Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sorry! Couldn't resist!

Ships that pass

Homosexuality was raised again in a homily I heard this morning. The priest criticised the Church for its attitude to homosexuals citing the story of Jairus' Daughter and the woman with a haemorrhage as examples of the acceptance of Christ for all people. However, he said nothing to indicate which particular attitude of the Church to Homosexuality was detestable to him.

If I've got this right, the Church says nothing detestable about homosexuality, the doctrine is: being a homosexual is not a sin, fornication is a sin. Homosexuals are acceptable to God, those who reject Him as King refuse to accept Him and thus render themselves unacceptable. I agree that the issue is not black and white, but there is a clarity to which some folk blind themselves.

The priest also went on to say that Christianity is not a set of rules. How right he was - it's one single Rule, the Rule of Christ. We therefore have duties of obedience to His teaching. Christ condemned sin strongly - we ought to hate it so much that we would rather rip off parts of our own bodies rather than fall into it. Christ also gave us the Way to live despite our sin - follow Him His way. If that is not a rule, I don't know what is.

Of course, the issue is ripping the Church to pieces. I find myself reading the account of the shipwreck in Act xxvii.

And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.

And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive. And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat: Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven. 18 And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship;

And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.

But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day. And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.

And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea. And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.

And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoisted up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore. And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves. And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

It's quite fascinating if we see the ship as the Ship of the Church. How, during the storm, the sailors tried to hold her together with ropes, binding the hull, casting out all that was not nailed down, including the tackle and so on. Why did this crisis occur? Because those in control of the ship decided to sail a dangerous course at the worst possible time for their own convenience.

We see the sailors try to flee the ship, letting down the lifeboats ready to cast away from the storm-tossed vessel, yet they heed the voice of St Paul telling them to stay together otherwise they won't be saved. Interestingly, St Paul doesn't make it clear whether all had to stay on board in order for everyone to be saved. If someone had left the ship, would that have doomed everyone? The text doesn't answer that, but it does in my eyes draw attention to the many splittings that are occurring within Anglicanism and the slow disintegration of the Roman Catholic Church in the light of modern storms. It raises the question of the house divided against itself falling. The Church should stand all together or not at all.

I firmly believe that the Church needs to stay together in order to be the vehicle of salvation. Look what happens to the ship. The prow is wedged fast and unmoveable, the stern is ripped to pieces. One could draw parallels with the wise man building the house on rock and the foolish upon the sand, and it does seem to suggest that those who stick to the core traditional and orthodox doctrines of Christianity and remain unmoveable, whereas those who do not find themselves going through the greater ordeal of fragmentation and disintegration.

There is still much to be positive about. The Eucharist is present by which all are nourished. All make it to shore safely floating on bits of the ship. God's promise is that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church. I take that as a positive sign, that the Church does have a future as the vessel that carries all aboard to Salvation through the wounds of Christ. I just hope and pray that God sends us a decent shipwright very soon.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Christ in casuals?

That they may also ascend: Marcus Cornish’s new bronze statue for Our Lady Immaculate and St Philip Neri RC Church in Uckfield, East Sussex, shows Jesus in billowing contemporary clothing, defying gravity, looking down at and reaching out to all who enter the church.
What do you think?

Storm in a chocolate bar wrapper.

Homily preached at Eltham College on 5th June 2009 based on the fourth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians verses 17 to 32.

It’s break time.

Of course, after a double period of P.E.
with your Games Master making you run
from here to the Lake District
and back
in lead-lined wellies,
your stomach feels as empty
as a Big Brother Contestant’s head
and is just as noisy.

you have prepared for this eventuality:
in your bag is a King-size Twix.

So you find yourself
a spot in the quad with some friends,
take out your Twix from your bag,
open it up…

And woosh, it’s gone!

Snatched out of your hand
by an 11 year-old interloper!

Before he disappears
around the corner at Mach 7,
you can see him stuffing
your break-time snack into his mouth.

How are you feeling now?






What awful thoughts of retribution
are crossing your mind?

Catch the boy, rip off his arm
and beat him to a pulp with the wet end!

Ritually behead him with your shatterproof ruler!

Do something else even nastier with the ruler!


But bear in mind,
you’ve got to use that ruler later in maths today.

Certainly these are inventive thoughts,
but what are you going to do really?


There doesn’t seem much you can do.

Your Twix has gone forever.

That boy has vanished
into the group playing Manhunt on the field.

All you are left with
is the rumbling of your stomach,
and the rumbling of your seething fury
at what has just ruined your break.

But why are you angry?

Well, duh!

Because someone has stolen your Twix.

Yes, but why does that make you angry?

Perhaps you are angry
because you are hungry after P.E.

You had legitimately purchased something to eat,
and now it has been stolen from you.

You feel cheated, outraged and still hungry.

The conclusion is that
you want to retrieve what is rightfully yours
which you can’t seeing that
it is now little more than a load of goo
inside another boy’s stomach.

You want exact some sort of judgement
on the perpetrator of this most diabolical of crimes.

But what judgement do you want to exact?

some form of ridicule?

We know that violence in revenge
achieves very little of any worth.

We know that hatred just builds up
more hatred until violence seems inevitable.

Ridicule creates more ill-feeling
and resentment.

how confident are you that,
in this situation at your most angry,
you can administer justice
fairly, proportionately
and appropriately?


We could try turning the situation around.

What motive does the boy have
for stealing your Twix in the first place?

It could be for a laugh.

Granted, you don’t find it at all funny.

In fact,
it does say something very tragic
about a person who believes
that stealing from others should be funny.

Surely he is less someone to get angry with
and more someone to be pitied.

It could be that he’s hungry,
just like you,
but hasn’t had the wherewithal
to buy his own Twix.

It could be
that he has other issues in his life
which lead him to commit acts
which are socially unacceptable
– and Twix stealing is certainly

Again, would that not mean
that he is in need of help,
not vengeance?

Or else,
he’s just too lazy or mean
to get his own Twix from the refectory?

Why should that bother you?

After all, laziness and meanness
bring about their own punishments in life,
and you aren’t lazy or mean, are you?


St Paul says: "In your anger do not sin":

Do not let the sun go down
while you are still angry,
do not give the devil a foothold.”

That’s the trouble with anger.

If it isn’t expressed rationally,
but rather purely emotionally,
it rampages like a fire
and causes damage.

When we are angry,
we need to step back,
out of the situation
so we can see the bigger picture.

That takes an awful lot of self-discipline,
but it’s worth learning.

It seems that it is often easier
for young folk like yourselves
to learn this than many adults.

If you’re unemployed,
then it’s easy to be angry at seeing
“foreigners” coming in and “stealing” jobs.

If we give in to the emotion,
then we end up
seeing valuable contributors to our society
as evil.

It is emotions like these
that the far-right use to stir us
into acts of bigotry and racism.

It is possible to be angry justifiably,
whether you are the victim
of a happy-slap chocolate-snatch,
or whether you are angry
at the way the Ghurkhas have been treated.

we mustn’t confuse our passion
for fairness,
justice and liberty
with an uncontrollable emotion.

Like Joanna Lumley,
we can use the energy from our anger
to find rational,
peaceful and effective protests
in order to get our point across.

What we have to get rid of
very quickly
are the feelings
which threaten to consume us
and lead us down paths
of negativity and destruction,
impairing our judgement
and sense of fair play.


Twixes come in twos
– hence the name Twix.

You could offer in future
to give one away
to the very boy who has caused you
all this anger.

you say,
“give me one good reason
why I should share with him.”

Can you give one good reason why you shouldn’t?