THE BENCHMARK FOR GOOD IS GOD
Recently somebody ask me if one can be a good person without believing in God.“Yes, why not?” I answered. Everybody can be good regardless of the fact that he, or she, has a particular faith. Even the great Christian thinkers never doubted that.
Saint Paul was convinced that God implanted into every human being a sense for what is good. We don't need to be believers in order to know that we need to help an injured person and that committing fraud is wrong. On the other hand of course we have no guarantee that people with a religious belief always decide to do what is right and good.
Nevertheless, I do see a difference between believers and non-believers. Our own morals are always put to the test when I start to ask: Is it worthwhile for me to be, or do good? Don't I get more out of it if on this occasion I don't do what is right? Am I not much better off if I slightly move the goal post?
To run a business one has to be ruthless, I was once told. So when it is to our advantage, are we permitted to forget about what is right and what is wrong? And that is exactly what I mean. If my own wellbeing is the benchmark for good and evil then I will only do what is good for me and when it is useful to me.
It is something else when I am accountable to God for my conduct, or inspired by his unconditional love, or model my intentions on the charity of the life of sacrificial Saints.
Only faith opens my eyes in order to realise that it is far more important for my humanity to believe in a God who reassures me of his love and whose justice I have to reckon with. Also, that at every moment of my life there is more at stake than just my own advantage. When I know that, then I no longer find the decision to choose the good that difficult and the decision for evil not so easy.
SilkeBack to Top
DO YOU FIND PETROL STATIONS EXCITING?
I can think of more exciting places, but it is essential, when you, like me, depend on your car to take you to most places. As much as petrol stations are essential for our cars to run smoothly, so are we ourselves in need of recharging our batteries. By the end of a busy term I like the idea of going somewhere to relax, but I agonize dreadfully over the whole aspect of organizing my going away and especially the packing of my suitcase. I never know what to pack and usually end up with too much of everything. But I know a change of place will be good for me. I know it will be nice to spend time with friends and I know I love seeing new places. Until I am actually on my journey, I feel as if I am on auto pilot, doing all my travel preparations and find every decision I have to make arduous. But, oh boy, when I am back, I am full of energy and buzzing with new ideas. I feel myself beaming, I feel refreshed, happy, energized and a stronger person. Well, that I feel a stronger person has something to do with that my walking holidays take me along some very risky paths and sometimes I am glad I haven't broken anything or worse.
Is it essential to “risk your life” to be a better person? No not at all, but I believe a change of place can effect a change of attitude and to be exposed to unexpected challenges makes you discover yourself anew, your strengths and weaknesses. By getting to know yourself you are less threatened, but more tolerant towards those who are different from you. With all the violence that is going on in the world we need to be so much more tolerant with one another, because society depends on us to live with our neighbours peacefully in order to function well within diversity.
Going out of the comfort of my home and joining other people is essential for the renewal of energies. It is in the taking of risks and exposure to the unexpected and sometimes challenging situations that we will grow and understand a little bit more about God's purpose for our lives. It is not always exciting and often against all the odds, but in the synergy of the known and unknown it is where God's mysterious spirit generates electricity that refuels our batteries so that we get smoothly through life.
I hope you will have a good summer, and that you feel sufficiently fired up for your challenges.
SilkeBack to Top
Be it a party, or meetings, or watching a good film, or visitors that are staying with me, whatever it is I have not laughed so much for a long time as I have this last year. What in life brings you joy?
Perhaps stumbling across something of beauty, like a delicate shape and colour and a sweet scent. Field poppies do that for me, because they are gritty and tough and bright and they make me smile.
For some, joy might be found in catching sight unexpectedly of animals or birds, like the glimpse of a deer. Maybe you wait patiently beside a lake or river, watching the ducks, geese and moorhens glide as the sun sparkles on the water. Or maybe it's the seaside that does it for you, watching and listening to the rhythm of the waves breaking on the shore.
The ocean reminds me of God's vastness - such a store of vitality and source of life, nourishing us and sustaining us yet more deep and wide than we can ever know.
Babies also make me smile. It's something about their newness, their vulnerability and their innocence, utterly dependent and with all the world to grow in. Each Baptism celebrated at Church fills me with joy. Joy also comes from meeting with a loved one and settling to a sense of contentment as you spend time with them.
Joy can be found in so many things - a glorious sunset, a piece of music, appreciation of art, shared laughter, in knowing you are loved-you can no doubt add many things to the list.
I hope that each of us may also have on our list that our faith bring us joy, knowing we are loved by God; a deep joy that may become our default setting as we grow in our relationship with God and bubbles up into rejoicing. It is a joy that is both a gift of the Holy Spirit and a consequence or a fruit of the Spirit's activity in our lives.
My prayer for you this Easter Season, and especially for Pentecost, is that you will know deep joy in your relationship with God, because God loves you and that joy will rise up and overflow into rejoicing as you live a life of worship and service, bringing lightness of heart and a sense of belonging to your neighbour.
May all joy be yours in believing,
SilkeBack to Top
During the season of Lent the church is stripped of most of its decorations like, for example, flowers and in part its music in Worship. This is because Lent is the time when Christians imitate Jesus' experience in the desert, where he is stripped of any luxuries and has nothing left but to come face to face with God. To go through a period of abstinence from things that comfort us, makes us appreciate them more when we take them up again. It is a humbling experience to realise, and not to take for granted how very fortunate we are, and yet we seem to have never ending reason to grumble about this, that or the other.
If you have partaken in the imitation on Jesus' 40 days and nights in the wilderness, which is a long and dreary time, Easter Sunday cannot be experienced as anything other than a God given, glorious, uplifting experience, because we are catapulted back into the fullness of life with all its beauty.
One expression and understanding by the church about God's amazing, mysterious but beautiful creation was through music. The proportion of the spheres of planets and stars were perceived as a form of music and later developed in thinking that all things are connected and of beneficiary effect. So you will find that there is a strong connection between music and religion. Music communicates the divine infinitely in a way human words can never be capable off.
All Saints Church, with its appreciation of all that makes for a full life, shouts from the roof top its excitement about sharing opportunities of embracing such various expressions of it. We are delighted to be able to invite you to evenings of extraordinary enjoyment.
In May we expect guests from Russia and Africa, who will perform two very different programmes with music and dance from their homeland. The Hermitage Ensemble from St. Petersburg will entice us with their great tradition of Russian sacred music and folksongs. Members of the Ensemble are chosen from amongst the finest soloists performing in St. Petersburg's opera, musical theatre and churches. I was fortunate to have had their manager, Natalia Aksuticheva, who is a professional pianist, visiting me over Christmas and rekindling our friendship from 10 years ago. When I asked her if she would consider coming back with her Ensemble and give a concert in aid of All Saints Church, she said: 'or Staplehurst I do anything'.
And here we are, I am so thrilled to be able to invite you to our first May concert given on Wednesday, 8th May, 8,00pm at All Saints Church. Tickets (£7.00 incl. a glass of Wine) will be available from April onwards from various shops and places, watch out for posters or simply contact me.
The other concert is on Saturday 25th May, 7.30pm in Church. We are extremely fortunate to be able to welcome Zulu Warriors. For more information please speak to Doreen Braganza.
I look forward to welcoming you to All Saints Church.
In Staplehurst, members of Christian Churches live in ordinary neighbourhoods, work in almost every type of workplace, run youth groups, children's projects and lunch clubs, care for the sick, are engaged in building relationships with their neighbours, are involved in education and politics. The list is endless! When the women bishops' proposal was “lost” in General Synod there was a critical outcry that “The Church of England is out of touch with English society”! It is in my view self-evident that this is not the case. The Church of England, as has been reflected through the “Faith in the City” and “Faith in the Countryside” reports of the last 20 years, is often more in touch with English society than either the media or politicians!
Of course, the assumption of the media and many in our society is: that if the Church is in touch with society, then the Church will reflect so called “progress” in the society in which it lives. If the Church hesitates to “bless” the values or the ways of our society it is seen to be “out of touch”.
This is a complete misunderstanding and misinterpretation of both the Church and the Gospel. Throughout its history the people following God were constantly reminded to be in touch with its people and to touch the untouchable. God instructs prophets to warn people to change their values and practices when they were out of step with the values and practices God expected of his people. People were repeatedly asked to repent.
At Christmas, the nativity story reminds us of Jesus being born to ordinary human beings who were very much in touch with society. Jesus popularity only spread, because he was in touch with God on the one hand and human society on the other. Having effected those fundamental contacts, He sought not to make society's values and practices acceptable to God, but rather sought to encourage individuals and society to voluntarily adopt God's values and God's desired practice . Love, forgiveness, justice, and a recognition of the equal values of women, and children were at the heart of His divine enterprise.
The Christmas story reminded the Church that we must be in touch with society and its so called “social progress”. It reminds us, too, that we must be very much in touch with God- values and preferred practices. On the issue of women bishops: a church which is in touch with God-will recognise that the Scripture, the tradition of the church, and human insight together witness to the fact that this is the right way forward. This happens to coincide with modern English society - if the media are right. However it is through Biblical teaching, Church tradition, and human insight that the church makes her decision and not what society happens to believe. If English society continues to be estranged from the life of the church, we can only expect that, as time goes on, we will as a church finds ourselves increasingly at odds with the society in which we happen to live. There will be increasingly regular calls for disestablishment as the gap grows between Church and society.
Other current issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and euthanasia, amongst many others, may well be issues where the church believes God's values and desired practices differ from those expected by God. The only way in which the church can decide on these issues is by reading the Bible intelligently and critically, viewing church tradition as “a river to follow, and not a stream to sit by”, and using the educated minds of its members creatively. This is not an easy path and in each case requires journeys which take time.
The recent “out of touch” criticism of the media and others should prompt us to reply that the Christmas message is a message for the future, for the New Year, that God wants the people to be in touch with him, and that people, the media included, need to get on their knees in prayer, in public worship, in reading the scripture, and then use their intellect before they have the right to criticise the Church for being “out of touch”. I look forward to sharing this NEW YEAR with people who really do want to be in touch with God and Society.
A HAPPY NEW YEAR
Yours SilkeBack to Top
“I want to be a light, which shines for everyone!”
It was the year 316 and it rained. A little boy, named Martin was born at Sabaria and then moved with his mum and dad to Italy. Martin's father wanted his son to be tough and learn to fight, so he sent him to join the Roman Emperor's guards when he was still only a teenager and would have much rather sat quietly and read a book, if he'd had one, but nobody had got round to inventing one yet, I think.
Life changing events
Over the years people felt that they really wanted to remember Martin in a special way, so first they made him a saint. To make sure nobody forgot about him, someone had the very clever idea of dedicating to him the old tradition of lantern walks. The lantern walks seem to have started when in the very, very, very olden days in Germany choirs of poor children, called the “Kurrende”, had to knock on peoples' doors and sing in return for food and clothes in order to survive. In autumn and winter it gets dark very early and in those days there were no streetlights, so what do you think the children took with them? If you said “their grandmother's poodle”, you were of course wrong, but if you said “lanterns” then you were spot on! The very first lanterns were probably hollowed out pumpkins with faces. Sound familiar? That is how the tradition started, as children continued to light up the dark autumn nights with lanterns, even when it wasn't necessary for so many to beg for food. St. Martin once said: “I want to be a light that shines for everyone!” and now he can, well sort of anyway.
I think somebody else said a similar thing - hmm .....?
Merry Christmas everyone
Dear Friends,SPELLING IT OUT
I wonder if, like me, watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics was a real test of your knowledge of geography. As I watched these wonderful sports men and women processing in to the announcement of their country, more often than not I found myself repeating the questions: Which country are they from? Where in the world is that? It's a big world with so much to learn about other countries and cultures.
This year I spent my holiday in Austria. At least I had heard of Austria! I even speak the language! But I still learned so much more about the country and its history as I was exploring the sights and reading about them. What I find very rewarding in doing so is being able to make connections between countries, their history and its people and somewhere along the time line it turns out we are all somehow, somewhere connected.
When people ask me how my holiday was, I am excited to say: great, action-packed and I had time to do this and that and so on. This year, and I put it down to age, I didn't feel like taking lots of the usual photos of the sights. I travelled with a Dorling Kindersley Travel guide, which has all the pictures of the main sights in there and much better quality than I could ever achieve. But as I was going along sightseeing I often came across some oddities in each town I visited, which made me very curious and I couldn't resist taking a few snapshots.
I often took the opportunity to ponder the beautiful countryside and rich culture of Austria over a long and liquid lunch at one of the many wonderful cafés that Austria has in abundance. At several of these cafés I noticed chalk writing above the entrance door reading 20-C+M+B-12.
At first glance I thought of Einstein's theory of relativity ,as you would, but that was far too complicated to contemplate over lunch. When I looked closer it was nothing to do with Einstein, but I didn't know what it stood for either. The proof of the café and the chalk writing is below. Have you ever seen it? Do you know what this strange equation means?
It certainly got the conversation going over lunch! We quickly spotted that the numbers were the year: 2012. After further argument over the letters we came up with the Wise Men: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. But it required further research later on to finally solve the puzzle. The letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the customary names of the Three Magi that visited baby Jesus, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, bringing the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. They also abbreviate the Latin words “Christus Mansionem Benedicat”, “May Christ bless the house”. The year is divided before and after these letters. The crosses (+) represent the protection of the Christ. The equation is written above the entrance at Epiphany to invoke blessings on the house for the coming year.
The three wise men followed a special star to Jesus, the Son who became man 2012 years ago and still blesses us wherever we are and who we are. So may God Bless you as the new term starts whoever you are and where you are in this parish.
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