Easter – features of the future

12 April 2009

Recently whilst visiting a school I was in a class which had been given the task of imagining and designing an island. In pairs they had been given a blank sheet of paper and asked to put in the features needed to shape the future of the people living on their imaginary island.   I was fascinated by the way in which all the islands ended up with similar features – mountains, rivers, fields, villages and towns.  All had roads and most had railways, some had an airport and most had docks, some had reservoirs and one had a rubbish dump – but none had wind farms, none had hydroelectric power stations and none had solar panels.  What was common to them all was that they imagined the future in terms of what they had already experienced – their future was a reflection of the past and I suspect that many of us, given the same exercise, would have done the same – imagining the future as a reflection of the past.

resurrection-spencer

To Christians, the Easter story is an invitation – an invitation to become involved in shaping the future – our own and for our society.   An invitation to glimpse what is possible when we allow our imagination to be fed by the possibilities of God and his transforming love; an invitation to re-imagine our future, not as a reflection of the past, but as a new landscape of life and love.

We celebrate Easter this year when the world is experiencing remarkable changes and uncertainties.  The global economy is undergoing a fundamental readjustment, the recession is teasing out the viability of businesses leaving in its wake the unemployment which makes the future so uncertain for millions of people.

We celebrate Easter with the growing spectre of climate change and the continued threat of terrorism contributing to a general texture of uncertainty and, as ever, we celebrate Easter against the backdrop of all the ongoing joys and sorrows of life, from the joys of new birth to the heart rending plight of the Italian earthquake victims.

It is a troubling picture and it is far too simplistic just to say that Easter and its message of hope is ‘the’ answer to all the problems of our times.  The key to understanding Easter is the image of Jesus dying on the cross. The pain and suffering of Jesus tortured to death on the cross is transformed not avoided.  The hope which Christians celebrate today is not about making everything all right again, but how we can re-imagine the future.

As we wrestle with the future, it is understandably tempting and attractive for politicians to offer a future which is a recovery of the past good times, but what’s the sense in that?  More of the same will bring us to exactly where we are now – I think that it is called boom and bust.

It is too easy to jump on a bandwagon of blaming the bankers for all the economic problems we are facing.  We need to remember that they were operating in a system of values which we endorsed as we enjoyed the benefits of a buoyant economy, but those values had no substance, for they were not about shaping the future but exploiting the present.  A target driven world can be a world that sacrifices wisdom for the short term gains and approval of meeting the targets.

So do we really want to go back to that?  Or, if given a blank sheet of paper and asked to re-imagine the world, what features, what values would we draw in to shape the future for our world. The message of Easter invites us to draw in life and love, peace and justice, hope and goodness as foundational features for shaping the future.  These features are not exclusive to Christians – life and love, peace and justice, hope and goodness are universal and a commitment to them would be future shaping.  The Easter story enables us to glimpse that when these things are lived out to the full, then there is a flourishing of life which even death cannot destroy.

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The Church we have become

9 July 2008

Monday night’s decision by the General Synod to move towards legislation enabling the ordination of women to the episcopate in the Church of England has devastated many who find this unacceptable.  Conversations  over the last 24 hours with those opposed to women bishops clearly suggests that their real dismay is not about women bishops (as they had foreseen that this was an unstoppable cause), but in not being accommodated within the Church of England by something stronger that a Code of Practice.

As ever in pastoral ministry, all one can do for people as they grapple with reality is to be there for them – walking closely as they tread the path of understanding.  Reality and the truth about a situation or about life is frequently disturbing, yet is is only when we have recognised truth, that we can really respond creatively to life as it is, rather than as we had hoped it would be.

Monday night’s vote confirmed the reality that we have become a different church.  A Church open to being challenged and shaped by our culture; a church ready to revisit our theology because of questions asked of us by the world we are called to serve; a church not prepared to enshrine division within its legislation.

Yet I am very aware of good friends and others who are hurting as they encounter the reality of the church we have become.   It is not a time for celebration by those who are encouraged by this decision, but for walking close with those who are hurting, as they discover ways of responding creatively to the reality of the church we have become.

I am among those who believe that the church has always been reshaped by is culture and that the only constants are the values of the Kingdom which the Spirit breaths through history , leading us into truth – but I still want to close to those who see it differently, for we would be less if they walk at a distance to us or we to them.


In a rhythm together, but still be yourself – a recipe for the church

8 June 2008

I really enjoyed a team building exercise yesterday, which was led by the Drum Cafe. This is an international corporate entertainment and team building enterprise. They use the music of the drum as a means of drawing people together. They claim that music “has the power to transform, inspire, move and motivate us both as individuals and groups” and certainly my experience yesterday suggests that this is exactly what they can achieve.

There were about seventy of us, each with an African drum, and we made music. For about an hour and a half we exhausted ourselves beating out rhythms – sometimes together, but also with different groups having a distinctively different contribution to the whole. It was great fun, hard work and well worth it as a real sense of working together developed and, as we became more proficient (well some were), we were part of the whole. At times, in giving a different beat to the piece, we found ourselves still individuals but expressing our individuality within the overall sound of the drums. The whole thing however depended on listening to each other and to the rhythms and patterns which others were finding and contributing.

One of the young men leading the session explained how in Africa, when people are at odds with each other they drum together and after a while, they can’t be at odds because they are working together to make a rhythm together.

I was really struck by this image and idea – finding a rhythm enables differences between people to find a resolution. In a church which has difficult issues to address – issues about sexuality, women bishops etc, – it seems to me that we need to find a rhythm to work at together. As I read the story of Jesus it echoes with the rhythm of the Kingdom of God with patterns of love, peace, forgiveness and hope intertwining themselves. Surely that is what we need to be working at together, each making a distinctive contribution to the whole, but celebrating the glorious sound which we are offering to the world together.

The sounds of disagreement, anger and division have little to offer the world – for they are already the sounds of the everyday. The world is already used to the sounds of discord, anger and division. We need to find a different rhythm to offer to the world. A rhythm which celebrates the contribution we each can make, but one which gets the feet tapping to the rhythm of God’s dreams – for in the end, they are the stuff of his Kingdom.


Come off it Bishop!

3 June 2008

I feel quite proud of the headline “Come off it Bishop!” which I received in a local paper following an open meeting in a parish about possibilities for re-ordering the interior of the parish church- possibilities which might (or might not) have resulted in the removal of some of the pews. Passions ran high and have continued so to do, with much correspondence (copied to the local press) relating various fallings out between parishioners and anger at the church leadership for not being decisive in the face of the challenge of change.

It has always surprised me how otherwise calm, dignified Christian people can become quite hostile and antagonistic in the face of change. Letters are quickly sent to the press (and to anyone who will listen), calling for action and lamenting the fecklessness of those in leadership who allow such things to happen. It really doesn’t make for a very attractive church, for it suggests that our priorities are heritage and preservation – for when do we capture the headlines by being passionate for peace, justice or forgiveness? But more to the point, it shows how far we have allowed the priorities of the Gospel to slip from our agenda and how much we have allowed the ephemera of being church to become the object for our passion.

As UN representatives meet today in Rome for talks about the world food crisis, we have to reflect that in Gospel terms the plight of the world’s poor should be the focus for our anger and passion. It sometimes appears that we have allowed the institutions of the church to have become the message itself, rather than the structures which deliver the message.

The Micah Challenge, reminds Christians of what the Lord requires “to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God”. (Micah 6:8) It is a call to the church to grab the headlines for Kingdom values, to speak with one voice for the impoverished and the marginalised, calling on the world leaders to fulfil the Millennium Goals which we committed ourselves to achieving by 2015. If you haven’t heard of the Millennium Goals, then you might find watching this video helpful.

There is nothing wrong with being passionate or, at times, being angry at injustice – but it will be in the cause of the Gospel that such human emotions are going to be used to best effect.