“The Glory of God is Man fully Alive”

 

Today is the Lesser Festival of Iranaeus, Bishop of Lyon, which is my excuse for indulging in some of his powerful quotes. The great thing about Irenaeus was that he was a pupil of St Polycarp who had known the Apostle John, so he was close to the unadulterated truth. Also he found himself up against the Gnostics, (no need for Grace; you could work it all out for yourselves) so he really had to spend a lot of time and intellectual effort in working out the truth and finding ways to get that truth across to people.

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When I typed ‘Irenaeus quotes’ into Google this is the first one that came up. I wonder if  ‘a human being’ is an exact translation of what he wrote, or a modern tweak? “The glory of God is Man fully alive” is the way I first learned it and it’s the way I prefer it because it sounds better. There is less flow with a human being. Try it for yourself. I don’t want to upset Feminists—I don’t set out to upset anyone—but I grew up assuming that Man, in this sort of context, meant Mankind, i.e. all people, of both sexes and of every colour and creed. I also grew up when children learned a lot of poetry by heart, so the sound and the rhythm of the language also came to have great importance.

Here’s another great quote from the Bishop.

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Contrast that with this from present day Welsh bishops in a Pastoral Letter. Can you spot a difference?

“What this all means is that we, as Bishops of the Anglican Communion, mindful of the results of our consultation and the Statement of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, and of all our members, including those who are gay and lesbian, do not feel that we can support at this time a move to change the discipline of the Church in Wales with respect to the teaching on marriage, nor can we permit the celebration of public liturgies of blessing for same sex unions.”

“Given that the civil law of the realm has now been changed to permit marriage of same sex couples, many see this as a natural next step.” And many more do not.

Later they go on to provide two prayers for same sex unions which, I would have thought,  amounted to blessings.

There’s nothing theological about these arguments. What it says to me is ‘Civil law says yes, so we’ll work to ensure God’s law soon follows suit.’ This definitely seems to be something decked out in an attractive dress – an abundance of decoration and voluptuous fabric artfully concealing the nakedness beneath.

Irenaeus died at the beginning of the third century so perhaps you might think he hasn’t much to say to us in the 21st century. But how about this from John Wesley who lived throughout most of the 18th century?

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Good, isn’t it?

Despite his antiquity I’ll let Irenaeus have the last word. “God did not tell us to follow Him because He needed our help but because he knew that loving Him would make us whole.”

 

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Bad Words and Innocence

 

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You may find this difficult to believe, but I didn’t know the F word until the end of my first year at university. I knew the expression “effing and blinding” but I had no idea what the “effing” really was; nor did I ever ask. It’s even more pathetic. In the sixth form I had read a book called “Yield to the Night” by a woman called Joan Henry, who had, herself, spent time in prison. (If you type “Yield to the Night” into Google you get masses of info about a film of that name starring Diana Dors, but that came later.) In the book the word f—g appeared regularly. That, I thought, must be the F word. I knew the words fag, fig, fog and fug, so I reasoned that the F word was feg. You may think this demonstrates appalling ignorance, to say nothing of stupidity, or, if you’re feeling generous, you may put it down to innocence and naiveté.

Which brings me to my four-year-old granddaughter. With her white blonde hair, blue eyes, and enchanting smile she looks, to her doting Nain, like a little angel. However, having brought up her father, I know appearances can be deceptive. Recently, she has been in such trouble at school that her parents were summoned. She had been giggling and chatting during story time and saying Bad Words.

Utterly gutted, and dreading what he was going to hear, my son asked the teacher what these bad words were.

“Weewee”, “peepee”, and “bumbum.”

Oh! the relief. Daughter-in-law was mortified but Son and Nain thought it was a huge joke. I even shared with him the truly terrible swearword I had learned from my next-door-but-one-neighbour at the age of four and will never forget. “Farmyardwompoostinky.”

That sort of innocence makes me question those experts who think it is appropriate to teach children as young as four about gays, lesbians and transgenders. Do they truly have the well-being of children at heart?

“Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I’ve always thought that on the occasion when our Lord said those words, it was a child’s innocence, purity and lack of guile He was welcoming. Surely that’s what we should be cherishing in our little children as long as we can, not dragging them into our over-sexed secular world at all costs.

NB Neither of the girls in the photo is my granddaughter; they look more like 7 or 8 year olds rather than 4 year olds, but they still have a joyous innocence about them.

Not What it Says on the Tin

 

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The photograph above is of a tub of nicotiana, also called tobacco plant. It is certainly not one of the most beautiful flowers but it is certainly one of those with the most heavenly scent. That’s why I grow it. Early in the spring I bought a packet of seeds clearly labelled “heavy, sweet scent”. Unfortunately, after planting out the seedlings, various forms of wildlife destroyed the lot, so I was forced to buy plants. The label said “strong scent”. Well, the label was wrong! There is absolutely no scent whatever. Definitely not what it says on the tin. Which seems to be a sadly apt description of the Church in Wales at the moment. Just a rather dull plant that’s lost its reason for growing.

The trouble with the CinW is that it is still trying to persuade us that modern concepts of binary genders and SSM are what the Bible means us to support, if only we read the words aright. Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, is even more outspoken. For one thing he is quite sure that it is only a matter of time before gay marriage and transgender unions will be the norm, on the grounds that Jesus himself challenged many norms of His time.

I’ve only just caught up with this and other views, because they were published, following a Queer Theology Conference (I kid you not), in the Cayman News, which is not something I normally read. The Rt Revd Bishop thinks these views are “daring and rebellious.” What a joke! Doesn’t he know he is merely parroting secular political opinion. There’s nothing remotely daring or rebellious about it; it is frankly old hat. If he were to preach about marriage being between one man and one woman, for life, that would be daring.

Fortunately, there was much today, in Morning Prayer, to cheer me up. From the Canticle, Isaiah 55, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Thank God for that.

Earlier this month a man called Richard Huckle was given 22 life sentences for unspeakable crimes against children. He claimed to be a Christian and several commentators queried how Christians should cope with this. Thankfully, since I’m not a psychiatrist or the prison governor I don’t have to “cope”, beyond praying for his family and his victims. Today’s Old Testament reading was from Judges 15, and seemed to me to tell a pretty unedifying story about Samson, yet Samson ended up as one of God’s favoured ones. I’m not suggesting that Samson was anything like Huckle, but God can work with some pretty unsavoury characters. In prison, with a chapel on site and a chaplain on hand Huckle has every opportunity to repent and be saved.

Thinking about repentance, I was reminded of Myra Hindley. If you can remember that far back, she and Lord Longford claimed she had become a Christian, repented of her crimes, and should therefore be released from prison. That seemed to me rather odd, because at the same time Ian Brady was quoted as saying that his crimes were so heinous he should never be freed. Surely if Myra Hindley had truly repented she would have wanted to stay in prison, close to a chapel where she could have spent her time in prayer and contemplation, perhaps drawing others to God by her example.

Or is that one of the weird ideas that makes me such a Misfit?

 

 

 

Common Sense from Robots?

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Hearing robot

Google has announced its first Artificial Intelligence research lab outside the US. It will be based in Zurich and, it is hoped, will finally produce a robot with common sense.

I hadn’t thought I would ever welcome such a prospect but there’s so little common sense about now that I realise that those of us who recognise it’s value know we need all the help we can get. Although it may mean, of course, that real human common sense will virtually disappear as have so many other senses we once had, and have no more.

I’ve thought for a long time that most people are losing their sense of hearing. I don’t mean by going deaf, like I am; I mean that, by walking around with things in their ears they don’t know how to listen to the world. I’m not criticising them—I do it myself with my Welsh language tapes. It’s an invaluable learning aid, but . . . .

A couple of weeks ago my gardener, who obviously keeps his ears open, began packing up early because heavy rain was on its way. How did he know?

“I heard the sound of the leaves on the trees at the top of the hill shaking in the wind.”

Similarly, navigational skills are being lost. We used to be able to find our way by the stars when travelling on a clear night. Travelling by day we used our combined senses, often walking from one church spire to the next; steeple chasing if we had horses. Then we had maps. Now we have SatNav. A robot tells us where to go and even the most macho man obediently does as he’s told.

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Seeing robot

Before I read about the Google lab I was going to blog about common sense anyway. I’ve been convinced for some time that our lack of common sense is closely connected to our lack of Christian knowledge and Christian faith. Argue about it how you like, no one can deny that above all, Christianity makes sense, time after time after time. Jesus Christ was blessed with abundant quantities of the stuff. That’s God for you. When He gives He gives abundantly and we squander it to our cost.

Which brings me to one particular bus in Leeds in 2012. If just some of the passengers on that bus had had those Christian virtues of tolerance, generosity, humour and common sense Doug Paulley wouldn’t now by fighting his case in the Supreme Court.

In case you’ve missed the story let me tell you what happened. Mr Paulley, in his wheelchair, wanted to board a bus in Wetherby to go to Leeds but the wheelchair space was already occupied by a mother with a pushchair. She was asked to move but refused, as she was legally entitled to do, because her child was asleep. The driver could only request, not compel. Mr Paulley felt this was discrimination and took the bus company to court.

I admit I was tempted to blame the woman, but I know nothing about her situation. Maybe the child had kept her awake half the night, and she had only just got him off to sleep. Perhaps her partner had just walked out on her leaving her a single mother with several other children. Who knows her reasons.

What I do wonder about is all the other people on that bus. What on earth was wrong with them? Did they sit there like dummies, gazing steadfastly out of the window in embarrassment? Did not one single person have the common sense to sort out the problem? It shouldn’t have been particularly difficult; it didn’t need any special talent; only a bit of understanding and sensitivity.

Someone should have given Mum a convenient seat so that she could sit with the child on her lap. In case the child was disturbed and cried some motherly old soul should have distracted the child. Someone else could have folded up the pushchair, while some tactful person told the mother how kind she was to give up her place to the wheelchair user. Mr Paulley would have felt positively welcomed on to the bus and they could all have continued on their way feeling good about themselves and each other.

What’s more, someone would undoubtedly have helped Mum and pushchair off the bus when she arrived at her stop instead of glowering at her and thinking how selfish she was. (Beams and motes come to mind!)

Four years on, costing goodness knows what in terms of lawyers’ fees and emotional stress, through the county court and an appeal court, the case has arrived at the Supreme Court. Depending on their decision there will, no doubt, be yet more litigation to ensure we behave like the warm, friendly, compassionate people we ought to be.

We used to learn how to behave like this in “Scripture” lessons in the dark ages when I was young. Miss Piggy, on Sesame Street, with her “Moi, moi, moi!” was a wonderfully amusing caricature—now she’s emulated as a rôle model. I have a horrible feeling we have only ourselves to blame.

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Dog with pie dish

 

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Replacement robot dog

 

 

More than just good friends?

 

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What is it with the Bishops in the North West of Britain? Do they really have to go to the United States to find people to inspire their congregations? Are there no home-grown clerics who would do?

First, Gregory of St Asaph imports an American to teach the Welsh how to tell stories (as though the Welsh needed any instruction there) and then, across the Mersey, Paul of Liverpool imports a suffragan Bishop from Virgina, presumably to help him sell same sex marriage. Perhaps it’s the way they say it. When I lived in America people would sometimes stop me in mid-sentence to say, “Gee, I love your accent. Do go on talking,” by which time I had clean forgotten what I wanted to say. That could be the thinking behind these appointments. +Paul perhaps hopes that his congregations will be so busy listening to the way +Susan speaks that they won’t have time to listen to what she says. Not that the bishop is solely relying on Mrs Goff. At the end of May he brought in the big guns in the form of Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans. I’m indebted to tried and true Ancient Briton for that information.

I listened to the sermon preached in Liverpool Cathedral and I didn’t like it! To be more precise I was put off it from the start. Jeffrey John seemed to spit out the words of the Invocation, particularly Son and Spirit, and the way he used a conversation with his then Vicar, when he was a boy, seemed a cynical attempt to get his present day listeners on his side. He took the story of the healing of the Centurion’s servant to assert that the two men were in a gay sexual relationship, that Jesus knew this and was therefore endorsing same sex relationships. And by the end of the sermon he had subtly moved on to same sex marriage, which, he said, will surely happen.

So I went to clear my head by reading Luke, Chapter 7, in six different translations. In verse 2 they variously describe the servant (also a slave) as dear, very dear, valued highly and favourite. Apparently, according to Dr John, Jews of the time, believed all Roman officers to be having gay relationships—it was one way of enabling them to look down on their overlords. Dr John gives us plenty of named examples, with a little joke (why did he sound as if he were sneering?) about what they don’t teach you in Latin lessons.

I can think of all sorts of reasons why this particular servant was very dear or highly valued by the Centurion. He may have been highly intelligent, a skilled administrator, good with figures, or brilliant at managing staff. Perhaps he just had a superb sense of humour and the ability to cheer his master up when life got difficult.

Jeffrey John points out that in all these healing stories Jesus is treating and accepting people who were outcasts; a leper, a Samaritan, a blind man, a deaf man, a cripple and a haemorrhaging woman. (Why wasn’t I surprised that he focused on the woman who’d been menstruating for twelve years?) I’d always assumed that the Centurion represented the hated Roman conquerors; the enemy, the outsider. On the other hand, I’d also always thought that the servant himself didn’t really matter; it was his sickness and his healing that was important. What was crucial was the Centurion’s incredible faith. He had such faith that he didn’t need to meet Jesus, didn’t need to speak to Him, touch Him, or have His hand laid on him. Jesus’ simple word to the messengers would be enough.

Towards the end of his sermon Jeffrey John makes two statements with which it is not difficult to take issue. He tells the congregation that most members of the Church of England want same sex marriage already and he wonders how many will walk out before that happens. I can believe that over 51% of present church goers support same sex marriage, but that figure is probably only possible because those who can’t support it have already left.

Secondly, without any convincing evidence, he tells us Paul would say same sex marriage is just as good and that to disagree with it is “inhumane and utterly unchristian.” Well, that puts me firmly in my place.

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Just good friends

Songs and Stories

 

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Have you time to listen to the song of the stream?

 

My mother, a Cockney, who had a beautiful voice, brought me up believing that Wales was the Land of Song. When I married a Welshman I discovered that Wales is also the Land of Story. I learned this first from my father-in-law, a bard and a preacher and an utterly amazing man. He rarely preached in English, which was a great loss to me. I would watch his congregations—in those days he could pull in quite a crowd—sometimes close to tears and often chuckling or laughing out loud. However, he always included a few English words to give me something to ponder on. One night he said, “God is delightful.” He repeated it, drawing out the words. “ God   is   de-light-ful.” I sat there and thought, I shall never forget that. Not only have I never forgotten it but those words have been a subtle influence throughout my life.

As well as poetry and preaching he told stories and drew stories out of people. If someone came to him with a problem before long he would be telling a story, and then another, and suddenly there would be understanding—an Aha! moment—as the penny dropped.

He was only following in a long tradition. The Old Testament is one marvellous story after another and in the New Testament Jesus takes the art of story telling to a whole new level. Of course, as any stand up comedian will tell you, it’s the way you tell them.

We hear God in Genesis thundering out at Adam and Eve, “Who told thee thou wast naked?” At least, those words always seem to be “thundered” when read at Christmas services, but, who knows, perhaps it was said in tones of gentle enquiry. I love that description of God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening, which is something I’ve been enjoying for the last couple of weeks. Flowers and shrubs are more highly scented at the end of a hot day. Before Adam and Eve turned the world upside down I can imagine them walking with God, listening to Him telling them delightful stories of Creation.

Recently, my brother-in-law and his wife were over here from New Zealand. They spent a nostalgic time visiting different farms and catching up with news of various branches of the family; above all telling stories and sharing histories. Proving, I thought, that Wales is still a Land of Story.

It seems I am wrong. Thanks to some Male Voice Choirs and an encouraging number of junior choirs we are still just about a Land of Song, though not in the Anglican church apparently. The lack of choral music in Llandaff cathedral seems to have been giving rise to great concern for several years. It’s shameful that the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Wales can’t support one of the best church choirs in the British Isles.

Now, sadly, here, in the north, we seem to have lost the art of story telling. The Bishop of St Asaph has had to import an American, Mark Yaconelli, into the Diocese to teach us how to tell stories. Is this just another failure of the Church in Wales, or are we really no longer a Land of Story?

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