The Nations Morals Are Like Its Teeth …

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THE NATIONS MORALS ARE LIKE ITS TEETH, THE MORE DECAYED THEY ARE THE MORE IT HURTS TO TOUCH THEM” – George Bernard Shaw

At the start of the year many of us made New Year’s resolutions and will do our best to keep them as the year progresses (lose weight; give up smoking; pass a driving test or embark on a new career etc, etc). Sometimes our thoughts are more reflective as we consider our place in the world and the lives of those around us, often culminating is a silent prayer for the world to be more peaceful, kinder and charitable than it was the year before. Sadly it doesn’t seem long before the very next calamity or personal tragedy pops up on our television screens or appears in our newspapers to dampen our New Year optimism. ‘What has the world come to?’ we say; ‘Doesn’t the world have any standards?’; ‘Things weren’t like this when we were young!’

What we are doing is lamenting the passing of standards or a moral code by which people commonly live; a moral backdrop, climate or culture which protects us from the negative excesses of society. And yet to speak about morals makes us feel uneasy. We don’t like it! We don’t like people interfering with the way that we live our lives or questioning our standards, or the way we behave – we just simply don’t like being preached at!

The problem is made all the worse because we don’t know or perhaps can’t agree on what standards are acceptable. This is because we have made relativity a virtue in its own right! There is no such thing as absolute right or wrong, just what is right or wrong for me. We are all like Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” who said “When I use a word …. it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”. The problem with each person choosing their own set of values as if ‘no one else matters’ is, that ultimately they don’t – each person does their own thing and can’t be held responsible for going their ‘own way’ even if the effect is to hurt or grieve another.

You don’t have to be necessarily rigid or religious to appreciate the need for a common set of values, and yet as a Christian minister I can’t think of any better guide to live by than those found in Scripture, based upon the message of a loving creator who nurtured the understanding that each person ‘made in his image’ was therefore special. So special that through the life, death and ministry of Jesus, God demonstrated his love for the world and encouraged his followers to do the same. Perhaps the answer to the world’s moral malaise (at least in our own small corner) lies not just in what we do but in what we believe. It always, always starts with us.


“ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mark 12.30-31

And the baby’s name is ….

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HOW DO YOU CHOOSE A NAME FOR A BABY? Do you name your child after a grandparent, parent or family member? Or do you name it after a famous celebrity, such as a pop star, film star or footballer? You might want to be creative and invent something unusual that will attract attention and make a statement, while others prefer to stick to something more traditional. Some people might want to make a popular choice, and for others it really doesn’t matter! Choosing a name is really difficult isn’t it! Made all the more so if you are the sort of person who’s as interested in the meaning of a name, just as much as the sound of it!

In many ways, Mary and Joseph didn’t have this problem, for when Mary was told by the angel that she was going to have a baby, she was also told what he was to be called – he was to be called Jesus (Luke 2.31). Now Jesus wasn’t an uncommon name at the time, in fact, it was exceedingly popular, because it had a wonderful connotation and a meaning loved by all the people, for ‘Jesus’ was simply the more ‘modern’ Greek form of the much more traditional name, translated in Hebrew as ‘Joshua’ which means ‘God saves’ or possibly ‘the Lord is salvation’. So imagine what it would mean to a poor people who had known hardship all their lives, fearfully living in the shadow and military might of Imperial Rome, to be reminded of the fact that ‘God saves’. It’s a wonderful hope to cling on to and this child would be a reminder and symbol of it, every time his name was spoken. But Christians are aware that there is so much more to this story than this, for Jesus has ‘another name’ – a name which is celebrated in song every Christmas in carols around the world, for his birth is also seen as the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy that was first uttered many centuries before in the time of Isaiah. ‘All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, God with us’ (Matthew 1.22-23). So, God is no longer aloof, abstract, or ‘out there’, for one brief moment in time, he is made wonderfully ‘real’ in the person of Jesus. It’s this coming of Jesus, God literally stepping into the world that Christians celebrate at Christmas. Knowing that God can understand us in every way because he has become like us in the person of Jesus, is an incredible thought. Especially when one considers how prone we are to make silly mistakes and get things wrong! It would be so simple for this holy God to simply blot us out of his copy book, but he doesn’t because he loves us and cares for us, and wants us to know and understand him. This is a great joy and when we understand that he has come not only to know us, but save us, by taking upon himself at the cross all the punishment for our misdeeds. We recognise Christmas for what it truly is – the celebration of the greatest piece of news that this world has ever known or will know. It is my hope that over the coming weeks, you will find yourself not only enjoying the festive spirit, but grasping the opportunity to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and possibly celebrating it with us. It would be great to see you!

May I on behalf of my family and all the parishes I represent wish you all a very happy Christmas and a very peaceful new year.


‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel’ Isaiah 7.14


 

Are You A ‘Fully Educated, Free Thinker Who Doesn’t Believe In Fairy Stories’?

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Many of you will be aware that Twitter is a wonderful way of sharing news and views across social media, listening to and engaging with debate – but it can also be a means by which people can easily fire off salvoes designed to ridicule, shut down and squash others with whom they disagree. One such example came in a discussion about religion and atheism generated by the popular and well know atheist Richard Dawkins. As the discussion unfolded, one atheistic contributor simply tried to lambast his religious ‘opponent’ with the phrase ‘I’m highly educated thanks. Far too free thinking to believe in your fairy stories’. The problem is of course that the implications behind this statement are simply wrong on so many levels, and yet tap into so many common misconceptions about people of faith (particularly Christians) by those who aren’t remotely religious.

Firstly, it implies that religious people can’t possibly be ‘bright young things’ with an education. They must be stupid to hold a religious perspective in the light of modern day science and ethics. How can you believe in a creator God who made the word in 7 days in the light of Darwin, ‘the big bang’ and evolution? Or in a loving God in the light of so much evil and innocent suffering? At first glance these questions may appear to be problematic, but in reality, they aren’t so difficult when one appreciates the difference between science and theology. Very simply put, one tends to look at ‘how’ the world is as it is, the other looks at ‘why’. This is why the dilemma between faith and science is often a false one, as evidenced by the large number of Christians with science degrees!

Secondly, the statement suggest that religious people are often brain-washed or blinkered in their thinking because of their religious faith and perspective. Of course this can happen in some extreme circumstances, but equally Christians believe that intellect is a gift of God. God has given us freedom of thought and mind and therefore he expects us to use it. Train and ‘prepare your minds for action’ says the Apostle Peter in his first epistle (1 Peter 1.13) and there is much encouragement in the scriptures about being wise and discerning. Ironically, a lot of so called ‘free-thinkers’ – simply don’t! They merely go with the flow and follow the fads and fashions of society without ever really thinking through the implications of their non-religious world view. They simply accept it as being bright, right, sophisticated and clever – but what if it isn’t?

Finally, the statement sarcastically implies that believing in God is rather like believing in fairy stories with the assumption being that it’s all made up, ‘pie-in-the-sky’, myth and legend. Surprisingly, the vast majority of Christians don’t believe in fairy stories either, so how can they be so sure that their belief in God isn’t unreasonable? Well, that’s because Christianity invites the individual to study the evidence – once one understands that the Bible is written in a wide range of literary genres (narrative, history, poetry etc) springing from a wide range of historical contexts backed up with historical data and eye-witness testimonies, then the evidence starts to speak for itself. Famous authors such as C.S Lewis (Mere Christianity) and Frank Morrison (Who Moved the Stone?) started out as committed atheists but found that upon close inspection the evidence for Christianity was overwhelming. From a Muslim perspective Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is another good example.

So I suppose the question is, are you as a fully educated, free thinking person willing to study the evidence?

Consider this! If someone could provide reasonable answers to your most significant questions and objections you have —reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt—would you then become a Christian? If your honest answer is no, then your resistance to Christianity is emotional or volitional, not merely intellectual. No amount of evidence will convince you because evidence is not what’s in your way — you are!


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. Psalm 111.10


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‘In God We Trust’ – Or Is It The American President?

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In the light of Brexit, one of Prime Minister Theresa May’s most notable remarks was that ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’, but now that President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal, we are all left wondering whether a bad deal is actually better than a broken one? Naturally, the complexities of the issue are immense and the implications of pulling out of the deal with the Iranians very serious indeed, especially as it was generally believed that the Iranians were in fact ‘keeping their end of the bargain’. This was underscored by the vain attempt of several national leaders to keep Donald Trump ‘onside’ prior to his announcement.

Now of course, it’s very difficult for the common man to get any sense of what’s really going on behind the scenes or the ‘inside track’, but boldened by his recent success in North Korea, it appears that President Trump is playing a tremendous game of brinkmanship in an attempt to force the Iranians once again to the negotiating table in order to generate a new, better, more wonderful deal than the one previously negotiated under President Obama. Of course, if he succeeds then he will deserve the world’s plaudits, but if he doesn’t, then we will all have to girder our resolve as we come to terms with the consequences.

However, on a simple level one is left wondering ‘what do these events say about trust?’ How can we expect Iran (or any other nation state for that matter) to trust America if it can tear up its agreements at a moment’s notice? It’s slightly ironic that one of Donald Trump’s campaign slogans was Trust me! I’m going to make America great again!’. No doubt the President believes that this is precisely what he’s doing in keeping with his ‘America first’ approach but surely it will become much harder for other signatories or nation states to be so confident about US policy or the trustworthiness of its President!

Perhaps the US, which takes such pride in it’s Christian heritage, should pause and reflect upon its national motto which is stamped on the back of every two-cent coin, the simple slogan which reads ‘In God we trust’! The Spiderman movies may have brought to the public consciousness the thought that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, but the Bible also has a lot to say about the folly of those who look purely to their own strength, wealth and resources to get things done (see Psalm 52.6-7), whereas the godly man humbly appreciates that he can’t do everything in his own strength, but only with the wise and prayerful backing and support of others, trusting God as he does so. For trust needs to be cultivated and encouraged – it can’t be demanded. If you want people to trust you, you need to give them reason to do so. Christians will recall how Jesus encouraged his disciples to ‘Trust God and to trust also in me’ (John 14.1), but this wasn’t a blind sort of trust, ‘a stab in the dark’, it was a reasoned trust based on what they knew God had done for them in the past and what they could see Jesus doing for them now. His deeds gave his words authenticity. His whole life was one of integrity. People may break their word, but God never does and now, through the person of Jesus, God was keeping his Word, and fulfilling every promise, agreement and covenant that had ever been made. Let’s hope that in the fulness of time the American President will win a fulsome victory, but will it also earn him praise, respect – and fulsome trust?


“He who was seated on throne said, ‘behold I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” Revelation 21.5


 

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Can Intolerance Be A Virtue?

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Recently, Newsnights Emily Maitlis discussed a report that had been published by the independent cross-party think-tank Demos as part of their At Home in One’s Past project. The title may sound fancy, but in a nut-shell it was trying to gauge public opinion about how people viewed modern British Society and culture by inviting people to reflect upon a series of typical statements (sometimes provocative) heard in modern society. The focus groups in question contained a diverse mix of citizens by age, socio-economic status and ethnicity. However, the vast majority of participants were white British people over the age of 55 and although the survey covered a wide range of areas those relating to cultural identity were particularly interesting. The common view was that all participants wanted to be treated with decency and fairness and took great pride in the fact that Britain was on the whole a fair and just society. However, participants also reported (and I quote) “feeling that British politics and the media now focus too heavily on the rights and needs of minority groups, and that there is an absence of ‘fair exchange’ of tolerance between minority groups and dominant White British, Christian Culture – which is expected to constantly adapt” (end quote). The report stated that Political Correctness was widely seen as having been overextended to such an extent that it was now not only hindering free speech and open debate but quickly changing British culture to the regret of our older citizens. One of the interviewees on the television programme reminded us quite rightly that we should be careful about the things that we say because our words have consequences, but another argued that the mood had changed to such a degree that people were reluctant to speak their mind because they were afraid of the backlash that their ‘out-of-step’ and perhaps traditional views might create. In other words, the ‘fair exchange of tolerance’ wasn’t working towards those who had suddenly discovered that their traditional values weren’t currently popular or mainstream.

So, what is tolerance and to what extent can it be described as a Christian virtue? The Cambridge Dictionary describes tolerance as ‘the willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them’, but Don Carson in his book The Intolerance of Tolerance has noted how in recent times there has been a subtle shift from defending the rights of those who hold different beliefs to affirming all beliefs as equally valid and correct in which case it becomes increasingly difficult to say, ‘I disagree with you’.

Many would applaud such Christian values as ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10.27) or ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6.31) which would seem to support a mutual sense of love and respect for one another, but statements such as these can’t be used to imply that anything goes or that there is no difference between right and wrong. In fact, most people including Christians should be prepared to passionately defend what they believe even if this appears on the surface to be intolerant to those who assume the cultural norm – not just in matters of fairness, social equality and justice but in matters of faith such as ‘salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4.12). People have every right to disagree with this statement but they have no right to suggest that it shouldn’t be viewed or aired for that would be equally intolerant and contrary to free speech, our traditional British values and Christian heritage.


“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage— with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4.2


In Search Of Heroes – Lawrence Of Arabia

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It was 1917 and the horrors of the First World War were truly etched in people’s minds. Initial optimism that the war might be over by Christmas had been well and truly blown away in the dark clouds of 1914. Things if anything were getting worse. The bravery of so many young men who fought for ‘King and Country’ was not in question, but the dreadful stalemate of events on the Western Front had come at a terrible cost. In fact, danger was not so far away for on June 13th 1917, London suffered its highest loss of civilian casualties as German airplanes bombed the city. The Americans had just entered the war and the British were desperately trying to make headway in the muddy fields of Ypres (more commonly known as Passchendaele) but were being repeatedly pushed back by German artillery. In September the British revised their strategy but made slow progress (a mere 1000 yards), but edged ever closer to Passchendaele. What the country needed most of all was hope – and some good news. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, General Edmund Allenby began an attack on Turkish defences which stretched from Gaza to Beersheba in Southern Palestine. The Turks began to retreat towards Jerusalem with the Allies in pursuit. They were aided by a group of Arab fighters led by T.E. Lawrence, an Arab speaking English archaeologist later known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Lawrence and his guerrilla fighting force had already captured Aquaba on July 6th. So, aided by the photographer Lowell Thomas, Lawrence’s fame began to spread as he was depicted as a hero in gleaming white robes who rode to victory on a camel, a warrior-prince of the desert.

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Lawrence’s courage and resourcefulness were not in doubt but his depiction as a British hero was a real morale boost to all those who had suffered so much back at home. Finally, General Allenby was able to march on foot into Jerusalem thus ending the four century reign of that city by the Turks. The Prime Minister David Lloyd George described the capture as a ‘Christmas present for the British people’. Finally, Passchendaele also fell towards the end of the year.

This Remembrance Sunday we will be remembering all those ‘heroes’ who have served their country in times of war and of great need. We will remember those with great stories of their own alongside those whose stories are largely unknown but who suffered much – with many paying the ultimate price. In truth, no act of war can ever be called a ‘good news story’, but we can remember with pride and gratitude all those ordinary men and women, who didn’t think of themselves as remotely heroic, but still gave so much, so that we might be free – whose exploits we gratefully remember and commemorate on Remembrance Sunday.

The Christian will be familiar with another quiet hero who rode into Jerusalem so many years before (not on a camel, but a donkey), who also suffered much and eventually paid the ultimate price by his death upon the cross. At first glance his death seemed to be the epitome of innocent suffering and vanquished hope – but, in reality, his death was the means by which the greatest victory of all was achieved, offering the greatest prize of all, to all those who put their faith and trust in him – life in all its fulness and the forgiveness of sins.

So, please join us this Remembrance Sunday as we commemorate all those who gave up so much for others in the context of the one whose life, death and resurrection brings the greatest hope of all.


“On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” 2 Corinthians 1.10b


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Would You Recognise A Slave If You Saw One?

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Whilst many of us were enjoying the Summer holidays and watching the World Athletics, a darker side of our society also came to the fore last month. The BBCs Home affairs correspondent Dominic Casiani reported how the NCA (National Crime Agency) had revealed that victims of modern day slavery were being forced to work in every large town and city in the UK in far higher numbers than was previously thought – “from the person who washes your car, to the worker who picks your fruit, to the labourer who helped build your house, more people would be coming into contact with them every day” he said. “These are people who are forced to work against their will, under the threat of punishment or as a form of debt repayment. Some of them may not even realise that they are the victims of crime – in many cases they are victims of criminal gangs”.

These are all incredibly vulnerable people who are usually disadvantaged, poor or from other countries who are being repeatedly ill-treated, abused and exploited. The NCA sadly described how the more they looked at the problem the worst the figures became, so much so that they have now asked the public and the general community to help them by reporting any form of this sort of exploitation that they may come across.

Previously, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at a conference in Istanbul had observed that slavery is more rampant today than at any other time in human history and called it an “abomination to human dignity”. “There is no religious basis or justification for a practice that commodifies human beings” he said and suggested that the church with a presence in every parish was uniquely placed to help spot, confront and challenge those who seek to exploit others in this way. The Prime Minister, Theresa May welcomed the subsequent declaration that came out of the Istanbul conference saying that “modern slavery is one of the great human rights issues of our time, subjecting people around the world to experiences that are horrifying in their inhumanity. We have a duty, as human beings and as Christians, to bring it to an end. The UK is leading the way…but governments alone will not be able to stop it. It is vital that all parts of society do their part”.

The Christian will recognise that as human beings, we are all made ‘in the image of God’ and all equally of value and worth before him. Indeed, Jesus not only summarised the Jewish faith as ‘loving God’, and ‘your neighbour as yourself’, but capped it in his own unique way by giving his disciples the ultimate command that they should ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13.34). In other words, selflessly, sacrificially, compassionately and with a generous spirit as ultimately displayed in his own death upon the cross.

These are sentiments, I believe, that whether we be religious or not, we can all sign up to as marks of our common decency and shared humanity. The challenge is of course, would we recognise this sort of exploitation if we saw it – and if we had a suspicion would we have the courage to report it? I truly hope so, for this sort of problem will only get worse if people ‘turn a blind eye’, ‘mind their own business’ or try to ‘sweep it under the carpet’. Ultimately, we always need to put ourselves in the place of the victim, and treat others as we would like them to treat us – with common decency, dignity, value and respect. That’s part of what it means to ‘love one’s neighbour as one’s self’.


“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3.28


Tennis, Time And Timelords – A Reflection

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The numbers and the superlatives were certainly flying around Wimbledon’s Centre Court on Men’s Finals Day when Switzerland’s Roger Federer beat Marin Cilic from Croatia 6-3 6-1 6-4. Not only was it a gloriously sunny day but it was a glorious occasion, marking the BBCs 90th anniversary since its first radio broadcast from Wimbledon; its 80th since its first television transmission, and its 50th in colour. At 35, Roger Federer was striving to win the tournament for a record 8th time, being his 19th ‘Grand Slam’ which would easily make him the most successful male tennis player in history. Despite injury Marin Cilic fought gamely on, but at the end the plaudits were all Federer’s. “He’s just given a ‘master-class’; ‘he’s poetry in motion’; ‘he’s an artist and a gentleman’ the commentators remarked, comments that were all no doubt amazingly and wonderfully true. At the age of 35 Federer appeared to be the man who ‘defied time.

Which was ironic, because there was another number flying around on that day, which broke into the tennis commentaries and conversations and it was the number 13, for the BBC had decided that this would be ‘the right time’, the right moment, to introduce Jodie Whittaker to the general public as the 1st female actor to ever play Doctor Who (after 50+ years). The speculation was rife as to whether she would be ‘the right choice’ – would the public take to her? In an age which is very conscience of equal opportunities many thought her appointment was long overdue – while many others viewed it as a terrible break with tradition and simply an exercise in PC (‘political correctness’). “I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender” Jodie tweeted from the BBC (which in the light of the Church of England’s various discussions about human sexuality seemed to be the subliminal slogan for our day). No doubt Jodie Whittaker will make a magnificent Doctor, but will she spell the end of ‘crotchety old men’ playing the Doctor as originally cast? Only time will tell!

So how should we live our lives? Do we do our best to gamefully defy time or should we simply and gracefully embrace the change and go with the flow? Roger Federer is a magnificent example of what can be done if we keep ourselves in the peak of physical fitness, whereas the majority of us look rather wistfully at the Doctor and dream of regeneration. The incredible thing is that Christians worship a God who is not only the Lord of time’ but who, full of loving purpose, has actually stepped out of his own majestic, divine and heavenly space – and stepped into our time, a place of human history in the person of Jesus Christ. His extraordinary efforts to save and rescue our fallen world and its humanity is the most exciting adventure ever, summed up not in regeneration but in resurrection. The prospect of life after death for all who put their faith and trust in him – not simply as a shadow of our former selves or as a passing resemblance to someone we once knew, but as ourselves living life in all its fullness for all eternity.  That’s a glorious prospect! Perhaps it would be best to conclude with a prayer taken from the funeral service: “Give us the wisdom and the grace to use aright the time that is left to us here on earth, to turn to Christ and follow in his steps in the way that leads to everlasting life.” May this be true for all of us as we embrace and enter into the excitement of this adventure.


“He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” Ecclesiastes 3.11


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If My System Is Compromised – How Do I Pay The Ransom?

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Over the last few days we have seen an unprecedented cyber-attack which has hit more than 200,000 victims worldwide across 150 different countries. In the UK, the National Health Service was hit hard with 48 health trusts sufficiently compromised that they had to turn patients away, close down their IT systems and resort to ‘pen and paper’. The culprit was the WannaCry malware virus (or worm) which had the innate ability to encrypt people’s files and lock them out of their computers. People may not have literally felt like crying but it was extremely annoying, disruptive and potentially had the capacity to put lives at risk. Although the majority of PCs were safe, older systems without the appropriate software patches and up-to-date antivirus solutions left their users with the dilemma of either having to rebuild their systems from backups or possibly pay ‘the ransom’ demanded by compromised machines. Despite the scale of the attack, the evidence suggests that very few people actually paid the ransom (usually $300 (£230 per machine) in a virtual currency known as Bitcoin). This was probably because; firstly, purchasing Bitcoin is a very difficult process and secondly, ‘a lucky break’ by a software engineer found a way to stop the ransomware, and ‘kill the virus’ containing the spread of its contagion. Well done that man!

This whole episode demonstrated just how ‘interconnected’ we are in modern society and how dependant we are upon the good services of others. When one person or area is attacked, the implications for the wider community can be vast (rather like an earthquake, or the ripples generated by a stone dropped into a pond). Our ability to function is severely impeded, our relationships are broken, sometimes resulting in a lack of confidence, hope and trust. Sometimes, people prefer to either ignore the problem and hope it will go away or pay any cost to simply get on with their lives again.

It’s not difficult for the Christian to see immediate parallels with the theological concept of ‘sin’ as described in the Bible. Sin is that innate part of the human psyche which seeks to put itself first before anything else and often at the expense of others. It’s the selfish ‘I’ which lurks deep within and doesn’t usually care if something is right or wrong as long as it satisfies the self. Sin is often selfish, greedy and manipulative and is usually the very opposite of genuine, generous giving and sacrificial love. Like a virus, sin has the capacity to spread out and ‘take down systems’ and its consequences can be disastrous; it’s often the root cause of a lot of anger, hurt and mistrust. It spoils our relationships with one another, our communities and even with God himself. The difficulty is that without genuine regret, remorse and repentance it’s usually difficult to find a way to move on, to be positive or find forgiveness. Sin enslaves the individual and makes them less than they were ideally meant to be. They are ‘bound’ by it and effectively held to ransom!

This is why the Christian story is such ‘good news’ and so wonderfully positive, because despite our sin, we are told that God still loves us, and literally steps into this sinful world of ours in the person of Jesus, and through his death upon the cross, Christ absorbs within his own body the terrible pain and consequences of all our sin. He bears the hurt that our sin has caused, freely, lovingly and generously so that we can be spared its consequences and find forgiveness. The Bible says that by his death upon the cross Jesus paid a ‘ransom’ for our sins setting us free when we put our faith and trust in him. This is wonderful news and doesn’t simply change who we are before God, but our hearts and our perspective. We are set free and given a brand new, fresh start! So how do we pay the ransom? We can’t and we don’t have to – because it’s already been paid. All we need to do is embrace it and say thank you.


“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Matthew 20.28


The Church, Gay Marriage & Not ‘Taking Note’

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The Rt. Revd Graham James (Bishop of Norwich) addressing General Synod

Last week (15th February 2017), the media gave the impression that the Church of England had taken another step towards accepting gay marriage after its ‘controversial report’ (as described by the BBC) proposing that only men and women could be married in church was rejected by the ‘house of clergy’ who voted 100 to 93 against. This was seen as a victory for the liberal establishment and a snub towards the Bishops who had not only drafted the report, but overwhelmingly voted in favour of it, 43-1 (although it later transpired that this single vote against had been made in error). The Laity also voted in favour 106-83, but as ever, nothing is quite as straight forward as the news headlines would suggest. Yes, of course campaigners for gay marriage were delighted, seeing it as a ‘victory for love and equality’, but equally it appears that following an ambiguous comment made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the motion was rejected by some conservatives who feared that ‘pastoral practice’ following the motion wouldn’t be ‘conservative enough’. This is because the paper didn’t actually contain any objective proposals. It was simply designed for ‘taking note’ and once passed would simply form the backdrop to church practice without any further discussion required at General Synod. As it stands, the status quo will prevail as the motion cannot be reconsidered within the life of this synod.

The difficulty is, I suggest, one of public perception. The campaigners for same sex marriage would have us believe that the public cannot understand why the church is so behind the times, and so anti-gay marriage which they see as nothing but antiquated, homophobic and prejudiced. As campaigner Peter Tatchell remarked, ‘the church denies the right of same-sex couples to be blessed in church when they will bless cats and dogs’ – but of course it doesn’t take a moment to appreciate that the cats and dogs in question aren’t seeking a blessing upon their relationship. And it’s this sort of rhetoric which makes life so difficult for all concerned.  The church doesn’t deny that people of the same sex can have very warm and affirming relationships, but it doesn’t believe that sexual relations between two people of the same sex, however loving, can be equated with marriage as traditionally understood and expressed between a man and a woman. However affirming they may be, the two scenarios are not the same or equivalent. The problem is compounded by the weight of theology that is attached to the Christian concept of marriage (so much more than the simple notion of ‘two people loving each other’) which becomes unravelled if marriage isn’t between the two different sexes.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19.5-6

In a sense, the general public may not appreciate that shouting loudly about ‘inclusiveness and equality’ (which the church has traditionally championed) rather misses the point and doesn’t resolve the dichotomy presented here – for the church can’t really accept gay-marriage without doing fundamental harm or damage to itself or its message. So, however painful it may be to those who wish it was otherwise, it doesn’t seem to me that a loving church can possibly bless that with which it fundamentally, theologically and scripturally disagrees , nor is it reasonable nor loving of others to expect it to do so.

The upshot of all these discussions is that we are still in a difficult place with many people from all sides feeling somewhat unhappy and dissatisfied, and so much prayer, thought and discussion will still be needed. Perhaps it’s best to leave the final words with the Revd Sam Allberry, who is himself gay and went on to remind Synod that Jesus Christ was ‘the most fully human and complete person who had ever lived’ and yet ‘he never married, was never in a romantic relationship and never had sex’. Therefore ‘Sexuality is not a matter of identity for me, and that has become good news”.


“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men…” Revelation 21.2-3