Monday, 27 June 2011

Pakistan:Blasphemy Law

I am indebted to Michael from ACN UK for leaving me a comment and a request to draw attention to the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan, an upcoming rally and an online petition.Below is Michael's comment which is self-explanatory.

" Protect Christians and other minorities in Pakistan - sign Aid to the Church in Need's petition to change blasphemy laws.

Backing ACN's call to change Pakistan's notorious Blasphemy Law, Britain's leading Catholic, Cardinal Keith Patrick O Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews said: " I have been aware of the persecution of Christians and those of other faiths in Pakistan and I am only too happy to endorse this petition."
The laws have been cited as the the cause of 14 seperate attacks on Christians over the last two months and the deaths of at least fifty Christians in the last decade as well as many Muslims.
Please show your solidarity with Pakistan's faithful - and ask for peace, justice human rights for all people of Pakistan - by signing our petition

The petition will  be handed in at 10  Downing Street on Saturday in a march organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association in association with other organisations, including Christian charities and representatives of the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities.

ACN UK Director, Neville Kyrke-Smith, who will be among those handing in the petition at 10 Downing Street said: " Blasphemy for us is just a word. For Christians and all people in Pakistan, the accusation of blasphemy can lead to death - it did for Shabaz Bhatti, Pakistan's      minister for minorities. Please sign for freedom and protection of religious minorities... you will be helping the Christian and other communities who suffer intolerance and persecution due to the present blasphemy laws."
John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press Information, will be one of the speakers at the protest.

Please sign the petition  and forward to others. Do join us at this urgent protest on Saturday 2nd July beginning at 11.00am at the High Commission for Pakistan, Lowndes Square London, SW1X 9JN."

Thursday, 23 June 2011

God's secret shoppers

Big stores employ people to go round their shops to experience and report back on how customers are treated;on how well or how badly staff are doing what they are supposed to do.
Well, suppose God had his own secret shoppers, people he sent to test out how well his operation on earth was working and how well those in his service were doing their jobs. Can you imagine how God must feel when he sees how his people sometimes treat each other; not in the big Christian killing Christian way but in the small everyday encounters by which most of us live out our faith!
I was talking to somebody who told me that as she was leaving church the other day, she was asked by a couple  if they may go in to say a prayer, though the church was due to close. It seemed that one of the two was a Catholic but hadn't been to church for years. They were told yes, go in light a candle and pray. Now maybe they were secret shoppers; maybe God put a prompting in their hearts to pray at that moment and, on this occasion, the secret shoppers got the right response. Who knows what the long term impact might be in that particular situation. Alternatively what it might be if they had been rebuffed in any way.
Now whether or not God has his secret shoppers - and I have no doubt that God does - the important point is that how we treat others, especially in our "holy places" is crucial, not only for our own spiritual well-being, but also for the extension of God's redemptive plan. It is through such small actions that the Kingdom grows or fails to grow. It is our part of the deal. Our salvation obliges us to share in building this Kingdom and we are accountable ultimately to God for the times we build and the times when, by our attitude or response, we not only fail to build but destroy what Kingdom life may exist in those we treat badly.
Sadly, there are often other spirits than the Holy Spirit, that dictate how we behave towards each other, no less inside our church communities than outside. But, if we let the Holy Spirit be our guide then we need not fear the secret shoppers and we can get on with building the Kingdom.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

South Sudan

Aid to the Church in Need reports on the serious and continuing problems on the border of North and South Sudand here for link. Please pray for those Christian and Muslim people whose prolonged suffering continues.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Forgiveness too.

One of the things that the Bible is critical of is our love of gossip. Everybody gossips, listening to and passing on rumours, information and so on. Sometimes gossip is harmless, but more often than not  gossip is motivated by some very unpleasant attitudes. We like to condemn those we don't like or those who we believe have sleighted us in some way. Sometimes it's a way of hitting back, sometimes it is born out of smug selfrighteousness and often there is a lot of scapegoating present. We like to get other people on our "side". Gossip can be thoroughly unpleasant and dangerous. It is particularly dangerous to our spiritual health which is why the Bible warns against it.
In the last post on forgiveness, the act of forgiving was seen to open up the possibility of healing the person who had committed the offence as well as benefitting the forgiver. Not so with gossip.
Gossip heals and benefits neither party. When we gossip and build up our malicious image of an individual, we are refusing to forgive. More than that we are blocking the flow of grace and implying that the person is beyond change. Gossip is profoundly un-Christian. It does not flow from our God-given ability to love and forgive. It fails to see another person as made in the image and likeness of God.  It refuses to allow God's grace to heal and it binds the gossiper into sin. We might feel "righteous" but that is self-righteousness which is the direct opposite of the rigtheousness that comes from God.
Instead of gossiping, then, the Christian response is to avoid this "occasion of sin" and pray for all parties involved in the gossip. That way we can begin to follow the demand of Jesus that we love and pray for our enemies and those who use us badly.  Sometimes we need to go to God first for him to heal us of this sin; afterwards it is much easier. We should not let the same lips that praise God do the work of the devil.


Yesterday's Gospel, Matthew 6: 7-15, has Jesus teaching the disciples to pray what we now call, the Lord's Prayer. The passage concludes : "Yes, if you forgive others their failings, you're heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either."
It is the word "failings" that is of particular interest in this translation, the Jerusalem Bible. We are more familiar with trespasses or debts. The word is interesting because it can be interpreted more widely than meaning the things done to a person; or not done as the case may be. It is possible to see the word extended to the aspects of the person's character or personality that causes them to sin in the first place : the less savoury bits of our human nature. In this interpretation we go beyond forgiving the words or actions that offend us and we begin to understand the source and by forgiving  the underlying  human weakness, not just the outcome of that weakness, we open up the possibility for God's grace not only to forgive but also to heal.
If we adopt this approach, it raise big issues about how we relate to others, particularly those we don't care for.

Care not killing

Care not Killing campaigns against euthanasiaand advocates for better pallaiative care for terminally people. I have created a link to their website. See sidebar for link.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Catholicism v Nationalism 2

In the last post of this title, I expressed concern over the history of Croatian Catholicism and its identification with extreme nationalism, manifested in acts and behaviour that demonstrate not a love for one's country alone, but applied hatred for those who are neither Croatian nor Catholic.
The history of Croatia during World War 2 and the atrocities committed are well documented.
Equally, it is true that Archbishop Stepinac suffered under the post-War communist regime and suffered because of his faith. However, he was also the senior churchman in Croatia during the brutal reign of the Ustashe, a group of people so  evil they even managed to sicken the Nazis.
Whether or not Stepinac actively supported  the Ustashe, his failure to openly and robustly reject and condemn them stands against him. It is highly probable that elements of Catholic clergy were vigorous supporters as we have seen with Serbian Orthodox clergy both during the Balkan and Kosovo wars. 
Archbishop Stepinac was not martyred for his faith, he was imprisoned and, no doubt, suffered. But, the question arises: if he was prepared to oppose and suffer by standing against the ruthless Communist authorities, why did he not stand openly against the Fascist Croatians?
Perhaps the answer lies in the unholy mixture of Catholicism and Nationalism. The Communists were not only anti-Catholic but had as a basic tenet of their system the eradication of religion. Stepinac therefore was right to oppose this in support of his faith and his flock. However, the evil
of the Ustashe was cloaked in the Catholic Faith. These brutal murderers were Catholic and probably fervent in their faith. Though what understanding of Catholic Christianity allows the brutality and oppression they committed is quite baffling.
So, the malign mixture of faith and nationalism tainted the Catholic Church and compromised Archbishop Stepinac. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the World. When we narrow that idea down to a particular nation or political system, right or left, we reject all that the Church and Scripture teach us about God's love. We take that beautiful and noble idea and drag it through the dirt for political power or national pride. We create a Via Dolorosa that ends in a new Calvary.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Southern Sudan

Sudan has been riven by division and civil war for 20 years. Next month Southern Sudan is set to become an independent state. The largely Christian country will have to begin almost from scratch to build an economy and a social structure for the governance of the country. Northern Sudan military forces are still posing a threat to the South. There is clearly a long way to go before independence becomes a solid reality. An article from Zenit here gives further background.
There is a real need for prayer in support of Christians and others in Southern Sudan who have undergone years of persecution and still have a long journey ahead of them to be truly free.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Supporting small business: Cafod campaign

Cafod is running a campaign to encourage the Government to support the development of small businesses in developing countries through International Development funds. For further info and to add your name to the petition to Andrew Mitchell, Development Secretary, contact Cafod at this link

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Nationalism and Catholicism

See here Cranmer has a post on his blog today about the Pope's visit to Croatia and his urging of that country to join the EU despite fierce opposition around the loss of national identity. Read the post for a well informed analysis.
My issue is about some points raised in the post about Croatian Catholicism and Croatian  nationalism, if it is possible to seperate the two in practice. Given the history of Croatia during World War 2 and the more recent events in the wars in Yugoslavia in the eigthies and the atrocious ways in which "fervent" Catholics treated their enemies, armed and unarmed, the question arises about the nature and the influence of Croatian Catholicism. Going back even farther to World War 1, we have the Vatican encouraging the "Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire in attacks on Orthodox Serbia, leading to religious and ethnic cleansing and, of course, the Great War itself. The kind of nationalism that has bedevilled(interesting word) the Balkans is extreme and dangerous. It is easy to absorb a religious faith into it, particularly when your enemies have a different faith as the Orthodox Serbs have. But in conflating the two, inevitably the nationalism proves stronger and re-defines the faith to support its pupose. Catholicism or Orthodoxy should never be so strongly identified with any nation. Faith and religion transcend national boundaries, they are universal. If we forget that we find ourselves needing to paraphrase Mme. Roland facing execution in revolutionary Paris:"O religion, what crimes are committed in thy name."

So,for the Vatican is it not only a question of my country right or wrong but also Catholic right or wrong? And is the Pope now  running the risk of identifying with and seeming to support some very unhealthy and un-Christian understanding of what Catholic means.
The Pope will pray at the tomb of "Blessed" Archbishop Stepinac, who was created Blessed by Pope John Paul 11 after his persecution and suffering during the post-war Communist regime in Yugoslavia. There remain however great uncertainties about his role during World War 2 and his links to and support of the facist Ustashe who undoubtedly were every bit as bad as the Nazis in their persecutory zeal.
A difficult visit then and one that might have been better avoided. They say never talk about politics and religion. The Vatican needs to get better at seperating the two.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Are you a natural........

In Mark's Gospel (Mark 8: 1-10) we have the feeding of the four thousand by Jesus with just seven loaves and a few fish. As with the feeding of the five thousand where Jesus uses five loaves and two fish, we are given an account of Jesus miraculously using what he had in order to feed all those present, with the disciples later collecting baskets full of leftovers. Generations of Christians have taken this at face value and marveled at the power and generosity of God at work in Jesus. What you would call a supernatural explanation. But this account is not interpreted in this way by everyone and, as such, acts as a dividing point between what you might call the naturals and the supernaturals. There are those who now promote a type of Gospel which excludes to a large degree any element of the supernatural, denying the miraculous events in the Gospel by re-interpreting them in a natural and human context. And so for example we have the well known modern version of the above Gospel passage where the multiplication of bread and fishes has nothing to do with the sovereign power of God ministering to the needs of his children, but is to do with the crowd being so overcome by generosity and compassion at somebody handing over their own bread and fishes that they immediately share out all they have, rather than scoff it themselves. This is the natural explanation. Human beings, of themselves, are capable of casting off the limits of their humanity and all they need is an inspiring lead to encourage them to do so. No need for divine intervention, no need for salvation; no need for anything other than a positive lead from an inspiring human being. So Jesus becomes a " good man" and an inspiring teacher, both of which he was; but the power of God acting directly into his own Creation,out of  compassion, through his Son in human form has no part.
We are capable of being so much more than we think if only....... In this version we do not follow Christ as the Son of God, but as an inspiring human teacher.
Of course, once you remove the supernatural from the miracles and they are downgraded to pious, inspirational tales then you have to think about the other supernatural elements of Christian belief. What about the Virgin Birth, what about Resurrection? What about the Precious Blood and the Body of Christ present at every Mass? Are these real and, if so, miraculous and supernatural; or are they just human creations that we find helpful? Have we created them to make sense of life and our experience, to give it meaning and hope?
The Church has many opposing groups: conservative and modern, traditional and liberal etc. but the fundamental question is are you a natural or a supernatural? The two are radically and irreconcilably opposed. As Jesus said " You cannot serve God and Mammon". One is true, the other a wicked and dangerous heresy.