic fast!