groundsel and tutsan

I’m worried.

I don’t try not to be worried because I don’t really know what to do when it descends like it does. Ride it out?

Or perhaps I need to consider groundsel, creeping buttercups, tutsan.
I was out in the garden today trying to restore order. I have been struggling with what to plant and when to plant it. I am trying to practice crop rotation. The pieces don’t fit harmoniously, there are gaps that should have vegetables. Where there are gaps there are weeds eager to fill space. It seems chaotic.

Except what is a weed?
What is order?

There is one corner that is a complete mess if you think of an orderly garden that gets mowed at least once a week.
I went to cut it a few weeks ago but stopped short. I stopped short because I’ve noticed that goldfinches like to eat the seeds of the weeds. If I sorted out those ‘weeds’ and had a lawn there I wouldn’t have goldfinches to surprise me when washing the dishes on dreary Monday mornings.

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I was hanging washing out today and heard an unfamiliar whistling noise coming from the tree. It was a female bullfinch. She took off, her partner joined her and landed on my spade. Then they both jumped on to the weed in the corner that the goldfinch liked and munched a few seeds.

I’ve not paid enough attention to flowers over the years which is a bit of a sin I suppose. I’m not sure what the weed is.
Looking for its name on a website  I stumbled across the names of a few other plants I noticed in the garden today and which I am going to try to remember:- tutsan and groundsel.
And I’m going to learn more names. I am going to consider the lilies of the fields and the weeds of the garden and look at finches feeding on the weeds and read these words again.

“…what’s the use of worrying? What good does it do? Will it add a single day to your life? Of course not! 26 And if worry can’t even do such little things as that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

27 “Look at the lilies! They don’t toil and spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory was not robed as well as they are. 28 And if God provides clothing for the flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, don’t you suppose that he will provide clothing for you, you doubters? 29 And don’t worry about food—what to eat and drink; don’t worry at all that God will provide it for you. 30 All mankind scratches for its daily bread, but your heavenly Father knows your needs. 31 He will always give you all you need from day to day if you will make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.’

holy week thoughts

Christian’s believe this is the week that changed, is changing,will change the world, the universe, the cosmos.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding a donkey and by the end of the week he has been executed. He has been executed even though he has done nothing wrong. He has been executed even though he has done everything right.

It’s a strange week to reflect on because it really doesn’t compute with the ways of the world. Or at least that’s the way it seems to me. Just look at those pictures of people like David Cameron or Ed Milliband on the election campaign.
How Jesus does his business is the polar opposite to how the world does it business. Sometimes it seems to be the opposite to how the church does its business as well. (I’m almost expecting The Christian Institute to make an appearance in the narrative this week as Jesus is questioned by those in authority, Pilate etc.)

How does this week, Holy Week bring good news to the unemployed, the addicted, the poor, the person who seems to have it all together?  How does Jesus on the cross bring good news to people struggling with loneliness, despair, depression?

How does it all fit in with life in 21st century Ireland? If you’re convinced that Jesus changed the world by laying aside his rights and self sacrificial giving, by acting humbly and non violently how do survive in society?
The prayer that Jesus prayed this week that his disciples should be one has been bothering me as well because it seems like Jesus’ prayers aren’t being answered. I don’t feel at one with lots of his disciples. How can I be at one with churches I don’t like? Can I be at one with the Catholic church? Or can I be at one with the branch of the family I’m most familiar with? If evangelicals are seen by the world (unfairly) as a certain way or hold on to beliefs that I don’t agree with how do I be at one with them? If people from Evangelical Alliance seem to be saying that we should stand behind a bakery that doesn’t ice a cake and you don’t feel you should does that mean you’re not an evangelical?

There are lots of things that cause me distress in the world and wonder if Christianity is true.
But sometimes wondering how Christians are so fragmented is the thing that makes me wonder most. How can we all claim to follow Jesus, to be brothers and sisters and yet act like strangers for most of the time?
And of course I’m part of the problem because I don’t necessarily want to associate with certain churches. If they’re fundamentalist protesting football on a Sunday no thanks. If they’re going on about how Christianity is cool I’m not there either. How does this stuff work?

voting

Sometimes I look  at the pile of election leaflets cluttering the hall and the string of posters from here to Galway and wonder who would Jesus vote for or if Jesus would even vote?
Someone I was talking to got annoyed with me for wondering if Jesus would vote.

They pointed out how many people around the world would love to be given that opportunity living as they do under tyrants and despots, having no choice in who rules them. They also said it was our responsibility to society, to make sure that we don’t get far right parties or selfish parties or parties that look after the powerful and wealthy before the weak and poor. They also said that we’re not called to be Jesus but to be his disciples and that I was saying this from an idealistic position and that I never want to get involved with stuff like politics, being an avoider of real life and that sort of thing

I guess that most of the people I know would disagree with me, and I probably will end up voting on Friday, still I wonder sometimes.

My main problem with is that I find that most politicians are asking me to endorse behaviour and values that I don’t really agree with, they are competing and looking to get into power, they are often seeking to influence the world by values that I don’t find in tune with what I understand about the Kingdom of God. Power seems to the thing many of them crave, even if they want to use that power for the common good. So  I feel uneasy giving my support to that sort of behaviour. 
It seems to me that by voting I am endorsing the type of hyper-competitive, race to the top, power-seeking world that seems to be removed from the world of grace and humility. And which is the real world?

There is that bit in Matthew 25 that Jesus tells the disciples:–

, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave’

If that is what he told the disciples about how it should be among them what does that mean about voting for A or B?

The other thing about voting is that it is my attempt to force my values and point of view, those things which I agree with on the world. I am hoping that such and such gets in so that what I want to see happen happens in the world. Is forcing my values on the world and those who disagree with me the way my heart should be working when faced with social injustice?

I know it’s a dangerous think to imagine Jesus as we might put our preconceptions on him and try to make him in our image but I still can’t imagine Jesus voting just as I can’t imagine Jesus shooting a machine gun on a battlefield.

 

 

The Burren/

The more I think about The Burren the more fascinated I become with it.
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In  1651-52, Edmund Ludlow wrote that The Burren

“…is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him…… and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing.

And that is the amazing thing. Despite it being a rocky place there is an incredible diversity of plant life and wildlife living between the rocks in  crevices and cracks and all over the place.
Species that would normally not  grow together grow together. Plants that are more at home in the Arctic , Alpine regions or Mediterranean call The Burren home.  Crevices provide shelter, retain moisture and the rocks act like  a giant storage heater (according to knowledge picked up from watching a little bit of Coast),

I’ll have to explore it more sometime.

Meanwhile I was thinking this morning in church  that it felt a bit like The Burren. Over on the other side of Galway Bay Arctic plants grow alongside Mediterranean plants and Alpine  plants while over here we have Malaysian, South Korean, Hungarian, Cameroonian, Zimbabwean, Tongan, Nigerian, Irish, British, American,Madagascan, Indian, Ghanian, Swiss, Congolese Brazilian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Dutch, French exotics passing through for a day and others for a few months or others living and rooted.

I was thinking that church is a bit like a crack in the rocky ground, a place of shelter, warmth and moisture where the Kingdom of God can grow even if we can’t really explain or know what is going on half the time, or most of the time.
When I stood on The Burren the other day maybe something  in me was reminded of the prophecy in Isaiah when the lion lies down with the lamb and nature is in harmony, things that don’t normally grow together in health and peace do.
And I felt the same this morning in church. People who don’t normally grow together trying to grow together despite our failings.  This week The Burren and our church seemed to be hints of the way things should really be.

Christian / Bale

Part of me feels deeply uncomfortable about supporting and watching football.
I’ve especially been feeling it this summer when the team I’ve supported all my life (apart from a brief flirtation with Everton), Tottenham Hotspur stand to make a lot of money from selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid.
I started reading a book this morning and the mention of Real Madrid in the opening pages made my ears stand up.

‘Despite all the liberal rhetoric about “equality,” who in the world of the media or the academy really believes that the life of a Nepali peasant, say, is as valuable as that of a Hollywood actress or a football star? Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, killing about 1,300 people, generated forty times more Western print coverage than Hurricane Stan that killed more than 1,600 people in Guatemala a month later. On the same day that the second earthquake struck El Salvador, a soccer game was played between Real Madrid and Lazio. The combined market value of the players on the field was $650 million, slightly less than half of what it took to rebuild the entire physical infrastructure after the earthquake. The press reported the value of the soccer players with enthusiasm bordering on veneration.’

Subverting Global Myths, VInoth Ramachandra

According to this table the combined value of the men who kick a ball around for our entertainment and pleasure in the English Premier League is well over £3,000,000,000. This is not for life or death stuff remember, it is only a game.

Just one of those players, Gareth Bale could be worth over £80,000,000.

Players have this value as well because people like me all over the world watch football and talk about it all the time. Individuals like me do Fantasy Football League or buy football shirts.
So I think that I have a part to play in the valuation of Gareth Bale for a world record fee and I’m not sure how that sits with me as a Christian.

marriage, marriage,marriage, marriage, marriage

As far as we know Jesus, who Christians believe was perfect love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control was not a married man.

I’ve been thinking about this the past couple of days as I’ve  been reading a bit  about the National Day of Prayer for Marriage that Christians are planning for next Sunday. Some evangelicals seem to be quite obsessed with marriage at the moment, to the point that if David Cameron actually does allow a gay couple to get married then we are living in the darkest days of history and might as well just give up.

Strangely though considering that Jesus was celibate there seems to be no obsession with the equally God pleasing celibacy option, which seemed to have been the preference Paul as well. Would we ever hear of a National Day of Prayer for Celibacy? If not, why not? Can someone who is celibate not live as fulfilled a life as someone who is married or do the married have access to extra happiness?

I don’t remember ever being at a wedding  where celibacy was affirmed as an equally God honouring option. Instead the whole day is geared towards the celebration of bride and groom and the God given gift of marriage. Everybody is beaming in happiness at this special happy occasion. Nothing is said about the gift of celibacy and does that mean the single people are excluded from church worship? Is it right for people to feel excluded in church worship or is there good news for everyone?

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‘Should inhospitable people be allowed to minister in the PCI? The Bible says No’

Often when I blog it’s because I am trying to work out things in my head.
It seems useful to me because it is out in public rather than just rattling around in your head and there is the opportunity for other people to chip in if they disagree or to offer another side of the story which might help you form a more rounded opinion.
But sometimes you might come across like you are preaching to people or full of yourself. You might sound like you think you are know-it-all or  want the world to know how wonderful your point of  view is.
That is just my way of saying that I’m not really trying to make a point but that I’m just not sure why some issues like gay marriage or abortion are so passionately debated and fought about from a Christian point of view while others are put down the list of things to worry about.

To pick a current example.
There is so much debate over whether a Christian can be an elder/minister. The Church of Scotland has voted on whether to allow actively gay men and women to become ministers.

But is it fair to wonder if allowing an inhospitable man to become a minister is just as wrong?
Or if allowing a man who can’t control his eating habits or who breaks the law speeding in his car doing the rounds is just as wrong according to  Biblical teaching as two men living in a manse? Yet these sorts of men have been tolerated as ministers in PCI for years and no one has kicked up a fuss. You would never see a protesters outside the General Assembly with placards saying
‘Should inhospitable people be allowed to minister in the PCI? The Bible says No’

That it not to say that it’s not a serious issue, but why are some issues far, far more serious than others in the Christian realm?
I can only think that we have a league table of sins with some things very, very serious while other things not so serious and hey, what can you do? We are far more likely to tolerant of the greedy man and allow his behaviour to be unchallenged than a gay woman in the pews.

I would consider myself pro-life but I don’t understand  why we sometimes seem to limit the belief that only God can take life to the womb. From a Christian point of view protesting at the army barracks in Lisburn seems to make as much sense to me as protesting outside an abortion clinic. That will probably annoy people because ‘What would you do if Hitler came for your gran?’ but if life is sacred in the womb why is it not outside the womb? If God made and loves everyone, if there is always the chance for redemption how can we kill our neighbour?

Or protesting outside a firm that is using tax havens to minimize the amount of tax it pays in a poor country. The reason for that is because the firm (which we use)  is cheating the government out of money which could be used to improve the lives of thousands in that country.
Or trying to use public transport when possible. Lots of people don’t seem to want to take climate change seriously, it is an optional extra and not really an issue for society. I guess that I struggle when same sex marriage is seen by Christians as a threat to the good of society while subjects like climate change get a shrug of the shoulders.

I was reading earlier on that the most mentioned commandment in the bible isn’t anything about sex or going to church, but the commandment to not be afraid.  How many of us are afraid and scared? Is a fearful Christian just as wrong as someone who is doing some of the traditionally very naughty things?

Why, indeed.

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The €3 I spent in Galway on an old Penguin copy of ‘How Green was My Valley‘ a few weeks back was probably the best bargain of the year so far. I normally find it hard to get through longer novels but eventually got through this one, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s got themes I feel I can relate to (unlike The Great Gatsby to pick a current example).

One of the themes that crops up throughout the book is the theme of religion, especially in relation to the local chapel, deacons and minister Mr Gruffydd.  Although my experience of church going  in Co Tyrone was much less severe, I could relate to certain exchanges in the book such as this one between the narrator of the story, Huw Morgan and Mr Gruffydd. Still to this day I find it hard to shake the  image of people wearing suits or the smell of fear and Hell.

‘You have done much,’ I said, with a loud voice, to try and make up for wants of words just before. ‘Chapel, and sick, and everything, sir.’
‘And everything,’ he said, and laughed. ‘Thank you, Huw. Eh, dear. I thought when I was a young man that I would conquer the world with truth. I thought I would lead an army greater than Alexander ever dreamed of, not to conquer nations, but to liberate mankind. With truth. With the golden sound of the Word. But only a few of them heard the trumpet. Only a few understood. The rest of them put on black and sat in Chapel.’
‘Is it wrong to do that, then, Mr Gruffydd?’ I asked him, and surprised out of voice.
‘Why do you go to Chapel, Huw?’ he asked me, still going on with his work.
‘Because,’ I said, and then I stopped. Why, indeed.
‘Yes,’ he said, and smiling. ‘Because you want to come? Because you like coming? Because your mother and father come? Because your friends are there? Because it is proper to do on a Sunday? Because there is nothing else to do? Because you like the singing? To hear me preach? Or because you would fear a visitation of fire during the week if you stayed away? Are you brought by fear or love?’
‘I am a but surprised, sir,’ I said, and indeed I was dry with it.
‘The questioning of habit is fruitful of surprise, ‘Mr Gruffydd said. Would you fear a bolt of fire on your head, or some  other dire punishment if you stayed away from Chapel without permission?
‘I would a bit, sir, I think,’ I said.
‘So would most of them,’ Mr Gruffydd said. ‘So they are brought to dress in black and flock to Chapel through fear. Horrible, superstitious fear. The vengeance of the Lord. The justice of God. They forget the love of Jesus Christ. They disregard his sacrifice. Death, fear, flames, horror, and black clothes’

freedom of conscience / Paolo di Canio

A status update from former Alliance Party leader John Alderdice magically appeared in my Facebook feed last night saying that he was ‘appalled’ by the way Justice Minister and Presbyterian Church elder David Ford had been treated over his support of gay marriage. It was one of those public Facebook statuses that hang up in the air for all to see so I think it was for public consumption.

He also added:-

‘While elders and ministers who did not accept the clear, firm and historic position of the PCI on the ordination of women were accommodated, to the point where one has now been appointed Principal of Union Theological College, David has been hounded out of active eldership.’

I suppose that resonated with me more because  of who I’m married to than anything else.

I know that many elders and ministers in PCI, maybe some of you reading this don’t really agree with the official position of the PCI with regard to ordaining women, or if you don’t agree you might not be overly pushed about it and it certainly isn’t an issue of faith. There is freedom of conscience for those people to disagree and they most definitely won’t have their points of view investigated by the church authorities.

There is also room in the PCI for ministry students who disagree  ( whether strongly or mildly) with the PCI’s official line that women can be ordained as ministers or elders.  It is seen as a minor issue and people are free to be ordained even though they disagree with the official postion of the PCI.

Perhaps it’s a little like the recent Paolo di Canio appointment when objections where raised due to his alledged Fascist beliefs. Do those possibly Fascists beliefs matter when you are running a football club? The last couple of Sunderland victories have seemed to suggest that they don’t and lets face it, we all have our contradictions. 

Maybe it’s because David Ford (who is leader of the Alliance Party) has made his view publically known whereas if he had just held his views privately that would be OK. 

Yet I can think of examples of PCI ministers  in organizations like the Orange Order on TV over the years saying things  publically over and over again far removed from the teachings of Jesus. Where/are these men investigated by their Presbytery for their public position?

And if there has been a kerfuffle in the past  when a minister has said “I have difficulties of conscience with the ordination of women” and that has been reported widely in the local media you have to wonder if this minister will be the best choice for principle of the college that will be ordaining male and female PCI ministers?
If you are a woman thinking of applying for the PCI ministry but hear rumours that the principle of the college  might not personally agree with sharing the pulpit would that encourage you to apply? How would you feel?

The issue of gay marriage seems to have become a bit of battle ground that is being used to test if you’re out or if you are in, if you take God’s Word seriously or if you are really just a wolf in lambs clothing that needs to be routed out.
If I was to say that I think that a gay couple should have the right to get married would that meant that I am a bit dodgey and a 2nd rate Christian? The answer at the moment seems to be yes, you are a wishy washy liberal who probably believes all kind of dodginess. Maybe some people reading this think that now.