Tag Archives: Religion

‘Our Father’ – faith as communal more than individual

It’s blindingly obvious but yet something I’ve failed to take much note of the number of times I’ve said the Lord’s prayer.

The fact that when the disciples ask Jesus how to pray and he tells them not to say ‘my Father’ but ‘our Father’ reinforces that we are called to join a community, the family of God. When we address our Father, the use of the phrase ‘our’ reminds us that we cannot exist in our own selfish little bubble demanding our own rights and wants, but the father that we address isn’t just mine but the father of all his children, of all the Christian community. In this small simple word profound truth is expressed that realigns my view on the world and those around me in the church.

No matter how different they are, no matter how much they may disagree with me, or have hurt me, we share the same Father. We receive the same relentless love, the same undeserved grace. It would be so much easier if he was just ‘my father’ but the our calls me to a more difficult road, a road walked by our elder brother, one that is redemptive, that embraces the difficulty of forgiveness. A road that can bring the joy of true reconciliation instead of the bitterness of avoidance or a pretend forgiveness. A road down which if we all had the courage to walk could change the world…


The Orange Order is in decline…

Northern Ireland Orange OrderAnd I can’t say I’m too sorry to hear it. Membership of the order in Northern Ireland has more than halved in the last 60 years. Grand Secretary Drew Nelson blames the decline primarily on the increasing secularisation in Northern Ireland, and that the order was suffering the same fate as churches with people turning away from religion. Interesting and heavily ironic. As an organisation that encourages its members to be church-goers it too is struggling with the church. Or perhaps people are turning away from bad religion as experienced in the Orange Order. Growing up in East Belfast there certainly seemed little connection with church as I knew it to the drinking and sectarianism of the local bands and orangemen. Nelson’s second reason for the decline is:

“Secondly, there’s the whole ethos of the state in Northern Ireland – it appears to be leaning somewhat against the Orange Order.”

In which he refers to PSNI members having to inform superiors of their membership of the order. Just right too. I wouldn’t want any policemen or women to be members of any sort of sectarian, never mind historically misguided organisation which brings ambiguity at best to the gospel of Jesus. The Jesus who told us to love our enemies and to serve – which seem to be things the Orange Order has forgotten or fails to practise.

Could it also be suggested that the fall in membership of the Orange Order is also a result of the ending of the troubles and many trying to move away from the sectarianism that has been eating away at us for the last who knows how long?

Inaugurated eschatology – the kingdom is here but not yet

So sometimes people will say that it is not the place of Christians to fight for justice, to fight against structural injustice in governments or trade systems, or to be green warriors crusading for the environment. Our task is for the higher purpose of tending to people’s souls. I’ve long had problems with this, and yes I am caricaturing a little but to be honest very little. The problem with taking such an approach is that it is verging on dualism, on even gnosticism. It implies that all that matters is the ‘spiritual’, the physical world is bad and will be burned up so lets concentrate on the spiritual. It sounds reasonable in some ways. But stop and think about it for a moment. Why did Jesus rise bodily from the dead? If the physical is not important surely he would simply have risen as a spirit? Why did he go to such lengths like eating, and having people touch him to show that he was a real physical person? Is it not because in the resurrection we see that God desires to restore the physical creation?

Take another perspective. We all recognise that we will never be completely holy until Jesus returns. Does this mean we give up on pursuing holiness? The same in terms of care of creation and justice. Yes we will not restore them completely, that will only happen when Jesus returns, but that doesn’t mean that there is little we can do so we don’t bother. Jesus announced that God’s kingdom had come. Jesus came to demonstrate what life in God’s kingdom – as God would have it – was like. He calls us to do the same. He asks us to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earht as it is in heaven’, so of course we are to pursue the care of creation and justice, because when in those small moments when we see justice, or people are stewarding God’s good creation as He called us to, there are glimpses of God’s kingdom as it will be. It inspires us with the hope of what is to come. It shows people what God is like, and his plan for redemption and restoration covers every part of life. We are not disembodied souls being whisked off to the clouds, we are real flesh and blood, feeling people, living in a physical environment. Everything is God’s. He is restoring everything. and obviously humans are the pinnacle of that restoration. Just because I believe God calls us to pursue justice and care for creation doesn’t mean I am not passionate about god restoring and reconciling people to himelf as part of that.
when we talk and think about these things, let’s make sure our thinking is joined up and not fragmented. Lets not slip into simply reacting against someone else and going to the extremes. Let’s have a big view of a huge God that is holistic.

(Can you tell what I am currently reading?)

Integrated Education – time to take it seriously?

I remember reading Brian Mawhinney’s book and being fascinated and appalled by the vitriol that came his way for his part in bringing in integrated education.  I’ve long thought that part of our problem of a divided society begins with education. When children from differing religious backgrounds don’t get the opportunity to mix, no wonder suspicions and caricatures grow. I grew up in a loyalist part of Belfast where we were told you could tell Catholics because their eyes were closer together.  Zoomtard (although growing up in the Republic of Ireland) was told the same thing about Protestants. My attitudes began to change through school – not that we were an integrated school – it was mostly protestant but was mixed. In fact I think it is one of the only secondary schools in Northern Ireland which has a school motto in Gaelic – it certainly was back then. As I grew up with friends from differing religious backgrounds, the other ‘side’ became people who were my friends who I loved and laughed with. The integrated education debate has stirred again with Johann Hari’s comment piece in today’s Independent, although to say:

But here’s the good news: there is a proven way out. There is a policy that has been shown to erode these hatreds. They are called integrated schools – and the parents of Northern Ireland are calling for them. Today, only five per cent of children in Northern Ireland go to a mixed school. The other 95 per cent are segregated in sectarian enclaves where they project feverish fantasies on to the other side. Violence is an inevitable bedsore where two uncomprehending tribes rub past each other in a small space.

But that 5 per cent hold the key. A six-year study by Queen’s University, Belfast has looked at the long-term consequences of being schooled alongside The Enemy. They interviewed adults who attended these schools – and found that whatever their parents’ attitudes, they were “significantly more likely” to oppose sectarianism. They had “far” more friends across the divide,

Is perhaps a little overly optimistic.

The issue is certainly raising hackles within the hierarchy of the Catholic church. Although more related to the issue of  school management reform, Cardinal Brady is using the argument of protecting religious freedom for maintaining the status quo and safeguarding the “right of parents to have their children educated at Catholic schools”. In the broader picture of division and sectarianism how should the church respond?  Is playing the religious freedom card an appropriate resonse? One does have to ask the question – are the Catholic Bishops who called academic selction at 11 an ‘injustice’ willing to bring the same biblical understanding to ending their grip on schools? Are the Protestant churches prepared to stand with the Catholic Church and call for an end to segregated education? No matter what we teach children in citizenship classes, it is only when friendships can be built that prove the divide is one constructed for the sectarian means of some is a hollow one…

It’s not the quick fix, but it certainly would be an important step…

So you’ve been raped, have 200 lashes

This story is almost unbelievable. To be raped is bad enough but to then be punished for breaking social rules – a woman in the car with an unrelated man, both of whom were raped by a gang of 7 men. Not sure what happened the rapists. This from the country whose King had the audacity to tell the UK it wasn’t doing enough to fight terrorism. A country whose human rights abuses the UK is willing to turn a blind eye to as long as it can sell them weapons. I realise I am being simplistic, and was impressed that ‘The Kingdom’ tried to address some of the subtleties of life in the middle east. However this court ruling just seems crazy. So much so it leaves me speechless…

poppies, flags and should churches celebrate Remembrance Sunday?

poppy.jpgNow from the outset I want to say I have the utmost respect for those who have sacrificed and put their lives on the line for their country. I get a lump in my throat watching the veterans of the First and Second World Wars and hearing their stories. It outrages me that those who do their country – or government’s bidding at great cost aren’t properly looked after. What i’m about to say is in no way about not valuing the sacrifices of those who have bravely laid down lives

I must confess i’m not a poppy wearer. I have a poppy application request sitting waiting on facebook poppy_card.jpgthat I haven’t done anything with yet and am not sure if I will. It does seem to be a bit of a political statement for many to ear a poppy or not, and it seems that on TV everyone is wearing one. Is that because its what they are supposed to do or because they choose to as individuals support the poppy appeal? To seen Juande Ramos – the new Spurs manager wearing one as a Spaniard seemed slightly bizarre. I’m not sure if Spain have poppies there. To be honest if I was to wear one it would probably be white poppy. It does seem as if in some circles its the done thing and not to do so is frowned upon. Obviously some people make it too much of a political issue.

My problem with Remembrance Sunday is that often to me it seems to forget about the millions of innocent lives also lost in conflict, and the lives of those on the other side. In remembering our fallen heroes do we also remember the thousands of Germans killed by the RAF’s firebombing of Dresden (labelled a war crime by some), or the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who have died? Even those combatants from the ‘other side’ are people who have/had mothers, fathers, children, friends, siblings. I was struck when in Berlin that our tour guide emphasised the point that the Nazi were not superhuman monsters – but people like us who did commit evil acts. As we remember wars, there are heroic acts, but war in itself is brutal. Remembering or commemorating military battles in church also seems strange to me, and is something I am extremely uncomfortable with. In many protestant churches we don’t take any time to remember some of the great heroes and martyrs of the faith yet we remember those who gave their life in battles? It seems incongruous at the least. And how does it all square with being peacemakers, with loving enemies and some of the crazy things Jesus called us to? Is this something we really give thought to or is it just something that’s expected, that we always do, and aren’t willing to ask hard questions of?

Which brings me on to flags in church. Now it may be to do with the political sensibilities of living in Northern Ireland, but I don’t think there is any place for national flags to be flown or hung in churches. Think about it – what is the church? The church as a whole is the bride of Christ – God’s people – citizens primarily of heaven but seeking the good of the cities they live in here on earth. Surely for churches to fly national flags symbolises a national allegiance that goes against our allegiance as brothers and sisters of the worldwide church. For many flags are political symbols, and associating churches with political viewpoints is dangerous. For many a certain flag is a symbol of oppression. So to go to the church, where according to Paul, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection all who are in Christ are equal, that national identities are no longer important, and find that in fact those national identities are still there seems strange. Especially in a place like Northern Ireland. The church is supposed to transcend national, political, racial and cultural allegiances. When will we learn that our primary allegiance is to God and his kingdom, that we are part of his reconciling the world to himself, and simple things like political symbols in church are huge barriers to that reconciliation?

the soapbox – biting off more than he can chew with these thoughts in progress