Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Most people will by now be aware of the publication of a huge amount of 'secret information' on the wikileaks web-site.  Listening to Hillary Clinton describing it as an 'attack on the international community', I was reminded of the words of Lenin:

'It is true that liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed.'

The reaction of governments, especially western democratic governments, to the leaks has been one of universal condemnation. There seems to be some irony here.  America and Europe have been lecturing the rest of the world for some time now about freedom and democracy, extolling the values of free speech and  a free press.  And yet now the same governments are arguing, in effect, that there are some things it is better in a democracy for the people not to know.  Interesting.

I do not doubt the importance of secrecy and confidentiality in government.  The wikileaks affair does, however, illustrate something that I have been arguing for a long time now and this is that there is a huge difference between democracy and freedom.

Freedom, of course, means different things to different people.  If you are a young single mother living on crime and drug ridden housing estate, freedom is more likely to be about not getting mugged and your child not growing up a drug addict than it is about which distant politician happens to represent you in congress, parliament, or wherever.

If you live in a parliamentary democracy like the UK, for example, you have more chance of a good education and health care if you live in one part of the country to another.  Freedom from illness and freedom to vote are very different types of freedom.

Don't misunderstand me.  I am not saying that democracy is necessarily wrong just that it is not the same as freedom.  How much freedom you have once a government has been elected will depend on a variety of factors.  All governments limit freedom of speech, movement, and knowledge, doubtless with good reason.  The freedom most of us value, though, depends as much, if not more, on how much we earn, where we live, whether we can access adequate healthcare, and if our children can get a good education or even just an education.  Quite simply, democracy is a system for allowing a population some say in who governs them.  No more and no less.  It may or it may not lead to greater freedom.  Hitler, after all, was elected to power.

Why does this matter to Christians?  It matters because, I think, we are in grave danger as the Church of baptizing a system of government as though one system has more right to be called Christian than another.  We have done this in the past, of course.  When Constantine became a Christian and was, eventually, baptized a whole system of power was baptized with him.  We have had Popes who have been secular as well as religious rulers, Holy Roman Emperors, Kings governing by Divine right, classes of people claiming to be born to rule, and Presidents of the United States, all of whose power has been justified by reference to God.  Now we are doing the same with democracy.

By all means argue and campaign for democracy, but please let's stop acting as if it is a divinely sanctioned system of rule inherently superior to and more 'Christian' than all others.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas is Coming

It's official we are now in the run up to Christmas!  As I suspect many of you did in your churches yesterday, we lit the first of our Advent Candles on the Advent Wreath, I have begun writing Christmas cards, and the Christmas tree arrives on Thursday.  Readers of this blog will know that I love Christmas and I am really looking forward to it this year with all that goes with it - even the mince pies!  (For my previous comments on Christmas, see under the label Christmas.)

I don't know what your favourite moment at Christmas is.  For me, it has to be the Midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve.  But herein lies a paradox.  I have preached at this service for quite a few years now both here and, previously, in Scotland, but I have never been happy with my sermon.  I don't just mean in the 'we can always do better' sense, rather I am always left feeling that I just didn't quite get there.  The sheer wonder of the occasion seems to demand so much more than certainly I have been able to achieve.

Part of the problem - only part of the problem, mind you - is that by Christmas Eve, I always feel completely drained.  Like having a Ferrari with no petrol in it.  No matter how hard you put your foot on the accelerator nothing is going to happen.  Another part of the problem is simply finding the words to describe the Word, the Word that did not stay a Word, but became flesh and dwelt amongst us.

This year I am going to go back to basics and work through the Christmas Gospel, that is, St John's Prologue to his Gospel in chapter 1 which tells of the Word becoming flesh.  I have read it so many times and preached on it often, but have never really felt that I have got to the heart of what St John is saying.  So to begin with, I am going to try reading and understanding the Prologue again.

Anyway, the sermon preparation for Christmas Eve begins in earnest now.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A New Liturgical Year

I am more than a little embarrassed at how long it has been since I last posted.  It has been so busy this term and the trouble is that once you get out of the habit of posting regularly, it tends to get squeezed out.  But no excuses!  Thank you to those who have been reading older posts and sending comments, you have encouraged me to get back in the saddle.

So what's been happening here?  All the normal things, but rather a lot of them.  We have experienced quite some numerical growth over the past year, which resulted in the largest congregation in our history a few weeks ago.  It is hard to identify any one single reason for this growth, we are, of course, encouraged by it, but it does also pose challenges not least in terms of space.

By far the greatest challenge, though, for me is getting to know the congregation.  How do you get to know so many people in any meaningful way and, more importantly, how do you minister spiritually to them?  Spare a prayer if you are reading this!

Last Sunday was the Feast of Christ the King.  I have written about this occasion in the past.  To save you having to look it up: it is also our anniversary celebration.  Christ Church was officially 77 years old.  Our Bishop was with us for the service, a good number of people were confirmed, and we had a Parish lunch back at the Vicarage.  The weather was really kind to us dry, sunny, and not too hot and many came both for the service and the lunch.

I wrote in the last post about different new years.  That was at the start of the academic new year.  This week it is, of course, Advent Sunday and the start of the new Church liturgical year.  I can't believe we are back to Year A and Matthew's Gospel.  It only feels like last year that I bought some new commentaries on Matthew to help preparing sermons in Year A.  From a preaching point of view, my two favourites are Craig Keener's and Ben Witherington's.  I am going to make use of France this time around as well, and will be interested to see what he has to say.  I generally like France, even if he did once turn me down for a job!

I have enjoyed Luke this year, though.  I have found myself regularly turning to Darrell Bock's large two volume commentary and Craig Evans' much shorter volume, which I have found surprisingly helpful given its size. What always strikes me reading Luke's Gospel is how different it feels to Acts.  Obviously, you might say, given the change of location, but it is more than that.  From the moment Acts opens you feel things are different.  I don't mean in a literary way and it's hard to put into words.  It is just a completely different world in every way.  Maybe there is a sermon there in itself.

Thank you again to those who are still interested in this blog.  I make no promises except to say I'll do my best to do better.

Have a great Advent!