Hymns as an evolving genre

There are times in all our lives when we question what is happening and when our faith is challenged and shaken. What happens when we reach the point where it feels as though our faith makes no sense.  For many in contemporary society this seems to be the case. Perhaps circumstance leads them to this point. For others there is the sheer illogicality of believing in something intangible, metaphysical. What then? We cannot force belief on someone, it simply doesn’t work. Fred Pratt Green frames the theme like this:

When our confidence is shaken
in beliefs we thought secure;
when the spirit in its sickness
seeks but cannot find a cure:
God is active in the tensions
of a faith not yet mature.
Fred Pratt Green Copyright Stainer & Bell Ltd

In this circumstance faith is incomplete. We do not have the full picture. Arguably, where God is concerned we never can have the full picture, in which case we need to be open to the fact that faith, in Sydney Carter’s words is framed by a creed which is never fixed or final. I raise a question in the following text:

How can we live at one with God,
inspired by Christ the living Word,
infused with all the Spirit's power
when life is twisted and absurd?

[…] to grasp by faith, to act in love,
while nothing fixed or final stands.

Put another way:

When life juggles with our learning,
with the things we thought secure,
then it seems the artist’s palette
spins and faith becomes obscure.

In the wash of different colours,
as we seek for shape and form,
others paint their faith by numbers
forcing God to fit some norm.

But when life has torn the canvas,
when the numbers twist and slip;
then we need to find an image
that will help our hope to grip:

holding us, when we're past holding,
grounding when we're insecure,
till we find a faith, not drifting,
still dynamic, free, yet sure.

All the above Andrew Pratt unless otherwise stated, verses copyright Stainer & Bell Ltd.

Romans 13: 8 – 14 – Am I in debt? Meditation: Am I in debt?

Am I in debt?


Surely!


In debt for the love you have given me.
Undeserving, sometimes callous, thoughtless and cavalier with the expectations
of others. Yet I am loved.
And so I owe this debt of love.
How can it be paid?
How do I repay the patience of a nurse who stands by me while I am sick?
How do I return the love of a mother who invested her life in my life from birth
to her death?
How do I thank those people who affirm me in what I do, in writing and in
teaching?
How do I thank the teacher who told me, but then demonstrated that from his
point of view there was some good in everyone?
How do I thank my son for music, art and an openness of spirit?
How do I thank colleagues who have stood by and encouraged me as my life has
changed pace and direction often giving them more work to do?
How do I thank my wife for her care?
How do I thank the child who smiles and hugs me and says, ‘That’s better’?
How do I thank countless friends who have done the things that only they could
do?
How do I thank the father who taught me to work with wood?
So much to be thankful for!
Am I in debt?
Surely…

To each and all is owed a lifetime of love, so graciously given, so easily received.

No wonder he said, ‘Love one another”!
I’ll try, really I will.

Will you?

Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal, former President of the Methodist Conference – Easter message

From Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal, former President of the Methodist Conference, and shared with his permission and encouragement:

“The gospel does not go from crucifixion to crucifixion. It goes from crucifixion to resurrection. Anything that goes from suffering to suffering contradicts the gospel. The Nationality and Borders Bill currently before Parliament is a case in point. It treats already suffering people with more suffering and humiliation. It treats people as deserving and undeserving refugees. The criteria to determine refugee status is not fleeing suffering but the means of travel and routes taken. Sending people seeking sanctuary to Rwanda is inhumane, cruel, morally bankrupt and theologically nonsense. It demonises harmless people, dehumanises human beings, sanctions hatred and hostility. It takes people from crucifixion to crucifixion. We need safe routes for all refugees, from anywhere in the world. Government has a duty by UN Refugee Convention to provide safe care and hospitality for all refugees. Justice, mercy and humility, not injustice, cruelty and humiliation for all the crucified people of the world. This is the challenge of redemption, resurrection, restoration.”

A reflection for Holy Week

When I opened my social media one morning I caught the comment, in relation to nothing in particular, ‘that’ll wait till after Easter’. Some things won’t. And in another sense some things can’t, shouldn’t be hidden or avoided. I don’t want to be a spoil sport, nor to confront us with things that are just too painful in a world which has pain enough of itself.
Come Easter day it will all be daffodils and Easter eggs, children and fun. Well not quite all. But that is jumping the gun. Let me take you back to the beginning of this, so called ‘Holy Week’.
Some people like to look at the whole drama of this week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday as ‘part of God’s plan’. I think that diminishes God. It doesn’t speak of the God I see in Jesus, or even the pages of the Hebrew scriptures. The events of this week are less planned, more inevitable; earthly as much as heavenly.

Remember that Jesus is a man, God become human, but a man. God does not put his ‘son’, through unimaginable cruelty. Charles Wesley had it right speaking of God ‘contracted to a span, incomprehensibly man’, a God who ‘emptied himself of all but love.’ So this Jesus is God. But he is human, like you and me. Very special, yet nothing special at all. Growing up he had witnessed religious corruption. That is not an anti-semitic comment. The church is just as riddled with corruption today. Occasionally people rise above it, but it is a human characteristic, built into our DNA. We are hard-wired for self-preservation and that makes us want to clamber to the top of the pile. Now and again we managed to repress our natural instincts and become a little more kind, a mite more gracious. Anyway, I digress.

Jesus rode a donkey into an occupied city at the time of a religious festival. Stirred up a crowd. If anything could be calculated to raise the temperature, rather than calm the conflict, that was its precursor. He challenged the religious people, over-turned the tables of the money changers, caused chaos. Then just walked away. Deals are done, silver changes hands, plots are elaborated. In the midst of all of this he shares a meal with his friends. Then an arrest is executed. Now this becomes political. Pilate is confronted rather than ignored. A charge is brought, a thief is dismissed. The dice is thrown, the deed is done. And this Jesus is brutally murdered.

 
Tortured, beaten, scarred and tainted,
Not a picture deftly painted,
More a tattered, battered being,
Torn, disfigured, stark, unseeing.
	
Muscles twisted, strained, contorted,
Body dangling, bruised, distorted.
Life blood drying, sun-baked, stinging,
Hatred, bitter hatred, flinging.

Crowds insensate, tempers vented,
Full of anger, discontented.
Curses scattered, insults flying,
Spurned, derided, God is dying.


And the women wait and watch. And the crowds disperse.
 
The single reason for this death is not, I feel, some cosmic, metaphysical plan but rather the consequence met out to anyone who seeks to embody to the uttermost the love of God. People leave the church when it is suggested that someone THEY consider unworthy is acceptable, is loved by God. Others say the church should not be political when it overturns their fiscal tables and hints that the poor have needs. I am trying to put this delicately because I don’t have Jesus’ courage or willingness to self-sacrifice. 
But the way I see it, this Easter story is less some master plan and more a parable demonstrating how we need to live with each other in this world now. As I think Christian Aid once put it, life before death, and that for everyone, the have-nots as well as we who have. And it is a warning for those of us who seek to be Christian, that it is not always a popular path to take. It has as much, if not more to say, about how we live now, holding all humanity in God’s love, than what happens when we die. 

Do hold fast to faith in resurrection if you have it, but being Christian ought to have as much to do with how we live now and love our neighbours as with what comes hereafter. For this latter, well I’m happy to trust that to God. 

Art © Andrew Pratt; Poem © 1997 Stainer & Bell Ltd