Monday, 10 September 2012

Congratulations to Anthea

Anthea Chinyama whose is a member of St. John's congregation and attending st Mary's high school in Hendon got 6 A* in her GCSE results. Well done you make us all proud

September - the month of the Holy Cross

"Faithful Cross above all other,
One and only noble tree,
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peer may be.
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
sweetest weight was hung on thee."
Office hymn for Passiontide

On Friday we will celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, usually known just as "Holy Cross Day". And the whole month of September is traditionally associated with devotion to the Cross.

The idea of devotion to the Cross should strike us as strange. Crucifixion was a barbaric form of torture. How on earth can Christians justify our focus on the image of the crucifix? Our churches and other buildings are full of depictions of a man bleeding to death on a crude piece of wood. We walk the Stations of the Cross and sing hymns like the one quoted above, which not only remember the crucifixion, but celebrate it. Doesn't this show that we have a warped view of the world?

A growing number of people draw that conclusion. How should we reply?

I think two things can and should be said.

First, in displaying our crucifixes and walking the Way of the Cross we are refusing to look away from human suffering. We live in a world that increasingly turns from suffering human beings, confining them to the international news reports and the hospital wards, talking about them euphemistically as 'collateral damage', and pushing them to the margins of political debate. In drawing attention again and again to the suffering of the most perfectly human person ever to have lived, Christians are engaged in a perpetual protest against this. We cannot pretend there is no genuine suffering: our liturgy and devotion reminds us constantly that there is.

But we don't just think about the Cross, we celebrate it. Isn't this the point at which we've crossed a line, and become unhealthily morbid?

No. And this is the second thing that can be said. Without denying for one second that the Cross is a symbol of human evil - here we have the political execution of an innocent man, the Son of God - we see at Calvary also the triumph of divine good. Contrary to the claims of some forms of Christianity, God did not actively will the Cross. God, who is perfectly good, does not will evil. The Cross is the work of human beings. The divine Word lived a human life, a life wholly of love, and our response was to kill him. God's response was to turn that low-point of human wrongdoing into a victory. The defeat of the Cross becomes the high-point of self-offering. The decisive 'no' of human beings to God becomes the 'yes' of God, louder and more insistent than our 'no', to the very human beings who killed his Son. This loving response is revealed in the Resurrection.

There is nothing glib or triumphalist about any of this. The suffering of Good Friday was real and horrific, nothing undoes that. But through it all, a painful victory is won by the insistent power of divine Love. And there's an ongoing message here: our defeats, our failures, our lows, the seeming senselessness and frequent cruelty of human life, whether collective or individual, can become the very means by which that life is transformed.

The literary critic Terry Eagleton has described Christianity as a form of 'tragic humanism', valuing humanity but realising that its flourishing comes at a terrible price. That, I think, is the message of Holy Cross Day. We Christians are neither trite upbeat optimists nor grim pessimists. We live in hope, but realise that our hope exists alongside a brokenness which is almost unbearable. And rather than ignoring that brokenness, our hope is precisely in the possibility of its being transfigured. A similar point was made by Leonard Cohen,

There's a crack in everything,
that's how the light gets in.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Thought for Trinity 14

There is something shocking about today's Gospel reading. Jesus has gone to Tyre to get some space from the crowds and to 'reboot' after healing, calming storms, feeding the 5000 and arguing with the authorities. Maybe the woman caught him off guard, but there is no doubt that he reacts to her as a 1st Century Jewish man would, by rejecting and insulting her.

One of the really tough things to get our heads around as Christians is this idea that Jesus was both 100% God and 100% Man as is set out in the Creed. Part of being human is learning. Jesus learnt to walk and talk - just as we did. He also learns more about what it means to be God from this woman. Her reaction to his replaying of old prejudices is not to argue with him, or challenge his human preconceptions but reminds him that there is more than enough love and grace in God to go around! 

The challenge here in this Gospel passage is the reminder that we all have preconceptions that make us deaf to hear God in others. At the heart of God is an inclusive love that invites all in and can shine through all as God decides - not as human preconceptions allow!

If you want to think more about this, take a look at this short Bible Study by Dr Evie Vernon, a Jamaican theologian. It finishes with this poem that casts the gentile woman as a Jamaican woman reflecting on the experience of the encounter.  

Let us hear the words of the foreign woman:
Who you calling Dawg?
Yes, you, preacher man.
I hear you is a healer,
So I push me way through this crowd
Of laughing, taunting men
Who see all like me as dirt;
Bitch and foreign bitch to boot
I snarl and growl me way through
I don’t mind them
I would do anything for me daughter
I force me way to you
And tell you me need
And you look on me and call me ‘Dawg.’
I bark right back,
“An Dawg an all eat the scrapses
from Massa table”
And you look me in the eye
An you laugh and say
“You right. You daughter heal.”
An is true.
And I thank you
and I follow you.
But I still don’t understand
Why you had was to call we “dawg.”
But I glad you tell me I right
Before de crowd of dem.

Youth@Risk West Hendon

I have had an extraordinarily fulfilling day today - Sunday the 9th of September. I was not in church this Sunday because I was with a group of 39 amazing people being trained to work  as life coaches for young people at risk in West Hendon.
Each one of us had given up our weekend activities, family time, relaxing time, church time, weddings and Christenings and for one a birthday to be trained by Graham from Youth at Risk from Friday evening through until Sunday evening.
This is a new and very exciting project that is being piloted within Barnet in our parish on the West Hendon Estate whereby up to 39 young people who are at risk of making choices that will have a negative impact on their lives and life choices will be given the opportunity of weekly one to one support from volunteers within the community for a year. We were asked to identify one thing that we would take away with us from the weekends training and for me it is the fact that this amazing and talented group of people are prepared to commit themselves with passion to the lives of a group of young people whom they have never met and a community that I  am part of and love with a passion.
Youth at risk believes that all young people should have a worthwhile future no matter what has happened in the past or how difficult their current circumstances. "Underpinning their work with at risk young people is recognition of a crucial loss of trust and respect about young people and between young people. Trust and respect are crucial values for all communities to hold and share in order to support community cohesion and individual pro-socail development" ( Joseph Rowntree Foundation April 1999 Social Cohesion and Urban inclusion for Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods)
Please keep us, all of us, in your prayers over the next year as we begin this wonderful and extraordinary journey togther.
I will finish with the words of Marianne Williamson with which we began todays training:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
by Marianne Williamson
from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
Peace and blessings Fr John

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Picnic in Rushgrove Park

Congratulations to our two newest servers. Some of us met up after Mass and had lunch together. Take a look at some of our pics.....

Thoughts on Trinity 13

For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
Mark 7:21-3

After a brief summer sojourn in chapter six of John's gospel, we're back with Mark for the rest of year, beginning with a passage that is more prone to be misconstrued than a celebrity's Twitter account.

Modern readers of the verses cited above, that is all of us, are likely to read Jesus' words in the following way: what really matters is what's inside, your thoughts, your intentions. Those are what make you good or bad. We might feel even more confident in this reading given what has happened already in chapter seven of Mark: Jesus has disputed with the scribes and Pharisees, criticising their hypocritical observance of the Law. Isn't what Jesus is saying here, we might ask, that religion is an inner thing, a matter of the heart, not a matter of what you do?

The problem with all this is that it makes Jesus too modern, too much like us - or at least some of us. Not only does the first century Palestinian Jew, on this account, have religious views which sound like they've come straight out of 16th century Germany, he also has ethical views that would fit nicely on a Radio 4 discussion programme. One of the most dreary commonplaces of contemporary thinking about right or wrong is that being good is very much an inner matter, primarily to do with intentions, conscience, thoughts, beliefs - that kind of thing. We can disagree about what to do, but we can both be right, because we are well motivated. Our hearts, as we say, are in the right place. You believe in bombing Iraq back into the Stone Age, I don't; but let's agree to differ, and accept that we both mean well. There's all sorts wrong with this view, as was summed up rather nicely by the Roman Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, "Butler exalts conscience, but appears ignorant that a man’s conscience may tell him to do the vilest things."

Anyhow, this view is wrong. On the contrary, as a reading from the epistle of James set for today's Mass puts it: "be doers of the word, not merely hearers".

Thankfully, the Jesus of Mark's gospel is considerably better at ethics than your average radio pundit. Two things are going on in this part of chapter seven.

First, we have an insight into the debate about the observance of the Jewish Law, which was raging in the early Church, and would have been very much of the moment for the first hearers and readers of Mark. We get Mark's particular spin of Jesus' teaching. "Thus", we are told about Jesus' words in a verse the lectionary compilers neglected to include, "he declared all foods clean".

More relevantly for us, we have an attack on hypocrisy. And understanding this suggests a better way of thinking about right and wrong. The hypocrite is someone whose life lacks integrity, whose actions are inconsistent one with another. The hypocrite's life lacks shape and vision. Rather, he or she does on any given occasion the thing that best serves her interests. He or she will manipulate doctrines, religious or otherwise, to his or her own ends. The hypocrite might sometimes do what we would describe as 'the right thing', but it isn't being done as part of a life lived well. The hypocrite lacks the habit of doing the right thing. The hypocrite isn't someone for whom doing good is second nature.

An old fashioned word for the habits which make our lives good and characterised by integrity is 'virtues'. As human beings, let alone as Christians, we will only come to flourish through possessing virtues. And coming to possess them is no easy business. To use another old-fashioned turn-of-phrase, we need to form our characters. This can only happen in a community, through which we learn and interact with others, developing alongside one another, and learning the skills that make for good human living.

There are many such communities: families, community, and political groups. Sadly, our present society as a whole, based as it is around competition and profit, is not an example. Uniquely however, the Church is a community in which we are called grow in virtue not simply by our own efforts, but with the help of God's grace given to us in Jesus Christ. Through this grace, given to us above all in the sacraments, our weaknesses, our tendencies to shy away from virtue, can be overcome. More than that, we are called within the Church to possess new virtues - faith, hope, and love - the habits by which we share in the very life of God, by which we flourish as human beings in new ways, given to us as a sheer loving gift, and which foreshadow our eternal flourishing, our sharing in the vision of God.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Quiz night at St John

27 of us are here having our brains teased and taste buds stimulated as we raise money for Christian Aid. Here's a cryptic clue for you at home GESG- if you know the answer txt fr John with the before 9.00pm!!!