Sunday 31 December 2017

Review of 2017
Colin's sermon 31 Dec 2017

 Donald Trump tweeted a lot in 2017 – but I won't go into that because we've all had quite enough of that already. I also won't go into North Korea's obsession with nuking other countries because its just too terrifying.

We've also had a bellyful of Brexit. I suspect that somewhere in the deepest pit of hell some fiend in the department of ironic punishments came up with an idea: "So they want Brexit do they? We'll give 'em Brexit – till it's coming out of their ears!"

Terrorism was the dominating news story early in the year:
Bombing at a pop concert in Manchester arena. The artist giving the concert, Ariana Grande, has a huge following among young girls whom she encourages to be confident and strong. Sadly the result was that most of the victims were teenagers with all their lives before them.
Hire cars were driven into crowds on Westminster Bridge and later London Bridge, followed by men running amok with knives, randomly killing innocent people.
These wicked acts can only be described as utterly depraved. However the actions of the police and emergency services covered them with glory as they responded with great promptness and effectiveness.

But more people were killed through neglect, incompetence, penny pinching and indifference in the next disaster – the Grenfell flats fire. Seventy one people died very horribly. Unbelievably there was no ladder tall enough in the Greater London area for the fire service to get to the source of the fire, people fleeing the disaster by the tower's only staircase were ordered back into the building, there were no sprinklers, and the cladding (which should have been fireproofed if it hadn't cost a little more) actually caught fire and spread the blaze rapidly to the inaccessible upper floors. Grenfell was a death-trap and so are hundreds of other similar towers up and down the country. It is widely thought that Kensington Council weren’t bothered because it was social housing for people who in their view perhaps didn't matter very much.
But they mattered to God! Church workers were very quickly on the scene offering comfort and support. Churches threw open their doors to provide emergency accommodation for those who were so traumatically made homeless.

I promised not to mention Brexit, didn't I? But this was the year when Teresa May asked the country to increase her majority. She wanted a stronger hand in dealing with those crafty Eurocrats! Pride comes before a fall, as the Good Book says. We all know how that election went. "Not another one!" Large numbers of seats were lost to the Labour party even though Jeremy Corbyn had been relentlessly portrayed as unelectable. Interestingly the young turned out in force to vote for him because they saw the election as an opportunity to tell the older generation that they don't like the kind of future we are forging for them… mountainous debts… short term low paid jobs… crippling housing costs…

More politics – Tim Farron was hounded and hounded on one particular issue until he was forced to resign as leader of the liberal democrats. He commented that it was no longer possible in today's Britain for a Christian to lead a political party. That is an indictment of a so called liberal society where everyone is tolerated – except the people we don't want to tolerate. Sadly those unwanted people are more and more – guess who - the Christians.

More bad news for the Church came when 2017 polls on UK social attitudes showed that fewer and fewer people identify as Christians while more and more identify as "no religion." I wonder where this loss of the shared values which have formed the roots of our culture for hundreds of years is going to take us. I have a very bad feeling about this.

But I think the biggest story of 2017 is the one that began with Harvey Weinstein. More and more revelations came out from women he had harassed and exploited. As this powerful man fled for cover there seemed to come a once in a generation change. All over the world women rose up and said they had had enough. The Me Too campaign showed that the number of women who have faced sexual ordeals at the hands of evil minded men is outrageously high. The wave of anger reached our own Parliament and toppled men who had assumed that power gave them an entitlement to women's compliance. Christians can only welcome this. Christian prohibitions on adultery and lust were always about protecting people from exploitation and when we threw off those restrictions in the 1960s and 70s we took a dangerous gamble – and lost.

I'm going to finish this survey with 3 items of Good News:-
Prince Harry got engaged to Megan: Megan is to be baptised and confirmed in the Christian faith before the wedding and is taking it very seriously
Raqqa has fallen and with it the IS goal of creating a caliphate in the area they believed God had indicated to them. They will of course resurface elsewhere but their primary objective is lost and God did not help them as their wicked and depraved leaders had promised them. The world should rejoice over this setback for the enemies of humanity.
In spite of all the Brexit doom and gloom the British stock market ended the year on an all time high! How did that happen?

But finally, as Christians, how do we respond to all this? What kind of disciples do we have to be to cope with this confusing and sometimes frightening world? Here are four options:
Be Courageous! Have faith! There are good news stories in there as well as bad. God is still in charge. Stand up for what you believe in. It's not enough to sit in the pew and keep quiet, Christianity will vanish from our land if we do that. Our society needs to hear from us because it is falling to pieces without us!
Don't respond with anger to a hate-filled world, or you will become like them. As the Bible says, "render no-one evil for evil, but overcome evil with good."
Model Unity. The picture of 2017 is of a deeply divided society: women against men, old against young, haves against have nots, Muslims being made out to be terrorists, Christians being made out to be bigots, in the frenzy poured out on social media. We can show the world something different: Men and women, old and young, rich and poor, black and white, we are one in Christ. Let's love one another!
Put compassion into action. The actions of those Christians who came out and cared for people who'd lost everything in the Grenfell disaster spoke more loudly than words. We can do that, not only when there's an emergency but by being there for people in the slow disasters of loneliness, bereavement, illness and poverty.

Yes folks, it's Bishop Steven's challenges to us all over again. Are we prepared to me more Contemplative? Compassionate? Courageous? More Christ-like? Are you up for the challenge in 2018?

Monday 21 August 2017

Equality, Diversity and Spirituality

Equality is one of the great buzz words of our time. No inequalities must be allowed, whether of gender, sexuality or ethnicity: no distinction of creed, colour or class, no ageism or isms of any other kind.

Yet we are manifestly not equal by any measurable objective standard. Some of us are tall and athletic, others sadly less so. Some of us are great musicians, others cloth-eared. Some are fabulous with figures and awesome with admin – regrettably I'm not one of those! Some are creative, some are practical, some are charismatic high-fliers, some are plodders who get there in the end. Some who are ferociously intelligent academically may be really dense emotionally…

The fact is that on a secular, materialistic worldview we just can't be equal. A very few of us are Albert Einsteins or Usain Bolts or Nelson Mandelas, and how wonderful for the human race that we can produce such extraordinary people. But the rest of us, in the slow lane – in what verifiable sense are we their equal?

 In fact we can only have genuine equality by abandoning secular materialism. If we are measured by the outward things which are the only things secularism can judge us by, our physical and mental talents, equality is obviously an impossibility. It is a massive self-deception to believe in equality if we are going to hang on to the materialist world view that denies it.

Our longing that all humans should be equal therefore directs us to a different world view. It is because we are equally beloved of God that we are equal. The God who created us and who in Christ laid down His life for us all is the bedrock for human equality. However strong, talented, rich, beautiful or charming we are, God will never love us more than He loves our neighbour who has  none of these things; and however poor, broken, sad or boring their lives may be, He will never love them less. God has already loved both them and us to the uttermost.

And the great thing about our spiritual understanding of equality is that it makes room for diversity as well. So often societies of both left and right have sought equality through the suppression of difference: "don't let anyone stand out, they might become a threat! Stick 'em all in uniform and make them all the same!"

A classic example of this is the recent BBC documentary No More Boys and Girls. It's true that stereotyping is no fun at all for those being stereotyped. It may seriously limit their potential. However the response of the programme displays a deplorable poverty in our understanding of equality. We can only be equal if we are all the same. So we are asked to suppress diversity in the name of equality - no more boys and girls.

But how we dare we say that people who are not the same as us are not our equals? Beneath this attitude lurks the very opposite assumption, that is, the inequality of all people who are not the same as one another. How weird that in trying to make us all the same, secularism actually undermines our equality. And the suppression of difference is too high a price – it is our variety that enables our creativity.

So instead of turning to sameness we must accept difference on the grounds that all, however diverse, are equally valued. Once again we find ourselves directed to the world of values and away from the poverty of the materialist view. People are valuable because God loves us and identifies with us. And if God loves us with all our differences, it doesn't matter that I'm not Stephen Hawking or George Clooney. God loves me as I am, and He is working out His own plans for the things that make me uniquely me.

So Hooray for equality! Hooray for diversity! and Hooray for the spirituality that is the only ground in which either can flourish for long.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Tim Farron has been hounded out of office basically because he is a Christian. What kind of liberal and democratic society are we? For shame!

Thursday 5 January 2017

Please see below for the text of my letter published in the Times on Tuesday 27 December 2016. Basically it's a response to Matthew Parris's Comment column in which he says that he likes the Christian story and acknowledges it has brought huge benefits to the human race but pity it's a load of cobblers. The Times decided to publish this on Christmas Eve - great timing there.

Anyway I decided I couldn't let it pass and wrote the following:

Sir, I suppose I should thank Matthew Parris for being kind to us woolly-minded Christians and our sweet story (Comment, 24 December). However it really does matter whether that story is true or not. The manger at Bethlehem marks the dividing line between two radically opposed visions of humanity. In one, we are objects of and vehicles for the divine love. We are all therefore of infinite value, glorious destiny and enormous potential. In the other, we are no more than other animals, here by accident in a random universe in which it is pointless to seek the meaning of our own lives or of anything else. However compromised it has become over the centuries, it was the first vision that gave us the Renaissance and inspired most of our great thinkers, artists, writers and humanitarians. Our abandonment of it is likely to lead to a new dark ages.

Hope you enjoyed that. Someone wrote to the Times later to say that I am wrong about the Renaissance because it really came from Greek sources which were re-discovered through contact with the Islamic world. However this simplistic secularising view covers the "how" of the Renaissance but not the "why". It overlooks the influence of Christian scholars like Erasmus, the personal faith of leading lights such as Michelangelo and Raphael, and above all the massive degree to which the whole thing was sponsored by the Church. Why did the new learning lead to a cultural transformation in the West and not in Islam? Because the West was ready to receive it. The Christian view that we are made in God's image and are objects of His love is what inspired humanism - it's actually part of our Christian heritage and a great shame that secularists have stolen the word. The vision they have brought to us, as I argue in my letter, actually degrades the value of human beings and is not worthy of the term humanist.

Michelangelo's David