Monthly Archives: February 2014

Coming Out… Into The Light

Does God weep over his creation?

Does God weep over his creation?

Recently, after much prayerful thought I have reached what I believe is a clarity in thinking with regard to something that I have often struggled to express. That is what my stance is, as a Christian and future Minister, towards those, including fellow Christians, who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women

I have often not expressed what my inner heart was telling me, but instead have prevaricated, choosing to be cautious with my public expressions and feeling deeply hypocritical for not speaking out

However, events, both recently within the Church of England and in our world as a whole, have left me with a sense of both shame and despair.

I have struggled to reconcile what I understand to be the most basic tenet of my faith, namely love, and the many interpretations of what that should look like in respect of people whose sexuality differs from my own.

The love that we are called to is quite simple – we are to love God and we are to love each other. For this love to be genuine is indubitable, but in both cases, we have to be wary of discriminating and categorising exactly what this love should look like; how it might be expressed and who may partake of it, whether in long-term relationships, through marriage or through celibacy

I am aware that there are many who look to Scripture and yet only use isolated and often disjointed biblical passages to justify their position and I would affirm that Scripture as a whole contains all truths; but I would have to wonder whether we only worship a God who remains firmly in Old Testament attitudes and early Judaeo-Christian life-styles or a God that lives and is part of the 21st century, with all its challenges, changes and nuances. Has God not accompanied humanity in the last two millennia? Has he not wept and rejoiced, listened and guided? Does he not know what is happening?

Others speak of alternative sexuality as sinful and unforgivable; and again I would be loath to apply this label to what could be considered part of the human condition. Particularly as this is not helpful, especially in light of the message of open-ended grace and forgiveness for all, regardless of any measure of rebellious sinfulness. Who is to say what God does and does not see in us as a whole person – did David (murderer and adulterer) or Jacob (lier and cheat) not receive God’s grace for their devotion to God rather than for what other people judged them by? It is surely our faith that makes the difference

As a professed heterosexual, I cannot begin to say I know what it feels like to have your faith questioned or to be regarded as less worthy because of your sexuality – to know that despite being created in God’s image, that others consider it a tarnished reflection – to have to settle for something less because someone has decided you don’t meet all the ‘criteria’. Yet, I do recognise that the pain and hurt must sometimes be unbearable and for that I willingly offer my support in prayer and in love

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome
but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher,
patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.
God may perhaps grant that they will repent
and come to know the truth
2 Timothy 2:24-25

I know that on reading this, despite my heartfelt attempt to show sensitivity for all concerned, that some Christians will regard what I say as wrong, that they may even regard me in a different light. There will be those who have already made their mind up, who will reject these and other valid arguments completely; and whilst I must respect that decision, whether made on a personal level or as a church directive, at the same time I will be hoping that they too, like many others will be open to a similar journey as mine. When they find that they can no longer sit on the fence or through prayer and soul-searching be ready to admit that when we are called to love as God loves us then we should do so completely and honestly and be ready to treat all equally

Until then may God bless all who love the Lord our God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their strength, and with all their mind; and also their neighbour as themselves. Amen

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Can You See Him?

Can You See Him?

Can You See Him?

Following on from last week’s post about all-seeing eyes, I thought it might be appropriate to post a meditation I wrote about spiritual blindness and people’s attitudes, based on John 9.

The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.
John 9:30

Follow the link here to read the meditation Can You See Him?

Eyes That See!

Veronicas Handkerchief Framed blog

Veronica’s Handkerchief by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max

One of my daughters told me recently how scared she used to be of a framed picture that hangs inside our church near the entrance. It is a reproduction print of Veronica’s Handkerchief by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max. She used to think that Jesus’ eyes were following her as she moved around the church, but on first glance Christ appears to have his eyes closed or does he?

Veronica's Handkerchief Picture BlogInitially you appear to be gazing at the serene visage of Christ, when suddenly you think that his eyes have opened, which can be somewhat startling.

In fact the artist has used a very clever painting technique and in order to achieve this optical illusion he had to apply 14 different shades of paint to his canvas

The face itself appears to be in the centre of a slightly bloodied piece of linen or ancient handkerchief. In fact that is exactly what it is and the story behind it has its source within some of the Gospels.

The original owner of the handkerchief, a woman called Veronica, is named in an ancient gnostic manuscript called The Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate. In it she is recorded as crying out from a distance in Jesus’ defence at his trial. Her act of faithfulness is due to her being indebted to him for curing her from a haemorrhage she had been suffering from for 12 years. This act of healing is recorded in three of the four Gospels (see Mark 5:25-34 for one account), although she is not named

She is believed to be the same one who rushed forward to wipe Jesus’ bleeding forehead with her handkerchief during the arduous walk to the Crucifixion. Her handkerchief came away slightly bloodied from contact with Jesus’ face, then an exact image of his face miraculously appeared at the centre of the cloth.

Allegedly the original handkerchief was held as a relic by the early church from the 8th century and was venerated for its supposed healing powers, one of whom of the recipients of this was said to be the Roman Emperor, Tiberius. However, like many relics, there are several who claim to possess the ‘original’, including the cities of Milan and Jaen.

Whatever, the origins of the subject, it is still an interesting painting and certainly makes you think about how, if God always has his eyes open and is watching us, then surely nothing can be hidden from his view – a fact that is probably more scary than the illusion in the artwork

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account – Hebrews 4:13

I suspect that all of us from time to time have done something unworthy and persuaded ourselves that it’s okay, convincing ourselves that God won’t be looking; why would he concern himself with something so trivial. Or maybe we try putting on our ‘invisibility cloaks’ thinking nothing we do can be seen – a bit like a small child covering their eyes in a game of ‘peek-a-boo’, believing if they can’t see anybody then nobody can see them – yet, it’s usually just at that moment that God pops his head under the cloak enquiring what we might be getting up to under there!

It’s pretty impossible to never do anything wrong – in fact it is impossible – we’re human after all. But the beauty of God’s grace is that without even earning it it is given to us so that we can try again; and hopefully, because we know that God will be watching, we can make better choices in the future.

St Veronica's Handkerchief - Close Up

Eyes that see!

Fear Of Failure

Compline - A quiet end to the day

Compline – A quiet end to the day

This week I had to do something really frightening. The sort of thing that makes your heart race and your knees tremble. It wasn’t quite the fear I feel when I am at a great height and not in control of my balance; nor was it the fear generated by an unseen but threatening presence – the sort that made me hide behind the sofa whilst watching Dr Who as a child. No, this was the fear of failure.

The cause of this fear? Well, you could say it was self-inflicted; but for various reasons I had offered to be one of the ordinands that ‘sang’ Compline in the college chapel!

Compline is the final service or ‘office’ at the end of the day. This quiet and peaceful worship, stills the mind and allows you to hand over to God all of those things that have happened during the day before retiring for the night. At Cuddesdon, the practice is then to maintain silence until the next morning

The service is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, and can be said, but is more often than not sung. However, this ‘singing’ is done in Plainsong – a sort of medieval chanting style. The notes are written on a stave [a set of five parallel lines on any one or between any adjacent two of which a note is written to indicate its pitch] in the form of dots (see picture below)

Compline is sung in plainsong

Compline is sung in plainsong

And there’s the rub – the fact that I had to google what the name of those lines were called tells you that my musical knowledge is limited. I understand that each note has a different sound depending on where it sits on those lines, I even know the names of some of the notes in those positions; but my problem is that I can not link in my head the name of the note with the sound that is supposed to come out of my mouth! Still, I wanted to give it a go.

I’ve written previously about having the courage to do something in Getting Out Of The Boat but inherent in all of these types of challenges is the fear of failure; that you’ll make a mess of it; that people will laugh; that you’ll feel a fool. So probably best not to do it…

As the time got nearer, the natural introvert in me kept questioning why I had ever thought it was a good idea and what had possessed me to volunteer. However, I knew that I’d been pushing myself lately to do things that stretched me; that exhausted me, but which were beginning to give me more confidence

I have to admit that even after a brief lunch-time rehearsal, right up to the moment that I sat in the chapel itself, that I wanted so much to say ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t do this’, hoping that like Zechariah I’d be struck dumb and have a legitimate excuse to save face; but a quick arrow prayer to say ‘Here goes God’ and the barely audible note hummed by my wonderful fellow ordinand, Jane*, sitting right next to me, found me launching into the first versicle

Did I sing like Katherine Jenkins? – No!

Did I hit a few ‘bum’ notes? – Yes!

Did I worship the Lord in word and song – Yes!

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control
2 Timothy 1:7

Having done it I can’t say that I won’t feel that nervousness again, but if we attempt to do things in good faith the Holy Spirit  will invariably pitch in there with us [musical pun intended]

So don’t fear failure, and don’t let fear stop you from giving things a go. As it says in one of my favourite prayers:

Lord help me to remember
that nothing is going

to happen today that
you and I together
can’t Handle

*Huge thanks must go to Jane Winter, whose infinite patience and kind encouragement played a large part in enabling me to not give in to my fears and for the support of all my fellow Ordinands who sang the responses impeccably and who didn’t laugh but gave me silent hugs afterwards!