Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Monday, December 24

I was moved by this

Love and loss

Wow!  Maybe if your follow the link and read it, it won't strike you as anything particularly unusual - just some nicely expressed sentiment.  But this kind of thing moves me deeply.  It's a bit embarrassing when you are sitting at your desk - supposedly writing a report on the hydraulic design of  a sewage works - with tears streaming down your face having read the post in the link.

There is something good, something that expresses the heart of God, something that is almost incarnationally divine, in the pain of love but not just the love but that love being love of something that is in istelf almost incarnationally divine and that love is accentuated by loss of that thing, and that makes each of those things I have already listed stronger, purer, more intense and even more holy and divine ... I can't really put what I am trying to say into words ..... Michelle wrote those words but it was God in her head and in her heart and in her hand that wrote them, just as surely as in he in her father when he would cradle her as a little child, or when he would stop his truck to pick up someone in need - God participating in his creation through both father and daughter.  Yes!!

Was it all my fault?

I worry that it was.

This year's 'Nativity' was always going to be difficult - full of reminders about why we left the church two years ago.

Mrs was going to stay away, with the truthful but convenient excuse of too much pressure to get her MA essays written.  In the end she did the right thing, which was to face up to it and go.  Gritting her teeth.

But when we got there we found that all the other children had arrived in costume, but not ours. 

Of course, in context, she interprets it that we are still being overlooked or deliberately ignored, and at best sees it as a symptom of the church's decision to sack her and put MEN(!) in charge of the creche and little explorers groups.

Our daughter was upset and crying because she had no costume.

Mrs couldn't handle it any more and took our daughter and walked out, and of course I had to follow. 

Post mortem in MacDonalds.

The real question that crossed her mind and troubles mine greatly is this: did they actually tell me about the costume last week, and I forgot? 

Last week the said daughter was chucked out of Little Explorers for continually substituting the word 'poo' for 'Jesus' after many warnings over many weeks.  (Delightful child that she is - but at the age of 4 this would seem hilarious.)  So I didn't go to collect her at the end of church, and so would have missed any general announcements given to parents.  But I have just a slight memory - possibly one of those false memories created by thinking too much - that when I talked to the MAN in charge about her behaviour he did mention the costume.  But I was too stressed by the other thing.

So do I confess my worries to my wife, and get blasted by her both for being an idiot myself and for defending her enemeies from her, or do I consult the Little Explorers leader to see what he said and potentially set off a whole range of issues there that are best left to rest?

Merry Christmas

 ... And a happy new year!

Excellent Carol service at our church last night.

The stage was set up as a cafe, with the various customers being the readers and the various characters from the story who each told their story as a dramatised monologue.  Outstanding!  the musicians and singers were excellent too.  I am very privileged to be in a church with so much talent.

Tuesday, December 18

Full house

All kids back from uni for the holidays.  So the house is full of men taller than me talking in deep voices about engineering with more competence than me.  Intimidating.

The food in the fridge and cupboards is being siphoned directly into their stomachs. 

The TV is no longer available.

The washing machine is full.  The dishwasher isn't - they've left it all in the sink.

When does term start again?

National Church response to gay marriage (Alternative post title: “The stupidity of the Tory Government”)

As David Cameron’s conservative party has lurched from one incompetence to the next and from shambles to shambles, they have dragged the church into it this time.

Government: “The Church of England has told us that they want …..”

Church: “Oh no we haven’t….”

This row was totally unnecessary, and arose from the government’s appallingly incompetent choice of words and tone.

Government: “It would be ILLEGAL!!!!! For the church of England to conduct a gay wedding”.  This makes it sound like a new thing that the government was bringing in and something giving the Church of England special treatment in relation to other churches.

The reality is less dramatic.

Church canon law passed by general synod is then ratified by parliament. Therefore canon law and state law cannot be in conflict. Therefore state cannot pass law permitting the Church of England to conduct a gay wedding if this is not reflected in canon law. Therefore for the church to do gay weddings, it would have to go through general synod first. Thus, although the legal vehicle is technically slightly different, the position for the Church of England is exactly the same as for any other church – an opt-in decided at denominational level. See this explanatory statement on the church website.

Thus there was no need for the government to make such a song and dance about the position of the Church of England – it just created a false impression which annoyed both liberal left and conservative right for absolutely no benefit whatsoever.

Local Church response to gay marriage

I have not been returned to the PCC since my return to the church (there has been no opportunity). So I awaited with anticipation the outcome of the PCC ‘conversation’ on gay marriage last Tuesday.

It’s statement was published in the church bulletin this Sunday.

In summary: “Everybody is very welcome at the church but marriage is between a man and a woman and everyone else can be celibate”.

I was surprised at such a lurch to the right, given the support the church showed for Obama a few weeks ago. And I also thought even the vicar was moving on the matter, having expressed some acceptance of the fact of civil unions.

So I speculate that the PCC may be a little unrepresentative of the church.

I think the statement fails, because ‘welcome’ is more than a word: it’s what you do. And no matter how much we say ‘welcome’ to gay people, they will not FEEL welcome at our church.

I had wanted to intervene by writing to the PCC beforehand putting forward my pro-gay position based on conservative Bible study methods – liberal for conservative reasons. But I didn’t really have time, and had a gut feeling that God was deliberately keeping me out of it.

This may have been for my protection – to stop me being attacked by the hard conservatives or from being seen in the wrong light by the PCC generally.

Or it may have been His way to prevent me from contaminating the church with my licentious views.

Having prayed for that PCC meeting, I have to accept that this is God’s will for my church at this time. Difficult!

Thursday, December 13

The Balrog

It was the standard teenage daughter morning screaming session.

She was late for school and needed to go on Facebook to arrange a meeting point with her friend to walk to school. Her phone is broken, so she needed the laptop. Now! Brother dutifully opens a new tab and opens Facebook for her, but the internet is slow in ou house and she starts shouting at him for being slow. In another room I her his voice rising in protest. There is a long history of shouting over computer rights between these two, and I am fed up. He is on it far too long with the volume too loud. She is intolerant of the slightest noise, and also expects it to be handed over instantaneously on demand. It has got to the stage where the slightest little thing blows up as they both interpret it in the light of the history and overreact. A bit like loyalists and republicans in Northern Ireland. So when I hear this going, I being part of the history too also over react and storm in to confiscate the computer. The daughter (15) is between me and the computer so I hold her by the waist, lift her and move her out of the way to the side. [This is not a good idea – don’t do this unless it is to prevent an act of violence. Even in a discipline situation it impinges unacceptably on a teenager’s dignity] I slam the laptop shut and take it upstairs, reminding them that it is actually MY laptop, and that they should be using THEIR laptop which is in the basement. (PS I have now confiscated both laptops for the rest of the day)

Much teenage girl screaming ensues, comprising primarily of allegations that I don’t know what I have just done (she thinks I pick on her) and that I am going to make her late for school.

Boy looks on placidly.

Girl storms off to basement, slamming the glass kitchen door on the way. Glass breaks – fortunately held in place by the film we stuck on for this very reason when we were fostering. My other son, whose bedroom is in the basement, must have been woken up from his home-from-university lie-in by now.

Other daughter walks in “What’s going on?” “They’re fighting over the computer again”. Muffled sound of raging teenager screaming from basement “We are NOT arguing”. She storms up again. At top volume she lists my alleged sins, topped by “AND you’ve woken James” (not his real name).

So there we have it.
I have woken the Balrog!
My heart trembles!

(Just in case you are not familiar with The Balrog, it is from JRR Tolkiens Lord of The Rings trilogy.  It lives in the 'basement' of the mountain, and if you wake it you are in big trouble)

Wednesday, December 12

Queer theology III, and the relevance of academic theology

Well, I've completed the introduction.

Some good, ome bad.

I suppose what has influenced me most is the matter of sexual identity not being nearly a clear-cut in the Bible as we evangelicals would like to think. This starts in the question of how as a man I am part of the female bride of Christ, and how there must be a gritty truth at the core of the metaphor for it to work a a metaphor. It also looks at how Mary is the mother of Christ, but also his child by faith, and also his bride as part of the church. Then Christ himself - and I know I'm not going to explain this well because it's foggy in my memory - has both male and female characteristics: the male obvious but the female in the sense of .... Sorry, can't remember. I'll have to look it up again.

My wife has to return it to the library tomorrow as it is being recalled for another user. I have barely had time to dip into it really, let alone deal with the issues.

I still want to read one particular essay in the book, which looks at how our current perspective on sexuality and marriage is not as traditional as we would like to think nad owes more to the Reformation than to the church fathers. Perhaps I'll chekliy run those pages through the scanner tonight - although that would be naughty really.

I suppose my overall summary of the book would be:

There is some nonsense in it, but also some things that make you think more deeply.

I have a fairly cynical view to much academic theological writing.

To some extent it is just their job to try to look at something form a new angle, and I get the feeling that 'new angles' are in short supply so they get ever more far-fetched, scraping the barrel for something different and at odds with all tat has been said before. Also, just because someone has been to college and got a degree, and has access to lots of ancient and modern texts, and can read them and have basic debating skills and can write a good argument to support a case, does not mean that the case they present is actually correct either in secular terms or in faith terms. My bullying elder brother once proved to me that the sun was green, and another time proved that I was wearing my trousers upside down. It had nothing to do with truth, only debating skill.

You don't have to be a Christian to write this 'theology' stuff. You don't even have to know God to write it. Much like an academic could write a Phd on my wife, and never really know her, while although I am never going to have a Phd I do know my wife better than anyone else does.

So why should I trust an academic you does not have the life of Christ in them when they try to interpret scripture and the church fathers? The Christian faith is not about academic proofs -its about the life of God in a person's heart.

Much of Mrs theology course at present is about pluralism, and how 'the uniqueness of Christ' is an obstacle to religious harmony (read 'world peace'). This view fails to account for the presence of a real life Satan, and real life demonic forces, whose favourite occupation is deceiving people with lies that are 99% true, and the 1% lie is that 'if you live a mostly good life and try your best God will accept you, there is no need to go through Jesus, he was just a good example'. So there are lots of 'good' religions in which people behave really well - better than most Christians. But salvation is by the redemption we receive in Christ, not by being mostly nice, and each week in the temples of their religions they deny Christ, and so deny their opportunity for salvation.

Why should I listen to an academic who doesn't know God and views all religions as merely local cultural variations of the same ultimate deity?

The only thing with these people is that they are quite useful for poking us in our myths of "The church has ALLWAYS taught that...."

Monday, December 10

Not so nuts

My Mum has now moved to a home.

I’ve had a couple of telephone conversations with her, and she seems to like the place and to be reasonably content with the people that she is now living with, although she notices that it is not a specifically Christian establishment.

But the main thing is that during those phone calls, she made sense all the time. She did not seem confused, and did not tell any wildly inaccurate stories. She h\d memories of thoughts which she knew could not possibly be true, but seemed to be in her right mind.

I am hugely relieved at this.

I feel that I have got her back from the dead.

Sunday, December 2

Queer Theology II

The essay referring t to Paul was by Paul Fletcher.  I’ve finished reading it.

As mentioned previously, his general idea seems to be that because we should be thinking eschatologically – towards the end time – we should not be getting caught up with earthly legalisms like marriag
But reading on – his view of the future seems to be more to do with nothingness than with union with Christ.  It seemed to be more of a Buddhist concept of heaven.  And his rejection of marriage seems to be more to do with an almost Gnostic world view.  I could ot get my head around how he thinks Paul the apostle is against marriage, when he says things like ‘each one shold have his own wife’, “the marriage bed should be kept pure”, “Husbands love your wives” etc.
So I did not find anything in Paul Fletcher’s essay that made me feel I had learned, anything I could take hold of, anything that made me turn to God in worship.
It’s a big X from me.

Next I read the introduction by Gerard Loughlin.  Probably should have started here.
In contrast to Paul Fletcher, I found this very readable, expanded my world view, and above all expanded my worship.  That’s not to say I agreed with it all.

Loughlin starts at the wedding in Cana with the question “Who got married?”  He pulls out some old medieval traditions that the bridegroom was John, the disciple that Jesus loved.  I have no problem for or against that tradition.  More disturbingly, the tradition goes on that John jilted his bride, and instead married Jesus.  Apparently there is some artwork from that period in Germany that shows Jesus and John in an embrace, with Jesus caressing John’s chin in the way one does just before a kiss.
I find this disturbing not because of the homosexual overtones, but more the concept that Jesus married anyone at all – he had a mission and would not allow himself to be distracted form it by earthly things.  Clearly he had not read Paul’s injunctions to only marry if not in control of the body’s passions, or ‘no soldier on duty gets entangles in civilian pursuits…’, or for that matter Paul Fletchers things above that marriage is just a bad thing anyway.

Also I can’t handle the idea that Jesus would come into a wedding and break it up to steal either member of the couple.  It’s hardly a loving thing to do … he would have intervened earlier.
And also I can’t believe that the gospels would have omitted something as important as the fact that Jesus was married.  Especially to a man.  And would it even have been possible for him to marry a man in that culture?  So I can’t swallow this bit.

But a better line of argument was in pointing out that the Church is the Bride of Christ.  I’ve always found it a bit awkward that as men we are part of ‘the bride’.  It’s a feminine role, not a manly one.  It’s a bit gay, in fact.  But is that not the point?  Christ marries not only the women in his church, but also the men.  And no marriage is real unless  it is consummated.  No consummation, and the marriage is annulled.  So Jesus will – and I take this metaphorically myself – consummate his marriage.  In a sense he already does, as we take him into our bodies in the Eucharist.  But in taking it metaphorically, both the Eucharist and the final marriage: no metaphor works unless the thing metaphored is real - it just doesn’t make sense and the metaphor fails..  So if there is a metaphor of Christ marrying the men in his church, then there must be a reality of men marrying men.  And if the thing that the metaphor is for is something good, then the thing metaphored must also be good.  God the father is only a good metaphor because fathers are good.  ‘God the Hitler’ fails as a metaphor, because God is not like Hitler.  So the marriage of the Man Jesus to the men in the church, means that the marriage of men to men in this life is good.  And marriage includes sex, or it is not marriage.  So sex between men is good.  As a heterosexual man I find it quite uncomfortable to think that Jesus will marry me, and that the sex I have with my wife tells me about what he is going to do to me.  But the picture is there.
There’s a lot of big stuff in this – this is my first reaction from my reading.  Obviously I can’t do justice to it and can only recommend that you read it for yourself.

But this picture enlarged my worship at church today (which by the way was a Youth-led service with two of my daughters in the band, a video talk written by one of them, and an outstanding short sermon by a 14-year old girl).  We sang ‘I am my beloved’s and he is mine’.  Which has always been a bit awkward to sing.  It’s a bit gay.  But today I sang it with a new depth, and with simulatneoulsy more and less awkwardness. 
Meanwhile my wife continues to disturb me with the feminist and pluralist theologies she is reading and being influenced by.  Seem to be departing from the narrow way in some respects.

But God is bigger, wider, and his salvation more inclusive, than we can ever imagine.

Yoyo goes up

Yoyo was a cat.  A beautiful completely black cat, with yellow eyes, who came into our family about 8 years ago as a kitten, and whose primary contribution to the family has been to meow for food every time I go in the kitchen.

Yoyo had a flea allergy, and so had a pretty miserable life.  He often looked ill, and we wondered if it was cancer, but were assured by the vet that it was just the allergy.  Occasionally he had a flu, from which he would recover after a few days.  But basically he was a lazy fat cat who would rarely move further than the distance between the food bowl and the warm top of the tumble drier.

In the last week he was not really himself.  My son kept telling me he was ill, but I dismissed it as flea allergy/flu/he’s just lazy.  When we came home from fetching our eldest from University last night, we heard that Yoyo had repeatedly been sick and urinated in the dining room.  The kids had looked this up on the internet and said it was serious, needing immediate attention.

I decided to take him to the vet on Monday morning.
But that night I picked him up for a cuddle.  He let me, whereas he would normally scratch me to pieces rather than let me pick him up.  Clearly ill.  But when I stroked him, he purred, and though ill seemed reasonably contented.  Maybe it was flu after all.

When I came down for breakfast, there was a dead black cat on the kitchen floor.  Lying on his side, legs outstretched – peaceful.  But cold and stiff.  Probably passed away not too  long after my comforting cuddle.
Its probably for the best, really.  Had he gone to the vet, there may have been uncomfortable treatment which would just get him back to his rather miserable life.

Not sure if there is an animal heaven – if so it must be pretty full of all the dead microbes – but I told my 4 year old that was where Yoyo went.
Burial this afternoon –in the square yard round the apple tree in the yard that we laughably call the lawn.  Had to buy three bags of compost to get enough soil there to bury him in.  With a cat statue on top.

He was technically my 5th child’s cat, but nr 4 and nr 6 were the ones that cried.