It’s All A Matter Of Perspective: The Norwich Cathedral Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter

For ten days or so in August, it appeared that Brexit was not the only topic to divide national opinion but whether the decision to install a helter skelter within the Nave of Norwich Cathedral was really a good or a bad idea! Certainly, The Dean, The Very Revd Jane Hedges, appeared to be enjoying herself as she came swishing down the slide accompanied by a number of her Cathedral’s choristers captured on the BBC’s national news, but the wisdom of such a move was soon brought into question by The Right Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden (former chaplain to the Queen), who thought that the whole enterprise ‘smacked of desperation’ as the Cathedral tried to tempt visitors through its doors. He was concerned that the apparent frivolity of the helter skelter detracted from the holiness of the place; the awesome nature of God and the seriously sacrificial nature of the Gospel as demonstrated by Jesus and his death upon the cross. The vast and awesome nature of the Cathedral space with its north and south transepts symbolically representing the cross could and should encourage people to look upwards and prayerfully contemplate the presence of God – if only they weren’t distracted!

Ironically, this inspirational aspect of the building was not lost on the Cathedral staff whose campaign was entitled ‘Seeing it differently’, encouraging people to use their imaginations as they saw the Cathedral from a new perspective engageing with its structure and ‘salvation story’ as they admired its ancient roof bosses which depict the whole Bible story from Genesis to Revelation – all easier to see from the slide’s 40ft high viewing platform.

In response to Gavin Ashenden’s criticism, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University observed that although some would think that the installation of the helter skelter was ‘trendy’ and a somewhat ‘undignified’ attempt to appeal to people in an increasingly secular society, in reality Cathedral attendances are growing and “so this shouldn’t be seen as a desperate attempt to get people in the building”.

So what is it? Well in my view – it is a joyful invitation! It’s a joyful invitation not only to encourage people into the building – but to make them feel welcome and what could be more welcoming than effectively saying ‘here you are – ride this! It’s fun!’ So many people, even Christians, tend to think of God as a great big killjoy and nothing could be further from the truth. God himself knows joy and he wants his people to know joy too. Psalm 104.31 speaks of God as rejoicing in all of his creative works – and what is the pinnacle of his creation? We are! Of course we should naturally respect God and honour his name but we should never, ever forget that God rejoices in us – because in and through Christ he loves us. Of course, being welcomed into the Cathedral is one thing, but if through that one visit, experience or conversation someone finds faith in God and wants to know more about the Cathedral, and it’s worship then how much more glorious and joyful is that! A simple welcome into the Cathedral becomes a joyful invitation into the ‘Kingdom of God’. So, perhaps for a mere ten days the helter skelter in the Nave should be viewed not so much a distraction to heartfelt worship and prayer – but as a warm invitation and proper attraction to it.


May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may he rejoice in all his works. Psalm 104.31


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Bishop Jonathan Meyrick – 18th August 2019

“Loving You To The Moon And Back” – And So Much More!

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Although I can’t honestly say that I actually remember Neil Armstrong’s famous moon landing of the 20th July 1969 (I was 7!) I do remember seeing some of the Apollo missions by the time that they finished in 1972 and being aware of the profound effect that they had upon me. When I looked out at the night sky it was incredible to think that men had actually stood on the moon. It was so exciting! What would they do next and where would they go? I still think it’s absolutely incredible and exciting – and I’m in utter awe of the men who undertook such a brave and perilous journey. It took Apollo 11 four days, six hours and 45 minutes to get to the moon (8 days including the return journey) and cost NASA around $25 billion (£20 billion). It may have been ‘one small step’ for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins but it was a huge accomplishment for the 400,000 people who had worked upon the mission. The Earth, the Moon and space would never be seen in quite the same way again. However, during the recent 50th anniversary celebrations, it’s been the reflections of Alan Bean, who was part of the Apollo 12 mission and the 4th man on the moon that struck me most. Gazing back to the beautiful but profound sight of the Earth hanging in the darkness of space (later referred to as ‘the blue marble’ by the crew of Apollo 17) Alan Bean was powerfully struck by the recognition that all the people I have ever loved are over there! A thought he would frequently share with his family upon his return.

I suppose the truth is that of course the human spirit has an immense desire to explore and discover, to look beyond the horizon and around the corner in search of new things – and incredibly through our brave ingenuity, determination and skilled use of finite resources we often have the capacity to achieve more than is usually thought humanly possible – but at the same time it is love which unites us and binds us together and gives us not only the motivation to succeed, but a sense of place, belonging and home. Used wisely, intellect and love are powerful gifts with which we can pursue not only our goals, dreams and ambitions but also serve our nations and further the common good.

The accomplishments of Apollo 11 and all those missions that followed it combined with the fragility of the Earth have fostered our modern desire to go further and reach for the stars, the Moon, Mars and beyond – and yet however amazing those thoughts might be, the Christian is struck by another amazing theological concept, which is not only did God create the world that we see hanging so beautifully in space, but that he actually stepped into it, and not because it was pristine and perfect but precisely because it wasn’t. For the beautiful world that God had originally created had been spoilt by the often selfish, unkind and greedy actions of its inhabitants which the Bible calls sin. Yet, the mission that God embarks upon is not one of running away, starting again and abandonment, but one of new beginnings, new starts and digging deep as people recognise the grace, peace and restoration that is made possible through Jesus and his death upon the cross. It’s an amazing act of love that reaches out to us across the depths of time and space and calls us – home!


Praise him from the heavens … praise him, you sun and moon and shining stars. Psalm 148.1,3


Posted on the 50th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s Moon Landing with Apollo 11 

Faith, Hope And The Flames Of Notre-Dame

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It was with a great deal of sadness that millions watched the iconic Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame go up in flames on Monday 15th April 2019 via their televisions, computers and smartphones. It seemed incredible to think that this wonderful cathedral that had taken over 200 years to build was essentially destroyed in a mere 30 minutes. It felt like something out of a movie or a bad dream. Many French citizens were in tears and disbelief as they witnessed this terrible event unfold but huge credit should be paid to the firefighters and others who were trying against the odds to save as many of the priceless art and religious antiquities as they could whilst others were trying to save and preserve the actual building. Yes, France may pride itself on it’s secular education but this tends to hide the fact that over 2/3rds of the population still identify themselves as Christian predominantly Roman Catholic – but equally it has to be said that to the French, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame represents so much more than being simply a place of religious devotion. It represents their nation, their heritage, their architecture, their culture and their wonderful way of life – and so it comes as no surprise that almost immediately President Macron committed himself and the whole of France to rebuilding and restoring the Cathedral.

“So I say this very solemnly to you tonight, we will rebuild this cathedral all together – and it is undoubtedly part of the French destiny …. we will rebuild Notre-Dame.”

Thankfully, in the cold light of day it appeared that despite great damage, the structure was basically sound and donations large and small were coming in from across France and indeed the world for its repair.

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But what is it that drives the human spirit to want to commit itself to such projects? For even in our own country, we have historically seen the rebuilding of Coventry and York Cathedrals damaged by fire, as well as Windsor Castle. It seems for all sorts of reasons we have an innate, inbuilt desire to rebuild, capture and preserve these majestic and ‘glorious’ buildings because they represent the triumph of victory over adversity and they speak to our heart and soul – and so we naturally wish the French every success in their efforts to overcome the disaster that has befallen them. There is of course a parallel to be found in the Christian faith, for just as President Macron said, ‘we will rebuild this cathedral all together, the Christian will be aware that this is precisely the task given to every believer – to help collectively and together to build a Kingdom, a temple, a church, not with actual bricks and stones (because these are transitory and prone to damage and decay) but with ourselves as human ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2.5), joyfully working together in hope and celebrating the victory that Christ has won over sin by his death upon the cross. For the Christian appreciates that it is what is built in Christ’s name for the common good which is the most successful, eternally praiseworthy and enduring.


In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Ephesians 2.21


 

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

Brexit – If At First You Don’t Succeed ….

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IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED TRY, TRY AGAIN seems to be the Prime Minister’s mantra as she tries to get her Brexit deal through Parliament – which seems to be a herculian task given the fact that Parliament had already voted against it by 432 votes to 202 – the biggest government defeat ever known. This immediately led to the leader of the opposition tabling a ‘Vote of No Confidence’ which was also roundly defeated. So, the Prime Minister has the ‘confidence of the house’ but not the power to proceed with her proposed deal which had taken her and her government two years to negotiate. Confusion reigns as politicians and the public alike ponder ‘where do we go from here?’

Typically, most people in such a situation would seek a compromise, but unfortunately the problem fundamentally doesn’t really lend itself to one. Like the Brexit referendum of two years ago, we are still left really with the binary choice of ‘do we stay or do we leave?’ Perhaps in reality, the slogan used by Boris Johnson of ‘having one’s cake and eating it’ whilst Foreign Secretary highlights the Achilles heel of our negotiations; one immediately spotted by the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier who was unequivocally opposed to the UK ‘cherry picking’ what it did and didn’t want. Our politicians should have not only recognised the result of the referendum but embraced wholeheartedly the intrinsic nature and logic of it as spelt out by the simple Leave means Leave campaign slogan. Then our negotiators might have made more positive headway in the discussions, but instead the constant desire to keep ‘as close a tie as possible’ with the EU, and find a middle way, has spectacularly backfired and come back to haunt it. Unfortunately, there is now no potential solution (Norway, Canada, rescinding article 50, or a second referendum) which doesn’t severely undercut somebody’s redline or in my personal opinion fundamentally undermine the democratic process.

The King James Version of the Bible rather poignantly states that ‘where there is no vision the people perish’ (Proverbs 29.18) and we are in danger of seeing this in reality. The sharing of thoughts views and opinions is of course fundamentally important, but without a clear sense of direction, leadership and vision, we will always struggle. Instead of constantly grand-standing on an issue of such national significance, our politicians should humbly come and work together. Those who aren’t in positions of power and authority shouldn’t act as if they were, but positively try to encourage those who do have the power to make the best decision possible – and those with the power and authority should humbly listen to all sides and respect the fact that they are required to act on behalf of the nation. And we who are members of the general public should recognise the referendum result and prayerfully encourage them to do so. That’s democracy!


If my people …. humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven … forgive their sin and will heal their land.    2 Chronicles 7.14


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And the baby’s name is ….

Immanuel God with Us

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


 

The Incredible Art Of Forgiveness

The Trial Begins Of Two Men Accused Of Murdering Stephen Lawrence

In the light of the recent chemical weapons attack upon the Syrian citizens of Douma, alongside March’s assault upon Sergei and Yulia Skripal when a Novichok nerve agent was used in Salisbury, one could be forgiven for thinking that the world has sunk to a new low and that the world had become a much darker and dangerous place. What has become of our moral values, common decency and respect for human life?

In recent weeks, we have seen the American, French and British authorities take military action against those who use chemical weapons, but there have also been two incredibly moving stories which perhaps given the circumstance have not been given the prominence that they rightly deserve. The first was the comedian Patrick Kielty’s BBC documentary entitled “My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me”, exploring the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement as it reached its 20th anniversary. Patrick’s story is poignant as his own father was murdered by paramilitary gunmen during ‘The Troubles’ – men who were subsequent released from prison as part of the agreement. Patrick’s view was nuanced, because although he admitted that he couldn’t forgive the gunmen, he accepted that their release was necessary if there was ever to be reconciliation. He was stunned by an interview with Richard Moore, who as a child had been totally blinded by a rubber bullet fired at him by a British soldier – and yet Richard had forgiven his assailant and had made great strides to find him in order to say so, resulting in a lasting friendship. How could Richard forgive the soldier so?

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[Patrick Keilty carrying his father’s coffin in 1988]

This was followed by an amazing interview given by Neville Lawrence, the father of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, whose story has regularly been in the headlines for 25 years. Two men had been convicted of Stephen’s death and yet it’s understood that five were involved. Neville revealed how he had forgiven them all for the murder of his son. Like Patrick, Neville’s story was incredibly hard and painful, and described as a ‘life sentence’ that would never go away, and yet he had forgiven his son’s murderers. How could this be possible?

It seems that both Neville and Richard had discovered an ancient Christian truth which is that forgiveness is not dependent upon the perpetrator saying sorry or even being met with. It’s an act of the heart and mind which allows the victim to find peace, ‘to let go’, and won’t allow any anger, hurt or pain they feel to fester and become a well of bitter malice within them, which probably does nothing to bring about reconciliation, and may not even be known by the perpetrator, but simply mars and cripples their own life henceforth. It comes from a deep-seated understanding that you are not going to hold a grudge or allow hurt to define you. Naturally, this isn’t easy – and shouldn’t be remotely confused with ‘letting other people get away with it’ or not wanting justice. Neville Lawrence wants justice as keenly as ever he did – it’s just that he won’t allow his anger and hurt to corrupt and corrode his heart and soul.

True forgiveness isn’t ‘a trick of the mind’; it isn’t secretly hoping for revenge or holding on to resentment. It has to be genuine and is therefore both a true art and an act of grace. Whether forgiveness is or isn’t asked for, it certainly isn’t deserved – it can only be given. It’s therefore a beautiful thing – a gift, which allows the victim to find peace, and can wonderfully, occasionally lead to repentance and reconciliation by all parties.

The Christian will see clear parallels between this and the Gospel story – how our sin naturally makes us all perpetrators, leading to the death of Jesus upon the cross where he graciously and lovingly takes upon himself the punishment for our sins (justice demands it) so that we might be reconciled and freely forgiven by God when we turn to him in sincerity, faith and repentance.

The stories of Richard, Neville (and perhaps even Patrick, who began to wonder if he had actually forgiven his father’s murderers after all) demonstrate that by God’s good grace and mercy there is still a lot of love and light in the world – and the world isn’t quite as dark as it might be.


“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” Luke 11.4


 

Confronting Systems Of Power: A Message For Easter

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The news that a Novichok military grade nerve agent had been used against former Russian citizens Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4th March was a shock to all concerned. Since this potential threat to the British public could only be the work of a nation state, the situation was extremely grave. Therefore, once it was determined that Russia was responsible it was understandable that Theresa May as the British Prime Minister would act swiftly in response, ultimately expelling 23 Russian diplomats or “undeclared intelligence officers” with one week’s notice, alongside various other measures. This she said, “would fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come – and if they seek to rebuild it we will prevent them from doing so”. Naturally, it’s anticipated that Russia will retaliate but at the time of writing this letter it’s not known what their actions will be. For some, not knowing can lead to a real sense of fear and uncertainty – what can ‘little Britain’ do in the face of mighty Russia?

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Thankfully, many of us will gain comfort and inspiration from the pages of the Bible. The David and Goliath story of the Old Testament reminds us of just what can be achieved when one takes heart, puts one’s faith not only in God but one’s natural God-given ability to sling stones. Standing up to bossy tyrants always requires endeavour and the courage of one’s convictions.

When Jesus stood before the Temple in Jerusalem and said ‘destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days’, the people standing next to him misunderstood, saying ‘how are you ever going to do that, it took 46 years to build this temple?’! But Jesus wasn’t referring to the physical temple he was referring to himself. Because he knew that you can’t confront corrupt systems of power without paying for it, and the systems he had in mind were the ‘principalities and powers of this world’ which are motivated by personal greed, power and abuse – in other words,sin’. Dark systems which ultimately only ever really lead to suffering, pain, death and despair. When Jesus says, ‘destroy this temple and I will rebuild it’, he’s talking about something new and unexpected that would happen after his death. He’s talking about resurrection! Yes, Jesus dies for our sin upon the cross, but his resurrection announces that God has not given up on us or this world because this world matters. Therefore, the way that we live our lives really matters, for every act of love, kindness and compassion that we undertake reflects the love of God for us in Christ, and nothing will be forgotten. For as Rob Bell, a Christian preacher and theologian observes, “resurrection affirms this life and the next as a seamless reality, embraced, graced and saved by God”. Therefore, the Christian knows that if you want to stand up to corrupt systems of power you need to be prepared to challenge it and say your ideals are not my ideals. I won’t and don’t recognise what you stand for. I don’t believe in the power of death, I believe in love, life and yes – resurrection!

A very Happy Easter to you all.


“Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1.21


Who Are You Missing This Christmas?

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There’s a quiet and wonderful hush as Mary and Joseph, holding hands, slowly walk to the front of the school hall, he with a large staff in his right hand and she clutching a small bag to her chest. The music to ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ gently fades into the background as Joseph knocks upon the door standing in front of him – and as the innkeeper appears Joseph calls out in a loud voice ‘please sir, do you have any room where we can stay? For we have travelled a long way and my wife is about to have a baby!’ The innkeeper lets out a loud sigh and sadly shakes his head, but then after a momentary pause his face brightens up with a big grin as he politely and kindly directs them to a stable.

This wonderful and captivating scene has been played out by many generations of school children over the years watched by their proud parents, but it is also a scene that leaves a lot to the imagination and makes a lot of assumptions, for the Bible account never actually mentions the innkeeper, but simply says that after the birth of the baby Jesus ‘she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’ (Luke 2.7). The kindly innkeeper never actually features, but is strangely absent – missing!

Christmas is often said to be a time for children having fun and families getting together, but perhaps for some this biblical story actually reflects a present reality in their lives – perhaps because someone special, someone significant is missing and Christmas just isn’t the same without them. This could be because circumstances dictate that they can’t be present (such as serving in the armed forces or emigrated or away on business); or it could be because they have started a new chapter in their lives (such as young people leaving home or getting married leaving parents feeling isolated and alone); or it could be because of some sad circumstance (such as a divorce, a broken relationship or the death of a loved one). It’s at times like these when the love and support of family, friends and the community is so crucial, mutually encouraging people to appreciate that they are not alone, but cared for by the people around them – kind words and deeds which can mean so much and mirror the love that God has for us.

But perhaps for some the most significant missing person this Christmas, is Christ himself – which is such a shame because in the person of Jesus we meet with a God who loves and cares for us so deeply that he actually steps into this world of ours, and takes upon himself our humanity when he was born as a baby at Bethlehem. So no-one can say therefore that ‘God does not understand me’ because in Christ he has been there, done it and ‘got the T-shirt’. Our lives aren’t perfect and neither is the world in which we live, but in Christ we meet with someone who not only wants us to feel better but actually makes it possible for us to be better; loved, forgiven and at peace when we put our faith and trust in him. So, don’t miss out this Christmas because in Christ we have a friend who has promised to be with us, not just for today, or for tomorrow, but for always. Christmas just isn’t the same without him!


“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 1.23