Thursday, 21 January 2010

Anniversary waltz

Last Sunday I went to a service of unity at Sacred Heart Church in Blackpool. It was organised, I think, by the Methodist Church and was reasonably well attended. It was an hour of reflections, prayers and Scripture readings on the theme of light and darkness; and it was very well done and moving. In between the readings and so on there was excellent, loud and joyful praise led by the music ministry from two of the Churches. I suspect that Sacred Heart hasn't experienced the like of that praise for many a year. The music did not make me think nostalgically about the hymn singing at the various Sunday Masses I go to.

Anyway there we were, gathered together from our different traditions, doing what the Lord Jesus asked us to do: to be one. So, in the time of Prayer for Christian Unity, we got together and danced the anniversary waltz and, no doubt we will gather together and dance next year around the same time. That's how anniversaries work. There was no doubting the genuineness of those present and the pleasure of meeting together. But, while the week of Prayer for Christian Unity is to be valued and such meetings to be encouraged, you have to ask the question:Is that it?

The service was led by a a very pleasant woman who was the secretary for the local Council of Churches. I suppose I knew vaguely of its existence but that's about it. What does it do? When and where does it meet? Who is part of this Council and what sort of feedback, connection and consultation is there to the pewfodder? I cannot speak for the Methodists and Anglicans but, from the RC point of view, I feel the return of an old and reliable friend: communication or not as the case may be. I intend to do a seperate post on this, so let's move on.

Christian Unity is urgent, it is a command of the Lord, not a polite suggestion. Praying once a year and meeting during one week each year is just about a start. Now, I know there are big issues of doctrine, practice, organisation, authority and so on that seperate us, but these are not up to us to deal with; bigger fish than us swim in that pool (maybe one or two pirhanas as well).
But we should not hide behind the big issues nor use them as reasons for not meeting, sharing with and getting to know our non-Catholic but authentically Christian sisters and brothers. After all, we share the same Spirit and acknowledge the same Lord and Saviour.
Now,maybe there are all sorts of activities going on out there and maybe I should stop blogging and get out more. But I don't know what is happening and that brings us back to the issue of communication.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The name of Allah(2)

Whilst we might deplore the violent reaction of the Malaysian Muslims, it does tell us how highly Muslims value the name of Allah and how openly they are prepared to acknowledge and defend the use of the name. So where do we Christians stand in relation to the Holy Name of Jesus? Do we stand comparison with the fervent respect that Muslims accord to the name of Allah? Whilst there has always been a tradition in Catholic Christianity of devotion to the Holy Name, in practice we do very little to show what the name means to us and to oppose the improper use of the name of Jesus or Jesus Christ which, sadly, is all too common nowadays. It would be true to say that "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ" are used more nowadays in public as forms of cursing or swearing than they are in a reverential or holy sense. In films, books on TV Jesus is casually, deliberately and intentionally, in some cases, blasphemed and his name placed on a par with other swear words. If it is not the use of the name of the Saviour of the world, it is an equally casual recourse to the word God to express anger, frustration etc. Often, nowadays this takes the form of the three in one words omygod or omigod, so beloved of young people and so frequently encountered on TVand so on. Without pushing my paranoia too far, I suspect that quite often there is a calculated use of the words God, Jesus etc. with the purpose of offending, trivialising, mocking or whatever.

It is to the credit of Muslims that they would not tolerate such profane use of the name Allah. And it is to the shame of Christians that we so often fail to defend the names we hold sacred and to challenge a society that has so wrongly and maliciously appropriated them for more malign and unpleasant uses.

We need to look again at how we really understand, value and revere the names of Jesus and the word God. For a Christian to use the name of Jesus or God blaspehemously is a grave offence
Even in prayer, we should not lightly or casually utter the holy name, which is a whole world of prayer in itself.

And we should begin to learn from our Muslim brothers. I don't mean let's firebomb the BBC , but let's begin to make the case for more respect and to allow the name of Jesus to be raised up high so that eventually every knee will bow at the name of Jesus to the glory of God.

There are prayers and litanies to the Holy Name. Maybe now is the time to begin to reurn them to more general usage. Seek out a prayer and begin to incorporate it into your regular prayer time in reperation for the sins against the Holy Name. You could use a prayer like the "Jesus Prayer" or this one which is the concluding prayer of an old, traditional Litany to the Holy Name.
Lord make us love and fear thy name at all times;
for they are never disappointed of thy guidance,
whom thou dost firmly establish
in thy friendship.
Who livest and reignest world without end.

The name of Allah

Recently there have been some news items about the firebombing of Christian churches in Malaysia.This results from a court decision that allows Christians to use the name of Allah in worship to the distress of some Muslims who believe it to be wrong for non-Muslims to so use the name of god. Apparently, though it is not unusual for Christians in some parts of the Middle and Far East to follow this practice. It raises questions though for Christians as well as Muslims.

I suppose the question that comes to mind is:why would Christians want to use the name Allah at all? It is not scriptural nor is it part of Christian Tradition. Jewish tradition held that the name of God is so sacred it must not be uttered or written. The form it takes in Scripture is that of a four letter shorthand, known as the tetragrammaton, rendered in Christian scripture as Jehovah, Yaweh or variously Lord etc.

The Christian God has no name. What name would you give to God? Paul refers to the nameless God in the Acts of the Apostles when he was preaching in Athens: " Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because as I strolled around looking at your sacred monuments I altar inscribed: to an Unknown God. In fact, the unknown god you revere is the one I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23 Jerusalem Bible).
However, Christians do have a name that is sacred : the name of Jesus. God is revealed in the humanity of Jesus and it is this name which we should revere.

In Acts4:12, Peter and John are before the Sanhedrin and Peter says this about the name of Jesus: "...for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved." The name Jesus means God saves. Again in Acts 9, Jesus commands Ananias in Damascus to go to the blind-struck Saul, saying to Ananias:"Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.I myself will show him much he must suffer for my name".( vv15-16).

Paul in his letter to the Phillipians makes the great statement about the importance of the name of Jesus, when he refers to the prophecy of Isaiah ( 45:23); he says: " And for this God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names, so that all beings in heaven, on earth and in the underworld should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father." ( Phil. 2:9-11). The use of the word Lord links the name of Jesus directly with the unspoken divine name of God.

So, names are very important and names which are held to be holy are more than important. And our belief is that we have been given the name of Jesus which is more than just a name to identify him. It is sacred of itself and contains the power and reality of God. Our Christian understanding of the sacredness of the name of Jesus is somewhat different than that of Jewish or Muslim tradition and, of course, we must believe that it the truth of God that we acknowledge and revere this name above all names. But more of this in the next post.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Take a trip in the Tardis

Well, Dr Who has finally re-generated and become himself, but not himself ( makes sense to Dr Who fans). This transformation took place in his time travelling machine, the Tardis. Any fan knows that the Tardis is an amazing machine that outwardly looks like and has the dimensions of an old-fashioned Police box; but inside it is huge beyond anything you could expect from looking at the outside. And, rather than being fixed in a particular place, it has the capacity to travel to the farthest extent of time and space. The Tardis is a triumph of reality over perception: what you see is less than what you get. So, anyone who enters the little box of the Tardis has access to infinite possibilities.

Little box? Little box? Ah yes! We have little boxes in our churches. They are still known, quaintly, as confessionals, even though the accent on what goes on in them has changed over the years, from confession of guilt for sin to reconciliation. Fewer people enter them these days and, in some places, you might have to make an appointment to do so. ( I wonder who among the disciples acted as diary secretary for Jesus?) But they are still there and still accessible. Your average confessional is about the same size, outwardly as the police box on which the Tardis is modelled; though it lacks the Tardis' internal dimensions. Or does it?
The Tardis is a triumph of reality over perception. Well, so is the confessional. It appears to be a small, dark box with a kneeler and a curtained grill, quite cosy in Winter and a bit stifling in Summer; but this is the perception, not the reality. The reality is that whoever enters the box enters into a different world where Jesus is present in all his fullness to hear, to heal, to forgive and, yes, to reconcile. Of course, it is a priest beyond the curtain but it is not he, of himself, who forgives, heals etc.: it is Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God. The box, does even more than the Tardis, opening inwardly into the infinity that lies beyond time and space. It is far more miraculous than the Tardis could ever be. And it's real.

So, why not think about time travelling for yourself. You won't re-generate but you will be transformed.Why not make make this a regular and frequent encounter. Why not broaden the extent of your experience beyond anything you could imagine and, in the process grow in the knowledge and love of God. It will, finally, lead you to places where the Tardis could never go.