Thursday, May 31, 2012

the laughter of children

Sometimes I need something that will put a smile on my face. We all do. I came across this video yesterday. It does the job nicely. What's not to like? A smiling and contented mom & four laughing babies. 

It seems particularly appropriate on today, the feast of the Visitation. A day when two women came together who were soon to both have the laughter of children in their lives.

Today is also the second anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Call this my way of having a little celebration!

No idea what the back story is to this or who the people are. Do we really need to know? Four babies, all laughing. A contented mom, smiling. Just leave it at that. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brothels & Rape

The police forces of this island raided around 140 brothels yesterday. Many of these women had been trafficked. They were sold back and forth between the criminal gangs that ran these places.

Let us be clear. A trafficked woman is there against her will. She faces torture and death if she does not comply with the demands of the criminals who hold her and the men who pay them. She is being raped.

Got that? The person who pays to have sex with a trafficked woman is raping her. And since you'd have to be a fool at this point not to know that most of the women in these places have been trafficked, there is no excuse. The rapists can not claim that they thought she was there of her own free will. And yet somehow I doubt we'll find the authorities trying to find out the names of these rapists and see that they are prosecuted. 

So this is what we have in modern Ireland. We have women being held prisoner. We have criminal gangs who will buy and sell them like slaves. We have enough men willing to pay to rape them on a daily basis to make it a profitable trade. There were at least 140 of these dens of horror that the authorities could find ... which means that there are who knows how many more of these horrors out there.

These women's living nightmares took place in ordinary houses and apartments in the ordinary housing estates, villages, towns, and cities of Ireland, North and South. Which means that it took place under the noses the ordinary people of Ireland. Which means that more can be done, as I've said before. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you see or hear anything that rouses your suspicions, call someone. Where do you think the authorities gathered the info to shut down 140 in one day? People saw what was happening and they reported it. Which is something that anyone with two eyes and a phone can do. Someone like you.

This isn't prudery. This isn't interfering with the private business of consenting adults. This isn't 'just the way of the world.' This is crime. This is the kidnap, torture, and rape of women. And you can do something. Get involved. Help stop it. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Far from the madding crowd

There was a piece on rural dwellers in yesterday's Irish Times. It was truly a revelation. It exposed how rural dwellers pollute the environment because of their need to use cars, fertilize their fields, & build houses to live in. And tricky! They have figured out how to suck money from Europe even as the pay hardly any taxes here.
Gosh, I never realised how  truly selfish it is to live anywhere outside the environs of Dublin, Cork, or some other large urban area.
Nasty, polluting, greedy rural dwellers! What a pity we need them to put food on our tables. What a shame we need them to keep the countryside attractive for tourists and those urban dwellers who care to wander out of their selfless environment now and again. How ridiculous that they have the right to live where and how they please. 
Perhaps now is the time to investigate automation options & legislative change? Then finally these burdens on society can be warehoused in cheap, clean cities whether they like it or not.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What a stupid superhero

There's an ad in the US at the moment (link below ... call it your little reward for reading this short post through to the end!). It shows a city in chaos while its superhero sits on his duff ignoring the calls for help, too busy watching TV. No doubt the makers think it is a very clever way of showing how engaging their satellite service is (or whatever it is). But how about the idea that it is showing that it is cool to be so self-absorbed that you have no responsibility to those around you? To heck with everyone else - I'm too busy watching TV?

To quote from a good superhero source: With great powers comes great responsibility. (Recognise it? Uncle Ben in Spiderman.) Think you don't have powers and therefore don't have any responsibilities? Think again. Remember the parable of the talents? We all have gifts from God. And we are expected to use them. No excuses.  We have a message to proclaim. It may be through your words. It may be through your actions. Get out there. Save the world. It doesn't matter what's on TV.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Today there are thousands of millions who follow Christ. Many may be lukewarm, with little in their daily life that reflects Christianity. But scratch them deep enough, put a bit of crisis in their life, and it is to Christ they turn. We're so used to Christianity, and the Church, being there that it is hard for us to take in that it was not always so. 

Oh, on an intellectual level we know. We've read enough scripture, dipped into enough history books, seen enough costume dramas in the cinema or on the box, to know that once upon a time it was not it was not deepest part of the soul and psyche of our society. But it is so entrenched that it can be hard to believe that it was always there, like the sun rising, the seasons changing, or waking up cranky and groggy in the morning.

But it wasn't. And a pivotal moment it making it as much a part of so many lives as their actual humanity was the feast we celebrate today. Pentecost. The day when something happened to a bunch of people drawn from the lower echelons of society and its margins that changed them into heroes. Folk who were not only not afraid to go out and try and change the world ... they actually did change it. They made it the world we know today. 

Physical hardship, torture, and death didn't stop them. Nothing did. Nothing could, it seems. Something happened and out they went. What was it? The writer of Acts seems to struggle to put words on it. A rushing wind. Tongues of flame. Whatever it was it sent people who just before were cowering away into the streets to preach the Word boldly. 

Nothing stopped them. So ask yourself this. Are you living up to their legacy? Really? And if you're not - what's stopping you? They weren't afraid of death. They weren't afraid of the hard words of others. They weren't afraid of being thought fools. What are you afraid of? You know what they knew. They weren't afraid. Not of anything. And you don't need to be either.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

disagreeing agreeably

My jaw dropped when I heard the latest twist in the Church of England's 'women bishops saga.' Their house of bishops decided to make a couple of minor sounding amendments to provided for those who have difficulties accepting the ordination of women to be valid. For their efforts they were compared to wife beaters and worse.  Whatever one's view of the debate, this really seems to be going too far.

What is it about humanity that every debate throws up some on either side that insists on demonising their opponents and throwing out vile insults. Why don't you agree with me, you bigot? Why can you not see that you're no better than Hitler? You do know that you are all going to burn in Hell for even suggesting this? Because it is not me that you are disagreeing with - it is Almighty God!

Surely, when one is engaged in a debate, one should be able to disagree agreeably? I'm not suggesting relativism - that there is no truth and all views are equally valid - what Christian priest could suggest that? But I do mean you shouldn't hate your opponent for not holding the same views as you ... and even if you despair as to why they hold what you feel to be unenlightened views, you can accept that they hold their position in good conscience and not accuse them of every kind of vileness?

But maybe it isn't in most people to hold honest and open dialogue. People say they want it ... but what they want in reality is that the other person will listen to what they have to say ... their consciousness will suddenly be raised ... and they will convert wholly and unreservedly to the opposing viewpoint. They are not open to change in themselves at all. Because they are right, you see. 

For my own part, I think if you are truly sure of the truth of your own position, you can afford to listen openly to opposing views. If you are right, then what they have to say can only strengthen you in where you stand. And if you are wrong ... well, then you may have a surprise coming!

So - prayers please! Pray for reasonable debate. Pray for openness and charity. Pray for the willingness of all to change if that is where the truth lies ... and pray for it for yourself as much as you do for those who oppose you. Amen.

Friday, May 25, 2012

corporal punishment

There was a letter in the Irish Times earlier in the week. It was from a teacher apologizing for her use of corporal punishment. This was back in the day when it was legal in Ireland. She wasn't talking about being one of those teachers who were basically savages and used to thrash every child in sight at the least excuse. She had used the 'bota' as we called it a bit, the stick, and now she was deeply sorry,

In today's paper there is a letter from a man around the same age of me. He considers the treatment he receives degrading and sadistic. I've blogged on this before, about my own experience of corporal punishment. My view is that I hold no grudge against those who used the stick judiciously. That was the system and there's no point wringing our hands and trying to re-write history from a PC perspective. I reserve my ire for those who used foot and fist with abandon. It wouldn't be tolerated now and it wasn't legal then. I wouldn't want to see yet another tribunal set up ... but I wouldn't mind a tv special seeing a few of the still living brutes facing their victims and trying to squirm their way through their excuses!

But I will say this for corporal punishment. It gave one a fairly sanguine view on all 'lesser' forms of punishment. Let me give you an example. When I went through Navy boot camp the company commanders (equivalent of drill sergeant) used to 'mash' us with gay abandon on a regular basis. Mashing was making us do push-ups, sit-ups, flutter-kicks etc until we went into muscle failure, all while they screamed abuse at us. This normally took place in the barracks, as we lined the aisle that separated our bunks.

During my first experience of it, about half-way through, I started to chuckle. The kid opposite me, who like most of the others was red-faced, wild-eyed, and near tears looked at me in amazement.
'What are you laughing at?' he gasped in a low whisper. 
'At this,' I said, smiling. 'This is the worse they can do to us.'
'What are you talking about? This is awful!'
'This is nothing.'

And it wasn't. Not to someone who had gone through the Irish school system, when after the roaring came likely the blow. And even if it never came you knew it might. So a bit of shouting and push-ups really were nothing. I still feel that way. Raised voices and angry looks don't intimidate me. Very useful for vestry meetings (only joking! ... sort of!).

So did I enjoy the stick across the hand or the odd clip across the ear? No, of course not. And as I said, I wouldn't mind seeing those who went further enjoy a wee bit of mild mental anguish. But the legacy of corporal punishment wasn't all bad, at least not for me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Arranged marriage

The poet John Montague was one of my lecturers in college. John is acknowledged as Ireland's finest poet after Sheamus Heaney. But for my money it is John, despite the fame and Nobel prize of the other, who is the better poet. But that's just my opinion! (see an example of his work here.)

One day in his office, John was giving me some marriage advice. Why I don't know - he hardly knew me; I was 19 & didn't even have a girlfriend!
'Always marry a girl from somewhere else,' he said in his slow northern burr. 'It opens your eyes to the world.'

Perhaps. But as John is now on wife/life partner number three (bless his energy at age 83!) maybe not the best advice for those hoping for a marriage that will endure until death do ye part!

I was put in mind of John's bit of advice last night while I was reading my evening office. I'd gotten in late after a two-and-a-half vestry meeting, so I was probably a bit 'punchy' and inclined to 'free associate' a bit. One of the readings was from Ezra and the following verses struck me in particular:

And now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, “The land that you are entering to possess is a land unclean with the pollutions of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations. They have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, so that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.

The prophet had particular reasons for what he was writing, of course, but it made me wonder if there wasn't some wisdom in the idea of parents having at least some role in the choosing of their children's spouses? Helping to make sure they are compatible, with shared values & expectations, and hopefully increasing the chances of the marriage lasting for life? I'm not talking about foisting the troll they hate from down the road on someone - just taking care that the wisdom of mom & dad are in the mix to perhaps compensate for the 'love is blind' views of the pair thinking about committing to each other. 

Near heresy I suppose in this age of autonomy and the tendency to consider the individual and their freedom to choose with near religious fervour, but something to ponder nonetheless. Especially when you read Stories like this  that show how things extra messy it is when relationships break down and there are also differences in cultures and values.

But maybe this is just prompted by the fact that the boys are coming up fast on dating age!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Buranovskiye Babushki

I'm something of a fan of the Eurovision. Not in the anorak sense that I can tell you you the dress of the person who placed 17th in 1967; but in the sense that I love to sit in front of the telly for the 'big night' and laugh and cackle and take the mick at what's on offer. When I was 'away' for a number of years it wasn't Barry's Tea, or Taytos or Mars Bars that I missed - it was the Eurovision party! I suppose the fact that there is now semi-finals that precede the actual event makes up for the parties I missed by allowing a couple of lower key ones in advance of the main event. It helps get one's satire muscles tuned up ... so that one can get into practice for mocking the skimpy dresses, out of tune warblers, and just plain crazy acts.

Of course, occasionally the competition can throw up a decent song or a unique act ... such as the Russian grannies that showed up on the first semi-final last night. Having no real interest in the event other than the party, I wasn't paying much attention up until now with regard to the entries ... which means I am possibly the only person in Europe who hadn't at least heard of these ladies. I thought they were brilliant! They gave me warm fuzzies and I have no idea why. Maybe it is because they are a bunch of pension aged individuals, thus proving that age doesn't have to be a barrier. Maybe it is the fact that they have no interest in fame or celebrity and are using the competition to raise fund to restore churches destroyed by Stalin (OK - that kind of motive is bound to be a winner with me!). But whatever it is, I think they are fabulous. I still want Jedward to win, of course ... but if the Grimes Brothers don't make it, I'd be delighted to see them losing to such a wonderful group. I put a link to the ladies in full flow below - enjoy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A prayer for us all

One of the readings this morning for Morning Prayer is from
St Paul's letters to the Ephesians. In it he tells his intended
 readers how he prays for them. As I read it, it struck me
that not only is it a fine prayer but perhaps also one that is
 particularly appropriate at this difficult time in the Church. 

I'm printing the passage below. After you have read it,
perhaps you would pray it ... for yourself, for those you
know, and for all God's Church.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. 
Ephesians 3. 14-21 (NRSV)

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Black Dog

This morning, after nearly a month in the parish, I finally got around to going for a run in the woods that are practically on my doorstep. It was a lovely morning, clear and mild. As I was going into the woods, a man was coming out ... a middle-sized man in late middle age, walking a grey whippet. As we passed, I puffed out a (somewhat) cheery 'good-morning.' His response was: 'You'll meet a black dog in the woods. But he's very quiet.' As I ran on, I could hear the man behind me whistling and calling, but no black dog appeared.

Now my personal experience of dog's described by their owners as 'quiet' is that they are usually more objectively viewed as hounds from hell; and the one's called 'very quiet' are the sort that would half eat you for breakfast and save the other half for lunch. So I kept a wary eye out as I ran, wondering if I should pick up a stick ... or was that something that was only more likely to annoy the black dog when he emerged!

I came to a fork in the road. One path went steeply up; the other was level. Behind me I could still hear the man calling faintly. It seemed to me that he had emerged from the level path. So, first run in over a month or not, I chose the steeper path. Up I huffed, with quick sharp glances left and right into the trees on either side. I never did see the dog. But it wasn't until I was about half-way through my run that I finally relaxed. 

So here's what I'm wondering - was I better for the warning or not? Because of it I took the steeper, harder path ... but without it I might have taken the easier path, where I possibly would have encountered the slavering jaws of the four-footed refugee from the Pit! After all, if you heed a warning, and then don't encounter any danger, it don't necessarily mean there was no danger ... it could just as easily mean that the warning saved you from the danger!

I wonder if there isn't a religious metaphor in all that (& I don't mean the references to hell-hounds). Perhaps something about people who follow the rules, heed the warnings, and then think they are leading boring lives ... that maybe they've missed out ... but there are real dangers out there ... material and spiritual ... the rules and the warnings are meant to keep us safe ... in this world and the next ... and the path that seems tougher is really the best ...

Perhaps I'm rambling. Put it down to post-run hysteria!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


No sermon today ... I decided as the 'fresh' new rector of a parish to try something new ... that once a month, when possible, that I would lead the Sunday services, but I would have one of the Lay Readers attached to the parish preach the sermon. 

I had three reasons for this. The first was that I wanted to affirm the Readers in their ministry. It's too easy to see them the people who get called in when the 'real ministers', the clergy, aren't available. For the parishioners to see them 'sharing the work' with me at a service will hopefully correct that impression. 

Also, it is good for the parishioners to get a different perspective from time to time. As much as I love preaching (& of course as wonderful as I am at it!) I think it no harm for folk to hear someone else's point of view. And of course, if I were preaching every week, I would never hear any one else preaching ... and I think it a very good idea for the preacher to be preached at once in a while.

(There is also, of course, the added bonus that I'm let off having to prepare a sermon for that Sunday ... only, not really: I'm a bit of a worry-wort at times, so even when I'm not due to preach, I always have the basics of a sermon worked out ... just in case!).

The experiment worked out very well today ... so, God willing, it will continue ... & no doubt become one of the traditions of the parish!

Below, I've posted the prayers I prepared for today's services.

Prayers 20 May 2012 (7th of Easter) Gospel: John 17: 6-19
let us pray …
Heavenly Father, you promised through your Son to hear the prayers of those who ask in faith:

Jesus told us your word is the truth: empower your Church to 
always bring the truth of your word to all your children 
throughout the world. Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

Jesus reminded us that he had lost none of those entrusted to him: help us to never lose any of those entrusted to us through our generous sharing of the good things you have given to us. . Lord in your mercyHear our prayer

Jesus prayed that his followers would be protected from the evil one: help us to remove evil from the the communities in which we live and work and worship through the purity and holiness of our lives & the prayerful example we give to others as to how your children should live in the world Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

We thank you for all who teach Christ's truth in the world; for +Michael our bishop and all who minister in our diocese; we pray especially at this time for the Church of Ireland, that divisions may be healed, that wounds may be forgiven, and that all who feel excluded may know that it is now & always be their home; and remembering your Son's prayer that we should be one we pray for ecumenical fellowship with all our brothers and sisters in Christ …. Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

We thank you for those who having been faithful to your truth in this life, now now journey before us into your nearer presence … we pray that all who mourn will be comforted … that the sick and dying will know your care … and for all who struggle in their relationships, with others or with you …. Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

And in silence we ask that you hear also the the prayers of our own hearts, for ourselves and for those we know to be in need of our prayers (PAUSE!!!) Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

Merciful Father/The Grace 

Friday, May 18, 2012


Some quick thoughts after perusing this article

1. What is going on in this nation if teachers are being bullied by students? Is this indicative of a wider problem ... issues with authority figures etc ...

2. They posted the abuse on Facebook ... did it actually not occur to them that it could be seen there by the world and all ... or did they not realise what they were doing was wrong? Either possibility is deeply troubling.

3. There seems to be some suggestion that teachers are having to hide their sexuality from their students ... no one should have to put on a false facade ... but is there any reason that students should know details of their teachers' private lives? I didn't in my day ...  obviously kids (supposing they are bright, which the ones in the story may not have been) will pick up on various clues ... wedding rings, child seats in cars, etc ... but I think it a good rule of thumb to maintain a thorough professional distance ...

There are probably more issues here ... any thoughts?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

the Ascension

May my words be in the name of the Holy & undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

It seems very appropriate to be standing here on a mountain to celebrate the feast of the Ascension … and as it is Peter and I's first time here, it shows the importance of the people of the parish in making sure that traditions are handed on … since of course as Peter and I are new here, neither of us would have known about the fact that it is the custom for people of the locality to gather here on Ross More on this day … if it had not been for the fact that the laity of the parish took the trouble to pass this information on to their clergy it is a custom that could easily have died out … and it is heartening to know that there are a few people at least who are not only happy but eager to do things related to their faith outside the regularly scheduled service on a Sunday morning!

Having said that, I'll keep the sermon brief … I wouldn't want to kill off the tradition by keeping you all here for an inordinate amount of time by preaching an overly long sermon …

Another reason for keeping it short is that while on the one hand
the Ascension is relatively simple, the remembering of a historical detail in the life of our Lord, the fact that he returned to heaven … on the other it is a very complex theological matter … just as other historical details of Jesus' life are theologically complex, such as his suffering, death and resurrection … like these the Ascension is talked about in advance in the Gospels … he tells his disciples that he will return to the Father, that when he is lifted up he will draw all men to himself, and that when he is gone he will send the Holy Spirit … from which we must realise that his Ascension, no less that his Crucifixion and Resurrection are part of God's plan for our Salvation … we may wonder why God chose this particular way of doing things, but in the end we are left with the simple fact that this is the way that he thought was best …

The disciples must have thought this was so … they might have been expected to react with dismay at the idea that Jesus, having been returned to them from the dead, was now leaving them again … to return they knew not when … leaving them with what was a seemingly impossible mission … to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Instead they react with joy, as St Luke tells us at the end of his Gospel.

Why joy? Perhaps because they truly believed that Jesus was not leaving them alone, and that when the Spirit came that Jesus would be with them in a very real sense and from that they would find the strength to carry out the mission entrusted to them? And perhaps they understood that as they had been baptised into Christ, they were still part of him, even when he was in heaven … and that from now, even while they were of this earth, their true life was not of this earth, but with Christ in heaven?

And perhaps, standing on the mountain that day, watching Jesus ascend, they felt closer to heaven than ever before … knowing they were part of God's plan … knowing they were still followers of Christ … knowing they had a mission to fulfil … and so they were filled with joy … and as we stand here today, I hope and pray that we will all be filled with joy … and that we will know, as they did, that we are part of God's plan, that we are truly followers of Christ, and we, like they, have been entrusted with his mission to fulfil … Amen.

Sermon notes 17 May 2012 (the Ascension)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


We can never exclude people. Sacred Scriptures reveals God's will for us and teaches us how to live our lives; part of that teaching is to love each other and to reach out to all people. Even when we reject a person's actions we may not reject the person.

It is not for us to say who is and is not welcome. All we may say is that all are welcome. And we must say it always.  If we say people are excluded by what we perceive to be their sins, then we are all excluded, for we are all sinnersAnd if we make someone feel excluded instead of welcomed then we have sinned. 

Pray for each other. Pray for those you who do not welcome you. Pray for those who welcome you while trying to exclude your actions. Pray for those you believe are sinful. Pray for those who feel excluded by your actions. Pray for everyone. Pray for yourself. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The welcome of Baptism

May my words be in the name of the Holy & undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

I've chosen to preach on our reading from Acts this morning
because it mentions baptism … and by a happy chance we have a baptism in the parish today … little Noah will shortly be joining our Christian family in a little while … and I have to say that Noah is a great name in the context of the waters of baptism!

The short passage we heard this morning might sound a little strange … that is because it is the final few verses of a much longer passage … in many ways it is the punch-line to the story that goes before it … and indeed, in many ways it is also the answer to a question … or indeed, two questions: one of which was being asked by St Peter, and the other which was being asked by Cornelius, the Roman centurion who is very much at the heart of the story … but for you to understand what I am talking about, I need to fill you in on what that story is:

Story of angel appearing to Cornelius and the vision of St Peter Here!

So as you can see, the baptism of Cornelius and of his household and his close friends is the end of that particular story … the punch-line as it were … and you'll remember that I said it was the answer to some questions: a question of Cornelius and a question of St Peter … the question of Cornelius was can I and others like me become part of God's people? Fully part – the same as everybody who is already there? 

And St Peter's question was can we? Can we let in those others whom we have always seen as being 'outside?' And the answer to both questions was: yes! The Church must welcome all who wish to come in … and the way they are welcomed is through the waters of baptism … and notice who prompts the question … who takes the initiative … God … God sends the angel to Cornelius … God sends the vision to St Peter … God wants all his children to come in … Just as Jesus says in our Gospel reading today: You did not chose me; I chose you ... and God wants us to know that we must welcome them in … so, even as today we welcome Noah into God's Church, I pray that we will always welcome in those who answer God's call to enter his Church … Amen.

Sermon Notes 13 May 2012 (6th of Easter – the baptism of Cornelius)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

'It's a wee bit complex'

Church of Ireland

I can't claim any great insights as to the motion on human sexuality that was just passed at the General Synod at the Church of Ireland. As the Primate of Ireland said: 'It's a wee bit complex.' Not having been at Synod, I've gotten most of my info through a Facebook page set up to oppose the motion (& much thanks to those who set it up and fed it updates). 

To be honest, I found the whole thing a bit strange. It is a motion - so, as far as I understand, it really has no force. And it was a motion to 'affirm' the doctrine of the Church as it now stands. Which means it actually changes nothing. But everyone seems to think it will have have force and that it does mean change ... and that it will be used ...

Weirdly, I think one could have been 'for' what this motion is intended to 'stamp out' and voted in favour of it - why not? It is only a motion and in a legal sense it changes nothing. And one could have been 'agin' all the behaviour the motion is intended to affirm as wrong and voted against it - mainly, I think, because it was written so broadly & wordily that any half-decent barracks room lawyer will be able to drive a bus through it ... in other words, it will have no operative effect. 

Personally, I was against it. Mainly because I have something of a legalistic mindset from my time in Revenue - I don't see the point of spending a great deal of time and energy 'affirming' a law (doctrine) that is already in place. A debate about changing the law is something else - but a debate about saying the law we have is the law we have? Pointless, when all that has been achieved in reality, I think, is a lot of hurt feelings - but maybe that's just me.

Still, I suppose one must try to look for positives. At the wider Church level, the fact that traditional teaching and doctrine has been 'affirmed' should make the danger of schism within the Church of Ireland less likely (unless those who 'won' the vote use it as a tool to force division ... or those who 'lost' walk & start fresh elsewhere ... neither of which, I suppose, is impossible). And, in terms of the Universal Church, the fact that the CofI hasn't rejected a motion which affirms the traditional stance on things should theoretically make unity (which all Christians should be praying for, just as Christ did) more of a possibility.

And at the day, we have to trust that it is God's Church, guided by his Holy Spirit into all truth ... perhaps the result we got today expresses the 'truth' of what the CofI is and where it is at this point in time? I don't know ... all I can really say is that I agree with the Archbishop that it is most certainly 'a wee bit complex.'

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gay marriage, USA

File:Official portrait of Barack Obama.jpg

The US president, Barack Obama, finally 'came out' in favour of same-sex marriage yesterday (pun absolutely intended!). I am glad that he did. He had previously stated that his views on this matter were 'evolving.' However, it seemed clear from many previous statements and actions of his that he was in favour of it. Indeed, his actual statement yesterday made it sound as if it were a position that he had long held.

Why the delay in announcing where he stood? It did seem as if he preferred to wait until after the elections for fear of alienating conservative voters. In which case, why make the announcement now? There seem to have been a variety of factors. His vice-president, Joe Biden, publicly announced a couple of days ago that he was in favour of the change. This put huge media pressure on the US president to clarify his position and made prevaricating untenable. Also, North Carolina just voted through a ban on same-sex unions. There is speculation that the gay rights movement, smarting from this defeat, may also have put pressure on him to make the statement. Presumably this was to give them some form of a 'media victory' story to counter-balance the electoral defeat. And perhaps Mr Obama also realized that conservative voters had no doubt where he stood on the issue and that there was no point in trying to win their votes at the expense of perhaps loosing liberal votes in what already looks like being a very tight election.

As I said, I am glad he has clarified matters. I think it would have been disingenuous for him not to do so before the election. He is hoping for a second term & to enter it with an agenda for major change for which he has no mandate would have been wrong, to my way of thinking. Now, everyone knows where he stands & there can no cries of 'foul' later.

However, I am not sure this is going to be a vote-getter. Something like 30 states in the US have brought in bans against same sex unions. Hollywood, the press, & other media often give the impression that the US is very liberal. How could anyone watch an episode of say 'Friends' and not think so? But at its core the US is deeply conservative. So, I have a suspicion that this may backfire yet come the elections in November. His linking of his views with Christ's sacrifice on the Cross has caused outrage among traditionalist Christians. This has the makings of an 'anyone but Obama' campaign that could well see him out of office.

Still, he is a smart guy and professional politician with a bevy of highly paid advisers. And sitting presidents have an electoral advantage - albeit one that is not bullet-proof. So maybe he knows what he is doing.

We shall see. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

a beacon of hope

May my words be in the name of the Holy & undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

'Do not let your hearts be troubled & do not be afraid.'

I am sure that the first line of our Gospel reading this evening was familiar to you all, even if perhaps you weren't entirely sure why … it is because it is part of a reading from John's Gospel that is often selected as one of the readings at funeral services … One of the very well known verses from that funeral reading is 'in my Father's house are many mansions' … and if I had a shilling for every time that I have had to preach on that passage at funerals … well, I would not be a rich man … but I would certainly have the makings of a very fine coin collection …

Of course, with funerals, there is a tendency to focus on the beginning of the passage … the many mansions … but tonight I'm struck by the last verse of the 'funeral reading' which is also the first verse of our Gospel reading 'Do not let your hearts be troubled & do not be afraid.'

Do not let your hearts be troubled … there is much in the world that might trouble our hearts … and yet there is also much cause for hope … and looking around this evening I am especially hopeful, because the family is the basic unit of society and the church is blessed by an organisation who is a beacon of hope … whose ministry is there very much to support and encourage the family … The Mother's Union … and I use the word ministry in relation to the MU very deliberately … just as I would also describe the participation of all here as being a calling from God … a vocation to use the proper theological term …

And it is very easy sometimes to think only of the well-defined ministries of the Church as vocations … the priests and bishops have a vocation … the lay reader (Maybe!) has a vocation … and other people just do things! The organist plays at a service … the churchwarden opens and closes the church … the MU members have a talk or a sale … but they do these tasks for a couple of hours or so a week and then they go back to their 'real lives' … how can something that fills such a small percentage of a person's waking life be a vocation?

That comes from the perception that a vocation is permanent & full-time, and pretty much excludes all other activities … actually, that isn't so … vocations change … think of St Paul … he began as Pharisee and ended as an apostle … we can be called to one thing at one time in our lives and something else later … and we can actually live out more than one vocation at a time …

For example, speaking from my own life … long before I was ordained, I sang in my local church choir, served as church warden, and taught Sunday schools … these are all ministries … they all give glory to God and help build up the faith … and these were only my 'churchy' vocations! I was also a husband and a father … roles in life that are also vocations … after, they are states in life to which God calls us … through which we should also give him glory and build up the faith … and now that I am ordained I continue to have multiple vocations … husband, father, clergyman … and even within the ordained ministry there are what might be seen as multiple vocations: priest, preacher, & pastor … the priest fulfilling a sacramental role, the preacher expounding the word of God, the pastor caring for God's people …
And the reason I am saying this is that I want to emphasise, if it needs emphasising … if you already know this, it doesn't apply to you, relax for a minute or so! Is that what you do in the MU is indeed ministry … it is indeed a vocation … one amongst several in your life … many of you have also the vocation to the married state and parenthood … some have work also outside the home … others may have other ministries within the church … perhaps music, perhaps reader, perhaps working with young people, or caring for the elderly …

But where ever MU fits into the pattern of calling or callings within your life, never lose sight of the fact that it is a calling … one that you have answered and continue to answer … and the fact that you answer is one of the reasons that my heart is not troubled … the MU is a beacon of hope in the world … an organisation through which people answer God's call and do his work in the world … something that we have gathered here tonight to celebrate … something that I pray that we will have cause to celebrate for many years to come, in this parish and throughout the world … Amen.

Sermon notes; 8 May 2012 (Mother's Union end of year Eucharist)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

a magic mirror

May my words be in the name of the Holy & undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The evening before my institution, we thought we would relax as a family and go off to the pictures in Carlow. The plan was that my wife would take the younger boys to the latest Hollywood adaptation of Snow White called 'Mirror, Mirror' while I would take the older one to the slightly more grown up 'Hunger Games.'

However, when we got there we found that we had got the times wrong & that the movie I wanted to see didn't start for over an hour … which meant that if we wanted to go to different films that I'd have to wait around for an hour before ours started … and Ruth and co. would have to wait for an hour after ours ended … not a very good plan really! So, we bit the bullet & decided to go to the same movie … and since Hunger Games wasn't suitable for the smallest boys, that meant that we all had to go to Mirror, Mirror …

And it wasn't a bad movie … all the kids enjoyed it … my one quibble would be the mirror … in the fairytale, all the mirror does is tell you who the fairest of them all is … either it is you or it isn't … in the movie as well as saying who the fairest was, it talked a lot of guff about how wicked the queen was being and how there was a price to be paid for using the black magic she was involved with …

well, duh! It's not like you need a magic mirror to tell you that! And I don't think the mirror ever got around to telling the queen that Snow White was the fairest of them all … but maybe that was because the wicked queen was played by Julia Roberts … and I imagine she would have the power to tell the script writer and the director that if they wanted her in their movie, then no where would it be said that anyone was prettier than her … and she didn't care what it said it in all the fairy tale books in the world ever written!

But thinking about it after, I wondered if it wouldn't be useful to have someone or something telling us where we are going wrong in life … and reminding us that we do have to pay a price for the things that we do wrong … that there are consequences when we do bad things …

And we are reminded that there are consequences in today's Gospel reading, are we not? Jesus reminds us that we have 'to bear good fruit' … those who do not bear good fruit will be thrown away to whither and be cast into the fire … and we can not bear good fruit unless we abide in Jesus …

and a simple way of knowing whether you are abiding in Jesus is being able to say that you are leading the kind of life that Jesus called all his followers to live … in other words doing your utmost to lead a life that is free of sin … and not only sins of commission but omission … we are not to do the things we are forbidden to do … and we are to do the things that we are told to do …

And what are those things? Most of us here know what it is that we are not supposed to do … a good short-hand guide is the ten commandments … and most of us know what it is that we are supposed to do also … our epistlereading today encapsulates it … love one another … and to love one another means more than to smile at someone when you meet them on the street … it means to care about their material welfare … and their spiritual welfare also …

and a very powerful way of showing care for the spiritual welfare of another is through the example of your own life … by your witnessing to the Christian faith by publicly living up to the demands of that faith … which is why it is nonsense to say, as some do, what does it matter? This sin – if it is a sin - only hurts me … no it does not … because the example of your life instead of leading others on the path that Jesus calls us all to, is now leading them astray …

Which makes it something of a pity that we do not have a magic mirror, rather like the wicked queen, telling us where we are going wrong and what the consequences we can expect if we do not change our ways … except perhaps we do … we have the words of Jesus in the Gospels … we have the word of God in Sacred Scripture … and we have the body of Christ, his Church, which he established to shepherd and teach his people … all of these go to informing our consciences …

and that informed conscience lets us know when we are not living as we should … sometimes it whispers … and sometimes it shouts … especially when we don't want to hear it … because we are enjoying ourselves too much and don't want to hear what it has to say … in the movie, as you can imagine, it didn't work out to well for the wicked queen when she didn't listen to the warnings the mirror gave her about where her behaviour would lead her … I pray that you, and I, and all God's children will have more sense than she, this day, & always … Amen.

Sermon notes 5 May 2012 (5th of Easter – The True Vine)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

a creature in the kitchen

I was in my office when I heard my wife calling me from the kitchen. There seemed to be a bit of urgency in her voice. Arriving, I saw her pointing to the floor by the sink.

'Look at that,' she said.  A small creature was scuttling along by the kick board. The larger of our two cats strolled regally past her heels and out of the kitchen, oblivious to his obvious duty.

'It's a mouse,' she said.
'It must have come in the back door,' I said. The back door had been open for a while earlier - ironically to air out the utility room from the whiffs generated by the cat box.

'Where are the cats?' asked my wife. I thought she wanted one of our not so great hunters to take care of things for us. After all, no one wants mice in the house ... not even strict vegetarians who do their best not even to kill a fly in the normal course of events.

By now, the cat had returned and was wandering across the kitchen with the greatest unconcern. I picked him up and pointed his nose in the direction of the small thing.

'Look, you dozy cat!' I said.
'What are you doing?' said my wife. 'You can't do that!' Clearly, she held to her principles even in the face of adversity. I shooed the cat out of the kitchen.

'But what are we going to do?' I asked. 'It's not like we can catch a mouse.' It was by now past the dish-washer and making progress towards the fridge, to the side of which was a gap which if achieved would put the small beast beyond reach. 'If it is a mouse,' I mused. 'The tail looks very short.'
'A vole?' suggested my wife.
'Too small ... it could be a shrew. I grabbed a rubber glove from the sink. If it was a mouse I wasn't sure the glove would protect me from a bite. If it was a shrew it might. If it was a mouse there would be no way I could grab it. If it was a shrew there was a good chance I might if it strayed out into the open again.

'There it goes,' said my wife as it slipped into the gap next to the fridge. I dashed over and peered in.

'It's going round the back,' I cried and moved to the other side of the fridge. Sure enough the little animal emerged in a moment from the back of the fridge. I grabbed it as gently as I could. It struggled hardly at all, seeming more indignant than frightened. It's long snout twitched animatedly.

'Boys,' my wife and I called. 'A shrew!' They all gathered round.
'Can we put it in a jar so we can see it better?' suggested one.
'No,' I said. 'We need to let it go. Shrews have a very fast metabolism ... they need to eat lots and often ... I think they can starve in a couple of hours, and I don't know how long this one has been in the house.' (I'm afraid the photo above is from the net - I was more concerned with letting it go than taking a picture at the time, though I regretted not having done so later.)

So it was outside and over to the hedge. As we were watching it scurry off, quite unconcerned it seemed about its adventure, cat 2 came bounding over and dived under the hedge.

'Grab her,' I said and cat 2 was duly grabbed.
'It's OK,' said one of the boys. 'It's gone off into the field.'
'Hang onto her for a while,' I said. 'Just in case.'
I returned to the house and washed the rubber glove. From the kitchen window my wife and I watched our sons crawling about under the hedge.

'Well that was quite exciting,' I said.
'Hmm,' said my wife. 'You would have fed it to the cat. And you're the one always rescuing mice from them.'
'That's outside,' I said. 'But we can't have mice in the house. Anyway, I would have tried to rescue it if the cat had caught it. If he would have caught it. He had no interest.'
'Hmm,' said my wife.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

stopped on the street

Priest Clip Art

'Are you a Catholic priest?' the burly, bullet-headed man enquired.
I was walking down the street. The man and I were going in the opposite directions. We glanced at each other as we passed and as we made eye-contact I had given him a nod and a smile as is my wont. With his question, we both stopped walking. I looked him over, not quite warily, but with a little caution. This happened yesterday afternoon, and the media earlier that day had been full of stories about Cardinal Brady and his role in an abuse case from the 70's. His body language didn't seem threatening and I supposed it unlikely that if he were about to launch an unprovoked attack he would have thought to preface it with an enquiry as to my denomination.
'I am the new Church of Ireland rector of this parish,' I said.
'Did you see the BBC programme last night?'
'I'm afraid not. I've only been here about a week and I haven't got round to hooking up the TV yet.'
'It was shocking stuff.'
We chatted. The conversation wandered. We talked about his life. Things in the parish that might be of interest to me. People I should make a point of meeting. Tit bits of historical information that might clue me in to what made my new parish tick. But before we parted he came back to Cardinal Brady.
'He should resign,' said the man. 'How can he have any moral authority?'
'I don't know what to say,' I said. We parted. I went on my way, exploring my new parish. As I walked I passed the local Catholic church. I went in. It was empty. I sat down to admire the stained glass. I thought about what the man had said. Should Cardinal Brady resign?I don't know. He had followed the rules applicable at the time. But that seems insufficient to quell the anger that people are feeling today. How would the conversation have gone with the man on the street if I had been a Catholic priest? Would he have berated me? Would he have sympathised with the difficult position I must be in? I don't know. All I can say is that life can not be easy for those who when asked on the street if they are a Catholic priest must answer yes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A lttle life

This video may bring a tear to your eye. It did to mine, & I don't cry easily (no matter what my wife thinks!). Baby Eliot lived for 99 days. Before birth, his prognosis was that he wouldn't live at all. To keep him alive for those 99 days required gruelling and unremitting effort on the part of his parents. Should they have ended his life before he was born? Was their 99 days of hard, hard work a wasted effort? The video answers those questions, I think. And perhaps many others. It shows the value of each life & how precious a gift that life is ... whether for 99 seconds, days, months, or years. My thanks to Fr Gabriel Burke for posting a link to this on his blog ... otherwise I might not have seen it. Because tears or not I am glad I had a chance to share in some ways the 99 days that Eliot had among us.