Sunday, 22 January 2017

What Shall We Mix Truth With? (a sermon)

This is a written version of the sermon given by Jeremy Clines at St Mary's, Bramall Lane, Ecclesall Deanery, Diocese of Sheffield. It was on the day that we were celebrating the reunion of one of parish, Odette Sefuko, who has been with us for many years, with her children who have finally been allowed to enter the UK after an eleven year separation.

What Shall We Mix Truth With?

Matthew 4:12-23

What's Venus?
I was travelling home from a joyous Messy Church on Friday with my children and had a dilemma, bus or taxi? It was late, but the journey was already being made by the bus and it would save cash. I felt torn but opted for taxi, the children are still quite young. I'm so glad I did. As we drove along we began looking at Venus, my five-year old son said "it's that bright because the clouds in its atmosphere reflect the sunlight, don't they, Daddy?".
The taxi driver said, "Venus, what's Venus?".
It turned out the taxi driver thought that planets didn't exist and were a "conspiracy made up by governments" and he certainly "didn't trust governments".
He also thought that, "we are taught a lot of things in schools that aren't true".
He also felt it would be impossible to know if Mars was a planet and was red, "unless I go there myself and see it with my own eyes" because for him "truth was something you need to be sure about".

Seeking, mistrusting, desiring truth
I felt respect, admiration and shock at the views of our driver. My children were quite startled too. But I was wondering how many of us here are seeking after truth and don't trust governments? I was also wondering if we all believe everything we're taught or have a genuine mistrust of some of what we've been told? I also wonder how many of us have a desire for evidence and that without evidence we doubt some of the 'truth' that's being sold to us these days? I put my hand up, I am more like the taxi driver who took us home on Friday night, than I first imagined.

What shall we mix truth with: with fear and hate?
That's what really concerns many of us at this moment in world events, truth and where truth resides and how truth gets used. You see truth gets mixed with other stuff, it doesn't sit alone in life. So what are we going to mix truth with today? Are we going to mix it with hate, drop it in our cocktail shaker and see what comes out. Would we do that? Truth and hate together? Do you know I have heard that there have been some attempts in recent times to mix those two together: would anyone really want to do that? Would we want to do that?

What else could we mix truth with? Shall we mix it with fear as well: it seems truth, hate and fear are being mixed together right now on the world stage and we must pray, "heaven preserve us" and not join in? God forbid we ever join in with that cocktail recipe. Because the kind of thing that comes up in that cocktail, is so dangerous, we wouldn't want it.

Truth, text and reconciliation
What about truth and text, if we mix those two together, we could end up with a long list of rules that will not shift because it's all governed by small print that isn't the kind of truth that sets us free.

So what recipe might we want to mix up? How about truth and reconciliation. You know if we shake that up together, you can hear the son of Ian Paisley praising the work of Martin McGuiness at Stormont. Can you believe that? It does happen, it did; it depends what we'll mix truth with. Truth and reconciliation, can we try that?

Truthful discipleship
As Christians I believe we are called to mix truth with a number of things and among them, right now I think it's important to remember to mix truth with hope. Today in our gospel reading we hear of Jesus calling disciples, who responded to that calling in hope.

Mixing truth and hope together expands our vision of what is possible—and how much do we need that right now, oh how much!

Discipleship for the many not the few
Truthful hopeful discipleship is for the many, not the few. I remember as a very young adult attending communion on chaplaincy visits from my college to Wandsworth prison and witnessing the discipleship of prisoners. I suddenly found my limited version of discipleship expanded. Not discipleship made in my own image. My version of what was needed didn't conform to what I was beginning to experience. My version of discipleship had got muddled up with truth: going to prison unmixed it big time!

Non-conformist discipleship that transcends
I also do want to say something about the calling of some of disciples from today's reading: here we hear of four males called; I must stress though that Jesus appears to go beyond gender politics and the gender categories of the day, Jesus wasn't interesting in conforming to the standards of the time. He also seems to both challenge and rebalance aspects of the way people are treated because of their gender. In fact, in a broad-brush way, some of the most meaningful dialogues between Jesus and disciples are when he is speaking with women and those regarded as unclean. The males seem far more prone to getting told off by him. Just think of that conversation between him and the Syro-Phonenician woman, or that amazing interchange with the woman at the well in John 4 or, the o, most powerful of exchanges at the tomb of Lazarus with Martha's sister Mary; wow, it doesn't get more profound than that. We must also recall the first witnesses of the resurrection were women too: wherever there was imbalance, Jesus appears not only seek to rebalance but also go way beyond the gender politics of the time and shake things up with hope and truth for everyone.

The shoulds, oughts and don'ts of discipleship
What might our discipleship need to look like, that requires adjustment? I sense discipleship can all too often be driven by shoulds and oughts—it has in my life and now I'm wanting to resist that compulsion. There are some don'ts for our discipleship, but they are simple and brief. Don't be afraid, don't worry, don't be upset, don't be conformed. It's as simple and as complex as that! That's where being hopeful, is what helps us get—with truth—where we really want and need to be.

CBT and western anxieties
As people living in the West though, we do need CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy to get us out of the ruts of stress and anxiety: our Western lives are so overlaid with too vast array of choices and addictions that it's no wonder we are incredibly worried and over-wrought. One of the hugest addictions of all is to oil, the burning of which is heating up our atmosphere in a way that we could control but haven't yet: It's making us ill and our planet ill too for now and for those who come after us. That's why we need some brain (cognitive), habit (behavioural), liberty (therapy), as soon as possible!  I think most of us need that kind of CBT and plenty of us need some ordinary everyday CBT to help us overcome our contemporary stress, I'd recommend considering it!

What can truth and hope make room for
When we mix truth and hope together, it makes room for all of us to follow. It means that we can esteem and appreciate and applaud each other's attempts at discipleship. If we take time to applaud the ordinary contributions each of us bring to the church—the things we can do, not the things we think we or someone else ought or should do—across the traditions and denominations; if we purpose ourselves to encourage the gifts or charisms of each and everyone, then more people will be encouraged. If more people are encouraged, more will follow, it makes more room and people we will want to join in.

Peace will come
Let's take hope and mix it with truth for our discipleship, because then, encouraged together, we'll have an expanded vision of what is possible and what life together can be in that includes all of us. Then we will be able to look—not with certainty—but a growing confidence that peace will come at last and families will be reunited.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Letter in the Church Times: Readability of the Common Worship Collects and Post Communions

Today I have a letter published in the Church Times (see below). That's because, in my other blog, I've been exploring questions of readability of Collects and Post Communions among many other topics related to accessibility.

An article (behind a paywall) by Geoff Bayliss on 23rd December in the Church Times focussed on readability of Common Worship texts. He has been working with readability tools, similar to the Gunning Fog index I use as a guide in my re-writes. In his article he says;
If the intention of the 2004 set of collects was to make such prayers more accessible, and to pitch them in the language of those outside the Church, we discover a journey yet uncompleted. A further set of col­­lects is required, aimed at those who have limited vocabulary and ex­­perience of the Church, or who have English as a second language. [...]
If we turn to more recently pro­duced liturgy, there are two euchar­istic prayers (Common Worship: Additional Eucharistic Prayers: With guidance on cele­brating the eucharist with children, CHP, 2012, available at [...] It becomes clear that we can be successful producers of liturgy that is more accessible. (Church Times 23/30 Dec 2016)

I have written a reply about this topic area that is published in today's Church Times (Friday 6th January 2017). Here is my text that was put under a Church Times heading of "Accessibility of the Language of Liturgical Worship" :

Dear Editor [converted to "Sirs—," in the CT]

I am pleased Geoff Bayliss’s article "Speaking the Language of the People" (23 / 30 December) has sparked much debate—on social media at least—about the readability of part of the liturgy. Common Worship’s 250 or so Collects and Post Communions have a peculiar place. That’s because, typically, they only get wheeled out once per annum or less.  Almost every Collect has an alternate and the Post Communions are only optional. They also seek to sum up the theology of the Church for a particular moment in time, in one sentence!

I believe readability can be only one factor in making these prayers more accessible. In the last four years I have written and published (online) 200 suggested inclusive adaptations of the existing Collects and Post Communions from Common Worship. I have found in any adaptation of existing prayers that there are some gains and some losses in the following areas: the beauty of the language; conveying the Church’s theology; introducing contemporary themes including care for creation, urban and other liberation theologies; and achieving more frequent gender neutrality in our prayer.

What stands as an even more fundamental challenge for making Collects accessible is in asking who these prayers are for: many of the existing stock of prayers are for those who see themselves to already be part of God’s church and kingdom. The diverse self-understandings of those who come to our church services—seekers, the un-churched and those of different beliefs—means all too often the ‘us’ in these prayers contributes to the “othering” of too many attending worship.

Revd Dr Jeremy Clines
The Anglican Chaplaincy, University of Sheffield

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Ra, Ra the Canaanites: a sermon about genocide

This sermon Genocide: Ra, Ra the Canaanites  from 5 years back follows up on some of themes addressed in the Atheism and Christianity: travelling companions sermon from 12 years ago.

Atheism and Christianity: travelling companions

I found this sermon given twelve years back, and wanted to make a link to it here. Given in the context of being the only person from the clergy that the atheist Lord Mayor of York could imagine wanting as a chaplain, that was a privilege, expounded here:
Atheism and Christianity: travelling companions

Resurrection, Raising from Death, Revival, Spiritual Battles, Death and Walter Wink

I have had the privilege to spiritually accompany a priest who has suddenly died, leaving a local church community in shock and wondering about some of the meanings that could be found in this.

For that community the idea of the battle belonging to the Lord was important in those first few days of grief: as I visited them to offer my sympathies and support I found myself reflecting on the themes that were being explored: Resurrection, Raising from Death, Revival, Spiritual Battles and Death. All of this took my mind to Walter Wink's work on powers and principalities and also to the Charles Wesley hymn, 'Love's Redeeming Work is Done' (basically a set of 5 out of the 10 verses of 'Jesus Christ is Risen Today' without all the 'Alleluias')!

As I talked with some of the community I was invited to go along and say a few words at their next Sunday gathering, I wrote this up and that was, in turn, posted up as a blog on their church site.

Here, for what they are worth are the blogs I prepared on these topics: