October 2009


martin_luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

 

Martin Luther was born on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben. His father was a copper miner. Luther studied at the University of Erfurt and in 1505 decided to join a monastic order, becoming an Augustinian friar. He was ordained in 1507, began teaching at the University of Wittenberg and in 1512 was made a doctor of Theology. In 1510 he visited Rome on behalf of a number of Augustinian monasteries, and was appalled by the corruption he found there.

Luther became increasingly angry about the clergy selling ‘indulgences’ – promised remission from punishments for sin, either for someone still living or for one who had died and was believed to be in purgatory. On 31 October 1517, he published his ’95 Theses’, attacking papal abuses and the sale of indulgences.

Luther had come to believe that Christians are saved through faith and not through their own efforts. This turned him against many of the major teachings of the Catholic Church. In 1519 -1520, he wrote a series of pamphlets developing his ideas – ‘On Christian Liberty’, ‘On the Freedom of a Christian Man’, ‘To the Christian Nobility’ and ‘On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church’. Thanks to the printing press, Luther’s ’95 Theses’ and his other writings spread quickly through Europe.

In January 1521, the Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther. He was then summoned to appear at the Diet of Worms, an assembly of the Holy Roman Empire. He refused to recant and Emperor Charles V declared him an outlaw and a heretic. Luther went into hiding at Wartburg Castle. In 1522, he returned to Wittenberg and in 1525 married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, with whom he had six children.

Luther then became involved in the controversy surrounding the Peasants War (1524 – 1526), the leaders of which had used Luther’s arguments to justify their revolt. He rejected their demands and upheld the right of the authorities to suppress the revolt, which lost him many supporters.

In 1534, Luther published a complete translation of the bible into German, underlining his belief that people should be able to read it in their own language. The translation contributed significantly to the spread and development of the German language.

Luther’s influence spread across northern and eastern Europe and his fame made Wittenberg an intellectual centre. In his final years he wrote polemics against the Jews, the papacy and the Anabaptists, a radical wing of the reforming movement.

Luther died on 18 February 1546 in Eisleben.

I travelled down from Windsor to London yesterday to share in a conference run by the Church Army and the Leveson Centre to promote our publication A Mission Shaped Church for Older People at St Michaels Chester Square.

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(available from the Leveson Centre – www.levesoncentre.org.uk)

This event was specifically intended for those with a passion for mission to this age group (not only pastoral care) and those interested in the different dynamics of mission and fresh expression of church with the younger old and active retired as well as the elderly frail. the programme was well organised with plenty of time  for pooling ideas, networking with other practitioners and grappling together with the challenging questions that mission in these contexts raises.

The energy and passion of the group were very inspiring as was Mark Russells imput. It was good to bump into an old friend who I hadnt seen since 1982 – and kindly told me that I didnt look that different ( does that mean that I am ageing well??!!) I was also glad to catch up with Jen Jones the ever willing and faithful parish secretary from my old parish of Temple Balsall. Bishop Graham Cray ended the conference with an excellent reflection

Here is a short extract from my lecture:

Perhaps one of the reasons why I continue to be so intrigued by the whole agenda of age and ageing is that it demands that we ask so many fundamental theological questions about human nature, the nature of life itself, what it might mean to survive and what the future holds for us in terms of hope and purpose. What kind of theological questions should we ask?

The profit motive, the mass media’s love affair with the new, and the anxiety provoked by growing old in a youth obsessed culture has led millions to surrender their faces to the war on wrinkles.  We are being asked to unmake what we have spent a life time making.  What do we receive in return for this sacrifice?  Not youth.  Instead we are given, at best, the facsimile of youth.  Expressionless, passion, and history are pillages in the pursuit of youth’s fresh blankness.  People fear wrinkles because of what they seem to say about us.  They are the sum of all our days we have lived and will never live again.  They tell us our story even when we do not want that story told.  Even the attempt to raise them becomes part of what is written on our faces.  We – the doers, the movers, the shakers, the achievers, the rocks of our families and communities – are being written upon.  It shocks us to see ourselves, for the first time as paper and not the pen we imagine ourselves to be.  Wrinkles are painless and harmless.  They are us and we are them.What would it be like to live in a society that adored wrinkles?  The idea may seem laughable at first, but for millennia, living to a ripe old age was an exceptional achievement and was often recognised as such by society.  All this self induced anguish might serve some purpose if it prodded us towards a re-examination of our longevity.  Wrinkles give us a way to begin such a conversation, but it is just a start.  Grey hair and facial lines are only the first signs of something much more menacing.  Finding a new wrinkle on wrinkles is one thing; plumbing the true nature of our longevity present a much more exciting and demanding challenge.

This playing around with words asks us to imagine growing into an old age defined by full development, maturity, awareness readiness and advancement – this really would be an opportune time.  Instead we are mired in a highly negative view of ageing that envisions a one-way trip down the long road towards disease, dementia, disability and death.  Peaches but ripen, but human beings, it seems, cannot.  Though we are all aware that of the real and often unpleasant changes that come with advancing years, we lack a concept that fully recognises the positive elements of ageing.  It is as if our longevity consists solely of deep, forbidding shadows.  This emphasis is perhaps the most damaging consequence of contemporary society’s glorification of youth.  Those who seek a more complete understanding of longevity, an understanding capable of embracing both light and shadow, conduct their search within a culture that rarely misses an opportunity to emphasise the negative aspect of ageing.  The positive dimensions of our longevity remain, for now, present but unseen.

The decline that accompanies ageing is real and important (it helps explain why we die when we get old) but it is much less than the whole story.  The danger is that we allow a thoughtless acceptance of what seems obvious to obscure deeper, more meaningful insights into age and ageing.  Even though more than half of the normal human life span is spent ageing, we understand very little about the potential of the ageing process.  The powers of old age remain too often devalued or outright hidden from us.

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How do you feel about your wrinkles?

 

Precious in thy sight, O Lord, is the death of thy saints, whose faithful witness, by thy providence, hath its great reward: We give thee thanks for thy martyrs James Hannington and his companions, who purchased with their blood a road unto Uganda for the proclamation of the Gospel; and we pray that with them we also may obtain the crown of righteousness which is laid up for all who love the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 

 

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Among the new nations of Africa, Uganda is the most predominantly Christian. Mission work began there in the 1870’s with the favor of King Mutesa, who died in 1884. However, his son and successor, King Mwanga, opposed all foreign presence, including the missions.

James Hannington, born 1847, was sent out from England in 1884 by the Anglican Church as missionary Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa. As he was travelling toward Uganda, he was apprehended by emissaries of King Mwanga. He and his companions were brutally treated and, a week later, 29 October 1885, most of them were put to death. Hannington’s last words were: “Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”

The first native martyr was the Roman Catholic Joseph Mkasa Balikuddembe, who was beheaded after having rebuked the king for his debauchery and for the murder of Bishop Hannington. On 3 June 1886, a group of 32 men and boys, 22 Roman Catholic and 10 Anglican, were burned at the stake. Most of them were young pages in Mwanga’s household, from their head-man, Charles Lwanga, to the thirteen-year-old Kizito, who went to his death “laughing and chattering.” These and many other Ugandan Christians suffered for their faith then and in the next few years.

In 1977, the Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum and many other Christians suffered death for their faith under the tyrant Idi Amin.

Thanks largely to their common heritage of suffering for their Master, Christians of various communions in Uganda have always been on excellent terms.

 

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British pomp and pageantry was on full display today as the Queen welcomed the Indian president toWinsor Castle today.

Pratibha Patil – India’s first female president – was greeted by the Monarch and Duke of Edinburgh on a royal dais in the centre of the Berkshire town as a thunderous royal salute was fired nearby by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery.

The Asian leader and her husband Devisingh Ransingh Shekhawat had travelled from London in a fleet of cars with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

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After the greeting the party paused on the dais for a few moments for the Indian national anthem to be played before leaving for Windsor Castle where the president and her partner will stay as guests of the Queen.

The royal party travelled through the streets of Windsor in horse drawn carriages with the Household Cavalry in their shining breast plates and plumed helmets providing a Sovereign’s Escort.

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The flag of India and Britain’s Union flag were hung from a succession of lamp posts in the town and some of the route was lined by guardsmen, in their scarlet tunics and bearskins, from the Grenadier, Scots, Irish and Coldstream regiments.

A guard of honour made up of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards was waiting in the castle’s quadrangle to be inspected by the India head of state when she arrived.

Philip motioned to the president to step forward and examine the soldiers and the 88-year-old Duke took the elbow of the 75-year-old stateswoman to help her from the dais where they had been standing.

The diminutive Asian leader, who wore a sari and cream coloured overcoat, was dwarfed by the guardsmen as she inspected the troops lined up in two rows.

After the ceremony the Queen escorted her guests inside the castle for a private lunch which will be followed later this evening by a lavish white-tie banquet.

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self-blessing

 

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing

 

From Galway Kinnell, St Francis and the sow.

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AlfredStowe1  

King of the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex and one of the outstanding figures of English history, as much for his social and educational reforms as for his military successes against the Danes. He is the only English monarch known as ‘the Great’.

 

Alfred was born at Wantage in Oxfordshire in 849, fourth or fifth son of Aethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. Following the wishes of their father, the sons succeeded to the kingship in turn. At a time when the country was under threat from Danish raids, this was aimed at preventing a child inheriting the throne with the related weaknesses in leadership. In 870 the Danes attacked the only remaining independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Wessex, whose forces were commanded by Alfred’s older brother, King Aethelred and Alfred himself.

In 871, Alfred defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown in Berkshire. The following year, he succeeded his brother as king. Despite his success at Ashdown, the Danes continued to devastate Wessex and Alfred was forced to withdraw to the Somerset marshes, where he continued guerrilla warfare against his enemies. In 878, he again defeated the Danes in the Battle of Edington. They made peace and Guthrum, their king, was baptised with Alfred as his sponsor. In 886, Alfred negotiated a treaty with the Danes. England was divided, with the north and the east (between the Rivers Thames and Tees) declared to be Danish territory – later known as the ‘Danelaw’. Alfred therefore gained control of areas of West Mercia and Kent which had been beyond the boundaries of Wessex.

Alfred built up the defences of his kingdom to ensure that it was not threatened by the Danes again. He reorganised his army and built a series of well-defended settlements across southern England. He also established a navy for use against the Danish raiders who continued to harass the coast.

As an administrator Alfred advocated justice and order and established a code of laws and a reformed coinage. He had a strong belief in the importance of education and learnt Latin in his late thirties. He then arranged, and himself took part in, the translation of books from Latin to Anglo-Saxon.

By the 890s, Alfred’s charters and coinage were referring to him as ‘king of the English’. He died in October 899 and was buried at his capital city of Winchester

bible

The disappearance of the Bible from European culture is self evident: once it was part of the intellectual and imaginative make up of poets, novelists and artists. Even if only a few knew the original languages in which the Bible was written, there was for the English speaking community the King James’ Bible – ‘That old tongue’ with its ‘clang and fervour’. Even that has disappeared: our culture today does not value reading, let alone reading books. I remember being taken to task by a fellow cleric in my last deanery. I arrived early for a meeting and settled into a book. My colleague took one look at my concentration and said – ‘what good do you think that will do you?’ I didn’t have the courage to reply honestly!

 

Sunday by Sunday you come to this place and listen to the Bible being read aloud. Day by day the clergy read and listen to large portions of this text being read. We preachers are required to expound the text. And different brands of Christians – conservative, liberal, radical – all appeal to the Bible to legitimise their attitudes, opinions and sometimes plain prejudice. But in spite of all this deference to the Bible, my experience adds up to this – outside the circle of experts there is considerable confusion and widespread ignorance. We are confused about what these texts mean and we continue to argue fervently about what constitutes the truth.

I want to share with you this morning on this Bible Sunday some reflections about the Bible as I look back over using it as a priest- and look forward to the necessity to continuing to attend to its texts and meanings for us.

The first thing I have had to learn is to bring my concerns, preoccupations and questions to the text, as clearly and consciously as possible. We cannot abandon our values as we read. This throws out the so called objectivity and neutrality of the scholar,; scholarship is not neutral; it has its own value system, exalting the rational over the emotional, the intellect over the imagination – its own political values of an essentially conservative nature, socialising students into its own methods and preoccupations, and until recently this was the sole preserve of white middle class males. 

Reading the Bible has to happen in such a way that the text is allowed to breathe and speak. Reading the Bible is tough and delicate – bringing together the readers passion and the strangeness of the text; and there always has to be enough room for the text to address the reader. We need to open ourselves up to the texts challenge and wrestle  with the truth not mould it into our comfort zone. 

Reading the Bible needs to be preceded by a sense of anticipation, that it will yield some hope and truth.

And in this sense we need some curiosity, some passion and desire to learn more about these books and their stories and ideas. We will need to develop a sharp, historical imagination so that we can know the ancient world and how this world has shaped the texts, its preoccupations and concerns. Rumours about the strange book will keep its memory and transforming power alive in the study and the life of the Church. The Bible can help safeguard us against making Christ in our own image – there are too many parts of us and the Church that ignore the texts. We should allow the Bible to alert us to our own attitudes to slavery, xenophobia, misogyny.  As a Christian we should seek to find within the Bible a sense of a living word that is from God and of God. In this I have discovered what a dangerous book the Bible is. It threatens organised religion, it holds up a mirror to the endless capacity of us all to be greedy. It reminds us of the dignity of the human being, especially the poorest. The Bible offers us extraordinary pictures of the possibilities and hopes of a new world – the Kingdom of God.

 

In all this there is a density and opacity – a deep mystery in which the writers share a sense of the transcending God disclosed among the vagaries and unpredictable areas of our living. This is the word of God – not a rule book of instructions but the primary source for feeding our imagination for  a new a transformed world.

 

 Let us Pray

 May your word be a lantern to our feet
and a light upon our path
that we may behold your coming among us.

 

Antoine, one of pastors in training, reading his Bible before graduation

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