The monumental importance of being permanently present

The monumental importance of being permanently present

It started with the sparking of a faulty fridge-freezer in a fourth-floor flat. But the speed with which the fire consumed the 124 apartments was breathtaking. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we watched it on our screens. The inferno that erupted in the 24-story Grenfell Tower in west London quickly incinerated the whole building and all we could do was watch gape-jawed with horror. Families appeared at their windows screaming for help. Some people tied bedsheets into a makeshift rope to escape the furnace. Some leaped to the ground below. It was all too horrible. We know now that nearly 80 people lost their lives and many others were injured. Hundreds were displaced, escaping the flames with nothing but their lives and the pajamas they had been sleeping in. We also know that the community response to this tragedy was incredible. The outpouring of generosity and kindness was heartwarming. But it began in an interesting way. At 3.00am the night of the fire, Rev Alan Everett, the vicar of the nearby St Clements Church of England, was woken by a call from a fellow priest who lived in Grenfell Tower. The priest had called to alert Everett that he had a national disaster unfolding almost literally on his doorstep. Alan Everett ran to the church and turned the lights

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Jesus said, “I am the Wild shepherd”

Jesus said, “I am the Wild shepherd”

When you think about Jesus as a shepherd this is what comes to mind, right? Gentle Jesus with a docile lamb nestled in his arms or around his shoulders? The nurturing shepherd, protecting his sheep, loving them one and all? These pictures are everywhere, painted on canvas, etched in stained glass, assembled in mosaics. They are the most popular and enduring images of Jesus and justifiably so. But when Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd is this only what he had in mind? Images of Jesus with a single pathetic lamb owe more to a parable he told in Matthew 18 and Luke 15 about a shepherd leaving his ninety-nine safe sheep to rescue a single lost one. He told the story to explain to the Pharisees why he hung out with “sinners” (a thing the Pharisees clearly frowned on). But the passage in which he described himself as the good shepherd is John 10. In that passage he’s also tangling with the Pharisees. They have just subjected a poor beggar blind from birth, who had been miraculously healed by Jesus, to nothing short of spiritual abuse. They brutally haul him and his family through various theological panels demanding he explain who Jesus is and where his power comes from. The man is illiterate, uneducated, unsophisticated. In his ignorance

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When tempted to choose sides, look inside

When tempted to choose sides, look inside

In a recent New York Times piece, Emily Badger and Niraj Chokshi revealed the following curious fact: “In 1960, just 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said they would be unhappy if a son or daughter married someone from the other party. In 2008… 27 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats said they would be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very upset’ by that prospect. By 2010, that share had jumped to half of Republicans and a third of Democrats.” Get ready for a remake of the Sidney Poitier classic, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which a kindly and patrician couple of Republicans are shocked to discover their daughter is engaged to a (gulp) Bernie Sanders supporter. But seriously, what is going on?? By most people’s reckoning, the 2016 Presidential campaign was one of the most divisive in American history. The vitriol and animosity expressed by supporters of one candidate toward supporters of another was astonishing. Even those of us who are non-partisan and who refused to support any particular candidate found ourselves abused on social media if we posted anything critical of a candidate. And I mean any candidate. But according to Badger and Chokshi this gulf of fury and self-righteousness wasn’t a new thing in 2016. It had been building for many years. Back in

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Wonder Woman isn’t the only female hero on film this year

Wonder Woman isn’t the only female hero on film this year

I haven’t seen Wonder Woman and I probably won’t. I’m guessing it’s pretty much the same as the other Marvel/DC comic book hero films. As everyone keeps pointing out though, what is different about Wonder Woman is that the lead superhero is woman! Or an Amazon, if that’s the same as being a woman. In the original comic book, WW was sculpted from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta and given life by Aphrodite, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek gods. And somehow Zeus is her father. I know. It’s confusing. Anyway, at least she’s played by a woman. And everyone says that makes her a role model for little girls and a feminist icon. Who am I to disagree? I find it interesting that people are gushing about the breakthrough of having a female superhero in the very year that a number of exceptional female-led dramas have been released.   Both William Oldroyd’s haunting Lady Macbeth and Sophia Coppola’s Cannes-winning The Beguiled are about 19th Century women forced to take control of their lives when men threaten to destroy them. Both films make much of the fact that the odds are stacked in favor of men and in order to survive (or indeed, thrive), women must resort to extraordinary measures. In each case, the women’s sexuality draws them

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At worship in the church of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

At worship in the church of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Watching One Love, the concert for those affected by the recent terrorist bombing in Manchester, was a strangely quasi-religious experience, and a fascinating insight into the secular rituals that have come to define public mourning in the secular West. Scheduled on a Sunday, the event was designed partly as an act of defiance by Ariana Grande and her management team, and partly as a semi-religious grief ritual for the city of Manchester. Some of the songs performed at the concert made passing reference to religious themes, like the Black Eyed Peas’ song Where is the Love, a kind of prayer for world peace, which includes the line, “Father, Father, Father help us/ Send some guidance from above.” Robbie Williams sang his oddly quasi-religious song, Angels, and Coldplay did Viva la Vida with the cryptic lines about the bells of Jerusalem, missionaries in a foreign field, and something about St Peter not calling my name. While other songs, although not specifically religious, were performed with a kind of gravity befitting a secular hymn. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Don’t Dream It’s Over and Don’t Look Back in Anger united the audience in a type of collective optimism usually reserved for religious singing. Or football anthems.   Of course, there were some explicitly religious moments, like when Justin Bieber declared that “God is good

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Are you willing to be sent where few can see you?

Are you willing to be sent where few can see you?

She was elderly and wore a lavender cardigan. She gripped my arm more firmly than I thought she could. She said she had something she wanted to tell me. I had just preached a Pentecost Sunday sermon about how the Holy Spirit commissions us all as missionaries, or sent ones, to alert others to the universal reign of God wherever we might find ourselves. I had preached that all vocations offer us the opportunity to mirror the work of God in the world, whether it’s to bring healing or justice, reconciliation or wholeness, whether to design and build, or to serve and love. And I threw in references to a few random vocations like stay-at-home parents and lawyers and nurses and union officials and artists and builders and teachers. I had quoted Jesus’ words to his followers, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (John 20:21) and I asked the congregation, “So, to whom have you been sent?” As I was leaving the church that morning the woman in the lavender cardigan took my arm and said with great determination, “I know who I’m sent to.” We were in the church, behind the last pew, still in the whisper zone before the hubbub of the mingling space beyond the glass doors. She told me quietly that her husband has

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We don’t need a more violent Christianity (it’s plenty violent already)

We don’t need a more violent Christianity (it’s plenty violent already)

When Christ disarmed Peter in the garden, he disarmed all Christians and cursed the works of the sword for ever after. ~ Tertullian   I’d never heard of Dave Daubenmire before this week. All I know is he’s a former football coach-turned-evangelist who has gained some notoriety for his televised rant about the need for “a more violent Christianity.” Explaining that “the Bible is full of violence,” Daubenmire went on to say that “the only thing that is going to save Western civilization is a more aggressive, a more violent Christianity.” To illustrate this point, he referred to President Trump’s behavior at a NATO summit where he shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside so that he could stand in front of the group of assembled leaders. Christianity should be like that, Daubenmire explained, “[President Trump] is large and in charge. Look at him. They’re all little puppies. Ain’t nobody barking at him … He’s walking in authority. He walked to the front and center and they all know it, too, man. He just spanked them all. The Lord is showing us a picture of the authority we should be walking in.” Get that? The Lord is showing Christians how to behave through Donald Trump’s aggressive, discourteous example. But Daubenmire wasn’t done yet. Warming to his subject, he then cited

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