Sunday, April 10, 2011

Just Ordinary Spiritual People

Rector’s Annual Address 2011.


(This is more or less what I said during this morning's service!)


One of the joys of having a computer is receiving 'round robin' emails, which people constantly send me.  One particular email which arrives routinely, every few weeks or so, is one which lists alleged bloopers from Parish Magazines.  Misprints often arise through the use of spell-checkers...those little programmes which look at what you have written, and suggest alternatives. Like last week, when both Christine and I missed the fact that the demon spell-checker has turned Stainer's Crucifixion for next Sunday into Stainer's Cruci-fiction!  Any Islamic readers of our pew news will be delighted...because they believe that Jesus was never crucified!


I have to admit, some bloopers from parish magazines are priceless.  Here's a small selection of my favourites:


"Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands".


"Today the Vicar will preach his farewell sermon after which the choir will sing 'Break Forth into Joy' "


"Notice in the kitchen of a Church Hall: "Ladies, when you have emptied the teapot, please stand upside down in the sink"."


And here's a special favourite of mine:  "During the Easter Sunday service, Mrs Williams of the Mother's Union will lay an egg on the Altar"


Speaking of eggs - it’s nearly Easter, so this seems as good a time as any to think about them.  Eggs, of course, remind us of new life...and Jesus rose from the tomb in a similar way that new born chicks emerge from an egg.  This year, there has been a campaign to produce a Real Easter Egg - chocolate eggs which actually have the story of the Resurrection printed on the side...to try to help an uneducated public make the connection between chocolate eggs and Jesus.


But there is another way in which we can use the image of the egg to contemplate Easter.


The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr invites us to use the egg to understand something perhaps even more profound than the image of an empty tomb.   He suggests that these three elements of the egg - yolk, white and shell, can provide an image for our growth as children of God.  The three elements can be thought of as three stories...there is my story, then there is our story, then there is the story.  Rohr suggests that true, biblical religion (and especially true, biblical Christianity) honours and integrates these three stories.  He calls that process of integration a 'Cosmic Egg of Meaning'.


Let me explain - if I can - and especially in relation to our life together as a parish.


The first level at which we all exist is at the level of the individual.  This is my story...the essential being that I am.  At this level, I live as a private individual - I make my own choices.  I decide what I will believe, about God, or about the world.  I am the one who has the free will to live a creative life, or to vegetate my days away in front of the television.  This is the level of individualism - which is a concept that has really taken hold in recent years...especially in the Western world.  This is the level at which we embrace concepts like celebrity...where we become fascinated with the intricate detail of individual lives.  Hello Magazine is the herald of the individual. Consumerism is its life-blood. Strictly Come Dancing and the X-Factor are all about the small life of individuals, raised for a moment of fame above the normal boredom of human, individualism.


But on its own, being an individual is a very small stage indeed.  It's the little stage where I do my own dance and where the sort of questions we ask ourselves are "Who is watching me?  How do I feel? What do I believe?  What makes me unique?".  


Each of us is, of course, an individual - a loved, beautifully created, individual child of God.  But doing 'life' by ourselves is not the solution to a happy and fulfilled existence.  Unless we draw from something greater than our mere selves, we are doomed to an endless self-critical, or self-deluding individualism... and we will wither and die.  Jesus calls us to something greater, something bigger than mere individualism.  In John 15, verse 5, he warns that 'the branch which is cut off from the Vine is useless'.  And in today's Gospel, he reminds us that He is both the Resurrection and the Life.  Life, in all its fullness cannot be attained by an individual alone.  


And so we move to the second part of the egg...to the 'white' if you like. If the yolk symbolises 'my story', the white symbolises 'our story'.  This is where the life of the individual becomes integrated into the life of a community.  I becomes 'we'.  This is where we find our group...our community, perhaps, or our country,, perhaps our nationality, or our ethnic group.  For many people, the concept of 'us' is often caught up with the kind of music they listen to, or what gang they belong to.  We feel protected inside the group.  We might be members of a Rotary club, or a jam-making club.  We might be supporters of a football team - and gain a sense of purpose by waving flags and signs around.  Now we no longer have to be great by ourselves...we can ride on the coat-tails of other members of our group...other football fans, or other Cocker Spaniel owners.


All of us belong to many groups.  It is necessary for our growth as human beings to move beyond the yolk, into the 'white' - beyond individualism, and into the group.  For Christians, of course, one of the groups that we choose to belong to is the 'Christian Club' - or as we call it, the Church.  Here, with other Christians, we find group identity, and group purpose.  Together we identify what we need to fight for, and fight against.  


For us, in this parish, our mission is enshrined in our Five Year Plan - agreed at last year's APCM. In that plan, we committed ourselves together, as a group, to being a praying, learning, serving, visible church that is diverse and all-inclusive.  That is, in a nutshell...or an egg-shell!...our group identity


In that endeavour, during the last year, we have been prolific together.  We have provided, each week, across the parish, a minimum of 9 services per week. We have ministered to the sick, and to the lonely, to the bereaved, and to the families of baptised children, and to couples preparing for marriage.  We have provided a community cafe, soon to be on five days per week, for our neighbours to meet one another, and migrate from being individuals to being members of a life-giving group.  We have maintained our church buildings, so that the Kingdom is seen in bricks and mortar...as well as in lives.  We have raised funds, and supported mission in other places.  We have sung, we have prayed, we have laughed and we have celebrated.  We have danced...especially at last week's barn dance!  We've together been in pubs, and in schools, at quiz nights and concerts.  


But we need to go broader and deeper still.  If all we are is a group who like doing things together...then we've missed the point entirely.  Groups can be wonderfully nurturing places...essential for our growth away from the smallness of individualism.  But groups can also be dangerous places.  Just think how many people have thrown away their lives for causes which were all about ‘group identity’…everyone from the Crusaders to the Nazis.  If we are not careful, our group can become our God.  We can end up worshipping the Vine, instead of the source of the Vine's life.  We can end up worshipping our Church, rather than the God who gives his life to the Church, just as Jesus gave life to Lazarus.


How can we escape from that trap?  How can we go deeper and broader, beyond the life of our group, our parish, into the very heart of God?


That is the third part of the egg...the shell.  If the yolk is 'my Story' and the white is 'our Story'...then the shell, which should bind it all together is 'the Story'....the sacred story of a God who creates all life and all possibilities, and holds them in his hands.  The way to avoid our group becoming the reason for our existence is to go deeper...into the Divine Life, into that which transcends our individualism and our particular group - and which opens us up to the incredible potential of life to the full...or 'eternal life' as Jesus called it.  "I am the Resurrection and the Life....and everyone who believes in me will never die".  Or as we were reminded a couple of weeks ago, Jesus is the Living Water:  "anyone who drinks of me will never be thirsty again."


The challenge of Richard Rohr's Cosmic Egg is that we should learn to live with all three of its parts.  Not content with individualism, we embrace the group.  Not content with the group, we embrace the whole...the transcendent reality which is God, in Jesus Christ.  Richard Rohr gives some examples of the kind of people who have managed to become like that…people whose sense of themselves and the groups they belong to are enlarged by their connection to the Divine Life.  He lists people like Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Julian of Norwich.  And of course, St Francis of Assisi after whom this particular building is named.


But how?


How do we do this?


Here's the nub - and here's the heart of what I want to say to the whole parish today, as my Rector's Annual Message:


I think that I should tell you that I get a great deal of ribbing as I drive around our Diocese and Deanery.  I get teased mercilessly by my colleagues in clerical collars, because I insist on driving around in a car which has stickers on the door. One of my fellow Vicars keeps threatening to turn my stickers upside down, ever since he discovered that they are magnetic! 


Do you remember what the stickers on my door say?  Basically, just four simple words...words we agreed last year would be our motto as a parish..."Just Ordinary, Spiritual People".  


Because that's what we are...or at least, what we aspire to be.  On the one hand, we are ordinary people.  We are individuals, who like many individuals have discovered something of the joy and the challenge of living together in community.  In our case, we live as part of a group we call the North End Portsmouth Team Ministry.  Like other ordinary people, we care about our buildings, and our social programmes.  Like other ordinary people, who belong to other ordinary clubs, we sing in choirs and bands, we run table top sales and fayres, we paint, we dig, we polish, we maintain.  But that is all, basically, the stuff of ordinary people.  Essentially, on that level, there is little difference between what we do and what most community clubs do.  Go into the Buckland Community Centre, or the Baroque Choir, or any charity shop and you will find people who are just as committed, just as passionate about what their organisation, their group, is doing for the community around them.


And rightly so.  And many of our members are members of these other clubs and groups too.


But we aspire to more.  We are ordinary spiritual people.  That's what we claim about ourselves.  We claim that our inspiration comes from a greater, wider, deeper, broader root than pure group identity.  We claim to be people who are spiritual...we are those whose lives are caught up not just with each other, but with the source of all life...the transcendent reality of God.  By our simple claim to be 'just ordinary spiritual people' we claim to be in touch with the whole of the Cosmic Egg...yolk, white, and shell.  We claim to be people whose lives are rooted in the Lord who is the Resurrection and the Life.


So here is our challenge for the coming year. We have laid some strong foundations together in the last few years.  Our buildings are better maintained than they have been for some time.  Our congregation numbers are rising, and our income is holding steady, despite the economic hardships of our age.  But now, we need to go deeper.  Now we need to discover more of what it means to be people who are spiritual beings – those in whom the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.


We’ve begun to think about what that might mean. Recently, for example, we’ve started holding Healing Services – every two months around the parish - as a chance for us to be touched by God’s healing power for our bodies and our souls.  Soon, you will all be receiving information about a Quiet Day which we plan to hold in Romsey, on September the 24th – a chance to draw aside from the world, and to think about what it means to be God’s Pilgrim People, on the journey of faith.


But I am hoping for more yet.  With new members about to join the ministry team, and with new connections growing with other churches in our Cluster, I hope that over the next few months we will be able to start new groups – home groups, or study groups – so that we can all have the opportunity to go deeper…the chance to meditate upon our faith, and truly begin to connect at a Spiritual level with the source of all life.


But there’s more yet.  What would it mean for us to be truly spiritual people? Could there come a time when anyone who visits any of our churches finds only unconditional love and acceptance.  Sometimes I think we’re nearly there.  Could there come a time when we truly begin to see ourselves as intimately connected not just with each other and God, but with a whole world outside our doors…a world which is desperately lost in the lies of consumerism and individualism?  Could there come a time when we give as much money to alleviate poverty as we currently give to maintain our church buildings?  


That’s the kind of vision that I want to hold before you today.  It’s just not enough for us to be just three churches who happen to have a presence in this area.  God calls us to something greater, wider, deeper, and much more spiritual.  God calls us to be salt and light to North End, Hilsea and Copnor.  God calls us to become the spiritual heart of this community…the first place that anyone turns, when they begin to glimpse that there is more to life than just individualism alone.  We are called to be those who understand the full implications of the Cosmic Egg.  We are called to be those who model what it is to be ordinary, yet deeply spiritual people.  


Amen.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday - 3rd April 2011

Right then.  Let's start with some basic dictionary definitions.  What is a mother?

According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, a mother is:

"A mucilaginous substance produced in vinegar during fermantation by mould-fungus"

Oh.  Hang on.  That can't be right.  Let's try another:

"A term of address for an elderly woman of the lower class"

Better.

How about "the Head of a Religious Community"

or

"A quality or condition which gives rise to another, as in 'necessity is the mother of invention'"

or

"Artificial Mother:  An apparatus for rearing chickens"

Of course we've all heard the word Mother used in many and various contexts haven't we.  The House of Commons is sometimes referred to as 'the Mother of Parliaments'. For our friends in Roman Catholicism, St Peter's in Rome is sometimes referred to as 'the Mother Church'.  And Saddam Hussein had an annoying habit of referring to his warlike excursions into neighbouring countries as 'the Mother of all battles'.

But of course, the most usual use of the word is the one we give to our Mums...to those who gave birth to us, and who brought us up in the world.

True motherhood though, is much much more than the biological function of bringing new life into the world.  That part of motherhood is hard, no doubt.  It takes commitment, devotion, and (apparently!) a lot of pain to fulfill the purely biological process of motherhood.  But, as any mother will tell you - it's after the birth that the real work of mothering begins.

Real mothering takes time, devotion, and skill.  And many mothers have to learn those skills along the way - often by trial and error.  In fact it is very easy to tell new mothers from more experienced ones - especially by the way they relate to their children.

Apparently, when you have your first baby, you spend a great deal of time just gazing at your baby.
When you have your second child, you spend a good deal of every day just making sure that your first child isn't hitting, poking or squeezing the baby
When you have your third child, you spend a little bit of every day hiding from all the children!

There are other signs of an experienced mother too. 
·                  You know you've become a mother when you go out for a romantic meal with your husband, and then reach over to start cutting up his steak. 
·                  You know you've become a real mother when you start thinking about writing a book called "101 things to do with tumble-dryer fluff and dried pasta shells". 
·                  You know you've become a mother when you begin to actually like the smell of mashed carrots and applesauce!


But let's face it, not every mother is successful.  In fact, in these days of fractured or highly mobile families, it is not at all unusual for a young mum to find herself bringing up a child, all alone, with no other family members around.  In this City I know of many young mums who are isolated beyond belief...stuck at the top of a high rise building, perhaps with the lift broken down, or perhaps with too many children to be able to go out into the world, even to seek help.  For many, motherhood becomes an oppressive almost prison-like experience.

The other uncomfortable fact is that some mothers just shouldn't be mothers.  Too many children grow up in homes that are unloving, or where one parent or the other suffers from addictions to drugs or alcohol.  Some parents routinely use violence to bring up their children, others are too poorly educated to realise that sticking a child infront of a playstation all day does not constitute good parenting!

And that is why Mothering Sunday should inspire us to enlarge our vision of what 'mothering' is.  Mothering is something that the whole of society should be involved with.  Put it another way...mothering is just too important to be left to mothers alone!  Not so long ago...in fact within the memories of most of us here, whole villages or towns were involved in bringing up children.  It was perfectly natural for any adult who saw a child mis-behaving to chastise them.  Adults from across the community ran scouts and guides and youth clubs and choirs.  When I was growing up, the parenting that my mum and dad did was supported by my school teachers, my brass band, my drama group, and my cub pack and my church choir.  But now thanks to some mercifully rare, but very high profile cases of appalling child abuse, less and less adults are willing to volunteer...afraid that they will be labelled as paedophiles, just for caring about children.  Many activities which are run for children now can only happen if parents stay in the room, or at the side of the pitch. 

The danger of this over-protection of youngsters is that children don't get the chance to flap their wings, and find out who they are.  Their vision of what life can be is reduced.  For children who are taken to school in the safety of Mum's car, then observed in every dance class or drama group, and taught martial arts only 'so they can stand up for themselves', the world becomes a place to be protected from...rather than to be experienced, relished, and enjoyed for all its beauty, challenge, and yes, even danger.

Mothering then, is something which the Church teaches should be done by the whole community. 

In fact Jesus used some pretty strange language about mothers.  Do you remember the time when someone tugged at his sleeve and said "Your mother and brothers are outside"? Here's the whole short story, from Matthew 12. 46-50

While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

This was pretty tough stuff, wasn't it.  Jesus appears to reject his own Mother, in favour of the larger community of disciples who were following him.  Uh?  What's going on?

For Jesus, the bonds of family were clearly important.  They were so important that when he hung on the cross, one of the things most clearly on his mind was the long-term care of his Mother...which is why he asks John to take care of her.  But before that, by his actions and by his words, Jesus makes it very clear that the family unit - and even the bonds of love between a mother and a child - must take second place to the wider Christian community.


And that's because the Christian wider community is the whole Body of Christ - and the Body of Christ is called, by Christ, to serve and 'mother' the rest of the world.  To those who are sick, or in prison, or hungry, or homeless, Christ says, effectively, "Mother them".   Christ uses a mothering metaphor of himself, when weeping over the lost city of Jerusalem, he says "How long have I desired to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings".

So for the Church, Mothering Sunday has never been just 'Mother's Day'.  You could even wonder whether Mother's Day is just a secular scam, designed to sell cards and flowers, and rack-up the profits of restaurants, by feeding on our guilt about not having phoned our mothers! 

Going further still, someone responded to a few thoughts I put on Facebook this week, on the topic of Mother's Day.  They described Mother's Day as 'A patriarchal construct to reinforce women's subjugation and oppression'!  That might be a little bit strong...but I know where they are coming from.

To be a mother is much more than to be the one human being whose sole duty is to bring up one or more biological children.  Motherhood needs to be understood as a calling that every Christian - man or woman - shares...a calling to 'mother' a world which is need of the kind of wisdom, challenge and upbringing that the very best Mothers are capable of. 

And that, ultimately is surely what we are called to do here in North End.  Our churches, in the North End Team, are called to act like mothers to those around us.  A good mother imparts knowledge, and wisdom.  A good mother reaches down and picks up fallen children.  A good mother inspires their child to be more - to learn more, to grow more...to become the best human being they can become.  A good mother introduces her child to other children, so that all the children learn together what it means to grow up together.  A good mother picks up a child who is crying, and comforts them.  A good mother sits beside the bed of a child who is suffering, and prays for them.  A good mother feeds her children. 

St Mark's, St Nicholas, St Francis churches...all of us, are called to be that kind of mother to the people of our parish.  By our teaching of the Gospel, by our prayers for the sick and the suffering, by our feeding of the hungry poor (in our cafĂ©, for example), by the visiting of the lonely, by our care for the oppressed, by the provision of opportunities for people - and children - to grow in talent and humanity...we are called to act as a mother to the wider family of the people of North End.

So here's my prayer for this church, and for this parish:  may we discover the fullness of mother-hood revealed to us through the example of Christ.  May we discover the joy of giving loving, motherly service to the lost, the lonely and the poor of our parish.  May we know that fulfilment which comes from sharing God's motherly love to more than just our own families...but to the whole world to which Christ calls us.

Amen

Quiet Day: Talk 1

This is the first of three talks I gave on a Sisters of Bethany Quiet Day on 26th March 2011.  The other two talks can be accessed from links at the end of this post.


Welcome


Its really good to be with you: and I pray that you are going to find this Day of Quiet to be an enriching experience.  I don't know about you, but I find that I don't spend nearly enough time alone and aside from the day to day pressures of life.  My prayer for all of us is that by the end of today, we will find that we've made new connections with God - and that we find that we have eaten spiritual food for the Journey that God calls each of us on.


During the day, I'm going to be offering three talks. Two will be quite in depth - here at the beginning, and then later in the day.  The second talk will be more of a homily - a few thoughts during the Midday Mass.  These talks are, I hope, going to help all of us - myself included -  to refocus on a very important question.  Its a question which undergirds our life and our faith. Its a philosophical question which, if we can answer it well, should inspire us to see ourselves and God in a new light.  What is that question?  Here it is...


Who am I?

That's it.  There are supplemental questions too.  Questions like 'why am I here?'.  And 'where did the Universe come from?'  But at the root, the most basic question that any of us can ask is 'Who am I?'

As I've said, this is a philosophical question.  I imagine that the word 'philosophy' is a slightly nerve-racking word to some of you.  It perhaps conjures up names like Aristotle, Heidegger and Kant...and long, technical words like existentialism.  But please don't worry.  What I'd like to do in the next 20 minutes is share with you something of my personal love of seeking wisdom.   The Love of Wisdom is, of course, an intently Biblical idea.  According to the first chapter of the Book of Proverbs,  "Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.  At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 'How long, O Simple Ones, will you love being simple?  How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?"



Let me start by breaking down the word 'philosophy' itself.  It is an ancient Greek word, made up of two separate words.  Philo - which is one of the words that the Greeks used for 'love'.  The second part of the word, 'sophy' - comes from the Greek word 'sophia' which simply means 'wisdom'.  So 'philosophy' is 'the love of wisdom'.  A philosopher is someone who loves wisdom.  That's all it means.  So please don't let the word frighten you!   


Perhaps the best way to approach wisdom-thinking is to ask a few wisdom-seeking questions.  These are the kind of questions which people of every age, and every culture, have always been asking.  Questions like: how was the world created?  Is there any active, living Will behind what happens?   Or is life just a series of random events?  Is there life after death?  Perhaps one of the most important questions that lovers of wisdom have asked is 'How should we live?'  Or put more succinctly, the question we have already asked, 'Who am I?'

For me, that question acts as a focus for all the other questions.  Am I a random, chance event...just a collection of chemicals that have randomly come together to make me?  Or am I the product of a Force, a Will, a Creator who has deliberately desired that I should live now, at this moment, in this time and place?

Studying philosophy can be a bit like a detective story.  Some detectives might think that Smith was the murderer, or Jones, or Green.  Or perhaps they were all involved.  Perhaps they all planned the murder, and were all involved - but only one of them pulled the trigger.  How can you tell?  Sometimes the police can solve a crime - but sometimes they just can't get to the bottom of it.  Perhaps there is not enough evidence.  Or perhaps the evidence is in conflict with another piece of evidence.  But whether the crime can be solved or not, there was still a crime.  It's the same with questions of truth.  There may only be one right answer to a question...or there may be many...perhaps different shades of truth.  But there is a solution somewhere - if only we can find it.

It's the same with philosophy - the love of wisdom.  Some philosophical questions can have only one right answer.  Either there is a God, or there isn't.  Either there is life after death, or there isn't.  The philosopher's task, like a detective, is to sift the available evidence - and arrive at a reasonable conclusion.

One of the greatest Philosophers was called Plato...who based his writing on the thoughts of his teacher and mentor, Socrates.  Plato believed that philosophy sprang out of human beings' sense of wonder.   Over time, humans had developed the ability to think about themselves.  They became, in the words of another philosopher, "the man who knows that he knows".  That's what the term 'homo sapiens' means...and is, in fact a contraction of the original phrase...'homo sapiens sapiens'...the man who knows that he knows. 

Have you every thought about that before?  Have you ever wondered what makes us different from other thinking creatures on this planet.  Consider a dog, for example.  If you've ever owned a dog, you will know that dogs can certainly think.  My dog is very able to think about how to sneak food out of the cat's bowl!  Dogs definitely think - and they definitely feel. You should see how depressed my dog gets when she can't get anyone to give her a tidbit from the table.  And how happy she gets when a certain favourite visitor comes to call...especially one who throws a ball for her.  But the difference between me and my dog, is that I can, sort of, stand outside myself, and realise that I think.  I can think about the process of thinking.  I am a man who knows that he knows.

Once human beings had developed that ability to know that they knew things - many thought that it was astonishing that they had that ability...and astonishing that they were alive at all.  It was so astonishing to be alive that philosophical questions began to arise of their own accord.

According to a modern-day philospher, called Jostein Gaarder, its like watching a magic trick.  We cannot understand how the trick is done.  So we ask: how can the magician change a silk scarf into a white rabbit?  A lot of people experience the world with the same sense of wonder as an audience who watch a magician.  In the case of the rabbit, we know the magician has tricked us.  What we would like to know is how he did it. 

But in the world, it's somewhat different.  We know that the world is not all sleight of hand and deception, because here we are, in it; we are part of it.  Actually, says Gaarder, we are the white rabbit being pulled out of the hat - the world, and our very existence is so amazing, so improbable, that we are a kind of living magic trick.  The only difference between us and the rabbit, is that we know we are taking part in the trick.  We feel we are part of something mysterious and we would like to know how it all works.

Philosophers, throughout the millennia, have tried to help us understand how the magic trick works.  They have tried to expand our consciousness of the world around us, and of our place in the world.  They have forced us to ask the hard questions, the deep questions:  why am I here?  Who am I?  How was the world made?

The trouble is, as philosophers have complained all through time, many people just don't want to do the hard work of thinking about those sorts of things.  Many people are happy to go through life just being told what to think - and what to believe.  Many homo sapiens simply never get to the point of being sapiens sapiens!  Worse still, some people never get beyond working at the level of simple instinct...the instinct to survive, or the instinct to destroy, or to dominate, or control.

Some time ago I walked out of my house to find that a drainpipe from my garage was hanging off the wall.  I thought it was odd.  Perhaps someone had accidentally knocked it with their car while turning in the street? But then, as I walked on down the road, I discovered that the house next door had also got its drain-pipe hanging off.  And the next one.  And the next one.  It quickly became clear that some individual had systematically gone down the street destroying drainpipes. 

Why?  What possible reason could anyone have for mindlessly destroying drainpipes?  Perhaps at some instinctive level, someone had simply decided that they enjoyed the sound of drainpipes creaking and cracking before falling off.  Perhaps someone had lost control over something in their life...perhaps a partner had left them...and this small act of vandalism was a way of showing themselves that they still could control something in their life?  Who knows?  What was clear though, was that this was not the act of someone who has asked the philosophical questions.  Who am I?  What am I here for?  This was someone who was acting at a purely instinctive level of consciousness....like a dog who chases reflections endlessly around the lawn.  Pure instinct.  This was someone with no sapiens sapiens.

Sadly, as philosophers have observed across the millennia, this is the standard pattern for many human beings.  We see it, all too often, in our own streets, and among our own families and neighbours.  People get stuck into the dull routine of getting up, going to work, slumping in front of the box...and then doing it all over again.  They so rarely stop to gaze at the magnificence of a sunset, or the intricate beauty of a flower.  Rarely do many people stop to ask themselves even the most basic sapiens sapiens question - like 'what makes my relationship with my partner work?'.  Even less do most people ask themselves the question 'Why am I here?'.

Jostein Gaarder continues his analogy about the white rabbit by saying that we can see the rabbit as the Universe.  A wondrous thing, brought into existence by forces that look like magic to us.  And yet, most human beings choose to bury themselves in the fur of the rabbit...where it is warm and cosy...where nothing can frighten or challenge.  Lovers of Wisdom are those rare individuals who are prepared to climb up one of the hairs, and to peer out at the Universe.  In Gaarder's words: 'Philosophers are always trying to climb up the fine hairs of the fur in order to stare right into the magician's eyes'.

Plato - that ancient Greek lover of wisdom - used another analogy for this same dilemma.  He effectively said to his readers:  most people live as though they were dwellers in a cave.  Such people spend their whole lives standing in one position - staring at the back-wall of the cave.  Behind them is a light, and in front of the light, other people are moving wooden cut-outs of worldly objects - making shadows on the wall in front of the cave dwellers.  For the cave dwellers, this is all there is to life.  To them, a house is just a shadow of the outline of a house.  A tree is just a long shape with a fluffy bit on top.

Imagine what would happen if one day, one of the cave dwellers turned around, and saw what was happening behind them.  How excited they would be to discover that there was more to life...that, in the first instance, a house was not a shadow, but a firm outline made of wood.  Imagine then that our rebellious cave-dweller realises that the light, behind the cut-outs, is coming from further away...in fact from the entrance to the cave.  Astonished at this discovery, the cave-dweller walks towards the light - and then, in the full glare of the sun, he discovers what a house is really like, and how wonderful is a tree!

Plato suggests that this is the kind of journey that philosophers - lovers of wisdom - can make.  Philosophers are those of us who are no longer content with a world of shadows.  Philosophers want to walk towards the light...and find the source of life.

That is, ultimately, the force that drives me to a life of faith.  I like to think that I am one of those people who climb up the hairs of the white rabbit's fur...and try to look the Magician in the eye.    

The philosopher's road has been a fascinating journey for me so far.  I think that I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the big questions - the 'who am I?' sort of questions.  I believe, for example, that my life has a purpose - and that I am not a random accident of fate.  I believe that there is a Creative Force, out there, something greater than I can ever conceive...and that somehow, I am linked to the rest of the Universe, through that Creative Force.

I choose to make my journey of discovery a Christian one.  I believe that Jesus was more connected to that Creative Force than anyone else who has ever lived...and that he was uniquely in tune with the big questions.  I follow his teachings because they make sense to me, on a philosophical level.  They give me a framework around which I can fine-tune my own, personal understanding of the 'who am I?' question.  Who am I?  I am a child of God, made in the image of God.  What is my purpose?  It is to live for God, and to show God to others.  It is to stand in the door-way of the Cave, and to call back to the other cave-dwellers 'come and see what it is like in the sunlight!'.

However, as a philosopher - a lover of wisdom - I don't claim that I have got all the answers.  Do you remember Socrates...the mentor of Plato?  Socrates was executed by people who didn't like the fact that he would spend all his time going around telling people that they don't actually know anything.  He had an irritating habit of seeking out people who thought they were wise, and then like a child who keeps asking 'why', he would gradually reduce them to having to admit that they didn't know anything.  He famously said, "True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us."  Or to put it more pithily: "One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing"

In a rather longer explanation, at his trial which was recorded by Plato, Socrates related how he came to a conclusion about a supposedly wise man whom he had interviewed.  He said this,

"Well I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know."


There is an inbuilt humility in that line of thinking.  The person who thinks they have understood everything is a fool.  But the man - or woman - who knows that they do not know...in such a person, God can work.  The book of proverbs reminds us, again in chapter 1, that 'the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge'.  


The Christian philosopher takes that as their starting point.  The Christian philosopher knows instinctively - by the gift of knowledge from the Spirit - that the Lord is the magician - who is pulling the Universe out of the hat.  Standing at the tip of one of the hairs of the rabbit's fur, the Christian tries to look into the face of God.   And there, the Christian philosopher begins to ask those very important questions which I am going to leave you to ponder for yourselves this morning.

But before I set you those questions, let me just conclude with a couple more of my favourite quotes from Socrates...


  • What a lot of things there are a man can do without.
  • Ordinary people seem not to realise that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death
  • An unexamined life is not worth living.
  • No man undertakes a trade he has not learned, even the meanest; yet everyone thinks himself sufficiently qualified for the hardest of all trades, that of government. 
  • And finally, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, Socrates said, "By all means get married. If you get a good wife you will become happy, and if you get a bad one you will become a philosopher".


Now.  Some questions.  You are of course at liberty to do whatever you like with this Quiet Day.  Walk in the garden, sit in silence in the chapel.  Leaf through books, or stare at the intricate beauty of a flower.  But let me encourage you to take two questions with you as you do these things.  Two questions which I encourage you roll around inside your head.  

Question 1:  Who am I?  No doubt, you will have a straight answer to that question.  But whatever the answer is...take it further.  Develop the thought, make the thought real, examine it in the light of Christ.  For example, if the answer to the question is: "I'm a worthless worm"...then ask yourself, whether that is actually true.  Challenge yourself to see all the good that your life has accomplished.  All the people you've loved along the way.  Ask yourself how God sees you...and whether God may have something when he says "You are my precious child".

Question 2:  Why am I here?  What is the purpose of your life? What are you here to accomplish?  Are there any changes you need to make in order to accomplish it.

I will be available all morning if you want to roll those questions - or any others - around with me.  When we come back together for the Midday Mass, we're going to think in a slightly more Lenten way about the power of forgiveness.

But for now, go, in the peace of Christ.  Ask yourself the questions, in the presence of God, and conscious always of God's unconditional love for you, his precious, precious child.

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To read the next Talk in this series of 3, please click here


To read the third and final talk in this series of 3, please click here
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Further reading:  
For those wishing to dip their toe into the world of philosophy, I heartily recommend"Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder

Quiet Day: Talk 2: The Prodigal Son

This is the second talk I gave on a Sisters of Bethany Quiet Day on Saturday 26th March 2011.  I suggest you read the first talk first!


When I was a child, I was into go-karts.  I mean go-karts made out of bits of wood we found in my father’s shed, knocked together with any old nails we could find, with rusty pram-wheels that we picked up from the local tip.

We lived on a hill. A rather steep hill with junction at the bottom, on to a main road...which was itself, another hill. Overall, we had a run of over a mile from the top of the hill to the bottom...

My friends and I liked nothing better than to hair down our hill, on wooden go-karts, steered with string. To slow ourselves down before the junction, we would use our rubber Wellington boots as brakes...forcing them against the tarmac to slow our descent a little, before weaving into the traffic on the main road. That meant, of course, that Wellington boots had to be replaced with great regularity!

When I think back on those wonderful childhood days, I remember them with joy. I remember coming home at night, with holes in my Wellingtons, scrapes and grazes all over my body, exhausted beyond belief...and yet being wonderfully happy.

But when I look back on those days more objectively, I find myself asking an uncomfortable question...and one that I’m sure has occurred to you already...namely; while I was careering over a mile down a hill on nothing more than a plank of wood, four pram wheels, a piece of string and my trusty Wellingtons at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour….where on earth were my parents?



I asked my mother about this the other day...and learned precisely where she was. She was in our house, keeping out of my way...and terrified out of her wits. At any moment she expected a knock at the door to say that her son had been discovered in a pile of blood and pram wheels at the bottom of the hill.

So why didn’t she stop me?

I think it was because my Mum was part of that generation which understood that young people don’t grow well when they are rooted to the sofa. She knew that for me to become the exceptionally well rounded human being you see before you - (ahem) - it was important that I had the chance, the free will, to explore my environment...to find my own paths...to make my own mistakes. Her actions, or rather her deliberate inaction, was not the action of an uncaring mother, but actually a piece of biblically inspired wisdom.

In fact, when trying to describe what God is like, the picture that the Bible uses with the most force is that of a parent. Both ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ are terms that are used to describe God’s relationship with us.  Perhaps the single most powerful picture of God, in the whole Bible, is that of the Waiting Father, from today’s Gospel reading - traditionally known as the Prodigal Son. Here we have a picture of the perfect parent...who, just as my mother allowed me to do on my go-kart... gives their child the space, the opportunity, and the ability to choose their own path. And again, like my own mother, scared-stiff at home, the Waiting Father of Jesus’ story doesn’t for a moment stop caring about his child...


There’s a beautiful image that comes right in the middle of Jesus’ story. As the younger son arrives back in his father’s country, but is still far off, Jesus says that “his father saw him, and was filled with compassion for him, and ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him”. It’s a great image, isn’t it? How could the Father have seen his son when he was still far off, unless he was constantly scanning the horizon for him? The Father of this story never gives up hoping and praying for his son’s return...

And that, Jesus shows us, is what God is like. Because God wants sons and daughters, not puppets and robots, He must give us free will...the ability to choose whether or not we will follow Him, or follow our own lonely path. But as God gives us that choice, there is never a moment when He is not scanning the horizon, searching for us, hoping that we, like the prodigal son, will stop running, and come back home to the Source of our life.

Through this story, Jesus paints a picture of parental love which is actually quite challenging. Not every parent, by a long shot, would be able to continue loving their child after the total rejection that the prodigal son shows to his father. But Jesus insists that no matter what the son has done, he is still the father’s son. When no-one else would even give the prodigal something to eat, the father runs to him and accepts him back.

We see God’s perfect love in the actions of the Waiting Father. We see an abundant love which longs, with its whole being, for the restoration of the relationship of the Garden of Eden, when men and women walked and talked with God. As a mother longs to clasp her errant child once again to her bosum, so God longs to welcome each of us home with wonderful words…”Welcome home my child”.

Amen

Quiet Day Talk 3: True Forgiveness

This is the third talk I gave on Saturday 26th March at a Sisters of Bethany Quiet Day.  I suggest you read the other two talks first!


So...you've spent a quiet morning, you've had a Midday Mass, and a Midday Meal...so by about now, I guess, you're all ready for a nice afternoon nap!

So...let's start our afternoon session with some high energy worship!  Here's a very simple little song I learned in Uganda:  "When Jesus say yes, nobody can say no!"

(After song)

It's just about the simplest song I know...and yet the meaning is very profound.  I wonder how seriously we take the idea that when Jesus says something, he means it?!  

One of the questions I get asked most frequently as a priest is a very simple one...'Why does God allow suffering?'  After the last couple of weeks, with conflict in the Middle East, and earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan and New Zealand, its a question that rises up very often in conversations in our community cafe at St Mark's.  The answer of course, is much less simple than the question.  I don't pretend to know why God has created a planet which can cause such destruction, and wipe out so many lives.  Perhaps it is important for us, as a human race, to be reminded from time to time that we are not the masters of our own destinies. Perhaps it is because we need to be reminded that we have failed, time and time again, to live wisely.  To pick up the thrust of this morning's talk - we have failed to be lovers of wisdom.  

My family and I visited Naples a few years ago - to see Pompeii.  While we were there, I was struck at how the whole city of Naples lies in the lea of Vesuvius, an active volcano!  Naples is the most densely populated city in Italy.  In the whole of the metropolitan area, there are between 3 and 4 million people.  And one day...the whole city will be wiped out by an eruption from Vesuvius.  That doesn't strike me as very wise.  No wiser, in fact, than a Japanese culture which builds cities and villages all along a coast-line which history and geology tell us will one day be hit by a Tsunami.  Japan has plenty of hills and mountains...but its people choose to live by the sea.  

This is not to blame the people individually.   I'm not saying that it is their fault that their country just got destroyed.  But collectively, people do some very silly things.  We human beings are not very wise.  And perhaps we need to be reminded of that, from time to time...reminded that human wisdom is like God's foolishness.

But the other question that is asked is about medical suffering.  Why does God permit babies to suffer?  Why was my son or my daughter taken from me by cancer?  That is a harder question to answer.  But let me point you back to the simple profundity of that song from Uganda.  When Jesus says yes, nobody can say no.  In other words...Jesus knew what he was talking about.  He spoke with authority that no-one could deny.  And one of the most important things that Jesus said was, when translated in English, just three simple words:  "Love one another".

If only the human race had followed that simple teaching for the last two thousand years.  If only we would learn that loving one another would produce miracles.  If, as a human race, we had spent the last 2000 years loving one another, instead of blowing each other up through endless vendetas and cycles of violence and revenge, then, I suggest to you that we would by now have cured all the common diseases of humanity!  Children would no longer be dying, because we would have lovingly co-operated with each other, to discover how to prevent it!  Perhaps God allows a certain amount of chaos in the created order precisely for this reason.  Perhaps God allows what is, to us, the terrible death of a child from time to time, to wake us up...to make us question whether or not we are living the way he calls us to live.  Each cruise missile that has been used in the last week in Libya cost us half a million pounds.  Half a million pounds per bang.  I wonder how much research into child-hood cancer that could have funded.

You see, the trouble is, we are far too good as assuming we know better than God.  

God says "love one another".  And we say "No...we'll just go on battering each other"

God says "love me, with all your heart, soul, body, mind and strength".  And we say "No...I'd rather love my car, or my house, or my holidays or my hobby, or my garden or my grandchildren first."

God says "you are members of a body - the church".  And we say "Oh, I don't need to belong to a church...I can worship God anywhere.  I can worship him on a hilltop or by the sea. The question is, do we?"

God says "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?" (Proverbs 1.22)  And we say "I haven't got time to study at the moment"

God says "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—ponder such things" (Phillipians 4:8).  And we say, "Let me just catch one more episode of 'X-Factor' or 'Strictly come Maria on ice' and then I'll get down to thinking about God"

When Jesus says yes, nobody can say no.  When Jesus speaks with authority, only a fool would ignore him.  

So why do we find it so hard to follow what Jesus teaches?  I want to suggest to you that it is because we have not yet found answers to those two philosophical questions I posed this morning.  'Who am I?'  And 'Why am I here?'

Last Sunday, those of us whose churches used the lectionary - or those of us who were in church, instead of on a mountaintop - would have heard these words of Jesus:  "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him would not perish, but will have everlasting life."

That one line, from John 3.16, sums up the whole purpose of God in sending Jesus.  First, God sent Jesus because God loves the world.  God loves the world in the way the Father loved the prodigal son.  God knows that the world will fail him. God knows that time and time again we will get things wrong and muddled...but God still loves us. He loves us enough to send his Son.  Why?  "So that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but will have life that goes on for ever" (which is another way of translating the phrase 'everlasting life'.

The point is that the everlasting life God offers us can begin right now.  Being a follower of Jesus is not a sort of insurance premium.  I don't follow Jesus because I hope that one day I'll be given a place in heaven.  I follow Jesus because Jesus makes sense now.  I follow Jesus because the way he calls me to live matters now.  I follow Jesus because when I succeed in living as he calls me now, I already find myself in heaven.

Who am I?  A loved, child of God.  Failing, often wrong, often messed up. But a child of God...who God loves so much that he is prepared to die for me.

Why am I here?  I'm here to live as God calls me to live.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I'm here to participate in God's activity in the world - shaping it, transforming it, wherever I can with the powerful tool he has given me...the tool of love.  I am here to stand with God against the forces of evil - the forces of violence, ignorance, laziness, selfishness and consumerism.

How can I do this?  How can I have the gall to believe that I am participating in God's life in the world?  Because I know that whatever I have done, whatever mistakes I have made (and will still make), whatever evil I have perpetrated, whatever evil has been done to me...it is all taken care of.  I am forgiven.  I am free.  I live in the light of the love and forgiveness of God.  

But..here's something else that I experience every week in my ministry as a priest.  Time and time again I come across people who struggle with the idea of being forgiven.  Some people carry such guilt around with them, that it is like a permanent wound.  They hear Jesus say "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden", but they are unable to lay their burden down at his feet.  For too long, a world which lacks God's wisdom, a world which delights in punishment and retributive violence, has told them that their kind of sin cannot be forgiven.  When Jesus says yes, nobody can say no.  Ok. But why is it that when Jesus says "you are forgiven", some people just can't accept it.

So in these last few minutes I have been given, I want to focus on that most Lenten of themes:  the forgiveness of God.  Of course, the place we focus on for all our theology of forgiveness is the cross.  Over the centuries, theologians have wrestled with the question of exactly what was happening on that day.  How can the death of a man - even a man who is God - two thousand years ago, possibly speak into our situation today?  How can I know that my sins and yours were dealt with then? 

Most theology about the cross rests on the idea of atonement:  that is 'at one-ment' - the idea that somehow, by his death, Jesus managed to bring fallen, sinful humanity to one-ness with God.  Many different images are used in pursuit of this idea.  Drawing from Isaiah's visions of the Suffering Servant, theologians have proclaimed that 'it is by his wounds that we are healed'.  Suffering then, and specifically God's suffering for our sake, is what it is all about.  Some theologies go further, and suggest that God nailed all our sin onto Jesus - and that when he died, our sin died with him.  Jesus, then, was punished for our sins - taking the punishment which should have been ours; like a Judge in a court of law who volunteers to go to prison instead of the convicted murderer in the dock.  Another popular image is taken from Jewish tradition, when, on the day of atonement, a goat would symbolically have the sins of the people laid on it - and it would then be led out into the desert to die.

Another at-one-ment image is the idea of ransom.   According to that theory,  our sins make us the property of the devil.  Because we sin, we belong to Satan.  Jesus, as the only sinless human being who has ever lived, was the only price which could be paid to 'redeem' us back - to pay the ransom demanded by the devil.

But we would do well to remember that all these images are just that...images deployed by theologians like St Paul, and many after him, to attempt to get a handle on precisely what Jesus was doing that day.  Because, conspicuously, Jesus himself, never explained precisely what was going on.  The nearest we get to an explanation from Jesus himself is the words we use at every Mass:  'this is my body, given for you; do this in remembrance of me'.  'This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me'.  Clearly, from Jesus lips, his sacrifice has something to do with forgiveness of sins...but what, precisely?  How did it work?  What was the mechanism?  That's what thinking Christians for two thousand years have asked.

For me...it comes down to this.  Whatever all those different atonement images point to...the one, unquestionable fact is this:  Jesus took it.  Jesus took all the hate, all the malice, all the worldly power, all the fear, all the sin that the world could throw at him.  He took it, and absorbed it.  He took it, to the point of utter powerlessness.  He took it to the point where he could no longer raise his hands in blessing, because they were nailed to a beam.  He took it to the point when blood ran down his face.  He took it to the point where he was so overpowered by the hatred and sin of human beings that his own connection with God was lost.  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

But the story of the cross doesn't end at Golgotha.  The story of the cross ends three days later, when, having taken all the hate and sin, Jesus rises from the dead.  Death and sin are defeated - but not in some mechanistic kind of way.   Sin is not defeated because somehow our sins were individually nailed onto Jesus.  It's not as if the sin I committed yesterday is somehow floating around the spiritual ether...to be picked up and nailed onto Jesus.  Sin doesn't exist in the sense of being a real, spiritual thing.  Rather, sin is a description of a way of living that is contrary to the ways of God.   

Jesus rises from the tomb because Jesus could take it.  Jesus is bigger - universally, galactically bigger, than our petty human sins.  And therefore Jesus could overcome them. They simply don't matter to him anymore.   One image, often used in the Bible, is that God covers our sins.  Another is that he forgets them.  The Jews celebrate 'Yom Kippur' - the Day of Atonement.  'Kippur' comes from a root word which means 'to cover, or to hide'.  Another word is 'obliterate'.  Our sins are not an actual thing.  They are actions and thoughts which God, mercifully, is big enough to be able to simple cover over.  

By his death, and crucially by his resurrection, Jesus pronounces that our sins are as nothing to him.  He can shrug them off as easily as he shrugs off death itself.  Like an earthly parent who shrugs off the mis-doings of their beloved child, Jesus pronounces, by his actions, the forgiveness of sins.  The new Covenant written on the Cross is a Covenant of unconditional forgiveness.  

By his death, Jesus declares that our sins are washed away, in his eyes.  Anyone who turns to him can find forgiveness.  Not a grudging forgiveness.  Not the sort of forgiveness which the world offers.  We human beings will only offer a sort of grudging forgiveness won't we?  Anyone who has ever had to fill in a criminal records bureau check is only too well aware of how conditional is the forgiveness that human beings can offer one another.  "I can forgive....but I can never forget"...is one of the most oft repeated phrases we use.  "I will forgive you for what you have done, as long as you never do it again".  We hold each other in a sort of provisional forgiveness.

But this is nothing like the forgiveness of God. Jesus takes every bit of hurt and sin and anger and power-crazy nonsense that the world can throw at him...and what does he say?  Does he rail at his accusers?  Does he say, "Stop doing this to me, and perhaps I'll let you off"?  No, he says "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing".

Compared to the goodness and mercy and holiness of God, human sin is as nothing.  God wipes away sin, like it was a fly on his nose.  The Father of the prodigal son doesn't demand that his son should even repent of his actions and beg forgiveness...he just runs to greet him, and welcomes him home. The son's sin is not even mentioned.  Its dealt with.  Its done.  It just doesn't matter anymore.

Let me put this another way:  there is nothing you and I could do, no penance, no act of contrition, no wailing and knashing of teeth, no amount of sack-cloth and ashes which could make God forgive us any easier than he already does.  

Not only does Jesus death and resurrection declare that he can take everything we throw at him.  It shouts out that these sins are as nothing, compared to the mercy of God.  "Forgive them, Father...they are like children in the playground.  They don't know what they are doing."

There's one more thing we need to remember.  God isn't especially interested in our past.  The past is gone.  There is nothing we can do to change it.  God's only interest is in our future. The past is dead...but God offers us life which goes on for ever.  Our choice is simple...we either live in the past, which God has flicked away from his memory like a fly from his heavenly nose...or we embrace the future he offers us.  

"Come unto me, all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, for I am meek and lowly in heart...and you will find rest for your souls."

Who am I?  A loved, child of God.  Failing, often wrong, often messed up. But a child of God...who God loves so much that he is prepared to die and then rise for me...to show me how little my sins matter to him, now that I've turned to walk on his Way.

Why am I here?  I'm here to live as God calls me to live.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I'm here to participate in God's activity in the world - shaping it, transforming it, wherever I can with the powerful tool he has given me...the tool of love.  I am here to stand with God against the forces of evil - the forces of violence, ignorance, laziness, selfishness and consumerism.

How can I do this?  How can I have the gall to believe that I am participating in God's life in the world?  Because I know that whatever I have done, whatever mistakes I have made (and will still make), whatever evil I have perpetrated, whatever evil has been done to me...it is all taken care of.  I am forgiven.  I am free.  

I live in the light of the love and forgiveness of God.  

I live in the light of the love and forgiveness of God.

Let me invite you to take that thought away with you now, for a last hour of reflection.  Let those words roll around inside your mind.  Let them shape your being.  What does it mean for you, and me, to be people who live in the light and forgiveness of God.

I live in the light of the love and forgiveness of God.

I live in the light of the love and forgiveness of God.