• 900,000 needing to use foodbanks “should shock and anger us”
  • Figures “should lead Government to examine why the post-Welfare Reform benefits system allows so many people to go hungry.”

Leaders of the Methodist Church, Baptist Union of Great Britain and United Reformed Church have responded with concern to the latest figures from the Trussell Trust, released today.

“These figures should shock and anger us,” said Methodist President the Revd Ruth Gee. “Hunger should not and need not be a problem in a rich country like the UK – and yet clearly it is. We thank God for foodbanks, which provide a vital lifeline to people who would otherwise be forced to go hungry.

“Wherever I have travelled in my year as president I have asked the same two questions: do you have a foodbank here and have you seen increased need for it?

“Wherever I have travelled the answers to both questions have been ‘yes’ and I am not hearing about small increases in need; I am hearing about huge leaps in demand and foodbanks that are struggling to keep up.”

The Trussell Trust highlights static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, underemployment and problems with welfare, especially sanctioning, as significant drivers of the increased demand. Yesterday, the Department for Work and Pensions published research that shows that a third of families affected by the Benefit Cap have already had to cut spending on essential items such as food, while more than one in ten of these families have needed to borrow money to make ends meet – often from payday lenders.

“Over 900,000 people needing the help of a foodbank should lead the Government to examine why the post-Welfare Reform benefits system allows so many people to go hungry,” added the Revd Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader for the Baptist Union of Great Britain. “Churches and others are doing sterling work reaching out to help folk in need but this isn’t how it should be.

“It is a great a testimony that so many people have given up time and money to meet this need - it is a great tragedy that so many more families find themselves in such need.

“It is not credible to deny there are more people who are hungry – these figures should spur us on to address the important question of why there are more people hungry”.

The Revd Gee has written a blog on her experiences travelling the country and talking to churches that run foodbanks.

Last year the Churches, together with the Church of Scotland, published a report highlighting the myths about poverty in the UK today. One of the most destructive myths - fuelled by “shirker and striver” rhetoric - is that people who live in poverty are lazy and work shy.

{ 1 comment }

Cameron and Easter

by Kim on April 15, 2014

Here’s a letter I emailed to the British newspaper the i, printed yesterday (14 April):

I’m delighted and encouraged to hear that David Cameron has stressed the importance of explaining to young people the significance of Easter. Presumably that will include emphasising that, fundamentally, the resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus of Nazareth, the northern radical executed in the southern capital for his relentless attack on the wealth, power, and hypocrisy of the political and religious establishment.

Revd. Kim Fabricius
Swansea

{ 1 comment }

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

{ 0 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on April 13, 2014

Jesus comes with all his grace,
Comes to save a fallen race,
Object of our glorious hope,
Jesus comes to lift us up!
Alleluia!

Let the living stones cry out!
Let the sons of Abraham shout!
Praise we all our lowly King,
Give him thanks, rejoice, and sing!
Alleluia!

He hath our salvation wrought,
He our captive souls hath bought,
He hath reconciled to God,
He hath washed us in his blood.
Alleluia!

We are now his lawful right,
Walk as children of the light;
We shall soon obtain the grace,
Pure in heart, to see his face.
Alleluia!

We shall gain our calling’s prize;
After God we all shall rise,
Filled with joy, and love, and peace,
Perfected in holiness.
Alleluia!

Charles Wesley

{ 0 comments }

The folk song of the church

by Richard on April 9, 2014

John Bell on the value of traditional tunes in worship

Performance songs, whether they be from Handel’s Messiah or the latest album of a Christian rock-star were not primarily written for congregational purposes. But hymns have been and should always be intended for corporate use, enabling the people of God to sing their faith and praise their Maker, irrespective of their musical pedigree.

For as long as there have been hymns, there have been sacred texts set to folk tunes. Indeed it is possible that some of the psalms may have been given voice thanks to ancient Jewish folk melodies. Purists who believe that good church music ended when Bach died in 1750 are often oblivious to the fact that some of the Lutheran tunes which he so gloriously harmonised had their origins in city taverns or rural ceilidhs. Such elitists also forget that the glorious English hymn tune Helmsley (Lo! He comes in clouds descending) started life as a sea shanty; and that Vaughan Williams, the most English of composers, delighted in bringing English folk melodies out of near oblivion into the singing of the church.

{ 0 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on April 6, 2014

Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide
Of all who seek the land above,
Beneath Thy shadow we abide,
The cloud of Thy protecting love;
Our strength, Thy grace; our rule, Thy Word;
Our end, the glory of the Lord.

By Thine unerring Spirit led,
We shall not in the desert stray;
We shall not full direction need
Nor miss our providential way;
As far from danger as from fear,
While Love, almighty Love, is near.

Charles Wesley

{ 0 comments }

LORD, with what bountie and rare clemencie
Hast thou redeem’d us from the grave!
If thou hadst let us runne,
Gladly had man ador’d the sunne,
And thought his god most brave,
Where now we shall be better gods than he.

Thou hast but two rare cabinets full of treasure,
The Trinitie and Incarnation:
Thou hast unlockt them both,
And made them jewels to betroth
The work of Thy creation
Unto Thyself in everlasting pleasure.

The statelier cabinet is the Trinitie,
Whose sparkling light access denies:
Therefore Thou dost not show
This fully to us till death blow
The dust into our eyes;
For by that powder Thou wilt make us see.

But all Thy sweets are packt up in the other;
Thy mercies thither flock and flow,
That, as the first affrights,
This may allure us with delights;
Because this box we know,
For we have all of us just such another.

But man is close, reserv’d, and dark to Thee;
When Thou demandest but a heart,
He cavils instantly:
In his poore cabinet of bone
Sinnes have their box apart,
Defrauding Thee, Who gavest two for one.

{ 0 comments }

Proof-texting still has its defenders

by Richard on April 2, 2014

Ministry Matters blog claims They were wrong when they told you not to proof text. Given the date it was posted, my first thought was that this was an April Fool, but it doesn’t read that way

Seminary professors often ridicule proof-texting as arbitrary, implying that it is illogical, uncontrolled, individualistic. But this is false. Christians who “proof-text” are typically putting a verse of Scripture in a wider context than a historical critic ever does: the context of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17 NASB). “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn. 1:3 NASB). Jesus Christ, and his saving work, is the widest and deepest possible context in which any verse of Scripture could ever be placed. It is also the best context: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16 NASB).

The person and work of Jesus Christ himself norms good proof-texting, which is how Christians and churches usually proof-text. And they should. Such Christ-normed proof-texting serves a soteriological interest, and every such citation fits within an implicit (if not explicit) systematic theology—the Christian one.

If you’re tempted by this line of reasoning, stop and read that final sentence again. “…every such citation fits within an implicit (if not explicit) systematic theology—the Christian one” THE Christian one? Is there really only one Christian theology?

That’s what I thought.

Meanwhile, Ben Irwin puts the opposing case simply but comprehensively.

…the Twitterized Bible often leads us down the wrong path because it reinforces an artificial structure on the text. (It’s not like the Bible originally came with all those verse numbers.)

But there’s an even more damaging effect. If I’m free to ignore the larger context, then it becomes easier to read the Bible like a narcissist. Suddenly, Jeremiah 29:11 is all about me, not some long dead exiles in Babylon. Philippians 4:13 is about my personal achievements, not the hope that sustained Paul in a dank prison cell.

The thing is, the Bible is not all about me. It wasn’t even written to me. And ironically, if I’m going to get whatever it has for me, I need to start reading it with that in mind.

Two days ago I wouldn’t have thought it necessary. Now I’m not so sure.

{ 0 comments }

US Scouts Boot Openly Gay Troop Leader

by Richard on April 1, 2014

From NBC News

The Boy Scouts of America on Monday banned an openly gay Scoutmaster from the organization, saying its national policy barred gay adults from membership.

Geoff McGrath, 49, leader of Troop 98 in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood, is believed to be the first gay adult to be booted from the Boy Scouts of America since it held a controversial ballot last May allowing gay youth—but not adults—to participate in one of the country’s most popular youth organizations. The Scouts had severed ties with gay adults in previous years, before the vote to admit gay youth, but McGrath, an Eagle Scout, had been hoping for a different response in this new era of Scouting.

“It’s extremely disappointing to not be fully supported and defended in my membership,” McGrath told NBC News. “They are complaining that the problem [his status as an openly gay man] is a distraction to Scouting and they don’t seem to understand that the distraction is self-inflicted.”

The BSA confirmed that the organization has “revoked” McGrath’s membership.

“Our policy is that we do not ask people about their sexual orientation, and it’s not an issue until they deliberately inject it into Scouting in an inappropriate fashion,” BSA spokesman Deron Smith said in an email. Until NBC’s inquiry, “he [McGrath] hadn’t deliberately injected it into Scouting in an inappropriate fashion,” he wrote.

“We spoke with Mr. McGrath today and based on the information he provided, the National Council has revoked his registration,” Smith added.

Until Monday, McGrath believed himself to be the only openly gay Scoutmaster in the nation, having won approval last fall to run a troop despite the organization’s ban against gay adults. McGrath said he didn’t hide his sexual orientation from Scouting leaders, but Seattle’s top BSA official told NBC News that she never knew he was gay.

The NBC headline opens ‘Extremely Disappointing’, quoting the sacked Scout Leader, but this is surely an understatement. The decision is a disgrace, both to Scouting and to Methodism. Inclusion is in the DNA of both movements and this decision is a no less than a betrayal of that dual heritage. I’m delighted that the UMC is supporting Mr McGrath and hope that a way can be found for him to remain in Scouting, even if that means his troop dissociating from the BSA. Are there any other Scouting bodies in the USA?

{ 1 comment }

Faith in the dark

by Richard on March 31, 2014

A great reflection on the Creed from Ben Myers

I believe
Not I know. Not I think. Not I feel. Not I understand. But I believe. When I am in darkness, when I do not know the way, when every step is uncertain, I walk. I live not by what I know or feel but by a trust that proves itself only after each new step is safely taken.

In God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth
Not in magic or manipulation. Not in divine powers that I can wield for my own purposes. Not in heavenly voodoo. But in God, source of a light that is still hidden to me, source of a life towards which I grope with death hard at my heels, source of a joy that lies in waiting somewhere beneath or beyond or within this darkness.

And in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord
Not in an idea. Not in a philosophy. Not in a system of knowledge. Not in a doctrine (not even a true doctrine). But in one terrific Someone. In a person who inhabits not the world of books and ideas but the world of raw body and raw fact. Whom human eyes have seen and human hands have handled. Whose human face is the living icon of a Life whose face is hidden and whose mind is oceans deep.

{ 0 comments }

Climate Change: not future, now.

by Richard on March 31, 2014

The latest IPCC report is sobering.

Food security is highlighted as an area of significant concern. Crop yields for maize, rice and wheat are all hit in the period up to 2050, with around a tenth of projections showing losses over 25%.

After 2050, the risk of more severe yield impacts increases, as boom-and-bust cycles affect many regions. All the while, the demand for food from a population estimated to be around nine billion will rise.

Many fish species, a critical food source for many, will also move because of warmer waters.

In some parts of the tropics and in Antarctica, potential catches could decline by more than 50%.

{ 0 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 30, 2014

Light of the world, thy beams I bless;
On thee, bright Sun of Righteousness,
My faith has fixed its eye;
Guided by thee, through all I go,
Nor fear the ruin spread below,
For thou art always nigh.

Not all the powers of hell can fright
A soul that walks with Christ in light;
He walks, and cannot fall:
Clearly he sees, and wins his way,
Shining unto the perfect day,
And more than conquers all.

I rest in thine almighty power;
The name of Jesus is a tower
That hides my life above;
Thou canst, thou wilt my helper be;
My confidence is all in thee,
The faithful God of love.

Wherefore, in never-ceasing prayer,
My soul to thy continual care
I faithfully commend;
Assured that thou through life shalt save,
And show thyself beyond the grave
My everlasting friend.

Charles Wesley

{ 0 comments }

From Pink News

Marriage has survived and flourished down the ages by reinventing itself, but its strength in every generation comes from fulfilling and expressing the way we are created. Allowing gay people to marry enriches and expands the public understanding of marriage. It emphasise its core meaning as a partnership of equals. Over the past fifty years, an increasing number of people have been cagey about entering marriage because of all the baggage it seemed to carry of inequality, patriarchy and control. Allowing gay people to marry restores its public identity as a friendship of equals. It focuses on relationships rather than sex. There is actually a strong Christian tradition, including figures who may surprise some, like St Augustine and John Milton, that says what most makes marriage sacred is its stability and permanence as covenanted friendship, not sexual behaviour.

{ 2 comments }

Climate name change

by Richard on March 26, 2014

Seems like a reasonable proposal.

Hope there’ll be room for Lord Lawson.

{ 1 comment }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 23, 2014

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!

And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

William Henry Draper, based on Francis of Assisi

{ 0 comments }

Here’s Gary Novak in Pravda, that organ famous for its commitment to the plain, unvarnished truth

There is nothing but modeling in global warming analysis, the simple reason being that the complexities and randomness of the atmosphere are totally out of reach of the science that can be applied. Only modeling is obscure enough to evade accountability to outsiders and provide any desired result without criticism.

The problem is, such a standard is not science. Science has a purpose, which is to put an end to error and falsehood through verifiable procedures. Muddled procedures only promote the charlatanism which science attempts to correct.

If you’re tempted to think this is credible and aren’t discouraged by the news source that reports it, have a quick look at some of this fellow’s other claims. Apparenty, quantum mechanics is bunkum, Albert Einstein was an incompetent idiot, there’s no such thing as fossil fuels and hydrogen bombs are a myth.

OK, so my headline was an exaggeration. But you get an idea of what sort of territory denialism takes you into. I recommend taking a tinfoil hat.

{ 0 comments }

Big Bucks stolen from Joel Osteen

by Richard on March 17, 2014

I’m very tempted to make a comment about the theft of $600 000 from Joel Osteen’s Cornerstone Church. One weekend’s offerings, apparently.

But on balance, I’d better keep my mouth shut.

{ 2 comments }

“Born again?” - a sermon for Lent 2

by Kim on March 16, 2014

Raise your hand if you’re a Christian… Now raise your hand if you’re “born again”… Just as I thought: a disparity. Which disappoints me hugely, but doesn’t surprise me. Instead of being a term that all Christians can and should own, “born again” has become a phrase that some Christians claim for themselves – and then deploy in very un-Christian ways against their sisters and brothers in Christ.

In the US, you get this phenomenon at its worst, because it’s associated with Christians who have an ultra-conservative cultural and political agenda. You’ve probably heard of the American Religious Right. But as a wag has perceptively put it, this bloc is neither – it is bad religion and it’s hardly ever right. Indeed with its virtual identification of being an American with being a Christian – the US as “God’s own country” – it is downright idolatrous. Fortunately, the UK has been spared this kind of distorted faith. Unfortunately, we have not been spared the abuse of the term “born again”.

Above all – yes – the way the term is used by some Christians to make themselves feel more Christian and others feel less Christian or not Christian at all. Apparently it is not sufficient to say you that you have been baptised and believe; that you pray and seek to follow Jesus; that you are a committed member of the church and involved in its activities. No, all that is not enough. No, to be a “real” Christian, you’ve got to have a special conversion experience, usually dramatic and often dateable, which you can put in the form of a “testimony” and talk about publicly, punctuated with the requisite biblical phraseology. Otherwise you’re suspect.

And then there is this: because the focus is on personal experience, everything else that is important about Christian faith gets marginalised. Evangelism is largely reduced to inducing the “born-again” experience in other people, and then getting them to join so-called “Bible-believing” churches, while faith basically becomes a “fire insurance” policy, a get-out-of-hell-free card. And because the emphasis is on personal salvation, there inevitably follows a minimising of action for justice and peace, as well as a commitment to ecumenism, as intrinsic to mission.

The huge irony is that all this is quite unbiblical, for justice for the poor, peace on earth, and a passion for the unity of God’s people – these are fundamental biblical themes. Justice is the central message of all the great prophets – Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah. And the theme of the ministry of Jesus is – what? The kingdom of God – the reign of God, the realm of God – which is a corporate concept and refers to the establishment of shalom, not just in souls but in bodies, not just for individuals but for the world, and not for some future ethereal realm but for the here and now. Or do we need reminding of the manifesto of Jesus, proclaimed in his inaugural sermon in Nazareth, his “mission statement” if you like:

God’s Spirit is upon me:
God has chosen me to preach the message of good news to the poor;
to announce pardon to prisoners and the recovery of sight to the blind;
to liberate the crushed and oppressed;
to announce, “Now is the time of God’s action!”

And St. Paul, following Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one” – again and again the apostle pleads passionately for unity in and between early Christian communities.

That is what mission is about: not about me, me, me, saving my butt and getting folk past the Pearly Gates, but about witnessing to the fact that in Jesus Christ God is reconfiguring the whole universe, inviting people to join in his cosmic project of reconciliation, and encouraging churches to demonstrate God’s peace by living together in unity. John’s experience of coming to faith, Jane’s experience of coming to faith, my experience of coming to faith – these are no doubt different. But this vision of the one church and the new creation – that is what binds us to Christ and moves us to obedience.

So to be “born again” – well, look at the famous text…

First, note how Jesus begins by referring to “seeing the kingdom of God”. So right from the get-go we’re not talking about personal salvation and getting to heaven, we’re talking about the new world that is God’s work in progress.

Second, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without” (John 3:3) – without what, exactly? In the Greek of the text, “without being born anothen”. What does anothen actually mean? Nicodemus obviously takes the word to mean “again” – hence his puzzlement at the idea of entering the womb twice. And rightly so – he’s got the wrong end of the semantic stick! Much better to take anothen to mean “from above”, which is, in fact, overwhelmingly its usual meaning. Then what Jesus is telling Nicodemus links perfectly with what John tells us in chapter 1, where we read that Jesus, the incarnate Word, gives to all those who believe in him the “power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man but” – of what? – “of the will of God” (John 1:12-13), the God who, in John’s heaven-and-earth, up-and-down theological cosmology, is “above”. And then what Jesus tells Nicodemus also links perfectly with what John tells us at the end of chapter 3, where in a single verse (31), he refers to Jesus himself as “the one who comes from heaven” (v. 31c) and “the one who comes from anothen” (v. 31a), which clearly means not “again” but “above”. Thus not “born again” but “born from above” turns out to be by far the better translation of anothen – as, in fact, many Bibles in English now acknowledge.

But look, I’m not the word police! By all means let us speak about being “born again”. It’s actually a quite fantastic image, which vividly speaks to the point that Jesus is making to Nicodemus, namely that being a Christian involves a transformation. To speak of being “born again” is not a problem – unless you make it a problem by reducing its meaning to a specific experience that all Christians must have or they are not “proper” Christians. Being “born again”, or “anew” or “from above” – they are all powerful metaphors of faith, but people come to faith in all kinds of different ways, through all sorts of different experiences. The how of faith is not important, only the that of faith is crucial, a faith that changes people for sure, but a faith that finally demonstrates its authenticity not in private experiences but in public actions. Crying “Lordy, Lordy!” isn’t the test of faith – so Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount – but doing the will of my Father (Matthew 7:21) – that is the crux of being a Christian. As St. Francis told his followers: “Spread the Good News. Use words if you have to.”

It’s rather like weddings and marriages. Maybe you’ve had an amazing wedding, right out of Hello magazine; maybe it was a simple affair, the registrar and a few friends. No matter: both couples are wed, the one no more or less than the other. The real question is: however elaborate the wedding, however personalised the vows, what will you make of the marriage?

So the next time anyone asks you if you’re born again, don’t be intimidated; rather, boldly, proudly, and simply affirm, “Of course! I’m a follower of Jesus! Are you?”

{ 1 comment }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 16, 2014

O GOD, what offering shall I give
To thee, the Lord of earth and skies?
My spirit, soul, and flesh receive,
A holy, living sacrifice;
Small as it is, ’tis all my store;
More shouldst thou have, if I had more.

Now then, my God, thou hast my soul,
No longer mine, but thine I am;
Guard thou thine own, possess it whole,
Cheer it with hope, with love inflame;
Thou hast my spirit, there display
Thy glory to the perfect day.

Thou hast my flesh, thy hallowed shrine,
Devoted solely to thy will;
Here let thy light for ever shine,
This house still let thy presence fill;
O Source of life, live, dwell, and move
In me, till all my life be love!

O never in these veils of shame,
Sad fruits of sin, my glorying be!
Clothe with salvation, through thy name,
My soul, and let me put on thee!
Be living faith my costly dress,
And my best robe thy righteousness.

Send down thy likeness from above,
And let this my adorning be;
Clothe me with wisdom, patience, love,
With lowliness and purity,
Than gold and pearls more precious far,
And brighter than the morning star.

Lord, arm me with thy Spirit’s might,
Since I am called by thy great name;
In thee let all my thoughts unite,
Of all my works be thou the aim;
Thy love attend me all my days,
And my sole business be thy praise!

Joachim Lange
tr. John Wesley

{ 0 comments }

The Guardian: 8 pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today

We’ve all been there. I still lapse into mis-CHEE-vous if I’m not concentrating. This week some PR whizzes working for a railway station with an unusual name unveiled the results of a survey into frequently garbled words. The station itself is routinely confused with an endocrine gland about the size of a carrot (you can see why they hired PRs). Researchers also found that 340 of the 1000 surveyed said ex-cetera instead of etcetera, while 260 ordered ex-pressos instead of espressos. Prescription came out as perscription or proscription 20% of the time.

The point is malapropisms and mispronunciations are fairly common. The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary lists 171,476 words as being in common use. But the average person’s vocabulary is tens of thousands smaller, and the number of words they use every day smaller still. There are bound to be things we’ve read or are vaguely familiar with, but not able to pronounce as we are supposed to.

{ 1 comment }