|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Of all the critiques of the Ten Commandments I have encountered, it was that of a twelve old girl which was most powerful and poignant. This was many years ago, during a confirmation class I was running. We had looked at various aspects of Christian Faith and were exploring its living out. The Ten Commandments were an obvious element for reflection in this, especially as, like many English churches, they were displayed prominently, alongside the Apostles Creed, on either side of the altar (communion table) in our village church. Typically, they did not evoke much reaction from young people seeking to be confirmed: either because many of the components (such as ‘do not murder’) were fairly easily agreed, or, most often, because confirmands were shy about entering into religious debate with older people. There are ways of changing that, and perhaps today younger people may be more self-assertive, but in general my experience is that confirmation classes can sometimes be hard going for all concerned! Consider my surprise then, when this twelve year old girl, who, even in other contexts, hardly ever said a word in public, suddenly launched an outburst, full of both vehemence and reason. ‘This is shocking, and abusive’, she said, ‘how can this be in the Bible? I cannot accept it.’ Her protest was about a number of things but especially the fifth commandment: ‘honour your father and your mother’. ‘How on earth can I do that?’, she said, ‘when my father so mistreated my mother and left myself and my family when I was so tiny’…
‘The Body doesn’t lie’, they say. Well, certainly it can powerfully reveal and prompt us to the truth. Years ago, for example, I remember a yoga teacher asking me to curl up into the foetal position and give myself a hug, expressing my love for myself. But I simply couldn’t manage it. I took up position, but my arms just wouldn’t do it. Even when I actively exercised my mind to give myself the appearance of a hug, my body would not obey. For you cannot simply command love. It has to be received, acknowledged, and embodied. Or, to put it another way, love has to be breathed in and breathed out. All of this takes us to the heart of Jesus’ teaching about the commandments (in Mark 12.28-34), and to the core of the Biblical tradition…
How many of us know Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? It is a fabulous story, both for children, and adults. Indeed, apart from being a delightful work of imagination, it is, the scholars say, full of social satire. Today we will struggle to identify all the political and religious connections, but some are still relevant. Consider for instance the words of the White Queen, when Alice asserts that she can’t believe in impossible things. "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." The author, Lewis Carroll, who was himself a clergyman, may perhaps be satirising the Church at this point. Sometimes, he seems to being saying, the Church can imply that Christian Faith involves trying to believe, and digest, a whole number of strange things. Isn’t that a truth of how the Church has sometimes carried on? Poor old Galileo, Darwin, and other great scientists, have, for example, sometimes got it in the neck when the Church has closed its mind to reason and insisted on impossible things – like the idea of the sun orbiting the earth, rather than vice versa, or insisting on theories of special creation rather than evolution. Well, the Christian Faith does involve far more than we can touch and measure. Yet it does not require us to swallow impossible things. Faith and Reason, spirit and mind, are supposed to be critical friends, not implacable enemies. Much more importantly, as our Gospel reading tells us today, whilst vital, neither Faith nor Reason are the heart of things. Only love – the love we see in Jesus – is the be all and end all…
for Trinity Sunday 15 June 2014 by Jon Inkpin and Penny Jones
What kind of heretics are we? I sometimes ponder this question when Trinity Sunday comes around. Like the early church theologian Basil the Great, I suspect that whenever we speak of God we are risking heresy. For though we can know aspects of the energies of God, none of us know God in God-self. This because the doctrine of God as Holy Trinity is a proclamation of what is vital in our shared Christian Faith. Yet it is also an invitation to humility in the face of God’s indescribable mystery. As human beings we can, and often should, speak of our experience of God. At our very best however, we are little more than small children dipping out toes into the astonishing ocean of God’s love. We see so little and what we do see is very partial. We must humble ourselves to know more of the fullness of God. Sadly Christians are not always so humble. We have thus often ended up fighting over the very thing – God – which can bring us together. Can we do better?...