Sunday, 22 July 2018

A Pure Woman (John 20.1-18)

I was thinking about the subtitle Thomas Hardy gave to Tess of the d'Urbervilles.  "A Pure Woman". And how it upset the respectable Victorians - one publisher hav
"Noli me Tangere" - Correggio , Public Domain
ing already paid Hardy the advance for the novel then refused to publish it. Not just because of the sub-title. But it really underlined the way that Tess is a story of a woman who's constantly let down by men. OK, stabbing her lover to death in a Bournemouth boarding house was wrong. But she'd been pushed a long way, before she snapped.

Mary Magdalene has suffered a bit at the hands of men as well. Pope Gregory used as a helpful example of a repentant sinner - based solely on the way that she is mentioned in Luke 8, a chapter after a "sinful woman" that anointed Jesus with oil. And let's not worry about Dan Brown, eh? Or for that matter Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber. It doesn't help that so many women in the Bible are called Mary, as we try to work out whether Mary Mag was or was not (probably not) Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha.

What does the Bible tell us? That Mary was rich and independent enough to support Jesus. That Jesus had cast demons out of her. That when nearly all the brave male disciples had run away, Mary stood there at the cross, with Jesus's mother and with John, and watched her Lord die. She's not the supreme image of a repentant sinner - she's the embodiment of faith and love for Jesus. She's one who stuck with him - when all the others had fled. She is persistence and love and dedication personified.

And then very early on the first day of the week - Mary, among those who saw Jesus's last breath, who heard his last words - she's there again. Down at the tomb with a random selection of women and disciples. And she's the one who sees Jesus first.

She may have suffered at the hands of men through history. But not at Jesus' hands, as he gently says, "why are you crying?" And then, "Mary". And looking through her tears she sees her Messiah, her Saviour, restored to life but beautifully changed.  Though you wonder about the hurt of those words - "do not hold onto me" as he makes it clear to her that things aren't the same any more. This isn't just a restoration of the relationships he's had with his friends on earth. There's far more to do now than just hit the road again.

But Mary's going to be the first to take on the new job of what will now become the Church. She leaves the gardens, finds those useless, terrified disciples and becomes the first one to tell greatest news on earth to somebody else. "I have seen the Lord."

And so Mary Magdelene - among the last to see Jesus at his death. The first to see him alive. The first to tell out the Good News. The first apostle - sent to tell the message to the apostles. And the pattern of how the Church should always be. Faithful to Jesus, steadfast in despair, forever loving her Lord. And full of life, as it brings the Good News.


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Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The Immigration Policy of Heaven

Intrigued by a tweet by a Fox News presenter, Carla D'Addesi:

"Heaven has a wall with strict immigration policies. Hell has open borders."

Now obviously this got me thinking about Heaven's immigration policies.

First thing to consider is that heavenly wall, of course. It's definitely there in Scripture. What Donald Trump might call a bigly, beautiful wall. Except that while Trump's wall still only exists in his imagination, the heavenly wall is studied with precious stones.

Of course the heavenly city has walls. A wall is what defines a first-century city. A wall is uncontroversial. Let's talk about the gates. Those bigly, beautiful gates. Made each of a single, huge, wonderful pearl.  Goodness knows where God found oysters that big. But then God's creativity has no end.

The gates have a flaw. Well, gems often do, don't they? These gates have the same problem that my old nan's gate used to have. They don't close. My nan's gate just used to warp in bad weather. But these just don't need to, as there is no night. And when there is no fear, who needs to shut the gate? Heaven is, apparently, like the houses of old London Town, where you could all leave the doors open and nobody would ever thieve. The gates are always open, so you can just wander in. In my Nan's street this was actually because nobody had anything of value. But here - it's because everything's free.

But there's obviously an immigration policy. Because St John tells us who's not in the city. Now it's not a racial exclusion policy. Because "The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it." That's right. Including Mexicans. But you can't get in if you're deceitful, or apparently if you're an adulterer. Hard words for some.

But Jesus also gives us an illustration of the entry processes. And first up, it feels a bit like those channels at the airport. One says "EU, EAA and Swiss Citizens" or some such  and the other, is for the others. Obviously after Brexit the signs will say "People who are like us" and "People who aren't". And one channel will be empty because British people will no longer be able to afford to fly. And the other will be empty because who would want to come to a bitter, self-hating, others-hating, impoverished place? But I'm sure the Executive lounge will still be busy. But I digress. That's Brexit Britain. Let's talk about the New Jerusalem.

So there's a fast-track into the kingdom of Heaven. A lovely passport for the natural born citizens. Maybe it's even blue. And those that get the fast-track are, we're told, tax-collectors, prostitutes, and children (who seem to get their own, native, representatives in the immigration process). Unprotected women, orphans, refugees get favourable treatment. Immigrants and refugees just wander in - after all, God used to be one. Maybe God still is.

And then - funny thing, a bit like some tax havens. You can be a citizen if you've large amounts invested in heavenly securities. Basically it's an exchange rate thing. Build up your treasure on earth and it's subject to a sudden depreciation. But if your treasure is invested in heaven they'll let you in. And if you've looked after  the Lord of Heaven on earth - whether he was hungry, thirsty or in prison - he'll let you in. But be careful. He may not have looked too kingly.

And I know what you're going to say. Just wander along with your "Salvation by Faith" visa and you'll be through the executive lounge before you know it.  But do you know how many questions St James will need you to answer before you get through that way? Forget St Peter and his keys. It's James and his clipboard you'll have to worry about.

The nasty tweet that inspired this has a nasty response. A cartoon of a line of well-ordered Americans waiting to be checked off by St Peter, while a Mexican goes over the wall. Well  apart from the hint that Trump's wall is gonna be no use if he ever finds someone to pay for it - that's what Jesus says happens as well. They'll (we'll?) all be queuing up neatly to be let in for being nice and white and respectable - and those who get  nothing in this world  will go over the wall, sneak through the gates - even clutch on the coat-tails of a scruffy Jewish prophet.

Oh yeah. The Jews. Did I mention how you've got to become a part of them to get in? It is the new Jerusalem, after all.

Me? I'll be praying to get in as one that escapes from fire. My claim to citizenship will be that I know the king and he's paid my fare for me. And I pray he nods me through on that basis. But here's my conclusion.  Hell has open borders, because someone broke the wall down one Friday night. But it's a free country, is Hell. You don't have to leave if you don't want to. And the gates of Heaven are wide open. The immigration policy is terribly lax. But you've got to be prepared to love your fellow-citizens. And God knows, they're a disreputable lot. Maybe some would rather stay in the other place.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Festival of Frogs

As the warm weather progresses we felt it right to acknowledge the spiritual significance of frogs.

Unfortunately the only parable we know about frogs is that story about the one in the well that can't see much sky. We did talk about liturgically dropping them down the Legendary Endless Well, but when we did a test-drop it went "splat" rather than "splash". Clearly not as bottomless as we thought. Or it really has been a dry summer.

Still, I would like us all to take away this thought.

A frog doesn't dream of lordship. Doesn't stress itself with ambition. Doesn't reach for the sky - even that patch it could see from the bottom of a well, if it hadn't died tragically when it landed.

No,  frogs swim about, free. Mate once a year, with reckless abandon, for about a week. Slink through the dewy grass of morn exulting in the sheer stuffness of things.

And then get tragically strimmed. Or torn to pieces by a cat. Or eaten by a dog. It ain't easy being green.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Diary of an Ex-Clergy of the Church of England

Monday: Check to see what the Church of England has been up to now. Probably ordaining eggs or marrying Pokemons. Read the Telegraph. An article on how useless the Archbishop of Canterbury is and how George Carey was better. Make a witty comment on Twitter about how useless the Church of England is.

Tuesday: Read in the Mail that you have to be a member of the Communist Party, a witch, or - worse - a Remainer to be allowed to be ordained in the Church of England these days. Write a witty comment on Facebook about how useless the Church of England is. Thank goodness I've resigned and don't have to think about this any more. 

Wednesday: I see on the BBC web page that a vicar has carried out a blessing service for two gay clergymen who have had a civil partnership. Disgusting. When I was a young priest, homosexuals were supposed to keep very quiet about it and go around calling each other names like Alice. I regret that the glory has departed. Although at least the gay clergymen were men.

Thursday: I write a blog post about how the Church of England has fallen. Some clergy these days did not go to even a minor public school. No wonder they do not understand how to be closet homosexuals properly.

Friday: A vicar in Lincolnshire has received a fine for speeding. This is what happens once you separate the clergy from the Establishment. Once upon a time you could be 4 times over the limit, give the traffic constable the appropriate handshake, and receive a merry "on your way, Sir!" without even troubling the scorer. This is not the Church of England I grew up in, and then left because it was not the Church I grew up in.

Saturday: A wedding car has broken down on the A509. In many ways a parable for the state of the Church of England. Serves them right. I don't suppose that the bride is a virgin. That is how standards have slipped.

Sunday: As I conduct Divine Worship I rejoice that I am now completely free of the Church of England. It was a wrench to leave but now it never crosses  my mind.

Friday, 13 July 2018

A Poem for Flying Ants Day

They fly so high
into the sky
little fly-
ing ants.

Nude ants
do their new dance
which works if you're from Harrogate
and I ripped off the joke from Keith Jarrett
who I always confuse with Keith Thomas
who wrote the "seminal"
Religion and the Decline of Magic.
But that's not really important now.
Because there's flying ants, which are tragic.
But Nude Ants is an album you can listen to more than twice.
Cool. Nice.

A million mites
take their flights
to seek the queen
they've never seen

And so one lucky get
will meet his Juliet
but when his ardour's done
his wings fall off. His life is gone.
Death death death death
Death death death death
Death death death death.

The others, bound
to fly around
then  sink to the ground
and if they fall in a pond, they/re drowned
and eaten by a fish.
Death death death death
Death death death death
Death death death death
Death death death death

Does God cry
when you die
little fly-
ing ant?
Is there a place
where this race
 receives grace
little ant?
Death death death death
Death death death death
Death death death death
Death death death death


Mellissa Sparrow (Mrs)



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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

"If He Had Broken the Law then He Would Have Been Sinful"

Based on this theological reflection by Floridian pastor, Paula White.

Moses: Murdered an Egyptian.

King David: Ate the priest's bread.

Jesus: Claimed to be God (blasphemy)

St Stephen: Blasphemy

Early Christians: Refused to declare Caesar as Lord. (treason)

The American Revolutionaries (treason)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (conspiracy to murder)

Now I'm not saying you should just go out there and drive too fast. And we all like a lawful society  But crimes ain't always sins. That's all I'm saying.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

New Readings of Scripture

Based on Matt's Tweet: 


Then he said to another man, "Follow me." And the man said to him, "I will follow you. But maybe not till next Thursday?" And he said to him, "O ye of little faith...."




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Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

Trump-Baby Nigel

Nigel Farage downs a few and then complains about the Trump baby blimp. Warning : This is a link to the Daily Express.

After all, we've all seen the way that Donald Trump is always dignified in the way he treats his enemies, former friends and disabled journalists. And, of course, we know about his habit of stealing women's cats. [Hnaef - can you check if I've got this right?"] So we know what we've got here is the Right, which complaints about people being "politically correct" getting all touchy when it's applied to them.

The apotheosis of this attitude occurs in the comments below the line. Don't go there. I do this so you don't have to. But here is "Birdymum".

 "Your point needs to be made over at the
snowflake led Guardian"

That's right. A person getting upset about a balloon has referred to other people as snowflakes. I guess it's a case of snowflake, melt thyself.

This is what Nigel Farage said about free speech a couple of months ago:

And yet curiously when it's his mate being satirised, free speech isn't so free. It's almost like what Nigel Farage wants, is free speech that agrees with him. We treated Nigel Farage like a joke. He isn't a joke. He's a demagogue whose former party, and then Leave campaign, has used constant racist hints to get votes. He has pursued a vendetta against an organisation that he hates, to the harm of this country, and especially to the harm of the people he persuaded to follow him. And now seems to think he and his chums are entitled to protection from ridicule.

People with this attitude have more power than they used to have. And they have thin skins. Brexit in this country, Trump's election, were the result of the powerful but not quite in charge, persuading  the nervous, suspicious and resentful that it was that other elite that was doing them down. If you're in favour of free speech but only if you like the speech, if you're part of the elite yet define those parts of the "elite" that are the real elite - if you campaign against migrants while being married to people who've come from other countries - then you're a hypocrite. You're dangerous. And we need to ensure that the counter-message is more compelling, and more truthful, than that.

So for complaining about the Trump-baby, while demanding free speech, Farage is a snowflake. A 100%, 6-sided, perfectly symmetrical crystal that melts when daylight falls on it. He'll be back in  the game now, sensing the chance to apply his bile to the Government's attempted negotiating position. His old party's leader is meanwhile claiming that Tommy Robinson is a free-speech martyr not a dangerous twerp who could have caused a number of trials to collapse. These are dangerous times. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, at the tip of every iceberg there's a snowflake.

Want to support this blog?
Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

World Cup / Wedding Clashes

One of those things that cause much consternation in the papers and in cyberspace, when people's weddings clash with football fixtures.

And it's a real shame that the football match this afternoon clashes with  Hamwise and Gadgmir's handfasting.

Still, you've got to make sacrifices.

So we've moved the ceremony to September.