Thought for the Week 2011 Archive
Thought for the Week 25 December 2011
Prayers at a Crib
Christmas comes and is instantly gone. Its celebration starts in November and before, but once it has arrived it disappears almost immediately from view and our attention is pointed towards the Scots Hogmanay. Such is our media driven world. The twelve days of Christmas are not kept; rather the searchlight switches. Whereas it would be well to look, if we will, at a crib not yet dismantled, in church anyway, and consider more fully the events which heated activity displaced before the event and which the High street sales bid fair to displace afterwards. We do not spend enough time at rest. That is the true bottom line.
Thought for the Week 18 December 2011
Nature and Nurture
The debate between nature and nurture as the source of our character has ebbed and flowed. Once, the human psyche was regarded as a tabula rasa, a clean slate. It was not that the mind was a library waiting to be stocked with books; the library itself had to be built. Talk of genes altered all of that. We carelessly talk about any action or thought as being the result of the form of our DNA. It has become a cliché. The source of our Lord’s divinity was the subject of, doubtless, cruder speculation in the past which centred on his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ancient speculation and doctrinal formulation now compete with or are supplemented by modern genetic or psychologically-based comments, some better supported by fact than others. All relate to the conviction that human beings appear, however freely and autonomously they claim to live, as children of their parents, biologically and socially. Mary, the mother of our Lord, is still a source of thoughtfulness as well as wonder which only sectarian bigotry ignores
Thought for the Week 10 December 2011
The Selflessness of St. John
Most of us enjoy talking about ourselves. It is the subject on which we are best informed and gives us a greater degree of control over the conversation. Likewise, clergy who do a lot of visiting know that one way of putting people at their ease is to ask them about themselves. Questions must not be too probing or personal; people must be allowed to choose how much they wish to reveal; but it does allow free rein to the propensity of some people to self-advertisement.
Thought for the Week 3 December 2011
Spiritual Gifts Old and New
History has undergone a popular revival in recent years. As ever, it is very often used as a lens by which to look at ourselves. ‘They were like us’ we want to say, as a means of bolstering our own view of ourselves. The very strangeness of those whose views might challenge ours is resisted. The recycling of history is not new. Indeed it forms part of the process by which scripture was written.
Thought for the Week 27 November 2011
The Wrath to come
It seems at first sight a good idea to start again: turn over a new leaf, wipe the slate clean, whatever metaphor you want. ‘O that you O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’ says Isaiah. The state of the world is ill. It needs more than a tinkering solution; it needs a radical one.
Thought for the Week 20 November 2011
Christ the King
Everything is political. We say nothing without purpose. The church is no different. The feast of Christ the King which we celebrated on Sunday was an invention of the Catholic Church in 1925, a statement following the wars between nation states, that Christ rules and overrules human kind. It was in particular a response to the rise in Italy of Benito Mussolini.
Thought for the Week 13 November 2011
Remembrance and Resolution
The wars of the last twenty years, in particular those following 9/11, have revived the practice of Remembrance. It has also seen a decline in pacificism. The Great War had left a legacy of horror which endured until recent years. Joan Littlewood’s ‘O what a lovely war’ musical was probably its apogee. The trenches were vile, the war unnecessary, the carnage intolerable. Only recently have revisionist accounts produced inconvenient facts that British soldiers were well-fed, spent a maximum continuous period of six days in a month in trenches, never more than thirteen in all and much was learned which reduced casualties by 1916. Worse, from one point of view, recently discovered poems by the war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, find him in good spirits about the war.
Thought for the Week 6 November 2011
The kingdom of mercy and truth
The month of November, in church terms, used to come to an end with the last of the Sundays after Trinity. But the appearance of Remembrance Sunday during the last century and the, the increasing emphasis on the saints and on issues of death and bereavement so interrupted the flow that somewhere, perhaps providentially inspired, the idea emerged that the four Sundays before Advent should have a special character. All Saints was optionally moved to the first Sunday, with its stress on the community of saints in the kingdom of God; the second or third Sunday placed the emphasis on the kingdoms of the world; the last Sunday had already been named the Feast of Christ the king by the Roman Catholic church.
Thought for the Week 30 October 2011
The necessity of Trust
Churches are human institutions and therefore exhibit the flaws for which human interaction is notorious. They are also divine institutions, called to be embodiments of the divine life, charged with bringing the good news of God’s will to humanity. The mistake is always to believe that the latter aspect of the church can be revealed cheaply. It cannot.
Thought for the Week 23 October 2011
Truth and Falsity
Contrary to what it often thought truth and falsity are not opposites. Falsity often lies to close to truth as to masquerade as what it is not. Julian Barnes, in his new novel The Sense of an Ending has the following statement, “the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss”. Now it might be responded that the purpose of life is quite other: to enjoy ourselves as much as we can, to make other people’s lives happier, to perpetuate the species, to glorify God that we may enjoy him forever and so on. In a society in which death is so marginalised, its rituals removed from view, it is possible to ignore it much of the time.
Thought for the Week 9 October 2011
It may come as a bit of a surprise that Jesus doesn't always take pleasant people as the characters in his stories. Sometimes he asks us to draw from wretched behaviour the message which he wants to put across. The wedding feast of the king's son is a case in point. Those invited display not merely lack of courtesy but cavalier brutality to the messengers who have been sent to invite them. The revenge taken by the king is out of proportion. Alas, this is all too human. It is not unusual for people to use new occasions to settle old scores and to respond to slights with actions which are gross compared with the original act. Wars have been begun from football match results. More domestically we can all think of disportionate reactions to words or actions where a calm disposition would have prevented harms which can be difficult to heal.
Thought for the Week 25 September
Back to Church
John Gray, who is an unbelieving philosopher, argues that the contribution of religion is its marking of events through its rituals. Shinto, the major religion of Japan, has no doctrine or any evident belief in God, but its rituals are a massively significant aspect of Japanese life. Sometimes words get in the way. We are, as a believing philosopher once noted, wondrously adept at misusing our capacity for speech. What is presented to others as a well-based opinion is often nothing of the sort. We are most concerned with winning not with finding the truth. Our speech, even when not marked by dissimulation, is so often self-absorbed. Meaning often lies in the performance of familiar rituals which express what we not able to in ordinary speech.
Thought for the Week 18 September
Justice and Generosity
The world is unfair. People thus often speak of the need to reduce the level of unfairness by various means: by redistributive taxation and by compensatory action to assist the poorest, the disabled and the vulnerable. Meanwhile, however, the so-called laws of supply and demand and the suasions of power work in the opposite direction: those who can command higher rewards receive them. Freedom and justice apparently work in opposite directions. Greed exercises its peculiar force
Thought for the Week 11 September
Laughing is not enough
A man, walking down a street late at night, sees another man on his knees under a lamp post evidently searching for something. ‘What have you lost?’ he asks. ‘I dropped my wedding ring’ he replies. ‘Where did you drop it?’ ‘Oh, over there’ says the kneeling man pointing down the street. ‘So why are you looking here?’ ‘This is where the light is.’
Thought for the Week 4 September
Death is not nothing
'Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the comer.’
Thought for the Week 21 August
Peter’s Confession and ours
The confession of Peter – that Jesus is the Messiah – in the gospels reveals both insight and blindness. If we think we have a clear idea of what the Messiah is, we have Matthew to thank. Having Mark’s words in front of him he adds the words ‘the Son of the Living God’. Messiah means ‘the anointed one’ in Hebrew, the Greek for which is ‘Christ’. It derives from the idea of kingship, hence the other title ‘Son of David’; but the kingdom is that of heaven. Again, that Peter is to have a central role in the proclamation of Christ’s kingdom and in declaring its spiritual realities – binding and loosing – is central to Matthew’s account. Christ’s kingship is that of heaven which shall rule over earth.
Thought for the Week 14 August
Riots and Devotion
The riots in our cities over the last few days have produced the usual rash of explanations and accusations in the press. This column makes its very small contribution. The first stage is to reach for our pre-conceived solutions. These rarely involve any self-criticism, rather accusations against others. Attacks on acquisitiveness and godlessness, bad and absent parenting, combine with criticisms of those pleading for traditional values. Doubtless it is premature to pass judgement on the causes of the riots; it is not long since a serious newspaper pronounced that we were not a broken society at all.
Thought for the Week 7 August
Making friends is easy. Keeping them is the difficult part. Initial politeness followed by the courteous taking an interest in what the other person does, whether by work or play, coupled with collaboration in common interests makes for the beginnings of friendship. Add a favour done or an act of kindness shown particularly when the other was in some difficulty or other and the bonds are beginning to cement.
Thought for the Week 31 July
The Weakness of Conscience
One of the major features of our modern consciousness is our belief that we are our own masters. We are not primarily to be described as a husband, a wife, a partner, an engineer, a teacher, a farm worker or a priest. All of these are options which, if we cease to be so describable, leave us still a person. We are primarily individual selves. Belonging is a choice.
Thought for the Week 24 July
Prayer produces physical results. Like all forms of mental activity it actually alters the way the brain works. The work of brain science confirms something which was always known – practice makes, if not perfect, then certainly progress. Those who train in any discipline, from playing the piano to learning the lay-out of the streets of London by apprentice taxi drivers, actually effect an alteration in the physical structure of the brain. The areas which store information and the neural pathways by which connections are made are changed by what we do and what we try to learn. The improvement in the operation of neural pathways enables connections to be made more readily, instantly and without conscious effort.
Thought for the Week 17 July
Image and Reality
In just ten years ‘some extrapolations’ show the Church may not be ‘functionally extant’ according to a speaker at the weekend’s meeting of the Church of England General Synod. More bluntly, the church will no longer exist because its existing members will have died and no one is replacing them. It has been said before. The death of the church has been promised many times and we are still here.
Thought for the Week 3 July 2011
The decisiveness of Thomas
We may envy Thomas. He may have been rebuked because he did not believe until he saw but his meeting with the risen Christ was the answer to his complaint. We, in our generation, share his view that seeing is believing. We have, indeed, taken Thomas as the saint of our generation. In Finland, the youth service which takes place each Sunday night in one of the Helsinki churches is called the ‘Thomas mass’. It speaks to a generation of doubters.
Thought for the Week 26 June 2011
Humans: mere machines or souls to be saved?
We know a huge amount more about the human body and in particular about the brain these days. Knowing more means, for some people, that we are well on the way to having it cracked. Roy Porter, who wrote a history of medicine thought otherwise: Our knowledge is huge, he said, but it is like the stars on a clear night in the countryside: what we see is mostly blackness. So the idea that we are nothing but soft computers, our brains nothing more than hard drives and processors did not appeal to him. Raymond Tallis, a neuroscientist in a recent book agrees. To ask where consciousness resides is to ask the wrong question. It is like asking where my spoken words are. They emanate from my mind via my mouth and become fading oscillations in the air. This explanation however says nothing about the communication of ideas from mind to mind which is what speech is for.
Thought for the Week 19 June 2011
Living the Trinity
The increasing interrelation between different parts of the globe has the effect of increasing our ability to make comparisons: Chilean as against Australian wine; holidays in Antigua compared with Turkey; Christianity against Islam.
Thought for the Week 12 June 2011
A Pentecostal Community
Whitsun, Pentecost as it is now called, is the guts of religion. It tells, not about the works of Providence in bringing about a world or about the entry into that world of God in the form of a brother and a friend, but about the passion, the fire, that makes life worth living. It is faith at its most expressive.
Thought for the Week 5 June 2011
The everlasting work of Christ
Pictures of heaven do not easily translate into earthly situations. They can only be a reflection of life on earth. Where has Christ gone, he who was raised from the dead and is now ascended into heaven? Why, he has gone ever to make intercession to the Father for the sins of the whole world.
Thought for the Week 29 May 2011
A Larger World
The small world in which we live and work and play is peopled by those whose lives are entangled with ours. They are, for most people, the people who matter: our families and friends. These are the people who colour our view of the world, who cheer us, whose ill fortune makes us frown or weep. Partings are not what they were, what with Skype and webcams; that we reach across continents electronically testifies to the importance of such links. Our lives are focussed on the personal which, as a result, sometimes seem fragile before the great events of the world. Most of those things, whether wars or tornados, tsunamis or acts of terrorism do not affect us directly; news of them, which arrives daily through the media nevertheless tends to lower our spirits and makes us believe that the world is indifferent to us.
Thought for the Week 22 May 2011
The Mystery of Death
If you ask a question and the answer sounds silly, you will lose your respect for the answerer. Bad explanations to difficult questions cause harm to the cause. Apparently this is one of the reasons why some Christians ‘deconvert’, in other words, lose their faith.
One of the central areas of controversy is life after death. Funerals themselves are not occasions for theological disputes. There, people want to believe. This sometimes means that they themselves offer incredible explanations as to where mummy has gone ‘she’s a new star in the sky’; but because they themselves don’t really believe the story it has no traction. And when they are told incredible stories their faith is eroded. One story, apparently for adults, runs like this. A sailing ship sails off to the horizon getting smaller and smaller until it disappears. Meanwhile it is travelling to another shore whose inhabitants see it getting bigger and bigger. The ship itself remains constant, only moving through the water. Dying is a horizon. Really?
Thought for the Week 15 May 2011
Following a shepherd
If someone attempts to enter your house through a window you have some reason to think that they might be up to no good. You can tell who the shepherd is: he enters the sheepfold by the gate. The sheep recognise the shepherd but run away from the thieves and bandits. Well, that may be true of sheep who know where safety lies; those who would find safety should follow the shepherd; but it is not clear that many human ‘sheep’ know where safety lies. The parable jumps from the observable good sense of sheep to the questionable good sense of human beings who allow themselves, according to the parable, to be led astray.
Thought for the Week 8 May 2011
The Breaking of the Bread
‘They recognised him in the breaking of the bread.’ The quotation seems purpose made for Catholics of whatever colour. Two disciples, not of the twelve, encounter the risen Christ while walking the road to Emmaus some miles outside Jerusalem. They do not recognise him; he responds to their talk of rumours of an empty tomb by telling them that such things were bound to be. They are promised in the Scriptures from Moses onwards: that the Messiah must suffer before being glorified is plain. What begins as a conversation eventuates in a meal. Here they recognised Jesus. And he was gone.
Thought for the Week 1 May 2011
The costly triumph of love
The royal wedding has clearly lifted the nation’s mood. It is true that some pundits have been earning their money debating the future of the monarchy and its legitimacy in the life of a country, at once multi-cultural, liberal and yet actually in some ways deeply conservative and addicted to grandeur and romance. Many people, meanwhile, whether particularly conservative in their lifestyle or not, enjoyed the day. Street parties may have been less in evidence but the clear focus was the ceremony and its aftermath. Where else would one be but looking at a screen? If you were lucky, your community had hired a large outdoor screen and you could picnic in the sunshine to watch.
Thought for the Week 24 April 2011
The Easter Holiday
‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and on those in the grave bestowing life’; thus cries the Orthodox proclamation and, as it happens Easter as celebrated by the western church coincides with the observances of the eastern orthodox church this year. It doesn’t often happen. Yet how wonderful it is to rest upon these words as the declaration of our faith: a holy and happy Easter to all.
Thought for the Week 17 April 2011
Humanity and Holy Week
Holy Week is the most intense part of our year. It is the time when we tell the story without which, to put it crudely, the Christian show could not have got on the road. In a culture, still in good part, rich and leisured, we are nevertheless voyeurs of a world in pain. We hear and read so many stories. This one is supposed to be the epitome of them all: Christ at once triumphant and defeated, adored and betrayed, the leader once the focus of the hopes of the people become the butt of derision. For Christians, however, it is not just another story. Its overplus is the contention that God is in this place. Those who follow the Lord through the days of mounting tension – the secret betrayal, the final supper, the final moment of decision and the arrest in the garden of Gethsemane; who stand afar off, in imagination of course, as the forgone conclusion of his trials are heard; those who follow our Lord on the way of sorrows to the cross, and wait prayerfully for the seeming silent God to speak: these folk see God anew.
Thought for the Week 10 April 2011
Passion and unbelief
The battle of words between the ‘new atheists’ and Christians shows no sign of letting up. The intriguing development is of mutual attacks between atheists. Lord Rees, the astronomer, who has just accepted the Templeton Prize for his contribution to religion, is, he says, a tribal Christian who has no personal belief. He has been accused of betrayal by those who regard religion as corrosive to sensible thinking and generally bad for people.
Thought for the Week 3 April 2011
The Costliness of Motherhood
The relationship between mother and child is fundamental to our survival let alone our growing up to maturity. But although Mothering Sunday has become Mother’s day in the view of most card manufacturers, in the UK it is still kept on the mid Sunday of Lent, not later in the year as in the States, and hangs on somehow to being a religious occasion.
Thought for the Week 27 March 2011
Reflections on a farewell
The church and the village have just said farewell to their parish priest. Our vicar’s long incumbency has seen quite dramatic change even in this sleepy village. He and his wife brought up their four children from infancy to adulthood, who thus went to local schools and became enmeshed in the social life of the village. The family was, almost unbelievably, the first for nearly 100 years to have done so. There have been children in the vicarage more recently but they have stayed five years at most. Many people in the village remember no other priest.
Thought for the Week 20 March 2011
The Desert Struggle
Lent has two foci: Jesus in the desert at the beginning of his ministry; Jesus’ pathway to his Passion. Its forty day length derives from the former but, liturgically at least, we pay scant attention to the desert experience.
Thought for the Week 13 March 2011
Keeping a good Lent
‘The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.’ So St John describes the world in which he lives, and our world too; a world in which the acquisition of goods is a daily possibility, in which one can see whatever one wants to see – albeit sometimes on a screen but often an air flight away – and where the self seems pre-eminent.
Thought for the Week 6 March 2011
The Ubiquity of Conflict
As we come to the season of Lent, we are to look again more deeply at our own spiritual state and our prayer life in particular. We are enjoined to simplify our lifestyles, pay attention to godly things, set the world’s agenda a little on one side.
Thought for the Week 27 February 2011
The Prayers of the Comfortable
The present generation of retired folk, the so called baby boomers, have it pretty well. Somebody we know has just come back from somewhere sunny or is about to go there. Holidays pattern the year, meals out are a pleasant diversion, pastimes of various kinds –some more vigorous than others - bring us into contact with others of our age. Local projects and voluntary activities in the community take up spare hours. In answer to the question, how long will it last, sufficient answer is given that we feel pretty well at present and detailed planning for the future only takes us a year ahead. Even friends with cancer may be managing it reasonably well; health checks are routine for all.
Thought for the Week 20 February 2011
God and Morality
Mary Warnock, a famed philosopher and social commentator has just written a book with the title Dishonest to God. In it she argues that morality cannot be based upon religion and in fact should be separated from it. When thoughtful and clever people say things, it is wise for Christians to take notice. On the other hand, they may be rather surprised. Is not much of religion, from the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount about how we should behave?
Thought for the Week 14 February 2011
Civil Partnerships in faith?
A civil partnership is not a marriage. The contention of some people is that it should be and the law changed, a matter on which the government has just declared itself. The argument for change derives from the principle of equality: that institutions which are open to men and women should be open to men and men or women and women. Equality trumps all other arguments on this view.
Thought for the Week 6 February 2011
The Salt of the Earth
‘You are the salt of the earth’. It’s a phrase that still gets wheeled out occasionally, though it has more power as a compliment directed to someone rather than as a description of them to others. Jesus compliments his disciples with it.
Thought for the Week 30 January 2011
The Gift of Conviviality
The story of the Wedding at Cana, often read at weddings, is really about the signs which Christ performed – it is the first – and also a sign of what he himself is. He is the one who is able to turn the water of duty and necessity into the wine of delight. His is the vintage which will last.
Thought for the Week 23 January 2011
Conscience and Equality
A couple who run a bed and breakfast service decide that they will only let double rooms to married couples.· They refuse to provide the service to a couple in a civil partnership.· They are taken to court and damages are awarded against them.·· The press describe them as a Christian couple which undoubtedly is their religion.· What are we to make of this?
Thought for the Week 16 January 2011
The Lamb of God
If one were recommending a gospel to an enquirer, it might make sense not to start with St. John.· It is often said that his is the most spiritual gospel. It is also the least realistic.· By that is meant that it more like an icon: it makes a demand of us rather than asking us to observe and make a judgement. More frontally than the other gospels, it invites our submission.
Thought for the Week 2 January 2011
Change and Hope
When the divine purpose makes itself present in the world of men and women, it would be surprising if it did not upset a few things.· God, who created all things made them to make themselves which would sometimes produce events which aligned with his loving purpose, but often times would not. The mixture of good and evil is what we see as we look around.