The tempest

I remember the Great Storm of 1987, a violent extra-tropical cyclone that occurred on the night of 15–16 October, with hurricane-force winds.  I was staying with a friend who lived in the Guildford area.  We’d had a good meal that evening before making our way to bed.  I slept well, so well, that I managed to sleep through the Great Storm and woke up in the morning to find that trees around the house were no longer as they were when I went to bed.  A lots of them were on the ground! It was no longer the leafy Surrey that I knew.

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The crashing waves

 

No one was sleeping through the storm that hit Barbuda.  95% of the buildings have been destroyed by Hurricane Irma. The beautiful tropical paradise is well nigh deserted as much of the population has been evacuated to neighbouring Antigua. Watching that storm approaching, making its amazingly slow progress towards the island was frightening.  The pictures from space showed with such great clarity the eye of the storm.  Like watching an inevitable car crash or other disaster, knowing that there is nothing you can do to stop it, we watched, as they watched, helpless.

I was delighted to receive a phone call from the High Commission of Antigua and Barbuda, through my good friend and Ecumenical Canon of Southwark, Les Isaac, founder of Street Pastors and himself Antiguan, enquiring whether we would host a service for those from those islands living in the UK.  They wanted a service to thank God for deliverance.  It seems that these are islands full of faith and whilst the Barbudans had seen the destruction of property only one life had been lost.  Carl Francis Jr was only two years old and lost his life in that tempest.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.  But it was a miracle that more lives were not lost.

So, last Thursday the nave of Southwark Cathedral was full as we gave thanks to God for the mighty hand that saved, that delivered.  The choir sang Herbert Sumsion’s wonderful anthem ‘They that go down to the sea in ships’, a rumbustious setting of verses from Psalm 107.  The passage includes these words

So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble : he delivereth them out of their distress.
For he maketh the storm to cease : so that the waves thereof are still.
(Psalm 107.28-29)

The High Commissioner wanted us to sing a version of the 23rd Psalm.  ‘That would be great’, I said.  ‘The Caribbean version’ she added.  So we sang it, to the tune of the ‘Happy Wanderer’.  It was wonderful!

The part I played in the service was to offer a welcome and an opening prayer.  This is part of what I said.

…………………………………………………………..

Disasters come upon is in many ways. Some, like the terrorist attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market in June, are the work of our fellow human beings; some like the disaster at Grenfell tower, are the product of so many decisions we make for so many reasons, but some come as natural disasters, the force of nature, uncontrollable even by we who think we can control most things.

But whether it is of human origin or natural we can end up at the eye of the storm.

The most famous resident of this parish was William Shakespeare and it was here that he wrote his final play ‘The Tempest’. Out of the storm the characters in the play are washed up on an island and Miranda, considering what they’ve been going through and the fact that they’ve survived, nevertheless says to Prospero

O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer.

We watched with horror as the storm with its all too clear eye moved across the seas and Barbuda was there, waiting, to be hit by such a tempest. We suffered with those we saw suffer, we suffer with those we now see suffering the aftermath of that hurricane. We give them human names, Irma, but they have inhuman force and inhumane effects.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross, the day on which Christians, far away from the events of Good Friday in terms of the calendar, look at the cross. The God who in Jesus embraces the cross shares our sufferings, shares our death and destruction so that we can share his resurrection. Homes and communities can, over time, rise, rebuilt and lives too, when we have the faith to see. But we carry the cross, in whatever shape or form that cross comes to us, through human wickedness, through human thoughtlessness or greed, or through that unleashing of the forces of nature that makes us most vulnerable.

But God is alongside us, even in the eye of the storm and it’s that which we remember this evening, in word and prayer and song. And we’re invited to respond, generously, to the Rebuild Barbuda Appeal Fund for which a collection will be made during that mighty hymn ‘Almighty Father, strong to save’.

Flag_of_Antigua_and_Barbuda

The flag of Antigua and Barbuda

 

To all who will take part in this act of praise and thanksgiving, thank you, and to you who have come, thank you for standing in solidarity ‘with those that we saw suffer’.

…………………………………………..

But there was one other amazing thing.  The priest who influenced me most in my discernment that God was calling me to be a priest and who guided me to go to the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield to train, as he had done, was Canon Irving Richards.  He is from Antigua and when I mentioned his name to those in the High Commission their faces lit up.  It was an amazing reconnection with my past and an unexpected reminder to me of my own thankfulness for the people of those islands.  If you can, please give via the link in this blog to the rebuilding fund.  And pray for the people as we prayed for them on Thursday night.

Loving God, heavenly Father,
when all seems lost
your love remains steadfast;
when disaster strikes
your mercy is still seen.
As we gather to worship you
and as we hold our brothers and sisters
in Antigua and Barbuda
and in every place devastated in this hurricane season
may we hear your still, small voice
in the midst of the storm
and know your peace
which passes all understanding.
This we ask in the name of our crucified and risen Lord,
Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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Open doors

In all honesty I can’t say that I’ve ever lived in a place, at a time, when you could leave the door of your house open and you wouldn’t come back to find the place robbed.  But I know that there were communities where this was possible and I believe that there are places where it still is.  What did impress me, a year ago, when I was spending six weeks of my three months sabbatical in Jerusalem, was to see something that I simply could not imagine happening here.

I was walking through the souk.  It was a Friday, around midday and people were heading into the Old City towards Haram al Sharif, what we call the Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque stands.  The people were all off for Friday prayers.  But so were those who have shops in the souk.  But instead of pulling down the shutters, as happens at night, they simply turned the lights off and put something, like a broom handle, across the open front.  Then they left it! I could have walked in and grabbed something, but, of course, I didn’t and nor did anyone else.  It was unimaginable in the kind of society that we live in – a very sobering experience, of trust and openness.

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The invitation of an open door

 

I’ve been thinking all about this, about keeping places open, in recent days and weeks.  When the first of the present series of horrendous hurricanes struck the USA there was a story in the news that the successful pastor of a very successful megachurch in Houston, locked the doors of his very successful church and was reported as saying something along the lines that his church ‘was a place of worship not a refuge’. Of course, he rightly changed his opinion about that and the church did open and much needed help was given.  But it was his first instinct that disturbed me.  Then over in the UK we have had reports that some churches which should be open are being kept locked.

It was the Victorian Society who was complaining about this. Christopher Costelloe, its director, said: “These churches are an important part of our heritage. They should be open both for visitors to appreciate their architecture, history and beauty, and for people who want to pop in and pray.” The churches being identified were ones which have been planted on the HTB lines – places like the deeply wonderful St Augustine’s, Queens Gate in Kensington.

St Augustine’s I remember well when a friend of mine was the Parish Priest.  It was designed by William Butterfield who was also the architect for Keble College Oxford.  It is a jewel box of high Victorian art inside, the most amazing murals, telling stories from the Bible, a place built for liturgy, a masterpiece of the Gothic Revival movement.

In reports about this the Diocese of London was quoted from its own website as saying

“A locked door is a universal symbol of exclusion, while an open church expresses God’s welcome, His presence, His creativity, His justice, His healing and His forgiveness.”

I thought it was a great statement of the principle that we should be embodying.  It is the kind of understanding of what church is that we saw in the neighbourhood of Grenfell Tower in which the parish church of St Clement’s, Notting Dale under the leadership of Fr Alan Everett became the community hub, for prayer, yes, of course, but also for all the other things that churches do.  And we do those things not as an afterthought, not because we have lost confidence in the gospel in someway, but because this is the gospel.

The Acts of the Apostles is a great book for helping us to understand some of the difficulties and dilemmas that confront us even now, even after we have had two thousand years of trying to work out how to be the church that God wants us to be.  In Acts 6 we are given this insight into a problem that has a modern resonance.

The Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ (Acts 6.1-4)

Deacons

To serve the word and the people

 

The Apostles knew that they were called to prayer and ‘serving the word’ but they also knew that the church needed to make a practical and just response and serve the needs of the body.  That was why they chose seven men to be the first deacons.  These included Stephen. And from that initial solution the church has always understood that its calling is to serve the word and serve the people and that this is as much the task of our buildings as the ministers themselves.

I had three lovely churches in Leeds but we couldn’t keep them open all the time. I have huge sympathy with those who want to have their church open and cannot do so for reasons of security , or lack of volunteers, or whatever.  But the principle of being open and accessible, being a place to serve the word and serve the people, being the repository for community history as well as the community at worship, being the place of refuge, physical and spiritual, being a place of feeding at the altar and the table, being a place of warmth for the body and the soul, is what we shall all be ascribing to.

T S Eliot in his beautiful poem, ‘Little Gidding’ one of his ‘Four Quartets’, muses in part on the experience of entering that small church in the middle of the fields. At one point he says

‘If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same’

We do not always know why we wander into a church in springtime, at night, broken, not knowing why we came, but when there is an open door we can enter and find the home and refuge we sought all along.

God,
you open your doors to us,
you open your life to us,
may we close neither.
Amen.

Year’s mind

It’s strange how you hear things when you’re a child, perhaps not that strange I suppose when in fact you very often have no idea what’s being said and so just imagine what words are being used.  When, as a child, we said at home the prayer ‘Gentle Jesus’ every evening before going to sleep, I thought for many years that we were praying ‘pity mice implicitly’ rather than the more correct ‘pity my simplicity’ (though if you read last week’s blog you will know that I have had a soft spot for mice, so maybe ….). So I had no idea what people were saying when in the intercessions at Mass in our church the priest, coming to the end, sailing through the sick list and arriving at the dead, would read out a list of names and then add ‘whose year’s mind occurs this week’.  It took me a long time to realise that ‘year’s mind’ was church-speak for anniversary and most particularly, the anniversary of their death.

There are a number of things that divide members of the Church of England and not only the things that last weeks ‘Nashville Statement’ focus on.  The hymn book you use (if you still use one) A&M or NEH; whether you have kept your pews; if you make ‘real’ coffee for after the service or use instant! But one of the big divides is whether you pray for the dead or not, and if you do whether you just ‘remember’ them or ‘pray’ for them. It’s part, I suppose, of the heritage that this 500th anniversary of the Reformation that we are keeping is commemorating, this reluctance on the part of some to pray for the dead.  And, if you do pray for the dead how long do you pray for them?

The church up to the Reformation was clear that there was no end date on the need to keep the dead, by name and intention, in our prayers.  The rich built Chantry Chapels and endowed priests in order to be assured that the prayers for their own souls would go on and on and on, until, well, until the end came and the dead were raised and prayer was needed no more.

So in the back of our intercession book at Southwark Cathedral, as in many churches I suspect, is a list of the dead, with the dates they died and dutifully, each day and each week we pray for the souls of these people at the Mass, these people, our family, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

encyc-diana

I was thinking about this as we remembered the ‘year’s mind’ of Diana, Princess of Wales, last week.  I have no special memories to share, I never met her or even saw her.  So my memories are those of most people – of the blossoming of a young, shy, girl into a beautiful, confident, troubled, dignified woman.  I remember the moment when I woke on that Sunday morning twenty years ago to the terrible news of the crash and her death, how I put on the tele and watched, transfixed, until I realised I had to go out to preside at the Eucharist and say … something, to a congregation who would be as shocked and speechless as me.  I remember going on the Friday evening before the funeral to the Mall and from there through Hyde Park to the gates of Kensington Palace and witnessing a nation in such indescribable grief and an outpouring of sorrow such as I had never seen and thought we were incapable of. I remember watching the funeral and those boys and their dignity, Elton John singing ‘Candle in the wind’ as never before, the beautiful and haunting Tavener, ‘Song for Athene’ and that address.

I was listening to some of the coverage on the BBC ‘Today’ programme last week and hearing the rather surprising question which went something like ‘Is this 20th anniversary it then? We won’t be keeping the 30th and 40th anniversaries will we?’ and I thought, ‘Of course we will’.  It might not be with such a deluge of mawkish documentaries but of course we will remember – because that is what we do.

One other difference that separates the sheep from the goats in the CofE is whether or not you will read from the books of the Apocrypha at the end of what Christians call the Old Testament.  But if you are prepared to look at them then you can read of the stories of the courageous Maccabees.  In one part of the Second Book of Maccabees it tells of a battle in which many men died.  Judas, their leader, took up a collection and sent it to Jerusalem requesting that a sin-offering be made on their behalf.  It goes on to say of Judas

For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Maccabees 12.44-45)

I find that a powerful passage when I’m reading that ‘year’s mind’ list and both remembering the ones I can remember and praying for them and for those I have never known and can’t remember.

The Cathedral is full of memorials like many churches and most are to people, put up after they died, to help other people remember them for generations to come.  They’re like the ecclesiastical version of Dylan Thomas’ lovely phrase in ‘Under Milk Wood’ about the pictures on the walls of the sleeping houses being the

‘yellowing, dicky bird-watching pictures of the dead.’

If I’m taking a group around the Cathedral for a tour I will most often than not stop at one plaque.  It’s very simple, not finely wrought or engraved, but for me it’s the most beautiful and poignant of them all.  It says this

Susanna Barford departed this life the 20th of August 1652 aged 10 yeares 13 weekes. The non-such of the world for piety and virtue in soe tender yeares.  And death and envye both must say t’was fitt her memory should thus in brasse bee writ. Here lyes interr’d within this bed of dust a virgin pure not staind by carnall lust; such grace the king of kings bestow’d upon her that now she lives with him a maid of honour. Her stage was short, her thread was quickly spun, drawne out and cut, got heaven, her worke was done. This world to her was but a traged play, she came and sawt dislikt and passd away.

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You can find the plaque in the south choir aisle

 

I have no idea who she was, young Susanna.  Was she the daughter of someone connected with the Rose or the Globe Theatres?  I love all the theatrical references and they make me wonder.  Did her mother spin thread for a living, or was she helping make the costumes for the stage.  But then, on the other hand, Susanna was living through the years of the Commonwealth, tumultuous years especially for those who had made their living in or had a connection with the theatre. Was the tragedy she witnessed being played out part of all this?  She would have been 7 when the king had been executed just down the river in Whitehall.  Had she seen that in ‘soe tender yeares’?

I don’t know.  But what I do know is when I pass that plaque I pray for her, these 365 years later and will continue to do so.

Lord of time and eternity,
you hold us in life and death.
As you never forget us
may we not forget those
who have gone before us.
including young Susanna.
Amen.

It’s a cat’s life

Mum was, I suppose, what you might call ‘house proud’. There’s nothing wrong with that.  When we were kids we always knew that the house would be clean and tidy, things put away where they belonged, that we would have clean clothes and there would never be a pile of washing or ironing to be done. I suppose at her worst she could be a bit of a Hyacinth Bucket but only in a little way.  But the implication was that we never really had a pet, I mean a pet that was free to roam.  My first pet was ‘Snowy’ the white mouse, neatly caged, but after its body rebelled on a diet of cheese and milk (Mum took her mouse care lessons from Tom & Jerry by all accounts) it went to meet its Maker.  We then had a number of goldfish, mainly from fairs, some swam around a bowl for a while but none made long-term pets.

Hyacinth Bucket from the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, floral dress and pearls_thumb[2]

Keeping up appearences

The best we managed was a Cockatiel called ‘Beauty’. He was actually my sister’s bird and he loved her but tried to take a chunk out of the rest of us.  When the bird decided he disliked intensely my sister’s boyfriend she had to make that difficult decision that can sometimes face us in life – ‘the bird or the boyfriend?’ – and she chose the latter.  So Mum inherited the care of Beauty even though it continually ‘went for her’.

My point is that we were never allowed a cat or a dog like other people.  No puppy nor kitten added to the fun of our lives.  We had a lovely childhood but no four-legged friend to grow up with us as in so many adverts showing happy, sunny, well disposed children.

Last Sunday at Southwark Cathedral we launched a children’s book called ‘Doorkins the Cathedral Cat’.  It has been written and illustrated by two members of the Cathedral congregation, Lisa Gutwein, the author and Rowan Ambrose, the artist.  It tells the tale, the true tale, of Doorkins who is the Southwark Cathedral cat.  The book is delightful and I’m glad to say is selling extremely well.

I remember the cat arriving back in 2008.  He, actually she is a she but we didn’t know that then, arrived in the Cathedral churchyard.  This cat spent a lot of time in the garden but was also around in the morning when the vergers were opening up the Cathedral. So eventually they decided to feed the cat and put a bowl of water out.  My predecessor, Colin Slee, himself a cat lover and owner (if one can ever own a cat) called him/her ‘Doorkins’ because that was where we first encountered her, in the door.  She was then given the posh name ‘Magnificat’. Doorkins Magnificat gradually found the courage to come from outside to inside, to take advantage of the warmth that was awaiting her.  And so a daily routine developed.  She comes in when we open, has breakfast, has a wander around the place, checking it out, finds somewhere to sleep, gets up during Evensong when she hears her own song, ‘Magnificat’, and then has her supper and as the Cathedral closes she goes back out to her second, night-time home, the Borough Market. It’s a cat’s life!

That’s the ideal of course.  When it’s cold, and now that she is older, she sometimes hides when going-out time comes along and the vergers have the difficult job of finding her and coaxing her out. Sometimes, when she senses that something good is happening she will wander through the sanctuary at just the wrong moment for us but the best moment for her as all eyes are upon her.

Like the whole community Doorkins was caught up in the terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market on 3 June.  By the time that happened she had been put out and the doors had been locked.  As it turned out we were unable to check that she was ok until we were able to get back into the Cathedral ourselves many days later.  At first we satisfied ourselves with the knowledge that she is basically a feral cat who happens to lodge with us and would probably manage alright amongst all the abandoned food from the Saturday night revels into which the horror struck.  But then we heard that the Metropolitan Police, in the midst of everything else they had to do, were making sure that Doorkins did not go hungry.  Without being ridiculous about it that was a moment of such reassurance in the midst of all that was so horrible – we would be ok.

Doorkins book

The Doorkins book – get your copy!

So, why am I mentioning all of this?  Well, simply I suppose because, not being a pet person generally nor particularly a cat person I have come to recognise what the presence of Doorkins does for us and that was reinforced as the book was launched last Sunday.  I’ve noticed that for many people simply seeing a cat wandering around makes the place accessible, unstuffy, in a strange way more human, a manifestation of ‘The Human Haunt’ in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about the Cathedral.  It’s as though they say to themselves ‘well, if these people accept a cat here perhaps they will accept me’.

But more than that there is something about how Doorkins arrived and settled that is a parable of mission.  The truth is that however warm and inclusive a church may be and think it is, it is still a church and to many people an unfamiliar and strange place. Getting through the door and across the threshold is no mean feat.  And then having arrived people need to feel at home, safe, able to stay, not frightened off by too much attention or too little.  Churches can be enormously off-putting to newcomers.  We may all have had the uncomfortable experience of almost sitting in a seat or a pew to be told ‘I’m sorry you can’t sit there – that’s where Mrs Tubbs sits!’ and you move off sheepishly – none of the ‘come up higher friend’ of Jesus’ parable!  But Doorkins will make herself at home wherever she likes, even in the Cathedra, even in the Dean’s stall – can you imagine and we have to cope with it!

Finally, she is someone (I know she’s not a person) who people love and relate to and that has to be good.  She found us and chose to live with us and now adds to the special place that we are. So I need to celebrate this cat who is the four-legged though rather disant friend that I never had as a child.

In the Book of Genesis the man names every creature God delivers to him.

‘So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.’ (Genesis 2.19)

Amongst them, in a way, was our lovely cat, who we name with love and always give thanks for, who opens doors for others to follow her into the church.

Creator God,
thank you for the animals
that share our lives,
our homes,
and our love
and thank you
for all that they teach us
about what it means to be
human.
Amen.

Challenging the hatred

I thought I’d share with you today the sermon that I’ve delivered this morning in Southwark Cathedral.  It says what I would have wanted to say anyway on Living God.  The readings for this Sunday, the 10th after Trinity, are these Isaiah 56.1,6-8; Romans 11.1-2a,29-32; Matthew 15.21-28.

I want to come clean, to be honest with you, I need to make a clean breast of it – I am prejudiced! Ok, I’ve said it! You want to know what I’m prejudiced against? Well, I can’t abide men who wear shorts, sandals and socks. You may not think as well of me now as you once did. ‘How can he harbour such views’, you may wonder? ‘How is that influencing his decision making as a Dean, his ability to stand alongside such a person – shorts, sandals and socks proud – and not make judgements based on his prejudice?’

You’re right to ask those questions. But I have to tell you before you get all self righteous that there are other prejudiced people here as well and that may, that probably, includes you. They tell me that there are people in this Cathedral, for instance, who don’t like cats! You’re not allowed to express those views on the day on which we launch the Doorkins book – but perhaps you secretly hold that hatred. Disgusting! Call yourself a Christian?

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, has gone outside of his comfort zone. He’s in the region of Tyre and Sidon. There are foreigners there, people outside of the tightly defined family, the tightly defined and regulated community that was the people of God, the Jews.

And a woman comes up to him, a Canaanite woman. A woman is bad enough, a foreign woman, a woman from outside the faith community who worshipped other Gods, this was terrible. And Jesus reacts.

Caananite woman

In this picture Jesus can hardly bear to turn round to acknowledge the pleading Canaanite woman

For me, this is one of the most difficult passages in the whole of the four gospels. In it we see Jesus reacting in a way to this poor woman who’s come outside of her comfort zone to plead to a Jew for the healing of her demon possessed daughter. She’s at the end of her tether, seeking the last resort. She’s probably tried everything, everybody else and so she decides – ‘what can I lose, I’ll go to this Jesus who everyone’s talking about – they say he loves everyone – let’s see if he loves me’.

The really shocking thing about this reading is that Jesus is so rude to her. He speaks about her, not too her, as though he can’t bear to address her; he calls her a dog, likens her to an animal that picks up the scraps under the table when other people are feasting – a dog acting like vermin. He’s been brought up listening to the stories of how his ancestors beat up and defeated the Canaanites and he’s bought into it, swallowed the stories and the prejudice. He might love everyone – but he doesn’t love her and he shows it.

The last week has been shocking. At the moment every week seems shocking. If it isn’t sabre rattling of the most dangerous kind between the USA and North Korea, its Brexit and hair-brained schemes which seem to get us no further forward. If it isn’t the scandalous waste of money on the Garden Bridge it’s the horror of terrorist attacks in Cambrils and in Barcelona, a city as diverse as our own, with a market on the Ramblas, where the attack happened, twinned with our own Borough Market.

And trumping it all has been President Trump with his failure to condemn the alt-right, the neo-Nazis, the KKK and their friends in the USA, his failure to condemn the horror of Charlottesville and the killing of a martyr for peace and inclusion, Heather Heyer, and to clearly state, as our own Prime Minister clearly stated, that there is no moral equivalent between the racist, fascist far right and the anti-racist majority. His failure to do the right thing has given a new legitimacy to views and attitudes and prejudice that have no place in any society.

The prophet Isaiah has a vision of what the kingdom of God will be, is like

‘I will gather others … besides those already gathered’.

The God who Isaiah knows is the God of inclusion, whose vision is for one family, gathered around one table, without difference, bound together by their common humanity for, as God says through Isaiah,

‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’.

It’s a beautiful vision, this is what the kingdom is like. So why does Jesus have such a problem with the Canaanite woman?

I don’t think in reality he does but by the way he reacted he perhaps awoke in his disciples and others, who’d travelled with him across the boundaries into a place of discomfort, just how shocking their own attitudes were. Perhaps in reacting like they would, but in a way they never expected he would, he cast a spotlight on the way in which they thought. And for the woman too, who’d have had her own set of prejudices against Jews, she’d have been expecting his first response and only hoping for his second.

And we listening to this Gospel are forced to consider our own prejudices. Because the truth is that we are all prejudiced – it’s part of human nature – but the question is, do we allow those views to run our lives, and dictate our decisions, do we allow those views to define our relationships, do we believe the generalisations about people who are different to us, people of another gender, people of another colour, people of a different sexuality, or age, or economic or social grouping? Have we the guts to confront our own shameful values and deal with them?

At the end of this Eucharist we’ll be commemorating the sinking of the Marchioness twenty-eight years ago today. 51 women and men, most of them young, died that night. As you hear the names read, as you read them for yourselves on the stone, you’ll encounter names from across the world, the names of young men and young women, black and white, gay and straight, people who’d been born here, people who hadn’t, who were having a good time. It was the same with the victims of the terror attack on our community – of the eight who died only one was from this country.

The cry of the racists is ‘give us our country back’ but whose is it? The Christian vision is for an inclusive world in which we’re all equal citizens, free and loved and, as Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, living by the principle that

‘by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy’.

This community has committed itself to this way of living, honest and loving and trying, sometimes well, sometimes successfully, sometimes inadequately, sometimes failing, but always trying to be the reflection and incarnation of the kingdom to which Jesus points, even in that foreign place in which that child is healed.

maya-angelou_t479

The beautiful Maya Angelou

The African-American writer Maya Angelou said

Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.

The God we meet in this Eucharist, the God who provides bread and wine for all people, who shares the divine life with all, is the God of the past, the future and the present who makes nothing inaccessible but everything accessible to all.

To the woman before him Jesus says with divine love

‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’

Whoever you are, whoever I am, he says the same, with equal love, to us.

Lord, confront with your love
the hate that lies within me
and cleanse my actions
and my thoughts.
Amen.

The silly season?

Can you remember what the news used to be like during the summer? It was often called ‘the silly season’ as the news media, print and broadcast, would hunt around for stories and end up presenting us with ones that were just, frankly, silly. But it served as a kind of light relief as we settled down in our deck chairs, made sand castles and waited for September to arrive with the party conferences and politics and the news and we could reengage with reality.

But there is nothing silly about this season.  True, I’ve watched some heart-warming videos of dogs licking cats and a cat rescuing a puppy which people have posted on Twitter but beyond that it feels like we are moving inexorably into a vortex of destruction.

enola_gay_crew_3

The crew of the Enola Gay

I was on holiday in Spain when the Feast of the Transfiguration occurred.  It was lovely to be at Mass in the church of Santa Maria del Mar in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona, a church sometimes called ‘The Cathedral of the Sea’, a gorgeous gothic building, the construction of which inspired the novel of that name by Ildefonso Falcones, a kind of Spanish equivalent of ‘The Pillars of the Earth’. Anyway, I was at the International Mass that they have each week at 12 noon, a great service if you are in Barcelona on a Sunday.  But this was the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord and so my mind was captured by the strange conjunction of two images, the first of the Lord Jesus bathed in divine light and the second, the demonic intense light that came with the explosion over Hiroshima that day in 1945 of the first nuclear bomb to be detonated. The immediate horror for me was that the rhetoric between two unpredictable and dangerous leaders – Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un – was drawing us closer to another nuclear conflagration.

On the holy mountain the three disciples, Peter James and John, saw the Lord

‘his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.’ (Matthew 17.2)

In that amazing light the disciples were able to see clearly who Jesus really was, the light revealed it, they saw him in both his human and divine natures in that moment of theophany. We know that light can do this.  Let the sunshine into a room that has been closed up and its rays reveal the cobwebs and the dust that have accumulated in the corners, unnoticed in the gloom. We see clearly as never before – the beauty and the chaos.

When the American aircraft, Enola Gay, discharged her payload over Japan we saw clearly what humankinds intellect, at its best and at its worst, could achieve, a weapon that could destroy the whole of creation, a weapon that could destroy what God had so beautifully created.  It was a moment that should have brought us to our senses, and to be fair, for many people it was and it did.  Those great days of the Aldermaston Marches, the time when CND was at its strongest and most vibrant, amazing people like Bruce Kent, who for me was an inspirational figure, a priest-prophet as an activist against nuclear armament.

In September 1980 a pop group called ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’, more often called OMD, released a single called ‘Enola Gay’ – those of you as old as me may remember the song and the chilling line in the lyrics

These games you play they’re going to end in more than tears some day.

I suppose it was that song and beginning my formation as a priest at Mirfield with strong priestly figures like Bruce Kent and others around, that made me join CND. I may not agree with all that Jeremy Corbyn says but when he was being pressed as to whether he would be prepared to press the nuclear button I wanted him to stand up for not being prepared to do so.  How could any person be asked to slaughter millions of innocent people? No nation, no regime, be they capitalist or communist, be they democratic or despotic, have the right to hold weapons of mass destruction and to threaten, like kids in a school yard, to unleash them on each other.

Phrases like ‘fire and fury’, ‘locked and loaded’ fit neatly into Tweets but as that pop song of 37 years ago said ‘These games you play they’re going to end in more than tears some day.’

I still believe, and you can call me naïve, that the only way to control nuclear weapons is by not having them, through multi-lateral disarmament.  I know we cannot ‘un’-invent them, I know that the technology will always exist, I know that the terrorist groups which will always emerge might try to get hold of them, but the very fact that legitimate, democratic and supposedly responsible nations have them gives them a global legitimacy and those not in the ‘nuclear club’ will always seek to get in by fair means or foul.

transfiguration 6

In your light shall we see light

Look, I am only a priest, these things are bigger than I can deal with, but at some stage those like me who are petrified at what seems to be happening have to be able to say STOP! Until then all I can do is fall on my knees before the one who in divine, dazzling, blinding and healing light reveals God to us. As the Psalmist writes of God

‘with you is the well of life
and in your light shall we see light.’
(Psalm 36.9)

This is the psalm prayer from Common Worship : Daily Prayer that was written in response to Psalm 36 – pray it with me, please.

O God, the well of life,
make us bright with wisdom,
that we may be lightened with the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Standing in the garden

In between The Deanery and the house next door in which Sir Christopher Wren is supposed to have lodged during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral so that he could watch it rising like a phoenix from the ashes, from the vantage point of the other side of the river – but didn’t (Gillian Tindall in her book ‘The House by the Thames’ debunks this local myth), is the narrowest street in London.  It’s called ‘Cardinal Cap Alley’ and for various reasons it isn’t usually open to the public as it now goes nowhere.  But it used to be one of the capillaries that linked up this mediaeval community and provided a quick route between the theatres, the inns and the stews.  The latter were the brothels where the ‘Winchester Geese’ did their business.

Couple

A Bankside encounter

 

Having debunked one myth I’m probably now going to promote many more but that’s the nature of this area.  Did the alley take it’s name from an inn that stood where my neighbours house now stands; is it a cheeky reference to the nickname of a prophylactic the more discerning customers of the Geese might use?

One thing is clear.  This area was ‘The Liberty’ of the Bishops of Winchester.  They had control of the area, had their own prison, ‘The Clink’, licensed the theatres, the bear pits, the inns, the prostitutes and presumably raked in a good level of income to enhance their standing as Prince Bishops of the church. The Geese were so named because of the uniform that they were required to wear as licensed traders under the Bishop’s protection. They scurried around the area, cowls up, heads down, like geese.

But when death came, as it did at an early age for many, in pregnancy, in childbirth, they were not so protected.  Whilst the church could benefit from pimping off their wages whilst they were alive it could not condone their way of life and so mothers and unborn children were buried in unconsecrated ground just outside the parish.  It’s scandalous – not the business of the women, but the attitude and actions of the church.

It’s just another example of the dysfunctional attitude that we have to sex.

Each Feast of St Mary Magdalene we now go in procession from the Cathedral to the Crossbones Graveyard, as it’s called, on Redcross Way where the women are buried.  The fact that we do this is not, to be honest, the work of the church but the work of many years by local playwright and performer, John Constable, who with a faithful and dedicated band of supporters have campaigned on behalf of these women and on behalf of this unconsecrated burial ground, trying to hold developers back from further abusing it.  A few years ago TFL handed it over as a ‘meanwhile’ garden and the local Bankside Open Spaces Trust have helped to create a garden where we can remember these women.

So we go in procession to express our regret for the past and our remembrance of the women. It’s a powerful occasion on the day in which we remember a woman, herself surrounded with myth and gossip and innuendo who met with Jesus in a garden and became the first witness of the resurrection.  In the garden we read Malcom Guite’s ‘Sonnet for Mary Magdalene’ which begins

Men called you light so as to load you down,
And burden you with their own weight of sin,
A woman forced to cover and contain
Those seven devils sent by Everyman.

But engaging in this ‘Act of Regret: Restoration: Remembrance’ as we call it is not just about those women and their children, as important as that is, but it’s also about trying to witness to the work that needs to be done in and by the church in relation to our attitude to sex.  The church is obsessed with it and with any obsession this is really dangerous.  It eats up our energy, occupies our mind, corrupts the soul of the church and distracts us from what we should be obsessed with – proclaiming a gospel of liberation and love and life.  We have to engage with the issues of trafficking and sex workers and the way in which so often the modern victims are treated no differently to their mediaeval sisters – and I suspect – brothers – used and abused and then left without the blessing of God which we continue to withhold from people.

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Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the garden

 

It is just not healthy – our obsessions and our attitudes.  But Jesus comes to Mary Magdalene and restores her to health.  St Luke tells us this

Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8.1-3)

Whatever the demons were Mary had been brought into new life and was a disciple, loved and part of the community.  She was a disciple who would become the Apostle to the Apostles. Whether or not she was the woman with the long, loose hair, the woman caught in adultery, the scandalous woman at the meal, whoever she was Jesus with that loving and embracing attitude, that lived out conviction that no one was excluded but all were included, that breaker of conventions who would touch and be touched, who would embrace opprobrium to save others from it, says to her in the first light, in the garden

‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). (John 20.16)

He was her teacher for he had taught her to love herself, who had loved others for so long. Perhaps we can learn to do both and to love ourselves and others into life. As we pray in the garden graveyard in Southwark

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayers
and as you received the love of Mary
hold in your presence
the souls of all who have gone before us
and give them peace.
Amen.

The work of God

My mother was a great one for a routine.  Monday was wash day, Tuesday lots of cleaning, Thursday was the trip to the shops, Friday afternoon baking and so forth. She said that this was the only way that she could work. My sister and I have inherited some of that and living by routine feels to me to be liberating.  You may question that.  Isn’t it just a bind, no space for experimentation, no wriggle room? Wouldn’t it be good if occasionally I washed on a Wednesday and not a Saturday, that I did this or that on another day, live a bit more spontaneously, a bit more dangerously? Well it might work for some but for me. To be honest, I like the security of knowing that the washing and the cleaning will get done because they happen predictably and I don’t need to make decisions about them, in a way think about them.


So I suppose that I naturally fitted into the regularity of the pattern of living and praying expected of a priest.  I say expected because there is a Canonical duty upon us that we pray the Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, daily and publicly. All Christians are expected to pray and so we are no different in that except that the priest does it on behalf of the people dashing off to work, they hear the church bell ringing as they catch the 7.45 to Waterloo and know that the priest is on their kneew.  Well, that is the formal, romantic ideal – but an ideal not to be disparaged or dismissed.

One of the best things about my smartphone is the Church of England ‘Daily Prayer’ app.  It is the most wonderfully useful app I have to be honest.  Wherever I am I can say my prayers, without lugging a library with me.  Romnan Catholic clergy have the blessing of the Breviary which in three volumes, one for each part of the year, contains all the texts necessary for praying the ‘Divine Office’, the Liturgy of the Hours.  But Anglicans have to take with them at least three books – the Lectionary, which is the most complicated document, a kind of clerical ‘log tables’ which gives you the calendar and readings and psalms for each day.  Then you need your prayer book, either the BCP or Common Worship: Daily Prayer which has the form of the Office and the psalms.  Then you need a Bible and as both main Offices include readings from the Old and New Testaments you can’t get away with just the NT.  So praying ‘on the go’ involves lugging all of this around.  So the app is a godsend in that it is like a virtual Breviary containing all things necessary.  It means that the priest can say the Office where they are, and the person on the 7.45 to Waterloo can equally say the Office where they are! It’s a great act of democratisation in doing the work of nGod, what we know in church-speak as the ‘opus dei’.

The poet George Herbert wrote lines which we often sing

Seven whole days not one in seven, I will praise thee.

That is the rule we live by, the regularity that we seek to establish, the pattern of prayer that is as routine as breathing that doesn’t involve making decisions but is simply part of living as a child of God. I’m fortunate to have colleagues to pray with and a choir who will add glorious music to the opus dei enhancing the experience of praying.  But neither of those things is necessary for praying, just the will, the desire to pray, the time, the place, be that in a cathedral or church, in a crowded carriage or a quiet kitchen after the kids have gone to school, with books, or an app, knowing that God is with us in our praying as God will be with us in our working.

God, give us the desire to pray, and the space to do it. Amen.

I’m in York

Just in case you were waiting for a Living God blog today, I’m at the meeting of the General Synod in York. So, please, follow me on my General Synod blog and you will catch up with what we are up to.

Diakonia

One of my grandmas, my Nanny Nunn, was in service. That was what a great many girls did in the early part of the last century.  School would have ended at around the age of 14 and then a family, or someone who needed a maid, would have taken the girl in.  They would have left home and began some years ‘in service’. Nanny was evidently good with a needle so she ended up as a sewing maid, working for some Lord and Lady who had a castle in Scotland but kept an apartment in Whitehall Court on the banks of the Thames close to the centre of power. The maids all lived in dormitories in the top floors of this apartment block.  Her employers were kind and bought her her wedding dress from Liberty of London when finally she left their service to become the wife in her own home.

Maids

Girls dressed for service

 

Not all her employers were as good.  She used to tell me about working in a Vicarage where both the Parson and his wife drank rather too much for everyone’s comfort.  But she generally had a good time and on the stairs hung miniature portraits of two of her employers, Judge and Lady Matthews, a fine looking Edwardian couple who looked sternly at us children if we dared to go upstairs in the house without permission!

As fans of ‘Downtown Abbey’ became aware it wasn’t all bad ‘below stairs’ but it is a side of life that has now all but disappeared.

Last week I was preaching at the ordination of priests in the Diocese of Southwark, this week I was welcoming to the Cathedral the supporters of the 13 women and men who were to be ordained deacon.  These are weeks when the church really thinks about what ministry and especially ordained ministry means.

Everything we think about ministry, the ministry of deacons and priests, really finds its source and focus in the Upper Room on the night before the crucifixion. There at table Jesus breaks the bread and shares the cup and gives us the Eucharist at his priestly hands. But it is around that same table, in that same room, that he takes the bowl, takes the jug, takes the towel and washes the feet of his disciples.  If saying to them ‘This is my body’ as he held up the bread, broke it and gave it to them, was shocking, even more so, I think was the Master taking the tools of the servant and washing the feet of those who followed him.  Jesus, as on so many occasions, reverses the roles and the expectations, subverts peoples understanding.  In Acts 17 the disciples are accused of being people who

‘have been turning the world upside down.’ (Acts 17.6)

They were, and they were taking their lead and their example from Jesus, who turned their world on its head as he knelt before them and gently, and with a servants devotion, washed their feet and dried them on the towel.

I was watching the Bishop of Southwark carefully vest in preparation for the ordination in the Cathedral. Before he put on the chasuble he placed over his alb a thin, silk dalmatic, the robe of the deacon.  It could not be seen by the congregation, but there it was, close to his skin, close to his heart.  It was a reminder to him and to me, that we are all deacons, that we are part of a servant church.

As Jesus put his clothes back on and took his seat as the Master at the table he said to his stunned friends

‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’. (John 13.14-15)

Whoever you are, whatever ‘robes’ you wear, beneath it all you are ‘in service’, part of that diakonia. ‘Never forget it’ says Jesus to us, ‘I have given you an example’.  But not just those to us who are ordained but to all of us.  Just as priests are set apart on behalf of the whole priestly people of God to offer the sacraments of the New Covenant, so deacons are set apart on behalf of the whole servant church, not to do it for us, but to do it with us.

In these last few, challenging months, we have seen people of faith ‘in service’ to their communities.  The fantastic example of the Parish of St Clement and St James, the church for the Grenfell Tower community, has been exemplary.  I see from their website that they describe themselves as

‘Breaking bread, sharing God’

This is the Upper Room church at which, the broken bread and the sharing of the God who is the servant God of a servant people, make real the nature of the kingdom that breaks in around us.  And when it is needed that means doing precisely what that community has been doing, along with so many from other churches and faith communities and people of no faith but of good will, being the servants of others and, sometimes literally, washing feet.

washing_feet

‘I have set you an example’.

 

Brian Wren’s great hymn, ‘Great God, your love has called us here’, that we often sing on Maundy Thursday, sums it up for me

Then take the towel, and break the bread,
and humble us, and call us friends.
Suffer and serve till all are fed,
and show how grandly love intends
to work till all creation sings,
to fill all worlds, to crown all things.

There is a lot of serving to be done and Jesus hands on to us the bowl and the towel and we simply get on with it.

Lord, you wash my feet;
may I have the humility and love
to wash those of my neighbour.
Amen.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark