Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 4

You stand alone.  Around you, others have met, been met, moved on.  Disappointment flushes through you, and drains out again through the soles of your shoes.  Rational thought steps up: they missed their connection; they’ll be on the next train.  You’ll wait, get another coffee, make the most of an unwanted situation.  Time passes.  A train pulls in.  Again, they are not on it.  Another emotion floods your lungs, stealing your breath: has something happened to them, something bad?  How will you know?  What can you do?  Rational thought is overwhelmed; lurid scenarios flicker across the screen of your mind...

Imagine.  Savour the anxiety of waiting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 3

From where you are sat, you can also see the Departures and Arrivals Boards, turning over and over: a thousand passenger stories told in a form that makes 140 characters look superfluous.  At last – does it seem like an age? – the train you have been waiting for pulls in.  You fold your paper; tip the paper cup and peer through the mouth-hole to check, again, that you drank all your coffee.  A human swarm builds up behind the gate; their footsteps raise a droning noise; stretches into single-file, bursts through and fans out again.  You look, attentive for one form among the crowd.  They are not there.  Perhaps they are somewhere in the middle of the press of others also pushing through?  But no, the tail-end has passed on now.  Perhaps they were held-up, getting off the train: a bag to pull down from the overhead rack; they’ll appear any moment, slightly flustered, apologising profusely for having kept you?  The moments pass.  They are not there.

Imagine.  Savour the prolonging of waiting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 2

You’re in plenty of time, so you purchase a coffee and a paper, and settle yourself in a seat across the concourse from the barrier between you and the platforms.  From here, you can keep half an eye on comings and goings: those arriving off trains, stepping through the gates, pausing to find their bearings before plunging on towards their final destination.  Some are met, by those who came here for the same reason you did: you smile to note this but, ultimately, you care as little about their meeting as they have any awareness of yours.  You unfold the paper, turn to the sports pages, wonder at the rise and fall of fortunes, glance at your watch, search your pockets for a pen and tackle the crossword or Sudoku.

Imagine.  Savour the distraction of waiting...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 1

Imagine that you are at a railway station, waiting for someone who is important to you: your mum or dad, perhaps; or your best friend; or your husband or wife.  Their train isn’t due in for a while – you have got there in good time, so as not to miss them, not to keep them waiting.  Your heart is filled with anticipation – you’ve been looking-forward to this moment for, well, it feels like a long time.  You imagine the moment, when you will see them for the first time: how will the meeting go?  Who will speak first, or will you both speak at the same moment, stop mid-sentence, laugh...and plunge back in at the same moment?

Imagine.  Savour the sweetness of waiting...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Advent : Absent

Advent begins this weekend.  Advent, Christmas and Epiphany make up my favourite time of the liturgical calendar, and each year for the past several I have posted a daily Advent calendar.  I intend to do so again this year, though it might not turn out to be daily.

Those of us who hold Jesus to be King over all creation are able to speak of the experience of relationship with him, through the presence of the Holy Spirit with us.  But we must also speak of the experience of Jesus’ absence, for he is not here: he is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory, from where he will one day return.  Having chosen to take on our humanity, even though his humanity has been brought out of death by the Holy Spirit, Jesus is not omnipresent.  Instead, he sent the Holy Spirit, to be our comforter and our counsellor in his absence.

The purpose of Advent is to help us to live with the absence of the One in whose presence we long to be.  We live immersed in a culture of instant gratification, and must train ourselves in order to be counter-cultural.  Advent is given as a gift, by which we must first own our experience of absence – the sweet tension of anticipation, of hope; or the insecurity that whispers, will he come back for you?; or the abandoning of dreams; or...Only once we have owned our experience of absence can we occupy ourselves rightly while we wait.

And so this year I will start out exploring Absence, and we shall see where we go from there...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Does God Have A Bias To The Poor?

One of the cherished mantras of Liverpool Diocese is former Bishop David Sheppard’s contention that God has a bias to the poor.  But this is too incomplete a claim.

God has a bias to his creation, and a bias to the place of humanity within his creation.  God has a bias to justice, not simply because God has a bias to the poor but because God knows what injustice does to both the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless.

Consider Jesus’ encounter with a young man of privilege and influence, traditionally known as the rich young ruler.  Here is a man who loves God, who desires to live for God; who is aware of his need for God.  And Jesus, we are told, looks into this man, and loves him.  Not loves what his released resources could do for others: loves him.  Jesus does not have a particular bias to the poor.  But the thing Jesus knows is holding this man back from fully living the life God hopes for him is his attachment to his wealth and his own control of how it is deployed.  As it turns out, this is a sacrifice too great, and Jesus and the young man part, both saddened by the encounter.

Consider also the woman who pours expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet, scandalising those who watch, who protest that the perfume could have been sold and the money used to minister to the needs of the poor.  While ulterior motive plays it part, we would be harsh to judge that there was no concern for the poor.  Indeed, Jesus takes for granted that there should be, in responding that the poor will always be with us, for us to draw-into a more inclusive society.  But, just as it is possible to use concern for the poor as cover for embezzlement – or indeed to set out with genuine concern for the poor and succumb to temptation – so it is possible to have genuine concern for the poor without concern for God’s concerns: such a position might be expressed through genuine hatred of the rich(er than me).

God has a bias to the men and women of privilege and influence working in the London Stock Exchange, and a bias to the men and women camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral.  It is both a bias of invitation and a bias of challenge: of inclusion and of judgement.  Jesus compels us to look at each one with love, seeing great potential: extending the invitation to be embraced by love; and the challenge to be transformed by love.

All Saints' Day

Jesus And The London Stock Exchange

Jesus told a parable about three men who were each entrusted with an enormous amount of someone else’s money: two-hundred times the average annual wage, one-hundred times the average annual wage, and twenty times the average annual wage.  The man entrusted with two-hundred times the annual average wage speculated, doubling the amount, and for this he was richly rewarded.  The man entrusted with one-hundred times the annual average wage also speculated, also doubling the amount, and for this he also was richly rewarded.  The man entrusted with twenty times the annual average wage buried the treasure in the ground, where it would be safe: and on presenting his master with his original capital investment, was punished for not having even placed the money with the bank, to earn a small amount of interest.

Would Jesus protest the London Stock Exchange, and, if so, what exactly would he protest about?

Firstly, he would not protest against the activity of the Stock Exchange, the high-risk high-reward approach to putting other people’s money to work and taking a significant share of the potential reward.

Rather, his protest would be on the grounds that the speculators and those whose money they invest fail to acknowledge that all that they have to speculate with comes from God, and that we will be held accountable by God for what we have done with his investment.

As a nation, we are among the wealthiest people on earth: if your annual salary is £25,000 you are in the top 1% richest people in the world.  And yet we have chosen to live beyond our means, running up an unbearable debt burden while failing to address global inequality, beyond the level of engagement necessary to salve our conscience.

Those things Jesus would protest the London Stock Exchange over, he would protest the Occupy London protesters over too.  We are all in this together.

Everyone wants to co-opt Jesus for their cause; Jesus wants to co-opt everyone for his cause.