Sunday, June 26, 2016

St Peter And The Art Of Prediction

At Diocesan Synod yesterday, Bishop Alan began his presidential address speaking about a book called ‘Superforcasting: The Art and Science of prediction.’ In it, the authors look at the way that experts attempt to predict the future, such as what is going to happen to the financial markets in the coming year. It’s telling, however, that one of the authors has concluded that in a wide range of subjects “there was very little difference between the accuracy of so-called ‘experts’ and guesses made by the man in the street.”

Well that’s what we re-discovered this past week. Most of us went to bed on Thursday night believing the opinion polls’ view that there was a small margin in favour of the United Kingdom remaining in the EU. International money markets agreed and the exchange rates and share indexes reflected this consensus. Some of us stayed up to watch the results come in and as they did we discovered that we had decided to divorce our immediate European neighbours after a forty year marriage and we now want to have a different set of relationships with other countries.

But this fracturing of relationships on the global stage, only mirrors the reshaping of relationships that we see at an individual or cultural level where increasingly we as people distrust large institutions of power that tell us what to think or do - instead we constantly seek our own political ideologies and cultural identities (no longer are you a mod or a rocker but you might be a post punk or prog rocker or any other myriad of identities today and tomorrow be something totally different). Similarly traditional models of relationship such as marriage no longer enduring and are ultimately disposable because all that matters is my happiness. We are ever increasingly the ‘me’ generation or put another way - the L’Orel generation - because all that matters is my happiness - because I’m worth it.

Caesarea Philippi was a Roman town south of the Golan Heights. It was previously known as Banias but it was renamed by Herod Philip II to honour Caesar - and himself too - and their ongoing relationship of power and it was the administrative centre of Herod’s rule. It was also one of the places where the goat god Pan was worshipped who was said to have been born in a nearby cave, known as the gates of Hell.

Jesus asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Until last September few people in her native Macedonia had heard of Katica Janeva. As chief prosecutor in a small border town, her work mainly consisted of pursuing petty thieves and people-smugglers. But now she has been thrust centre stage in this turbulent former Yugoslav republic. Her new job is to probe claims of wrongdoing and corruption raised by a huge wiretapping scandal that has engulfed the government. Her identity has changed from being a basically unknown to being a widely known fighter for truth and justice.

Katica Janeva
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man - an identity with implications. He’s identifying himself as a ‘son of Adam’ the man in the street; he’s also contrasting the lowliness of humanity and the glory of God; but he’s also identifying with a future figure who’s coming will signal the end history and the coming of God’s judgement and justice. Do people in these early days of his ministry and in a place laced with political, kingly and spiritual power, know yet who Jesus really is - what his identity is, and what he’s come to bring about?

Jesus said: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. Pope Francis, the successor to St Peter whom we commemorate today, his ministry continues to cause controversy. In a visit to Armenia recently, he described the killing of 1.5 million Armenian Christians as genocide. This on the one hand is an olive branch to the Armenian Apostolic church from the head of the Armenian Catholic church as the Apostolic church canonised those who died at the end of the Ottoman empire as martyrs, but it’s also on the other hand a clear call for historic justice and ultimately reconciliation.

The Pope meets the Armenian Patriarch.
I have often wondered why Jesus renames Simon as Peter. Petros, the stone or rock. Peter doesn't seem particularly stable or reliable a person on which to build something as lasting as the church. Peter the fisherman; Peter the one who misunderstands; Peter the one with his foot so often in his mouth; Peter the denier of Christ. And then I realised Simon only becomes Peter when he lives in the life changing reality of the coming kingdom of Jesus the Son of Man. Simon is Peter not because Jesus tells him he is, but Simon is Peter because of who Jesus is and what He continues to lead him into and reveal to him about the love of God. Simon's new identity as Peter isn't something he earns, but something in grace that Jesus confers on him again and again and again. And no other power - political, cultural, or spiritual - can take that away from him.

What is Jesus asking of us as we keep the Feast of St peter today? In these days of a shifting political landscape in terms of our relationships with our European neighbours and each other depending on which way you voted; after, what I believe to have been a poor four months of debate from both sides leading up to Thursday’s referendum based on a small minded and visionless politics, we must now move forward together for the common good.

St Peter will have heard Jesus teach on the greatest commandment - to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbour. Like St Peter’s successor, Pope Francis, how do we now listen to and show love to those with whom we have disagreed in these days, but also, how do we ensure - as followers of the same Jesus that Peter knew - that the voices of those who were not heard in the referendum or the voices of those who are constantly silenced in our communities or our world are heard? As we prepare ourselves as communities to welcome Syrian refugees from the UNHCR camps and elsewhere in the coming months: How do we not only transform the name - refugee, migrant, scrounger, vermin an so on - that they are given by the media and our communities - but transform their lives to become people again?

Spend a moment in quiet and in your mind ponder: what does it mean for me to say that Jesus is the Messiah. How would I describe Jesus to someone who never heard of him before. How would I demonstrate that I am no longer Simon, or Paul, or Maureen or Julie, but Peter through whom God’s kingdom is coming to a child…or adult…or friend…or a Syrian refugee.

Peter saw in Jesus what’s possible even in the face of political might and the very real fear for some.  Rather than give into the threat of disease, Jesus healed. Rather than surrender the powers that control people’s lives, Jesus showed compassion. Rather than let people starve because there’s not enough to go around, Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus refused to be satisfied or limited by the status quo and invites us to do the same, because if Jesus’ life and death show us how much God loves us, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that that love is more powerful than hate and fear and even death.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

London Busses And The Rule of St Benedict

Like London busses because as soon as one blog post is writ, another comes along on quick succession!

I have been coming on retreat to Alton Abbey for a few years now, and I have been enriched and fed (both physically and spiritually) there. The first time I spent time with the Brethern, what struck me and continues to draw me back there, was the warmth of their welcome, the depth of the spirituality, the quality of the silence and space, that it really felt like I had come home.

Since my initial visits, I have felt deeply called to the Way of Life as taught by St. Benedict.

I have been pondering on for a while what it is that resonates so much for me and in my about the Benedictine way. This is not intended to be my final word on these things, but just the beginnings of a reflection of the new call that Christ is making on my life.

Since my earliest years as a Christian I have tried to seek out a way following Christ that fed me inwardly. I have looked for spirituality that had, as it were, authenticity and depth as well as enabling me to have a transformative encounter with Christ which has led from 'Lancashire Low Church', through the Evangelical and Chasismatic traditions, to Alt Worship and on into an earthy Catholic Spirituality.

On the way, I have struggled and failed with unstructured daily scripture reading (even making my way through a Gospel could see me diverted onto something else!), a regular 'quiet time', prayer triplets and so on. All of them, for me, felt burdensome. Now some of that was to do with my age, my experience of faith, my experience of life and so on and so on.

It has really only been as I have begun to learn from Benedict that I am finding that depth and authenticity for which I have craved for so long.

So what appeals? A cursory reading of the Prologue of St Benedict's Rule highlight a few things for me:

1. There is a taking seriously the call to obedience to Christ and to imitate His life of holiness.
2. Prayer is the beginning and the end of the matter
Christ speaks of the things of God to us still through Scripture.
3. Spiritual renewal - in every sense of that expression - is key to living the Christian life
4. That 'doing' is good and especially doing good!
5. Actively choosing to live Christ's Way.
6. Recognising that I am and always will be a disciple in the school of the Lord's service.

Pondering on these things, and increasingly inspired by Benedict's teaching about being rooted in a particular place (in my case in a parish) I am exploring becoming an Oblate.

To do this, part of what I need to do is to seek to draw up a simple Rule of Life. Having prayerfully thought about what this might look like, I share with you what may well become mine as I explore this new vocation:

A Working Rule of Life.

Pray - as a cleric I promised that I will say the Daily Office regularly and pray for the people in my care; the church of God everywhere and for the needs of the world. This is I do  and I am fed by the waxing and waning of the liturgical seasons and the rhythm of psalmody and the flow of scripture reading. But I will also find opportunities to give thanks for the simple beauty of a goldfinch in the garden or to remember a person before God as I take Holy Communion to them at home.

Attend Mass regularly - presiding at the Eucharist is a significant part of how I spend much of my time. And when I am not doing it, I am preparing for it by reading scripture and writing sermons. For me at least, meeting Christ in the Eucharist is an utterly transformative experience, and it is from there that I am sent out by Him, filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, to make Him known in word and deed. The Mass is profoundly missional as it calls me to participate in the Missio Dei. It's all in the name.

Visit Alton at leat twice a year on retreat - this won't be too arduous. I aware that I need to me remade by being on retreat. Indeed I write this whilst being away on retreat. Parish ministry is challenging and varied. Jesus took time away from challenging ministry to just be away and to pray. I have been fed and nourished at Alton in so many ways and I anti ate I will continue use to do so. Besides my current Spriitual Director is here. It is not burdensome. During this time I hope I will reflect on this rule and do some much needed self-examination. Is my life pleasing to God? Am I keeping this rule or is it keeping me? Where am I falling short and where can I grow?

Pray for the community regularly - See point above.

Lectio Divina - I discovered spiritual reading of scripture through reading Richard Foster's books. Since then it has been a regular part of my own spiritual discipline either  at the Office or certainly during sermon preparation. I love the way Scripture comes alive as we ask God to speak to us though it; to read it slowly and prayerfully; to dwell on words and phrases and wait for the Spirit of God to lead us into prayer though our reading

Read and reflect on the Rule of St Benedict regularly. Since answering this call of Christ on my life I have sought to read and meditate on the Rule of St Benedict most days if I can. There are several books that enable me to do this.

Attend the On Fire Mission Conference annually - St Benedict speaks specifically about spiritual renewal in the Prologue to the Rule. I am not certain that he was meaning Renewal as Charismatic Christians might understand it, but in some sense the principle is correct though. If I am to be a faithful disciple; if I am to be a loving husband and father; if I am to be a good parish priest - I need Christ to continue to transform my nature and will from the inside out. I need to be formed more and more into His likeness. One of the places I find this happens for me is at the On Fire Mission Annual Conference as through it God blends my spiritual traditions with friendships and I am fed.

Continue my vocation to the Sodality of The Holy Spirit - this is a calling that has in part risen out of friendships forged at OFM and elsewhere, but three of us have felt called out to a shared life of  3 charisms: of intentionality (Christ centred discerning, listening and acting), missional living (being an active part of God's mission and actively seeking spiritual and numerical growth) and expectancy (believing that God still intervenes and speaks supernaturally.)

Keep my day off weekly and take my allocation of holiday - part of spiritual renewal is Sabbath time. If Jesus can rest, so can I, and Jesus clearly saw rest as key yo his own renewing in ministry. That time is also key to ensuring a healthy relationship with myself, my wife and my kids who are my primary church.

Make space for music and the arts, cycling and walking - again this is about spiritual and personal renewal.

Almsgiving - this isn't about my already designated charitable giving but rather how I give financially and temporally of myself to the welfare and wellbeing of others. It is a witness to the self-giving love of God in Christ and an act of justice to and for the poor. This isn't about salving my First World conscience but about actively seeking to make a tangible difference to the world.

I hope to formalise this Rule with the Oblate Master and move to becoming an Probationer Oblate as soon as possible by the grace of God.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Re-blog - Thinking About Ordination? Think Again...

Oh my much neglected blog...! 

I have found myself missing the  opportunity to think aloud here mostly because all too often what I post here is over scrutinised and I have had my figures burned here and elsewhere on SocMed.

Anyway, someone I follow on Facebook and Twitter shared what I'm going to share below because it resonated with them. It focusses on the stresses and strains and joys of being in public ministry. I am fearful off sharing it here in a way because for me at least, to a greater of lesser degree, it tells it as it is.

I have been ordained for 16 years and served in 3 parishes over that time.  Over those years I have discovered that what I thought priestly ministry was has been smashed into smithereens by God and in it's place He has written something new within me which has been the most profoundly challenging and simultaneously wonderful experience with the people of God to boot. Hmmm... Dear Reader, I suspect people will read too much into all of that too...

Anyway, I'm sharing below the piece from Fr. Marcus Halley's blog 'Black and White and Living in Colour' because it echoes my experience in many ways. For those of you who aren't ordained or serving in public ministry in some other way, or those of you are members of congregations that I have served or currently serve I'm sorry if this offends you (no really I am!), but for me at least, welcome to part of my world...


Dear person who is feeling a call to pastor,

If you’re seriously considering becoming a pastor, think again.
Entering this ministry will be one of the hardest things you will ever do. You are signing up for the possibility of working incredibly long hours and will need to develop and maintain safe boundaries both for yourself and your community. If you’re lucky you’ll be paid. If you’re really lucky you’ll be paid enough to support yourself and your family (if you have one). You will have to manage unrealistic expectations from every direction, including within, and you will have to say “no” sometimes. You will encounter incredibly difficult personalities who will project onto you every grievance they have towards God. You will think about quitting once a month and at some point it might become a weekly consideration. You’ll encounter the shadow side of the Church – the place where sexism, classism, racism, homophobia, and general human brokenness lurk (to varying degrees depending on where you serve). You’ll be tempted towards snark over vulnerability and stubbornness over conversion. You will have your strength and patience tested far beyond anything you have faced. You will have the button of your deepest insecurity pressed over and over again. You’ll be made to feel insignificant by the shear size of it all. You will feel a deep sense of loneliness sometimes. You will have friends who will walk away from you… and it will hurt. You will disappoint people. You will disappoint yourself. You will feel constrained by the vows you take upon yourself. You will give your life to it and wonder if it makes any difference at all. You will encounter unspeakable pain and you will cry many tears.
If you’re considering ordination as a pastor, think again…
…and then, for the love of God, say “yes.”
We may see humanity, even ourselves, at our worst, but we also get to see God at God’s absolute best. Sure, there are great difficulties ahead and no amount of seminary or mentoring can prepare you for most of it, but you are also entering that beautiful journey with God where every difficult moment is accompanied by God’s grace. You will be entering a vocation where the very foundation of your calling is to rely on the strength of God to navigate difficult relationships, heart-breaking pastoral encounters, strained-budgets, general angst and anxiety, and your very own weary soul. Just when you have reached the end of your strength, God’s strength takes over. God’s strength is made perfect even in our weakness.
At the end of the day, God doesn’t call us because we are wonderful, or smart, or gifted, or worthy. Ordination as pastors and priests isn’t about us. It is about reflecting the image of Christ into our communities in ways that bear witness to the power and love of God in our midst. We are called to love everyone we encounter – those who love us, those who hate us, and those who are indifferent to our presence. All the while we point beyond ourselves to the God to whom all things journey.
The role of the priest and pastor is to model what every single Christian is called into – a life of total surrender. Like Peter, we will go places where never wanted to go. Like Paul, we will be changed in dramatic ways. Like Jesus himself, we will bear a cross that will cause us to stumble. This ministry is a cross that leaves its redeeming mark on our shoulders as we follow the pilgrim’s path to salvation and abundant life and God’s grace is sufficient even in our stumbling.
The ordained life is a beautiful life, one of great challenge and greater joy and we get to see both, up close and personal.
If you’re considering ordination as a pastor, think about it long and hard. Like the man who builds a tower or the king who leads an army, consider the cost.
And then say yes to God who calls you and promises to go with you even in the most unclear places. 
Maybe you can’t do this. That’s okay. Because God can.