Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Wet Weekend

I am sorry to have been off the radar for a couple of weeks. A case of system overload I am afraid. But I have missed blogging so will try to get back into a regular routine!

The news over here has, of course, been dominated by the earthquake in Sichuan. The authorities reacted extremely quickly and efficiently to what was by any standards a horrific disaster and it still goes on.

In the newspapers today are the comments made by the actress Sharon Stone to a Hong Kong TV Channel during a visit to the Cannes film festival:

'And then all this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and I thought, is that karma - when you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?'

She also said that she was 'unhappy' with the way China was dealing with Tibet.

Two thoughts come to my mind. Firstly, when Christians have made this sort of link in the past they have been heavily criticised in the press. Rightly. 68,000 have died in this disaster so far and millions have been made homeless. Ms Stone should perhaps stick to mouthing the words of others in the scripts she is given.

Secondly, why do the trendy types care so much about Tibet's independence? This selective compassion has always puzzled me. The most appalling cruelty, slaughter, and inhumanity in Africa goes without comment from celebrities, and yet they love to talk about Tibet without, it has to be said, knowing very much about it.

As Christians, we should be prepared to bring a theological perspective to world events. Ms Stone's thoughtless comments, however, serve as a warning that any comment we make needs to be thoughtful, informed, and, above all else, compassionate.

Tonight promises to be a first for me. I am having dinner with not one, but two Archbishops! Not on my own, of course, but with other clergy. Our Archbishop is hosting a dinner for Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Archbishop of Capetown. We have an amber rainstorm warning in place at the moment and it is very wet with more rain promised over the next few days. The biggest challenge tonight is going to be getting to the dinner without getting soaked!

It's good to be back!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Alan and Usha - The Latest

The story of Alan, the fictional Vicar of Ambridge in the BBC Radio production the Archers, and his fiancee, Usha, has seen some developments. A report about their intended marriage has appeared in the local paper much to their distress. Now it is a time for recriminations as they try to work out who has said what to the local paper. Interestingly, the script-writers have all the main characters in the drama supporting the marriage. The general line is: this is the 21st century so what's the problem?

I imagine in real life, as opposed to the fictional one of Ambridge, most people would feel the same. So why do I still feel uneasy about the idea? One possibility is that I when I first became a Christian as a teenager, I was told that Christians should not go out with non-Christians. 2 Corinthians 6:14 was often quoted:

'Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?'

Of course in the Old Testament the people of God are strictly forbidden from marrying people of different faiths and nations.

This all sits uneasily in the current cultural climate both in and out of the Church. Usha is, after all, an intelligent, genuine, caring, and likeable person. Why should the fact she is a Hindu be a problem?

Well, it's for everyone to work out for themselves, but at the bottom of why people don't think it's a problem is the belief that ultimately all religions are valid and that there is nothing unique about Christianity. On this view, what Jesus should have said is, 'I am a way ...' and not, 'I am the way ...' I would suggest that if you are one of the few who still believe that Jesus is the way, then no matter how nice and charming Usha may be, there are certainly problems with the Vicar marrying her. Hard though that might seem.

Anyway, I print below the Press Report as it is meant to have appeared in the local paper. This is taken from the Archers' web-site!

Devoted To You

Ambridge split over inter-faith marriage plan

This quiet rural community has been rocked by the news that its vicar, the Reverend Alan Franks, has become engaged to marry his lover, Asian lawyer Usha Gupta.

While neither the Church nor the Parochial Church Council would condemn the engagement, there is a substantial degree of unrest among parishioners, both in public and behind closed doors.

A member of the pastoral team revealed that, in the early stages of the controversial relationship, the diocese received written complaints, believed to be from within in the parish, including at least one anonymous letter.

While there appears to be a degree of support from non-churchgoers over the love which brought Bombay to Borsetshire, members of the congregation expressed great unease about the proposed match:

"I've nothing against them personally", said one. "If they want to have a relationship, fine. But as for them getting married, it just doesn't seem right to me. I don't think it's appropriate for him to marry someone from another faith. Alan's supposed to be our spiritual leader. It's his job to help us re-affirm our Christian beliefs"

Anonymous parishioners agree that by marrying a Hindu, the passionate parson is setting a bad example: "Even if Usha comes to church - which she hasn't done much so far - she's not a Christian and she's not confirmed, so she can't take holy communion. There's few enough regular communicants as it is. It's hardly going to help fill the church, is it?"

The Echo asked the couple for their view of embarking on a mixed-faith marriage in a small, rural community. Ms Gupta, a partner in the Felpersham firm of Jefferson Crabtree, was unavailable for comment and Rev Franks remained tight-lipped:

"Our marriage plans are a part of our private life, and we'd rather not have them made public", he said.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost Sunday

I am sorry not to have blogged during the last week. Hopefully this week will be different! At the moment, I am getting ready for our mid-morning service. Today it will be broadcast on RTHK Radio 4. It can be listened to on their website at any time after it has been broadcast.

This morning I am not preaching. It is a strange feeling not to have had a sermon to prepare as I have had a long run of preaching every Sunday. Those of you who preach regularly will know that it can be quite a strain. The last thing I want is for my sermons to be just the same old thing!

Anyway, I wanted to let you know I am still here and hopefully will be back very soon!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Church Council Night

I am sorry not to have blogged much last week. It was one of those weeks and I needed more time to work on the next in the current series on Paul. I will try to catch up.

I have a Church Council meeting tonight. One day I will learn to love them. But the truth is I don't. Church Council meetings make everyone formal and tense and not in a good way. Not here especially, just anywhere you use this model of Church governance. As the local elections in England last week illustrate all too well, a Council is a place where you have different sides, parties, and arguments. All great fun, of course, but not, in my humble opinion, the best way to run even a city, let alone a Church.

The epistle reading for the coming Sunday reminds us that we are the body of Christ. A metaphor of intimacy and inter-connectedness. You inflict pain on your body at peril. On the contrary, you nurture and care for it and avoid strife and conflict and anything that would harm it. Surely a better way to run a Church than the way of secular politics? But the Church has always followed secular models of government - to its own great cost.

The Biblical images of the Church, apart from 'body', are ones such as 'family' and the 'temple of God'. Apart from anything else, they somehow seem much friendlier and nicer than images drawn from the world of confrontational politics. I would much rather prefer, at a Council meeting, to be addressed as a brother, or if you will, as a father, or friend than as Chairman. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, but even more, beware of Christians honouring you with titles!

I will let you know how it goes!

Thank you for patience.