Category Archives: Bulletin

100 Mile Bike Ride For Erdington Food Bank… Sunday 12th July

The weather is dry, the wind speed is low and the ride is on.

We’ve put together a timing sheet so if you are in one of the locations (or somewhere in-between) at the time Giles passes it would be lovely to give him a wave and a cheer to spur him on. As he’s on a strict time schedule he’ll need to whizz by (like the Tour De France Peloton), but slow enough to give you a wave back.

f you would like to support the ride financially, as well as with a wave, the Just Giving Page is now live – www.justgiving.com/fundraising/erdington-foodbank-100-mile-bike-ride ,and if you are able to Gift Aid your donation please that would be fantastic.

Thank you to so many people who have been wonderfully kind and encouraging and asking about the ride so far – it’s been really appreciated.

God Bless, Giles and Nikki

100 Mile Bike Ride Timings and Route

100 Mile Bike Ride Timings and Route

Something for Sunday

This piece about Paul’s letter to the Romans uses the imagined voice of one of the minor but nevertheless important characters in the story of the letters composition.

It’s an old piece of writing from my files but I thought it deserved another outing. I hope you like it.

You probably haven’t heard of me before. It’s not surprising. I don’t really count. My name’s Tertius and I was right there when Paul composed his letter to the Romans. I took it all down at his dictation. Just imagine there he was pacing up and down the room and there I was pen in hand, papyrus before me on the desk, scratching away as fast as I could. It was hard to keep up believe me but I don’t think I missed anything. I got my bit in right at the end. In your way of counting its chapter 16 verse 22. “I Tertius who took this letter down add my Christian greetings”.

It wasn’t easy taking dictation from a man like Paul. He goes at quite a pace and his ideas are quite difficult. I’m not the only one to think that. You look up 2 Peter C3 v 16 and see what the author of that says about Paul’s thought. But say what you like about Paul he’s a kind man, a true pastor, think of that letter he wrote to Philemon. He didn’t bother with a secretary that time. Wrote it in his own hand he did.

So anyway when we’d finished we had a cup or two of wine and some bread and olives. I plucked up courage and asked him about some of the difficult points. About halfway through he seemed to be getting really excited, sweat pouring off him it was, to say nothing of me as I struggled to keep up. It’s the bit you call Chapter 8 the first few verses. That phrase: it seemed to mean such a lot to him-in Christ-he kept saying it-in Christ. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. Tell me Paul I said how would you explain it. How can I explain it to the wife and kids?

Well, said Paul, let me put it this way. What’s your ruling principle? Well I said there’s my concern for my livelihood and my family. That’s pretty important. Perhaps that’s my ruling principle.

Are you sure? said Paul. After all you’ve become a Christian and that’s not always an easy thing to be in this city. This is Corinth after all and we Christians are a small minority here. Master’s don’t like their slaves becoming Christians. The Jews are thought to be bad enough but the Christians are worse.

True enough I replied. I do follow the Christian way and it does mean a lot to me. I believe in love and God’s way of righting wrong. The world seems so brutal and cruel. There has to be a better way-Christ’s way.

Yes, he said, I feel the same. Being a Christian is about following his way. We are as it were incorporated in him. We belong to him. We become part of his household-one of his slaves. You Tertius, as a slave, should understand what that means.

But let’s go deeper, said Paul. What actually is God’s way of righting wrong? Some people say that what God has done to make the world right is to give us commandments to follow. If we follow God’s commandments in a spirit of faithful obedience then this world will be a better place and we will be happier and more fulfilled people. Faithfulness to Gods commands that’s what really counts.

Well I replied, what’s wrong with that.

The problem is replied Paul is that I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. You get trapped. You are constantly under pressure watching every move, every thought, and every motive. The pressure comes from inside and that’s the worst pressure of all. You end up not loving your neighbour as yourself but hating yourself and loathing your neighbour who grinds you down because you feel you haven’t loved him enough. You can make a pretty good stab at living that way and to be honest I did but there’s no real life in it. No joy and peace.

Sin is always there. Always accusing you of not being perfect. It’s what I call the law of sin and death. I contrast it with the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

I wasn’t entirely convinced. After all what’s wrong with people doing good. Mind you he’s right about one thing. A lot of do gooders do look pretty miserable.

So I asked once more. If this isn’t God’s new way of righting wrong what is. At this Paul got really excited-almost choked on an olive. I could see we were getting very close to the heart of his gospel.

For me said Paul the real significance of Jesus is not so much what he did or said but what happened to him People think that I neglect the teachings of Jesus and as you’ll have observed there’s scarcely any reference to them in the letter we’ve written together. The real key to Jesus is the cross and the resurrection.

God sent Jesus to share our earthly life In that life we are subject to all kinds of pressure-temptations-demands that we should live in a particular way and kow tow to all the earthly powers. You and I know how powerful these pressures are. I call them sin because they prevent us from knowing about and sharing in God’s way of righting wrong.

Jesus took all that pressure on himself. He offered himself as a sacrifice for sin. All the earthly powers confronted Jesus on the cross but they couldn’t break him. If Jesus had started a revolt, come down from the cross and then crucified the Romans and the Jews sin would’ve won. You remember the story of Spartacus who led the slave revolt. He was a liberator and he won many victories but in the end he was as much a part of the system of sin and earthly domination as the Romans. They got him in the end and nailed his whole army to crosses all the way down the Appian Way. Here their bodies rotted for three months until they took them down. Sin’s victory!

God’s way of righting wrong is love’s victory not sin’s victory. Jesus free offering of himself is love’s victory and God set’s the seal on that victory by raising Jesus from the dead. Those who belong to Christ’s body as you do Tertius can share that victory. In our lives the ruling principle is no longer fear and sin but the life giving spirit of God whose common name is love.

Paul relaxed. Well Tertius he said. That’s two questions. A question about the law of sin and death and a question about the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Now is that enough do you know what it means now to be in Christ or have you joined the Methodists and everything has to be in threes. OK I said, two’s enough. I’ve got it.

As I hurried home afterwards through the streets of Corinth I looked at the people I passed. Corinth, well you know Corinth, sea port town, full of traders and sailors, prostitutes and pagan priests, slaves and free folk. In truth though none of them are really free any more are you. All of us are slaves to some ruling principle or other. It could be greed or power, fame or lust. People are driven by all sorts of things. One understands that. Some are controlled by their codes of laws and customs some by their desire to appear virtuous in their own eyes and the eyes of others. Some of those are in the Church. At times I’m a bit like that myself.

Paul showed me that for Christians like us our ruling principle needs to be Christ, Christ alone. Christ and his victory which we can share. His spirit has given us new life, new joy and peace. We’re slaves of Christ, we belong to him. Not only humble secretarial slaves like me but Paul as well. We’re all slaves of Christ-part of his household. There wouldn’t be much point in freedom unless it was freedom for a purpose and the gospel gives us that purpose. Love that’s our ruling principle. Not the law of sin and death which grinds us down by constantly accusing us of not being perfect but love.

I felt so glad I’d played my part in bringing the gospel to the sisters and brothers in Rome. Perhaps one day the gospel might reach even further, even, who knows, to the foggy islands of the North West Coast of Europe where the savage barbarians live.

Divine Silence

When I was a minister in Darlington, Co. Durham, the local Roman Catholic parish church was the chapel of a Carmelite Convent and when we had ecumenical services at the church we were joined by the nuns of the order. I say joined as we never saw them, being an enclosed order they were in a transept separated from the rest of the church by an ornate screen. Only the Abbess came to say goodbye with the parish priest at the end of the service. I suspect for those nuns the lockdown we are living through will have had little impact on their daily routine. In Christian monasteries, silent mindfulness became part of the everyday routine in the sixth century after the appearance of a book of monastic principles and guidelines called The Rule of Saint Benedict.

The author of The Rule, Benedict of Nursia, lived during the chaotic last years of ancient Rome, a period of plagues, intolerance, and, for some early Christians, self-isolation. (Sounds familiar!)

Rather than retreat to the desert attempting to imitate Christ in acts of extreme asceticism, Benedict wanted a monastic life that combined ora et labora — work and prayer. It should impose, he thought, “nothing harsh or rigorous.”

The monastic lifestyle may seem stark for modern times, but Benedict’s take on religious contemplation was moderate compared to the experiments of his era. His guidance for monks — which begins with an invitation to listen with “the ear of the heart”, quickly became central to monastic life.

Some 1,400 years after Benedict’s Rules, Thomas Merton’s writings about his experience as an American Trappist monk influenced generations of Christians seeking spiritual healing.

For Merton, like Benedict, being alone in silence was not about withdrawal from the world . Rather, solitude, as the foundation for heightened self-awareness, led to greater compassion for others. Merton expressed this realization, which sustained his lifelong activism in peace and social justice causes, in No Man Is an Island, published in 1955 and now a classic in Christian spirituality.

“We cannot find ourselves within ourselves, but only in others,” he wrote, “yet at the same time before we can go out to others we must first find ourselves.”

Solitude is not an easy practice, but following the way of solitude is not about being perfect. A modern practitioner of monastic solitude Fr. Antony de Mello says “keep it simple and keep it moving”. De Mello focused on reflective silence as a way of detaching from the words, concepts and emotions that can cause trouble. His 1978 bestseller, Sadhana — A Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form, offers practical advice with an encouraging “Well, that’s a good start” message.

When every day conspires against inner peace, moments of solitude are all the more worthwhile. So don’t see the current enforced solitude as a problem but seek it’s blessings.

God bless and stay safe,

Alan.

Seeking Beauty

The Russian novelist Dostoevsky wrote, “Only Beauty will save the world.” With so much ugliness in the world, we can often wonder if the world can be saved.

Yet God has strewn beauty all over the place, but we neglect it: we hurry right by and don’t notice, or we have forgotten to name it when we see it. A dandelion, a carefully arranged place setting, an old photograph, the tree in your garden, a wrinkled face, clouds, a tune, the face in the mirror: beauty is all around, waiting to be noticed, cherished, pointed to, shared. And all of it reveals God’s heart to us. Want to see God? “Every experience of beauty points to infinity” (Hans Urs von Balthasar).

How good of God to stir so much beauty into the mix when He created everything! It could have been all dirt and rock, efficiency and productivity. God, like the artist, created what was unnecessary, inefficient. But God not only left space for beauty, He elevated it to its status as the one thing that thrills the heart and leaves us feeling noble, giving immense dignity to the smallest of his creation.

St. Thomas Aquinas gave us one answer: “God created the universe to make it beautiful for himself by reflecting his own beauty.” God is a great many things – but at the centre of it all, God is beauty. We are created to notice, to be awed, and to be delighted.

We’ve all heard that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but that’s a lie. It’s not a matter of taste, or private preference. When we shrink things down to a private list of what I like or don’t like, we’re the losers. As we explore Beauty, we’ll learn to see better, to see what God sees: every person, every thing, pretty or not, partakes in the goodness and beauty of God. We’re surrounded by it.

There are times when beauty also gets twisted and perverted, and there’s so much desecration. Aren’t we adept at pinpointing what’s ugly when there’s actually beauty there? For instance, there is a beauty in suffering. You may know this from experience. Or the stunning array of colorful leaves in Autumn: what you’re looking at is death.

Faith isn’t merely a belief God exists, or access to help when you’re in trouble, or a free pass to get into heaven. Faith is seeing as God sees. It’s a readiness to be astonished. It’s inefficient and unproductive, this pondering of beauty – and so it’s like prayer, a wasting of time, and yet what we crave deep in our souls. Nothing else really will satisfy.

Paul, from a dark, dank stone prison, wrote, “Whatever is noble, whatever is beautiful, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). God has strewn beauty all over the place. The least we can do is notice. Maybe we will become what we see.

God bless and stay safe,

Alan

Something for Sunday

This piece about Sunday’s epistle from Romans 7 reflects my thinking and reading from a few years back. But I thought it was worth another outing. Some of the references seem a bit dated. I haven’t heard much from Woody Allen recently and as for Alain de Botton he was something of a celebrity a few years back but seems to have dropped below the radar. When he was in the media spotlight I thought he was good value. Anyway with a few amendments here it is.

This is a passage, which has attracted a great deal of comment. Here is St Paul engaged in what seems to be a kind of internal struggle-I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right but I cannot do it. Here Paul sounds like Woody Allen. Not so far fetched really. They’re both Jewish, both interested in religion, both of them seem to have problems with sex and both of them seem to be tortured souls in the modern manner.

Most modern theologians who have studied Woody Allen are agreed that his films are spiritual autobiographies-the film journals of a tortured soul. But was Paul a tortured soul? Modern people are inclined to think so because it makes him seem modern. But is it true?

Some have thought so. They have seen his conversion, so called, as the resolution of his tortured condition-like Wesley having his heart strangely warmed. This is to read Paul through modern blinkers, which is to some degree inevitable. If however we stop thinking of Paul in this way and attend to what he actually wrote it opens up to us a new perspective on Paul in which he seems a lot less like Woody Allen than we’ve been used to thinking. It also makes him stranger.

The key to this perspective is to reject the idea that Paul was converted. Rather Christ called him and in becoming a follower of Christ he had taken the faith of Israel into new uncharted territory. Nothing in his past was entirely rejected. So far as his commitment to the law is concerned he describes himself quite cheerfully as utterly blameless. The Jewish law and more specifically the Ten Commandments prohibit various kinds of behaviour-all, with one exception, avoidable. Murder for instance is avoidable-Paul never murdered anyone –you have probably never murdered anyone. So why this gloomy neurotic tone of voice in which he describes sin as a kind of addiction.

Hardly anyone today thinks that in this passage Paul is talking about his own guilty psychology. He did not experience the law as an intolerable burden and find its demands impossible to live up to. We know this because he says so elsewhere.

So what is Paul on about when he says: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. What exactly is he thankful for? He is a good person, indeed a righteous person. He kept the law. Others can keep it as well. It is holy, just and good. It certainly isn’t redundant. By no means says Paul in another point in the epistle.

Paul’s point isn’t psychological or moral, it’s religious. He doesn’t seek to be a good person, he was that already, nor was he seeking to be a well-adjusted person in the modern manner. What he had discovered through faith in Christ was deliverance from sin-life in the spirit-the X factor-the big plus over what his ancestral faith had offered him and he’d achieved. The whole of the following chapter, Romans 8, is a hymn to joy – a celebration of what life in Christ brings.

But as I’ve already hinted there is one commandment which does not deal with outward actions-that is the commandment against covetousness. This is an inclination of the mind and in the world as we know it it’s impossible to avoid. Truly sins does dwell within us and just as Paul knew it so we too feel its power. This must be what Paul has in mind in this passage.

At its root is the desire we have to possess what our role models desire or to be the person our role model is. This is not because we actually want any of the things they have but because we do not want to think meanly of ourselves alongside others. These feelings lead to resentment, fear and anger. Ultimately it can lead to violence as it led Cain to murder Abel because his sacrifice was not accepted whereas Abel’s was.

Another way of saying this is to say we suffer from status anxiety. Some years ago the philosopher Alain de Botton wrote quite an amusing and insightful book entitled Status Anxiety. There was also a TV documentary, which you may remember. In this the Belgian Socrates takes us to various sites of status anxiety-offices where you status is measured by the size and thickness of your carpet and the position of your parking place. People can be profoundly upset by any challenge to these things.

What is the cure for this? Alain de Botton takes us to view a social gathering of a strange counter-cultural tribe. He turns to the camera and whispers. “These people are Christians”. Its as if we’ve just been brought face to face with a tribe recently discovered living a pre-modern existence in the heart of the Amazonian rain forest.

It’s a garden party and the Christians are obviously having a jolly time. Some seem rather posh others look as if they sell the Big Issue or live out of plastic bags. But they all share a deep unity because they are brothers and sister in Christ. All social distinctions have been relativised because they are part of the body of the Lord.

What this illustration says to me and what Paul is preaching to us is this.

The whole satanic system of rivalry, covetousness, envy, jealousy and resentment can be broken. It’s not so much about faulty psychology as about captivity to an alien power. Jesus by his death on the cross, a death he freely accepted, has broken the power of sin once and for all. We are free. That is why the people at the garden party are having a wonderful time. They may be living in the world but they are no longer enslaved by the world’s values. That is why they are happy and joyful and they’re hearts are at peace. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Status anxiety-social insecurity-the various forms of snobbery, which oppress us in the name of sin all, purged away.

Well isn’t that wonderful. So why are we looking so solemn?

Something for Sunday

Genesis 22:1-14

This is a terrifying story. And whoever wrote it meant it to be terrifying. As the climax approaches no detail is missed.

Abraham builds the altar, carefully laying out the kindling wood. He binds Isaac-once more we are reminded that this is his son. He lays his son on the altar over the wood. He stretches forth his hand. He takes the knife and is poised to strike.

We are spared nothing.

We must remember who Isaac is. Isaac is not simply Abraham’s beloved son. He is Abraham’s entire future. He is God’s promise. In this boy’s life is focussed every saving thing that God has promised to do. In radical obedience to God Abraham tore up his past-now he’s being asked to tear up his future as well.

Stories like this can give the Old Testament a bad name.

God has become a monster. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. For Abraham this is a terrible test. What is to be done? He is committed to radical obedience to God’s commands. But this?

Somewhere in the background to this story is the notion of child sacrifice, a not uncommon practice in the ancient world. This story seems to suggest that God does not really desire this-that he wills life not death-that such practices as human sacrifice can be relegated to the lumber room of the collective mind and that the life of humankind can now move forward onto broad sunlit upland-to coin a famous phrase.

That is a comforting thought. Too comforting!

In truth human sacrifice flourishes in our world. Human life is plentiful and cheap today. In our times millions of people have been judged unworthy of life by the ideologies that have sacrificed them in favour of racial purity, historical necessity, economic efficiency, Liberal Democracy and the honour of God. Christians are not innocent of involvement in these affairs. The dismal roll call continues.

Remember a sunny September morning-various passenger aircraft taking all manner of people to early meetings. The passengers sit back in their seats blissfully confident in the technology that is whisking them across the sky. Suddenly there’s a commotion on the flight deck and ferocious figures burst into the passenger cabin. All are to be sacrificed to appease the honour of God, which is said to be affronted by the culture of the west.

Here’s a similar interpretation. This time one of the victims to be sacrificed to the old gods of violence and national pride had time to write down his reflections in the form of a famous poem. You may know it.

So Abram rose and clave the wood and went

And took the fire with him and a knife,

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first born spake and said, My father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

And builded parapets and trenches there

And stretched forth the knife to slay his son

When lo an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad

Neither do anything to him thy son.

Behold! Caught in the thicket by its horns

A ram. Offer the ram of pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe one by one.

Many people have difficulty reading the Old Testament as Christians-this passage perhaps particularly. But we should always remember that as Christians we receive the Old Testament from the hands of Jesus himself. So when the risen Jesus meets the travelers on the Emmaus road we are told that he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. What then did Jesus have to say about this passage? We’d love to know just as we’d love to eavesdrop on the conversation between Abraham and Isaac on their trip to the mountaintop.

Where then is Jesus to be found in this passage? Is he the ram, caught in thicket-the sacrificial animal provided by God so that no other human sacrifices need be offered? That’s what I thought at first but the tradition is not encouraging. It sees Isaac as Jesus bearing on his shoulders the wood for his own sacrifice.

Listen to the Epistle to the Hebrews:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac: and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son. Of whom it was said, Through Isaac shall thy seed be called. Accounting that God was able to raise him even from the dead, and from the dead he did, in a sense, receive him back.

Isaac is offered up, as is Jesus. But Isaac is offered up to satisfy the savage destructive impulses of God whereas Jesus offers himself to satisfy and purify the savage and destructive impulses of humanity. Isaac is spared whereas Jesus is not spared but Jesus receives vindication and inaugurates in his own person a new humanity and a new mode of being. Some have said of the passion and resurrection stories that they are in a way a kind of reflection on the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22.

An important aspect of the story emphasised by some but not all of the commentators and brought out by some but not all of the translations is that there are two gods involved here. There is the savage tribal god who demands human sacrifices and there is the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ and friend of Abraham who demands mercy not sacrifice. They can be distinguished by the names used.

What Abraham is about is sorting out which of these Gods is to claim his allegiance. This is almost as terrifying a matter as the story itself because one God seems to hide behind the other. The journey to the truth lies along the road of radical faith and obedience and through the experience of God as foresakenness. In a sense Abraham’s journey is one that has to be made by all people in all times. Always we are tempted to worship the tribal God who is just a projection of own selfishness, greed and competitive violence. True faith in the true God lies beyond that-beyond greed and violence to an embrace of justice and peace.

Are we doing what is needful to walk with the true God in faith and obedience? Are we making the trip to the mountaintop of the wild and windy mountain in order to encounter the angel of the Lord? I’d like to think we were but the evidence around us is not encouraging.