Thursday, 28 March 2013


based on Isaiah 53

Sacred herb, sacred king
We overlooked, fixated on more flowery growth.
Tender shoot, tender king,
Inches from the earth, we missed you,
Until they tore you down.

You did not dominate, nor push pretenders.
Submitted on cold mortar, bruise-broken by savage pestle
Your passion-darkened leaves you cede,
Beryline you bleed, bequeathing us the force of spring

Therein your power, Isaiah foresaw.
And thus with violent stripes,
Plucked and stripped
And crushed, you lie

Til carried on a Paschal breeze, your
Fragrance surges forth

Foliate third day, we await

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


Urgolino di Nerio, The Last Supper
I wonder have you been following Masterchef recently?  I have, fifty contenders, foodies from all walks of life, desperate to impress the judges with their culinary creations and become a chef.  Why, oh why, do they show it during Lent!?

If you, like me, like these kinds of programmes, then now’s a great time of year – Great British Menu (our own Ian Orr was robbed!), Paul Hollywood’s Bread if you prefer baking, and Come Dine With Me, my guilty pleasure, is never off the air ... you could say as a society we are obsessed with food – I know I am. 

It’s Holy Week, Jesus’ last week before he is crucified.  And he has just entered Jerusalem after a party at Lazarus, Mary and Martha's house in Bethany.  He’s spent some quality time with friends.  Now, it’s time to prepare for another Feast, Passover – the venue, the food, the wine, the guest list ...

Lots of stories about Jesus are loosely situated around food, but not in the obsessive cheffy way we drool over it today.  Jesus seemed to be where the food was – well he was fully human, wasn’t he! – in fact he had a bit of a reputation among the Pharisees for being a glutton and a party-goer.

But Nigella or Gordon Ramsay didn’t write the gospel accounts – (thank goodness, or there might be a lot of swearing!).  Imagine if they had – a duo of poisson Saint Pierre served with rustic stone-baked flatbreads – or as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John call it: five loaves and two fish!

No, the gospel writers skip over the details of the menu and concentrate on Jesus’ encounters with people.  In Bible times, it wasn’t about organic, or slow-cooked, fusion or authentic, medium-rare or with this sauce or that.  Food brought people together.  That’s why Jesus was always at parties and feasts – to be with people (I’m sure he enjoyed the food too).

Jesus spent a fair bit of his last week following the party at Lazarus’s house preparing for the Passover festival.  If we fast-forward to the Last Supper on the Thursday night, there Jesus is, the night he was betrayed, surrounded by main dishes, and side dishes and cups – and people. 

And who’s in the position of the honoured guest at supper?  It’s the very one who Jesus knows will betray him, Judas.  We can work it out from the gospel accounts, based on who was beside who, who spoke to who, and the fact that Judas was the first to sop, i.e. to dip his bread.

Why would Jesus have Judas near him, let alone in the place of guest of honour at the table?!

Why invite him, let him eat with him, in the first place?

Why show hospitality to a betrayer, one who would treat him so callously, and hand him over for 30 rotten pieces of silver?  Would that not turn your stomach?

We can probably all think of somebody who has wronged us, someone we would rather not eat with.  Someone – in our family, at work, in church even, that we would make a point of not sitting beside.  Of not engaging in conversation.  Someone that would not be on our guest list. 

Jesus in his last week before he is crucified, spends times eating and drinking with friends – and with his betrayer.  We don’t know the menu, it’s not that important really, but we know as Jesus served all his disciples, it was in a spirit of love, personal sacrifice and reconciliation, with a willingness to embrace even his betrayer.

I don’t know how Lent has been going for you.  I’ve not been completely successful at sticking to my Lenten vows, I get too tempted when I watch Masterchef to enjoy nice food and drink.  But there’s still time to prepare as we come to Easter. 

We might be buying lamb and some nice wine and lots and lots of chocolate.  And we need to prepare our hearts, too – that’s even more important!

We’ve all been wronged, and it can be so hard to follow Jesus’ example and love our enemies.  It’s far easier to avoid them and pretend we don’t have any enemies.

Who do I need to have a chat with over a cup of tea?  Who do I need to invite round for lunch, or go for a drink with and have an honest heart-to-heart? 

It’s easy to hate people we don’t sit with at a table.  It’s much, much harder when we invite our enemies to come and sit beside us.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Habemus Papam Latinoamericanum*

Re-mapping the Church
* I don't know that this is a Latin word, I kind of made it up!

Who says 'north' goes at the top?
Wow, what a month for Latin America.  The Falklands referendum result isn't much of a surprise.  And it maybe shouldn't have, given his long battle with cancer, but Chavez's death has shocked not only his nation of Venezuela but a continent 'swept pink' (less red than Castro) by his  brand of Latin American socialism.  To whom will the presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Nicaragua look now?  But the big news is the first non-European Pope in a millennium  and the first ever from the Americas.

Sarah and I were glued to the TV news, excited to know if the next Bishop of Rome and leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics might be Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer.  Following the white smoke, commentators and pundits seemed sure it was Cardinal Scola, an Italian.  And then the announcement ... a moment to compute ... a Gaucho Pope!

Well, I think it's great news.  We'll have to wait and see what emerges about Pope Francis's alleged collusion with the military Junta of Buenos Aires in the 1970s and '80s.  It was indeed a Dirty War, one in which the Church's role is much disputed.

The new Pontiff's humility has been much vaunted in the media, and by the sounds of it with great reason.    He has already called for a 'poorer church'.  When elected as a cardinal, he requested that his compatriots not fly off to Rome but give the money to the poor.  A great user of public transport, he preferred to live in an apartment rather than an apostolic palace, and cook for himself or to eat in simple kitchens, including homeless shelters.  

(Since when did apostles have palaces, anyway?!)

Re-mapping global Christianity?
But for me, one of the greatest things about an Argentinian pope is the fairness of representation.  Democracy isn't really the word for church leadership choices, but surely when Latin America has over 40% of the world's RCs, and Europe has less than a quarter, with a clear majority of Catholics living in the Two Thirds World, a non-European pope is long overdue?

There has to be change in light of this global shift.  Europe has not been the heart of the Christian Church for a long time.  How long can structures remain unchanged, with so many Italian cardinals and so few from continents with growing, dynamic congregations?  (Obvious implications for the Anglican Communion, also!)

Catholic, Protestant or Dissenter, we have to move on.  The candlesticks have been moved around (Rev. 1-2), the growth of the church globally is creating new centres of gravity, new forces, new motion.  'We' (Europeans, WASPs, white middle-class males) cannot and should not represent the church in all its glorious technicolour.

We have to be open to learning from our sisters and brothers outside the West, in the Southern Hemisphere, their theological books will have to be translated into English and German from Spanish, Bembe, Tagalog.  We have to read scripture with fresh eyes, and ask for help to see around the Western, modernist lens we're blind to.  We need the humility to ask 'How is it our churches are shrinking and yours are growing?'  And, dare I say it, we need to get over this idea that somehow we know best and other cultures are lagging behind in their pre-modern values and ethics.  
So, wishing Pope Francis I all the very best, and with great optimism for his ministry, it is less the personality that excites me, and more the enormous precedent this sets for fuller participation of cultures other than Europe and North America in leading the Church of Christ.  Church of the 'poor', minister to us in the West!  We need you! 


February came and went, and suddenly Selection Conference is 'this month' instead of 'next month'.  In fact, it's now just four days away.

I'll come clean.  Purge me with hyssop!  Instead of long prayer walks and half-day retreats and all the other spiritual plans to prepare for a very decisive two days, I've been really, really, reeeeeally busy at work.  And being distinctly below average at keeping lots of balls in the air at once, my preparations for Selection and my commitments to keep during Lent have gradually fallen by the wayside.  Note the length of time since I last posted on here.  That'll say something about my current spiritual resourcefulness!

Rather than lots of meditation and journalling in the lead-up to Selection, I've been doing lots of overtime at work, coming home mentally addled and just about able to cope with a DVD box set of House.  

Distinctly mundane.  Not how I envisioned Lent 2013 and the last few weeks of not knowing if I'll be training for ordained ministry or not.

Still, if you have to go into work early,
Derry's not a bad place to wake up to!
But it's real life, and it's a good job that Immanuel is God with us in real life, even when we are just chasing our tail and wearing ourselves out.  I had to go into work all bleary-eyed on the bus earlier in the week, on the silly-o'clock bus, to catch up before the day had started.  And there He was!  Looking after all the people represented by the lit-up windows, sustaining all the people waking up and getting ready for whatever the new day had in store.  Who'd have thought it, eh?  God on the FY3 bus.  Sitting beside me. 

There's something lovely about a town coming slowly alive before the morning rush hour.  A sense of newness, anticipation, everybody with their own little role to play in making community work and come together - selling, fixing, transporting, deciding, looking after, feeding, ... all the things we do, all the functions we carry out.

There's a sense of a plan, things working out, coming together, a sense that instead of chaos and individualism there's God behind it all, behind us all.

Selection Conference is imminent and I feel very under-prepared.  The busy spell ended yesterday, but I still haven't really got into that last essay, or read over my application form, or gone through the selection criteria to think about what I'll say in the interviews.

Psalm 139:9-10
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
So it's imminent, but God is immanent, not just distant and transcendent, but intimately involved in my little window like all the others.  I don't know how Wednesday and Thursday next week will go.  But I know that God's immanence is guaranteed, that He will be working through a 'no' as much as He will a 'yes', and he will be beside me always, whether that's writing theology essays or marking English essays, in a pulpit or on the FY3 to school.