May 2010


 

I thought it worth drawing your attention to these helpful comments by the Bishop of Gloucester?

I think there are some things here we need to explore sensitively together. In doing so I want to acknowledge the honesty and courage of my friend, James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, who has publicly told his own story of moving his position on the issue of homosexuality over recent years and urged the Church not to allow this issue to divide us in a way that breaks communion. And I also need to acknowledge that I have long been in a different place and so have not had to travel as difficult a path as he has to be in the place where I now am. My own understanding has long been that the Church of England’s current stance is not tenable long term, but that, while we engage, struggle, with these issues, it must be task of the bishop to uphold our agreed policy, with all its weaknesses, and to try to hold the Church together while we tackle the things that divide us. I don’t believe I can move away from that position, though I need to share with you some of my discomfort.

It is difficult to know where to begin, but I think the best place is with the categorising of first and second order issues. I am quite clear that the issues on which the creeds make a firm statement – God as trinity, the divinity of Christ, the death and the resurrection of the Lord, the role of the Spirit and more – are first order issues on which there can be no change in what the Church teaches. They are fundamental to the Christian faith. I am equally clear that there are second order issues, which are important, and where interpretation of the tradition needs to be careful and prayerful, but where nevertheless individual churches and provinces need to be free to define doctrine in the way that seems to them to be in accordance with the mind of Christ.

Can we live together with difference and disagreement? What model of coalotion might the Church be for the world?

 

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In one of Rouault’s crucifixion scenes, painted around 1920, the dark is one again a fundamental feature. The Crucifixion could almost be taking place at night. The sky is dark, the land is dark and the outline of the Cross is black. This serves to focus the eye of the viewer on the unearthly light of Christ’s body and the face of those by the Cross. The one shown here however, has streaks of light in the sky and all the figures are illuminated. The sky also has red in it. This could indicate sunset. A sunset might indicate the life of Christ going down into the darkness of death, but with the red holding out hope of the ‘delights’ to come (Red sky at night, Shepherd’s delight). Or, on the other hand, if this is sunrise, this is a prefiguring of the dawn of Easter morning, without forgetting the death of Christ as a judgement on the world (Red sky in the morning, Shepherd’s warning). Although the sky is streaked with light the figures are in fact lit from the front, from behind the viewer. It is from that light that the faces of the three figures beside the cross and the figure of Christ on it are lit up. In contrast to the 1920 painting described above, this greater light expresses a serene hope and joy.

The figures on either side of the Cross are absorbed in Christ’s suffering in their own way. To the right, John raises his neck and face ardently in the direction of Jesus. Beside him, Mary the mother of Jesus, in her traditional blue, bends her head in sorrow. To the left, another figure, perhaps Mary Magdalene, kneels in devout prayer. The intention of these three figures helps to draw the onlooker into the picture and to make their own response. The head of Jesus, slightly on one side, with the eyes half closed, looks down gently and questioningly at the onlooker. This is not just a painting for public art, to be viewed from afar. It is the artist’s deeply felt personal response to the Crucifixion which in turn seems to require a personal response from the viewer.

Rouallt said this of his Art:

Art, the art I aspire to, will be the most profound, the most complete, the most moving expression of what man feels when he finds himself face to face with himself and with humanity. Art should be a disinherited, passionate confession, the translation of the inner life, as it used to be in the old days in the hands of our admirable anonymous Frenchman who sculpted the figures on the cathedrals.

Alternatively, what about something which is deeply and uproariously funny? Our uncontrollable laughter exceeds any rational reaction the occasion of the joke  I have produced.

 We feel liberated by what is funny. Why?  Because the funny event and our laughter at it means that we have caught a whiff of something that isn’t part of the grey, cold world of measurement and logical sequence. As we laugh we are indeed still in bondage to that world of hard necessity, the world of the multiplication table, yet as we laugh we also rise above that world because we twig that we belong to another world as well, a world which cuts this world down to size and in which we are free to be ourselves unhindered by what cabins and confines us in the visible, tangible order.

 All genuine laughter, when it is free from malice or bitterness, bears its unconscious witness to the ‘invisible world, the spiritual dimension. (That, I suspect, is why there is so much laughter in monasteries.)

 What makes us laugh is the sheer contrast, the sheer incongruity, between the spiritual dimension where we most deeply belong, and the slings and arrows which impale us and the limitations which confine us in the empirical, observable world.

True to Experience, an Anthology of the words and teaching of H.A. Williams C.R.

 

(article published in the Church Times 7 May2010)

THE latest statistics from the Archbishops’ Council suggest that half of those in our pews are pensioners. Some rural congrega­tions were, on average, older than 65, while the youngest Anglicans were found in London, where the age of the “stand­ard” churchgoer is 54. It compares with the population as a whole, where the average adult age is 48.

 Soon after these figures were released, earlier this year, the Equal­ity and Human Rights Commission said that people should be allowed to work beyond the age of 65, and with more flexible hours. There is one theme here that should be tackled head on. It is the ageism that exists in both Church and society. There are forces that combine to keep older people on the margins, to make them redundant, useless, a statistic to be feared as part of the picture of decline. We need to ask why we have so few positive images of ageing. We need to stop apologising for older people. Age is a reality both around us and within us: older people can liberate us into a different per­spective on living and faith.

MANY congregations are being encouraged to be more reflective about the shape of ministry and re­sources for outreach. Some members of congregations are now being required by dioceses to audit their life as part of an exploration of how best to use time and resources for evangelism. This is partly a financial imperative that is a result of our steady decline. The question here is whether in the process of reflection we see older people as a resource rather than a problem.

So, take stock of the age-profile of your congregation, with a view to celebrating the contribution that older people make to the life of both Church and community. Consider who holds positions of responsibility. Reflect on the hidden work of care — unpaid care of older family members, the love and encour­age­ment of grand­parents, and the acts of kindness expressed by neigh­bours who have time to consider the little things that help life along, such as shopping, advice about heating, benefits, or a difficult letter.

 Go further, and see these people, grey and slower as they may be, in the time-line of the past decades of your church, and imagine their sustaining presence amid all the changing fortunes of history. Once we have built up a picture by listening to what older people have so freely shared, then find a moment to value and celebrate age in your cycle of worship. An interview that opens up the shape of a person’s faith-journey might re­place a sermon and require us to reflect on the nature of our own spiritual journey. Older people can play their part in all-age worship: the farmer at Harvest, the war veteran at Remem­brancetide, the married couple at celebrations of love and commit­ment, the teacher and pupil on Education Sunday.

All have stories to share. As we listen and learn, we might become more aware of the prejudices we all have that stereotype the older person and prevent us from befriend­ing the older stranger within our­selves. Age can be a wise and challenging teacher. Older people can show how little time we give, in all our bureau­cracy and busyness, to consider what substance and depth mean in being human. It is no accident that older people become more spiritual, and that they can help us to perceive that age is essentially a spiritual task.

This making of the soul takes shape when our human life is expressed in and through our stories. These narratives need pondering, retelling, organising, in the light of our faith in a God who is both the judgement and mercy. In this spiritual growth there is much potential and power. Seeking to integrate age and its gift into the spiritual body of the Church should be one of our shared essential tasks. One of our abiding concerns is a vision of the Kingdom of God as a hope for the transformation of this world. The work of transformation makes demands upon us, especially as we shall all be asked to consider how best to make provision for the com­mon good in the coming election.

Ageism has a detrimental effect on older people, but this is not often acknowledged. Some examples of ageism in society are: being refused interest-free credit‚ or a new credit card; receiving a lower quality of service; age limits on benefits such as the Disability Living Allowance; not being referred to a consultant; losing your job because of your age. The lack of economic investment in the provision of care for older people shapes the quality of lives and communities. We should bear in mind the human stories behind these facts: more than half a million older people spent last Christmas alone; 11 per cent of older people describe the quality of their life as “very poor”; and pensioner poverty continues to rise.

How might the Churches work to­gether in moving age, older people, and our responsibility to them further up the political agenda? How can those with the power to engage with ageism deal with the impov­erish­ment of living that some older people embrace? We might act as advocates for older people in helping them to negotiate the complex world of health and social services. All Churches should help people to voice their concerns to professionals.

 We can work in partnership with agencies, health-care practices, and organisa­tions such as Age UK to develop better practice. We can ask those who set policy how older people might enjoy all the benefits of a modern society. In this way, we can ensure that the needs of older people are moved up the political agenda. We are all getting older. We all have a stake in this subject. Can we find practical ways of combating ageism in both Church and society before it is too late for us?

Why is older age so important?

Inner exploration, undertaken with some cognizance of what may be discovered, leads to a possession of oneself, to risking change and allowing transformation.

The second half of life can be a work of growth, a ‘’second flowering’’, in which exploration of the depths of self in relationship to God, to others, and the world makes unitive selfhood possible.

Radical, experimental and avant-garde, Henry Moore (1898–1986) was one of Britain’s greatest artists. This  exhibition at Tate Britain takes a fresh look at his work and legacy, presenting over 150 stone sculptures, wood carvings, bronzes and drawings.

Moore rebelled against his teachers’ traditional views of sculpture, instead taking inspiration from non-Western works he saw in museums. He pioneered carving directly from materials, evolving his signature abstract forms derived from the human body. This exhibition presents examples of the defining subjects of his work, such as the reclining figure, mother and child, abstract compositions and drawings of wartime London. The works are situated in the turbulent ebb and flow of twentieth-century history, sometimes uncovering a dark and erotically charged dimension that makes us look at them in a new light. The trauma of war, the advent of psychoanalysis, new ideas of sexuality, primitive art and surrealism all had an influence on Moore’s work.

Highlights of the show include a group of key reclining figures carved in Elm, which illustrate the development of this key image over his career. Moore was an Official War Artist and his drawings of huddled Londoners sheltering from the onslaught of the Blitz captured the popular imagination, winning him a place in the hearts of the public. Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to truly understand this artist’s much-loved work.

Reading the Saturday papers I am constantly surprised at the superficiality of much of our human commentary…. and this can often be reflected in human relationships. Here is a challenging reflection from Harry Williams…..

If we are shallow people, our estimates of others and their behaviour will be superficial, and this is perhaps the most refined form of cruelty possible-a cruelty hidden from us as we think the drowning man is simply conceited, or bad-tempered, or rude, or just trying to be funny, while in fact he is a man in desperate trouble signalling for help. That is the kind of misjudgment we make when we live only on the surface of what we are.

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