January 2010


We’ve all been there. We may well have been part of a group that gets infected by this kind of a mood and attacks collectively. Not, of course, that we would ever do anything life trying to throw someone off a cliff. But a little character assassination, a bit of damning with faint praise, a few buckets of cold water thrown on someone’s enthusiasms will work wonders. Because most of us do not have the inner confidence that allowed Jesus to stride through the threatening crowd with authority. We are fairly fragile creatures, especially when it comes to risking a new thought ot an innovative idea. We can so easily demoralised, discouraged, undermined.

Yet, in reality, all that we are ever asked to do is to be open, not closed, to the possibility of change and novelty and risk. It is not required of us that we deny our cautious, even fearful, feelings. They are a necessary framework to weigh up the value of the new information. It is more that we need to put them to one side, and not act them out, to reserve judgement until we have given fair hearing, have really listened to what is new. That also requires of us that we stretch out imaginations somewhat, to visualize not just the worst possible scenario (always easier to do from entrenched territory), but also the best possible one. And it is very rarely anyway that we are challenged to throw away all our dearly held beliefs and practices.

Struggles to Love  The Spirituality of Beatitudes By Kathy Galloway (pages 17 &18)

A book review that appeared in last weeks Church Times

Death: Our Future

Christian theology and funeral practice

Edited by: Peter C. Jupp

November 2008; Epworth Press; Paperback; 300pages; £25.00;

ISBN:  9780716206385

   
   

 

In an age dominated by consumerism, the physical and the ideals of strength and youth, it takes courage and imagination to embrace our limitations and human frailty. On our life course all of us have to find our way through to live with and manage hope and suffering, well being and dying. These things belong together and make life paradoxical, challenging, painful and wonderful.

If you wanted a guide to stimulate and challenge then this collection of essays is an excellent resource and guide. The focus is the funeral but the essays ask us to think differently about how we die, how we mark death, how we grieve and how we support mourners. In a carefully edited collection of twenty three essays we are offered a wealth of information, wisdom and insight.

 Many modern studies of death fail to address the contemporary context of funerals and ignore the scholarly and professional studies which would enhance their practical value. These essays also give voice to the experience of people who are in daily contact with the realities of death.
Within the Christian Churches and beyond, public attitudes to death and to funeral practice have changed significantly; academic studies on human mortality and the disposal of the dead have mushroomed; and several ethical issues concerning human mortality have both dominated headlines and engaged Government and legal attention. Given this context, this is a book for its time – it assesses developments over the last ten years and presents them in a way that will engage, inform and equip Christians for facing dying, death, bereavement, funerals and memorialisation.

Sections in the book include: the context of funeral ministry today, modern dying and modern bereavement, the theology of death, modern practices of cremation and burial, liturgical developments and regional perspectives on funeral practice.

It remains to be seen whether the Christian Churches will continue to have such a hold over the conducting of funerals as the effects of decline and secularisation impinge. There are already signs of a change in this area, not least from some clergy who do not see this ministry as a ‘mission’ priority. There are also some important questions about how far the language of theology connects with the experience of those who grieve. We underestimate the gaps and the oddly privatised nature of our grammar. I hope that this book will be widely read and used as a springboard for further prayer and action. It is a model of excellence in writing.

 

The word ‘transformation’ literally means ‘across forms’. It has a sense of something over or beyond, or on the other side of existing forms. To walk the Via Transformativa is to struggle to find new forms to hold our creativity, new ways to touch the heart. It is the challenge that faces artists of all kinds; it is the greatest single task facing politicians; it is the vocation of all who lead and enable worship for others; and the imperative for all people of goodwill who want to care in practical, enabling, respectful ways. The struggle for transformation is hard work, as known by anyone who has ever tried to write a poem, learn to play a musical instrument, or master a foreign language. It requires discipline, imagination, endurance, and self-sacrifice. It demands courage, the capacity to receive criticism and learn from one’s mistakes, and the ability to live with failure. And of all the struggles for transformation in life, perhaps the most demanding is parenthood. After creativity, after birth, comes parenting. To nurture and cherish; to allow dependence and to encourage independence; to learn when to hold on and when to let go; to accept without condition, and yet to set parameters and guidelines; and to go on doing it for the rest of your life-these are the transformative tasks of parenthood, and they require all the qualities above, and more.

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) lived at a critical juncture of western culture when the arrival of the Aristotelian corpus in Latin translation reopened the question of the relation between faith and reason, calling into question the modus vivendi that had obtained for centuries.

This crisis flared up just as universities were being founded. Thomas, after early studies at Montecassino, moved on to the University of Naples, where he met members of the new Dominican Order. It was at Naples too that Thomas had his first extended contact with the new learning. When he joined the Dominican Order he went north to study with Albertus Magnus, author of a paraphrase of the Aristotelian corpus.

Thomas completed his studies at the University of Paris, which had been formed out of the monastic schools on the Left Bank and the cathedral school at Notre Dame. In two stints as a regent master Thomas defended the mendicant orders and, of greater historical importance, countered both the Averroistic interpretations of Aristotle and the Franciscan tendency to reject Greek philosophy.

The result was a new modus vivendi between faith and philosophy which survived until the rise of the new physics. The Catholic Church has over the centuries regularly and consistently reaffirmed the central importance of Thomas’s work for understanding its teachings concerning the Christian revelation, and his close textual commentaries on Aristotle represent a cultural resource which is now receiving increased recognition.

Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas

Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you,
and a hope of finally embracing you.

Amen.

The effect of being cherished is to make us feel ‘at home’. That is to say, we experience a feeling of at-home-ness that does not depend on being in a certain place or with certain people, but is an experience of welcome, strengthening, acceptance, care. There are people with whom one can feel at-home-ness in a park.

The desire for ‘at-home-ness’ is a demonstration of spirituality, a deep yearning, the expression of profound motivation. A lighted window in a darkened house, a fire kindled, a bowl of flowers on a table, clean sheets, are all powerful symbols of the longing of the human spirit for at-home-ness, for sanctuary, for a place of safety, of cherishing, a strong place, a place that reaches out generously to embrace us when we are weary and battered.

Struggles to Love  The Spirituality of Beatitudes  By Kathy Galloway

I understand the neccesity not to give way to cynicism or despair – and to see the postive even or especially in difficult times but it is difficult to read these statistics in any other way than that of decline. How the Church responds and especially its Bishops will be fascinating.

From the Church of Engand web page:

Regular attendance

The total number of adults, children and young people regularly attending local churches has dropped two per cent overall in the six years since 2002, with the 2008 figures showing a drop of one per cent against the number attending on an average week in 2007. The number of under 16s increased by three per cent over the year, returning to two per cent below their 2002 level. 

People continue to attend church on other days than Sunday.  For every 50 people attending church or cathedrals on a typical Sunday, another 10 attend during the week and an extra 37 in total over a month.

The Revd Lynda Barley, the Church of England’s Head of Research and Statistics, comments: “The figures released today, covering regular local church attendees, give an important but inevitably partial snapshot of today’s Church. They paint a mixed picture for 2008. Alongside some encouraging signs, such as the number of under 16s in church increasing and growth in church attendance in 14 out of 44 dioceses, are some disappointments, with further small declines in traditional attendance measures. Excluded from these figures are Fresh Expressions, chapel services in hospitals, education and other establishments, some international congregations and the projects funded by the Youth Evangelism Fund.

“It is important to see these trends in the context of wider changes in a society where fewer people are willing to join and take part in membership organizations. Political parties have seen their memberships fall by around 40 per cent in recent years. Even in a General Election year, almost double the number of members of the three main political parties taken together will attend a Church of England parish church on Sunday.”

  • In summary: Average weekly attendance was down slightly at 1,145,000 (2007: 1,160,000; 2006: 1,163,000), as was average Sunday attendance at 960,000 (2007: 978,000; 2006: 983,000) and average monthly attendance at 1,667,000 (2007: 1,690,000; 2006: 1,694,000). The average number of children and young people at services each week rose by three per cent to 225,000 (2207: 219,000; 2006: 228,000). The number of children and young people attending on a monthly basis also grew three per cent to 438,000 (2007: 424,000; 2006: 442,000).

 

Marking life events

The total number of baptisms remained stable, with increases in the number of ‘child’ and ‘adult’ baptisms (those aged one year and older). The number of ‘infant’ baptisms (under one year old) fell by two per cent. The number of Thanksgivings for the birth of a child fell by five per cent.

The number of marriages taking place in parish churches fell by three per cent to 53,100 (significant changes to marriage law which widened the number of churches where couples are eligible to be married did not take effect until October 2008 and their effect is not, therefore, fully reflected in these figures). Blessings of marriages following a civil ceremony fell (by three per cent, to 4,400). The total number of weddings in the UK in 2008 has not yet been published, although numbers have been falling by around three per cent each year in recent years.

The total number of funerals conducted by the Church of England also dropped (by three per cent, to 188,100), particularly those taking place in crematoria (by five per cent, to 93,600); this is against a backdrop of a falling UK mortality rate (the number of deaths fell by 1.4 per cent between 2007 and 2008).

More than nine in ten Church of England parish churches completed attendance counts, representing the highest participation rate ever.  These have been verified across all 16,000 Church of England churches by the Research and Statistics Department of the Archbishops’ Council. The provisional figures can be seen on the web at: www.cofe.anglican.org/info/statistics/2008provisionalattendance.pdf

Acts 9:1-20

9Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

 

Saint Paul is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the history of the Western world. Just a quick look at the headlines of his life are enough to understand his impact; his works are some of the earliest Christian documents that we have, 13 of the 27 books of the bible are written by him, and he’s the hero of another, Acts of the Apostles.

Famously converted on the road to Damascus, he travelled tens of thousands of miles around the Mediterranean spreading the word of Jesus and it was Paul who came up with the doctrine that would turn Christianity from a small sect of Judaism into a worldwide faith that was open to all.

What we know about Paul comes from two extraordinary sources. The first is the Acts of the Apostles, written after Paul’s death, almost certainly by the same author who wrote St Luke’s gospel. There is evidence that Acts was written to pass on the Christian message, but behind the theology lie clues about Paul’s life. The author of Acts claims that he knew Paul and even accompanied him on many of his journeys. The second source is Paul’s own letters. They represent Paul’s own version of events, and it seems reasonable to accept them as the more reliable account.

The one thing most people do know about St Paul is that he underwent a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Precisely what happened has been hard to determine as the accounts in Acts and the letters differ on the details. For example, when St Paul talks about his conversion he makes no mention of a journey from Jerusalem to Damascus.

But behind the paradoxes and the puzzles, there are fascinating glimpses of the man. Reading Paul’s letters and Acts of the Apostles we learn that Paul was born in Tarsus, in modern day Eastern Turkey, he was a tent maker by trade, was an avid student under the top Jewish teacher in Jerusalem and was also a Roman citizen. Here is a man who worked with his hands but wrote with the grace of a Greek philosopher; a Jewish zealot who nevertheless enjoyed the rights of citizenship in the world’s greatest empire.

In his letters, we also discover the Paul who writes warmly of his friends, both men and women, the Paul who frets about how the members of his churches are coping without him and who defends their status as true converts and the Paul who appeals for the freedom of a slave. But like all great and charismatic figures there is another side; the Paul who berates his followers for backsliding and doubting; the Paul who tells women to keep silent and condemns homosexuality and the Paul who’ll stand up to the Apostle Peter, one of the most senior people in the early church and call him a hypocrite to his face.

Academics are trying to piece together these scraps of information with a new technique that’s rather like a combination of sociology and forensic anthropology. They’ve come up with a picture of Paul who’d be a man of his time and place; a hot headed Mediterranean who’d be quick to defend his honour and the honour of his followers, but who’d demand loyalty in return.

Paul wrote some of the most beautiful and important passages in the whole of the Bible, but his works have also been used, among other things, to justify homophobia, slavery and anti-Semitism. He has also been accused of being anti-feminist, although many modern scholars would argue that in fact he championed the cause of women church leaders. In the final analysis, Paul was the first great Christian theologian, establishing some of the building blocks of the faith that we now take for granted, though there are those who argue that in laying out these ground rules, Paul has obscured and separated us from the true teachings of Jesus. But perhaps the true sign of Paul’s importance is that even nearly 2000 years after his death he still inspires passion; whatever you feel, it’s hard to feel neutral about Paul.

 

 

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused The light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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