Saturday, 12 December 2015

The power of family

A couple of nights ago, my cousin's wife (cousin-in-law?) passed away following a long and, undoubtedly, unpleasant battle with cancer. By all accounts she fought it well and was a wonderful example of the power of the human sprit in difficult times. Her first and, I guess, her last thought were for her family, her husband and daughters, and the daughter who waits to greet her.
 I can't imagine the way her immediate family and her parents are feeling now - I'm lucky enough to have all my parents and siblings around - but the rest of the wider family are feeling a wide range of emotions, numb, pain, grief, relief, and love and support for them all. And that's what got me thinking, and why I felt I had to write something down.

I barely knew Sam, in a first person sense. I met her a handful of times, at clan gatherings, and liked her. She was vital and always smiling, an open and  welcoming person. I live at the other end of the country to all my cousins and, through carelessness, I was out of contact with them for about 25 years. My fault and something I regret. I missed all the usual family stuff - births, marriages, divorces, remarriages, all the normal stuff. I did get some news second-hand, but I neglected them.

 Then Facebook happened - it's becoming a cliche nowadays but when I joined (in order to monitor my children's input!) suddenly all these cousins and 'rabbits friends and relations' appeared and there I was, with a new family again, if that makes sense. Instead of getting news via my mum, who's in touch with everybody, I was getting news and stuff directly, But the funny thing was, apart from not knowing which child went with who for a while, it felt like I'd never been away.

 Sam didn't accept my Facebook friend request - she had more important things to deal with but, and this is my point. I felt her loss just as much as if it were one of my own...because she was one of my own, By some bond I don't understand, I felt that the family had just lost a significant part, and I wept as I prayed as much as her brothers- and sisters-in-law did. I feel an emptiness in my world in the same way. Their loss is my loss and all because she married the eldest son of my dads brother.

 I've never been convinced by the primacy of science, and this is a situation that defies rational explanation, and I know that lots of people don't have a positive view of family, but when it works, it is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and all-consuming forces in this world. It needs to be cherished and nurtured and not, as I did for so long, left in a land of assumption and neglect.

 So, au revoir, Sam. I hope the next stage of your journey through the spiritual multiverse is even better than this one, but be sure that your family will never forget you, or be grateful for your presence within it.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Young people need guidance, not prison

Is it only me? Or is this new policy of throwing away the sentencing guidelines incredibly dangerous and utterly pointless?

Don't get me wrong, I was appalled as anyone by the violence and looting during what are now christened 'The August Riots', but the response to it seems to be just as out of proportion as the original act, so any moral high ground is slipping away.

I singularly fail to understand why we have the mentality that says everyone who does something we don't like has to be locked away, preferably for a long time. Agreed, those who consistently indulge in violence against other people do need to be removed from society for everyones good, but most of the others, the vast majority, need to be dealt with in other ways. Why on earth have the people arrested during the riots simply not been made to clean up the mess they made?! Line some of them up to clear the rubble from the site of the furniture shop in Croydon; make them clear the streets of the bricks and glass that they put there.

Most of the young people who get involved in gangs do so for security, status and something to do. We can't always blame the families - many of them are desperately trying to hold things together in a state of poverty, and no parent, working or otherwise, can be in sight of their teenage children all the time, nor should they be. It is wholly wrong for the chattering classes to blame parenting when they don't know where little Tarquin is all the time either. 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone' comes to mind.

The gang is there when the kids need it to be. Being part of it gives status on the streets, where they live - carrying the badge means you are somebody, not just another statistic. The gang, often controlled by criminals in their late 20's for personal gain, gives them things to do, even if many of those things are illegal and often violent. They get money and can get the 'stuff' they constantly being told that they need in order to be fulfilled.

The advertising industry is constantly looking for more and more ways to get into everyone's lives. Nothing, no social network or simple game, can be developed without the marketers looking for an angle, so we can't be surprised when the first thing they did was to acquire the things they had been told they needed.

There is a bigger picture and it is true that they have no hope. Nobody wants to educate them properly - they are forced to follow a middle-class 'National Curriculum' that does nothing to prepare them for work, and, at the higher level, prices them completely out of the market. As a result, nobody wants to employ them - employers seems to be obsessed by overstating the paper qualifications required, probably because the mass migration to University has cheapened all the qualifications down the line.

Sending them to prison for a few weeks/months can only have a negative effect. They won't receive any education or remedial support in there - they aren't there long enough to qualify, and anyway, the Prison Service is being cut to such a level that the service they provide is rapidly disappearing backwards beyond the Victorian establishments. What benefit is it to take a young man and coop him up for 23 hours in a 3m x 4m concrete box? How will that benefit him and the society he inevitably has to return to? All that will happen is that a large group (gang?) of very angry people, with a lot of pent-up energy and emotion, will be released back into the very place that they came from. I suppose that, by then, the media and politicians will have moved onto something else and won't be bothered.

We have a cultural 'to-do' list of jobs - hedges that need trimming and laying, instead of smashing up with primitive mower blades, canals that need clearing up to make into attractive and positive resources, general weeding and litter-clearing from our towns and villages. Jobs that weren't done in good times and certainly aren't even considered during these hard times. So many jobs that need doing, and a huge resource of people who need to be made to do something positive.

Giving them stuff to do, and using prisons as 'overnight accommodation' with, perhaps, some form of 'citizenship' education, will stop them hanging around getting into trouble. Being visible to peers and wider society would be punishment enough for image-conscious young people but, more importantly, it would be a positive recompense to the communities they have rebelled against.

By over-sentencing them, there is a danger that the more manipulative among the gang leaders will realise the power they have been given. They can terrorise the communities and society at large by simply inciting kids to throw bricks at the Police and smash a few windows. Their power will grow at every incident and the young people will look to them for guidance, instead of the preferred options. These kids look at the Police and Government and read about phone-hacking, expenses-fiddling, stories of abuse and privilege and they wonder why this is being promoted as the right way to live. If everyone is trying to get their noses in the trough, then why shouldn't they?

We have to look at another way of enabling these kids to have respect for the authorities and an understanding of the citizens place in a reasoned and democratic society. Firstly we have to make these institutions worthy of respect. All we seem to do is to recycle the same old arguments over and over again, and the young people feel more and more alienated from a greed-based society that they can't access.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Holy Spirit

I have been convinced that the person of the Holy Spirit should be referred to in the feminine, due to Her position as the life-giving creative force within the Godhead.

Scripture is fairly clear on this as, in the language that Jesus spoke, Aramaic, the word for Spirit is ‘ruach’, and is feminine. It is also feminine in Hebrew and in Greek the equivalent word is neutral. It is only the later translations, in a male-dominated society and church, that all three persons of the Godhead are addressed as male.

God, when He became aware, begat his Will, which we call the Son, and that which was the Life of God, we call the Spirit. We see this reflected in the conception of a child. At first it is one mass of cells – body, mind and spirit are completely one – the closest we ever are to the true likeness of God – then it separates into mind and body, permeated by spirit and becomes aware.

If Man is made in the image of God it is not unreasonable to extrapolate backwards to get an idea of what God is like. We are all made up of a balance of masculine and feminine. The balance is more one way in men and a different way in women.

Given that we are spiritual beings, inhabiting a physical body, the deep-seated understanding of God has been there throughout all our generations and from the moment of conception. People throughout the ages have ‘instinctively’ worshipped the creative life-force, an innate understanding that we came from somewhere for a purpose. All cultures have shown that life-giving creative force as feminine – Earth Mother, Shakti, the ‘cult’ of Mary within Catholicism. It seems completely illogical and unreasonable that we should be different

We have always recognised the creative power of women, it has been feared and revered throughout creation. The feminine is a flow of life, in and around everything, like a river – indeed, we call it the Water of Life – but, like a river, if it is not controlled or kept within bounds, it becomes wild and anarchic and ultimately, self-destructive. The masculine will was put in place by God to place limits and a control on that flow. It’s like placing stones in a river, standing firm and keeping the flow in order. It is the case that women can strike up a common bond between themselves, regardless of culture and background, connecting that flow of spirit, in a way that men are virtually unable to do.

To consider the Spirit as feminine has always seemed completely reasonable and right to me. It makes complete sense of a lot of what I have understood about life. It demonstrates that masculine and feminine, male and female, men and women, are not the same. That they have hugely different and complementary roles to play, all to be played out in a totally self-giving love. Women do not have to strive to be like men, they have a gift that they share directly with God, to create life and love unconditionally. Equally men should not be like women, but can stand in confidence, like the person of Christ, providing a loving security and order on the formless flow of the Spirit.

It explains why God created the institution of marriage, not as a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His Church – marriage existed long before that relationship, although it is a useful illustration – but rather as a reflection of the love of the Godhead. Love that is totally self-giving, love that has to be given or else it becomes a possession and corrupt, that allows the creative force to flow within the bounds, and to create the life - a reflection, albeit slightly blurred, of how the Trinity came into being.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Twelfth Night

Christmas is over for another year. We mark it with the festival of Epiphany, the coming of the Wise Men to see the infant Jesus, which is one I struggle with. Not that they forsaw the event and recognised it's significance and decided to go, that seems fairly clear-cut. I think the recent BBC Nativity mini-series portrayed that really well.

No, my problem is that we give it the significance we do. Surely it was one of man's great mistakes? I suspect that the writers and subsequent translators have white-washed that part of the story because it involved 'important people', just the same as we tend to do with royal stories nowadays.

The Bible counsels us in several places against astrology, there are verses in Exodus, Kings and Isaiah pointing us away from it but not because, as so many churches preach, it's rubbish and doesn't work. Rather the problem is that it DOES work at a 'global' level, although not necessarily at the 'you are going to meet a tall dark handsome stranger and lead a life filled with love and riches' level.

God created the universe as a whole, as part of Him. It is an extension of Heaven, which is in turn an extension of the Godhead, so it must reflect, albeit in a diminutive state, the perfect and complete nature of God in its structure, from the smallest atom to the biggest supernova. So it is reasonable to assume that if we look into the skies we can see the 'bigger picture'. That's what the Wise Men saw several months before the Nativity actually happened, and the fact that they turned up in the right place at more or less the right time demonstrates that the truth is in the heavens.

I firmly believe that Jesus' birth was planned to be a low-key affair. A baby is vulnerable and the son of God was always going to be a target, as we see from the reaction of Herod, prepared to commit one of the grossest acts of infanticide in history to try to get rid of him. The birth couldn't go completely unrecognised, so the only 'official' announcement of the birth was to a bunch of shepherds on a hillside. No-one respected them and anything they said about the events of that night would be largely ignored by the authorities, but the birth would have been marked, as any child's birth should be recognised and enjoyed as the special act of creation it so clearly is. From then, once Mary had recovered, they would have gone back to Nazareth and led a normal life until Jesus was ready to begin His ministry.

From the moment the Wise Men arrived on the scene, there was trouble. They told the King, with the awful consequences of his advanced paranoia, and had to be warned in dreams not to go back to him to tell him the location of the baby. Their actions meant that the holy family had to undertake the arduous journey to Egypt for their own safety. Because the Wise Men had disobeyed God's guidance they did what anyone who knows the future eventually does, they changed it, and then left others to pick up the consequences of that change.

The giving of gifts started as a recognition of the gifts they brought, so they are also, indirectly, responsible for the commercialisation of Christmas, something that makes it almost impossible to come to the birth of Christ with a quiet humility, in awe at the generosity and vulnerability of our mighty God; after all, there are cards to write and shopping to do, and all the wrapping...

So pardon me if I don't rave about the Wise Men.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Where is the love?

Is it me, or is the world becoming more polarised and full of hate? I keep seeing TV programmes and reading Facebook posts condemning people on benefits, labelling them all as cheats and scroungers. The papers, especially those run by Murdoch, are full of overt, and more subtle, pieces giving a negative impression of anyone who is a follower of Islam, or has a middle-eastern-sounding name. Children are all trouble-makers hanging around street-corners scaring old ladies, church ministers are all paedophiles...there is this constant and all-pervading generalisation about people, or groups of people, almost always giving a bad name to that group, except soldiers, who are always 'heroes', as though killing people was good. Politicians are all corrupt, bankers are all earning massive and unjustified bonuses.

We have lost sight of the individual in all this. The state and the mass media can't cope with individual personal circumstances, so it has to group people together and tar them all with the same brush, and to possibly find something good to say about any of those groups...well, that would cause most editors to lie awake at night shivering with fear that the thought had even entered their minds. Even heroes have to be exposed and brought down on the slightest pretext.

I think that one reason we have lost all sense of reasoned proportion is that we no longer have any concept of right and wrong, we have thrown out all the 'rules' that used to give us a base-line to build a moral code upon. Our moral code is now built on sand and old copies of the Daily Mail. The truth has come to be whatever you want it to be, regardless of the impact on anyone else, right and wrong are accepted as being purely subjective. We are constantly told that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, which is right, but it has been developed from that to assert that everyone's opinion is right, is truth simply because they utter it, which is quite patently nonsense.

It isn't possible to have a true understanding of a situation if you are inside it. A group of soldiers can commit horrific acts but genuinely believe that they are just following orders and carry no responsibility. Families can get themselves into awful situations but can't see how bad things are. Neither can see the truth because they are part of the problem - they are inside the corruption and all they see, hear or feel is tarnished by that. It needs someone from the outside to say stop.

In the local community we have hierarchies - family, neighbours, social services, the Law - who can see from outside what the problem is and guide those involved to a better place. But they too are human, and are within their own corruption, blinkered by their own situations, stresses, personalities. So we all have limitations on understanding and declaring the truth. We need some rules that are for the wider and longer-term benefit of everyone. These rules have to have some flexibility in their application - the client group, humanity, cannot be defined as one of the 'categories' I mentioned earlier. It is a collection of completely unique and special individuals who, if they had been created by a spontaneous and unplanned act of nature, would all be constantly competing for survival without regard for any other unique individual.

What we seem to need is an understanding and acknowledgement that there is someone who stands outside our existence and is able to define absolutely what is right and wrong, to have an overview and an understanding of the nature of humanity and the ultimate purpose of its existence. That person is God, or Allah, or whatever your culture chooses to call Him. He stands outside a creation that He has caused to be made, and has given us rules or guidelines on the right way for His special unique people to co-exist and grow into the fully spiritually complete beings He originally envisaged, and envisages.

He refuses to categorise His unique beings into groups, islands of humanity cut off from each other, fighting to retain their 'territory' or influence. He has created a unity of uniqueness, everyone looking after everyone else. All of humanity acknowledging but putting aside apparent differences because, if everyone is unique then no-one is different.

We have to recognise that He is the only one who can give us that base-line to build our moral code upon. There is an absolute, a common morality that pervades all of humanity and creation, and that is the self-giving love of God flowing through us all in the form of the Holy Spirit. If we all conform to the 'Law of Self-Giving' then I am more than certain that the terrible, painful and unnecessary polarisation and division of families, communities, religions and countries will cease and maybe the media and political world will begin to be useful.

It has to be worth a try.

Monday, 12 July 2010

It is so sad to see the news that the Church of England is heading inexorably for a major schism between the 'liberal' and the 'conservatives' over gay clergy and women bishops. It's a pity they can't emulate their fellow label-carriers in national government. In fact it is a damning indictment on the Church that a secular body is more able to compromise than one for whom love is the only reason for its being.

That being said, I am not altogether convinced that compromise is possible and, if that is the case, why waste time and stress trying to achieve it? God doesn't do compromise - you believe or you don't - agnosticism is not really a valid option. CS Lewis argued that case far more succinctly than I in 'Mere Christianity'. I am/was looking to Dr Rowan Williams as a leader, not merely a negotiator, in this instance.

I can see that he wants to keep the worldwide Anglican Communion in one piece - it's his job! But I think he has to take a position that he is convinced is right for God's people, then say that is what this group of God's people accept and believe,and if you don't like it, then you need to leave this group.

It is a fact that the Church, the Body of Christ on Earth, is divided into increasingly untenable small groups, in direct disobedience to God's word to be as one body, reliant on each other to provide different functions - an eye, a finger, a leg etc. Nowadays every itinerant preacher with a message feels the need to set up their own church or 'movement'. God wants to return to His body, but all He can see at the moment is something out of an end-of-series CSI mortuary - lots of useless bits. He's not going to return - He can't return - until His Body has been reunited into one, or we build a new one. Maybe, as we are obviously not there yet, we have to break down the Church into smaller and smaller chunks until, just when they are barbecue-sized, someone says 'this is stupid! Let's get back together and focus on the things that bind us, not the things that don't!' Then, and only then, is there a chance of experiencing the true presence of God amongst us.

I'm not sure where I stand on the issue of gay priests. Homosexuality is an aberration, of that there can be no doubt - no organism would naturally develop the means of its own demise, that's contrary to all natural law, but most gay people I've met (not many, admittedly) have been very nice people and, I'm sure, in a position of pastoral ministry, would do a terrific job. God loves everyone, even those who have made a 'different' lifestyle choice - in fact, given Jesus' ministry, it could be argued that he loves the outcast, the misfit, more than the 'mainstream'.

The priests I have heard of in the news have, it seems, all been exemplary examples of good priesthood, worthy, in any other situation, of promotion to a high level. I can't believe that God would have called these people into the priesthood without knowing them. Maybe He's testing us to see how we react. Love is always the right answer in anything to do with God. We have the question, and we know the answer - all we have to do is put in the 'working out' to get from one to the other.

I do think that the priests involved have a duty not to prosletyse about their sexuality, not because it is to be 'swept under the carpet', but because they want to be accepted as 'ordinary' and 'ordinary' heterosexual priests, generally-speaking, do not go on about their sexuality. They just be it.

The women bishops issue I find a bit confusing. If we have women clergy, and we have had that debate for good or ill, then we should accept them at every level. If you believe that women should be ordained into ministry in the same way as men, then the argument is already done and dusted.

Dr William's compromise was always doomed to fail. He was trying to have a foot on both stools which were sliding away from each other. His added pressure is driving them away from each other more quickly and he is the one who will end up falling between them, with both of them out of reach of each other and him.

My prayer is that this probable schism will be a positive opportunity for all Christians to begin to look at what binds them, not what drives them apart and, if we focus on God and His love, we will find a way to move forward together and become one Body, fit to receive our Lord.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Dear Fellow Christian

I have a problem. It’s a big problem and I have decided to share it with you, because that’s what Christians do, pass their problems on to other, usually far holier and spiritually-aware, people in the hope of a simple answer.

Anyway, my problem is this…life. That’s it, life and faith…my two problems are…no, this is turning into a Monty Python sketch. I suppose a summary of the problem is too much life and not enough faith.

Life begins at six-ish in the morning, getting up, making packed lunches, sorting out battles over the shower, taking children to sundry educational establishments then getting to work on time. No room for God there then! I sometimes have some peace, during the holidays when nobody else gets up, but I use that time, not for deep spiritual thinking, but for making myself some breakfast for a change, and perhaps the luxury of a shower as well! Sorry God, but I need this time.

Then it’s work, and I have heard the talk about being a Christian in the workplace, and praying for the people around us, but that bloke in admin is such a pain! Always on about football, and how drunk he got the other night! I do try to pray for him, but it’s usually through gritted teeth! And the lady in accounts, now I know I’m a lot older, and married but, well, you can look at the menu, even if you’re not going to eat! She is so good-looking and dresses so well and…stop it! That’s the other thing, distraction. If I do get some time to myself that coincides with feeling a bit holy, the phone always rings and bang, we’re back on the mill.

Life is too full. When I get home it’s tea, and all the conscience-searching about whether I’m eating ‘ethically’ or ‘healthily’, the battle of the homework, helping them do it even though you shouldn’t but you want them to achieve more than you did, the News on TV – what would Jesus do or say about that? Then it’s bed. Now all the books, right back to Christopher Robin, say this is when we should say our prayers, and people at church often talk about their bible reading notes and the huge revelations they get from reading them. I do try, sometimes, but there are so many thoughts rattling around my head – family, work, bills, the noise the car was making on the way home – that sleep comes as a blessed relief.

And bible study, what’s that all about? I know that God inspired the writers, but he also inspired CS Lewis and St Francis of Assisi – He sent one of the Seraphim to him, which puts him above most people other than Jesus and Isaiah! So why spend precious time reading something that was written for a peasant peoples in the Middle East over 2000 years ago. There are times when it should be studied, and bed-time is not it! Actually I’m really struggling with the Bible. Most of it is completely irrelevant to our understanding of God – it’s all about the activities of the Jews. Okay, they were His chosen people, but they’re not anymore. If I understand things right, we all are. The Jews were the vehicle for bringing the world into a close loving relationship with God, then they were the people who were the home for the Messiah when it became necessary to send Him. And they killed Him thereby denying themselves any right to be called Special and condemning them to a life of paranoia and conflict. But most of the Old Testament is just their history, and there’s a limit on what we can learn from that, anymore than there is from the First World War or Gibbons’ ‘Decline and Fall…’.