Thursday 26 April 2007
Mater to investigate case of man wrongly declared dead
A man who was declared dead by staff at the Mater hospital in Dublin earlier this month was subsequently found to be alive when mortuary personnel came to collect his body from his hospital bed, [writes] Eithne Donnellan, Health Correspondent. By that time, however, the man's family had already been informed of his death and were grieving their loss. However, they were informed by the Mater hospital some time later that there had been a terrible mistake. Fortunately, the man was still actually alive. The man, who has a disability, is in his 30s. It is understood that he has since been discharged from the hospital and has gone home. The events occurred in the hospital on Easter Sunday.
The Mater has established an inquiry to examine all the circumstances surrounding the incident. When contacted by The Irish Times, a hospital spokesman confirmed the incident had taken place and said that an internal investigation was under way. One source close to the hospital said: "This man certainly was pronounced dead and, some time later, I understand he was very much alive." Another source said: "Relatives were informed that this man had died, and when a guy from the morgue came up to collect his body he said he wasn't dead at all."
He added: "Needless to say, the hospital is very perturbed at what happened."
© 2007 The Irish Times
One sentence stands out: "The events occurred in the hospital on Easter Sunday."
Monday 23 April 2007
Well in three hours I have to say not one bad experience....a couple of fairly neuteral ones but not one obnoxious customer or member of staff. A lot of very stressed people mind you - It's amazing how much you can read in the face of a person as they watch the subtotal climbing on the till and the items piling into the trolley - the same items that will have to be unpacked at the far end!
But what I could not get over was how people wanted to talk to me - how friendly they were - how much they seemed to want to make contact with a stranger. We are constantly told how insular and private our world is becoming - how distracted and removed we are becoming from each other. Well that was not my experience! The human need for contact and relationship is not something that can easily be quenched. Despite rumours to the contrary it is alive and well. It was a revelation to me and a powerful reminder that sometimes we need to get out a bit and experience the everyday mundanity to realize just how much potential for good and Grace there is in this world.
After 3 hours my feet were sore, my stomach was rumbling but my heart felt good. It's not a bad old world after all.
Sunday 22 April 2007
I used this video (from the film:Dogma) at an introductory Confirmation class this week. I was attempting to illustrate how we are inclined to treat Christianity and specifically Jesus as a product rather than a WAY of life. Judging by the response from the class I think it got the point across. It is humerous and probably blasphemous, but then the intention is to show how not to 'do' Christianity! Judge for yourselves.
Saturday 14 April 2007
While reading the book I was also wrestling with my sermon for tomorrow (Easter 2) and the Gospel of the day, John 20: 19-31 which tells the story of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples in the house where they met with the doors locked. Thomas was of course missing when Jesus first appeared to them and while Jesus is of course the centre of this event we tend to focus on the figure of Thomas or ‘Doubting Thomas’ as he is almost universally characterised.
I have often preached on this Gospel and tried to express the importance of doubt in our Christian journey; of the need for a questioning and searching faith and the greater depths that this doubt and questioning bring to our experience of God. But somehow I have never felt that I have done Thomas justice – I am not sure I have fully convinced either myself or others that Thomas is a good role model for faith.
And then I read “Velvet Elvis” and in it I found the articulation of what it was I felt in my heart about Thomas but never managed to express effectively.
- Why does God let people die ….so young?
- Why do mean people get the most money?
- Why does the killer go free and the honest man die of cancer
- Is God really present in starving
- If we can ask God for forgiveness at our last breath why bother living a Godly life in the present?
- Either God is in control of everything and so all the crap we see is part of his plan (which I don’t want to accept) or its all out of control (which sucks too). What’s up?
That is not easy for the modern mind to comprehend because as
This really got me thinking about how we present our faith – how we foolishly attempt to pass it on as a package of static truths. But this faith of ours is not a passive thing – it is about acknowledging that we are a part of the greatest story ever told and that story has not ended and that we have a part to play in it. And if we have a part to play then we need to discover our lines, what it is we are called to contribute. Try and do that without asking a few questions?!
Back to Rob Bell and the importance of this questioning faith. Let me share a few passages in which he brings key insights to this whole theme of doubt and questioning:
“Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know.
Questions bring freedom. Freedom that I don’t have to be God and I don’t have to pretend that I have it all figured out. I can let God be God…
What are some of Jesus’ final words? “My God,my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus on the Cross, questioning God…
[Questioning] allows us to have moments when we come to the end of our ability to comprehend. Moments when silence is enough…
The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can’t be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not…
True mystery, the kind of mystery rooted in the infinite nature of God, gives us answers that actually plunge us into even more questions…
One of the great “theologians” of our time, Sean Penn, put it this way: “When everything gets answered, its fake. The mystery is the truth”…
Being a Christian then is more about celebrating mystery than conquering it”
And finally, one of the most helpful concepts I found in reading the book was how
The other model is faith as jumping up and down on a trampoline – It only works if you take your feet off the firm stable ground and jump into the air and let the trampoline propel you upwards. Of course key to the operation of the trampoline is the springs but you don’t need to know anything about the springs to pursue living “the way” We can quite literally take the leap of faith and jump for Joy!
All of this shed new light on tomorrow’s Gospel. It’s about living in the mystery of faith and not merely assenting to its truth. It’s there in the final verses:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
It couldn’t be more clear could it! Believing is not an end in itself – It is the road to life - to become a part of God’s story – or perhaps to recognise that we are already a part of the story! - To become a part of his plan for his people - to get onto the trampoline and jump! Thomas gives us a helping hand to enter into the story by telling us that this story is open to all of us – including those of us and perhaps especially those who doubt and ask the awkward questions. I think I may finally be able to do Thomas justice and even more importantly, to perhaps do justice to what Bell describes as ‘honest’, ‘vulnerable’ and ‘raw’ questioning which arises “out of the awe that comes from engaging the living God”
Friday 13 April 2007
Jeffrey John has written to the Church Times in response to the criticism over his recent BBC lenten talk. It seems that some of those who took issue with him, many without even having had sight of the text of the talk, sunk to new depths in the vitriole and hatred expressed in their personal communications to him. And we wonder why Christianity is in decline!? Reminds me of Dan Kimball's new book "They Like Jesus but not the Church" which deals with the confusion arising in society today where Jesus' most ardent followers seem to be some of the most unloving and unloveable people you could ever meet! None of us can hope to be truly Christlike, but just once in a while it would be nice to see these 'Christians' who claim a monoply on righteousness paying any heed to the life and example of Christ. One suspects that Jesus himself would be too 'unorthodox' for these zealous guardians of the faith. Anyway here's the letter - see what you think? For the record I think the good Dean is the one who has shown a glimpse of true Christianity throughout this horrible experience.
Sir, — The most recent statement by the Church of England on the meaning of the Cross is the Doctrine Commission’s report The Mystery of Salvation (1995).
It restates the view of the 1938 Commission that “the notion of propitiation as the placating by man of an angry God is definitely unchristian” (p. 213).
It also observes that “the traditional vocabulary of atonement with its central themes of law, wrath, guilt, punishment and acquittal, leave many Christians cold and signally fail to move many people, young and old, who wish to take steps towards faith. These images do not correspond to the spiritual search of many people today and therefore hamper the Church’s mission.”
Instead, it recommends that the Cross should be presented “as revealing the heart of a fellow-suffering God” (p. 113).
On Wednesday of Holy Week, I broadcast a Radio 4 talk that was exactly in line with this guidance. The talk, however, was publicly condemned beforehand by the Bishops of Durham, Lewes, and Willesden — none of whom had heard or read the full text — on the basis of a partial and inflammatory preview supplied by The Sunday Telegraph, which published an article with the scandalously false headline: “Easter message: Christ did not die for our sins”.
As a result, before the talk was even broadcast, I received a deluge of hate-filled messages. Most of them referred to my sexuality, and many were abusive and obscene.
I have now received another deluge of messages from people who actually heard the broadcast, overwhelmingly of thanks, including many from people who, like me, were held back from faith by crude presentations of the theory of penal substitution.
These messages confirm the Doctrine Commission’s diagnosis. Ugly, illogical explanations of the Cross hamper mission, and need to be counteracted with explanations that concentrate on God’s identification with human suffering.
The crucifixion did not placate an angry God and change his mind. The Trinity is not divided. Of course Christ died for our sins; but the price is paid not to God, but by God. God in Christ took all the consequences of our fallenness on himself, and, in the supreme demonstration of his love for us, made the ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice of himself which unites us eternally to him.
That is the doctrine the Church has urged us to preach, and we must not be intimidated from preaching it.
The Deanery, Sumpter Yard
St Albans AL1 1BY
Saturday 7 April 2007
Sermon for Easter Sunday 2007
Easter is the climax/highpoint of the Church’s year. Though eclipsed by Christmas in popularity, it is the most important day for those who profess the Christian life. As you will know the Church’s year begins on Advent Sunday which was the 3rd December last and will end on the 1st December this year. The fact that the Church’s year is not in harmony with the secular calendar is perhaps a useful reminder that there are times when as Church we are called to question and critique the society and world in which we live. Yes we are a part of it, but we are not slaves to it!
I personally find the Church’s calendar a very helpful framework for my own faith and spirituality as it forces me to engage with all of the parts of the story of Salvation, not just the parts I like. In particular the way the calendar shadows the life and earthly ministry of Jesus helps us through repetition to fashion our lives in imitation of his. Year on year we walk with Jesus from his childhood in
And that relationship with Christ is what it is all about – God in Christ reconciling the world to himself – in other words restoring relationships and reparing broken relationships with the whole of Creation. That is the Good News of Easter!
During Lent this year I was asked by a student to answer quite a detailed survey on the Resurrection – It wasn’t easy – it was very personal, and in-fact I am ashamed to say that I never got around to completing it – Why? Because it was the wrong time….we hadn’t got there yet….Jesus was headed towards
Easter is one of the few times that the media pays much attention to the Church these days. (As much the Church’s fault as the media’s incidentally). Even then it is usually in a search for sensationalist headlines. Across the water the Dean of St Albans got himself into trouble during this past Holy Week for his understanding of the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death as expressed in a radio broadcast on the BBC.
There are many different theological theories about the nature and meaning of Jesus’ death on the Cross roughly divided into the following categories:
- The cross as sacrifice
- The cross as a victory
- The cross and forgiveness
- The cross as a moral example
Dean Jeffrey John got in hot water because he played down the first category of sacrifice and in certain quarters was branded a heretic.
Among those who would criticize him, however justified, and I don’t think they were, there is a danger that in their defence of ‘traditional’ Christian understanding they reduce the Cross to a mere mathematical formula…. A proposition or a proof that cannot even approach the idea of PURE LOVE for which there is no formula except the person of God as revealed in Christ!
For me and for many it is enough to say that Jesus died for my sins!
How that happens I don’t understand because it is born of a LOVE so great that I cannot comprehend it! It is interesting that Jeffrey John in his broadcast ended with the following story which for me suggests that he too is convinced of the power of the Cross. Speaking of God’s identification with us in Christ he says:
“The most powerful illustration of this I know comes not from a Christian writer but a Jew, Elie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor and Nobel prize winner, who described his experience of
For more than half an hour the boy stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony before our eyes. We were all forced to pass in front of him, but not allowed to look down or avert our eyes, on pain of being hanged ourselves. When I passed in front of him, the child's tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed. Behind me a man muttered, 'Where is your God now'? And I heard a voice within me answer him, 'Where is he? Here He is. He is hanging here on this gallows'. For me - if not for Ellie Wiesel - this above all is the meaning of the Cross: that God is one with us in our sufferings, and not just 2000 years ago but through all time”
But enough of death you say! What about Resurrection?
Well – Resurrection doesn’t happen in a vacuum! Easter is not just about Easter Bunnies and Easter Eggs, Spring, New Birth and other warm and cuddly pictures!
Easter is about a God who on the Cross identified fully with the depths of human suffering, pain and cruelty and took our sins and failings and suffering onto himself and then in the Resurrection released us from the captivity to death. That is the Good News of Easter!
Back to the calendar and that discrepancy I talked about at the beginning between the secular and church calendars! Let us remind ourselves that the calendar by which we live our lives, which measures our earthly mortal stay on this earth is not the only measure of our lives. In Christ our lives have an eternal significance and purpose that no earthly calendar can possibly define or limit. In conquering death on the Cross Christ has turned our finite lives into the potential for eternal life in him.
But at the same time let us also remember that this earth is sacred – If not why would Jesus have come to experience incarnation? The work of his kingdom begins here on Earth as the Lords prayer reminds us: “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven” and so Easter should not only be a time to marvel at God’s amazing Love but to bring that Love out into the world. To allow it to transform everything and everyone it touches.
I finish with a story told by Leonard Sweet in his “The Gospel according to Starbucks” - a story which illustrates the transformative power of that LOVE :
There once was a rather rough, uncultured man who for some reason fell in love with a beautiful and hugely expensive antique vase in a shop window. Eventually, after saving for a considerable time, he bought the vase and put it on the mantelpiece in his room. There it became a kind of judgment on its surroundings. He had to clean up the room to make it worthy of the vase. The curtains looked dingy beside it. The old chair with the stuffing coming out of the seat would not do. The wallpaper and the paint needed redoing. Gradually the whole room was transformed.
For me that is what the Resurrection means:
Total and complete transformation of our lives, born of an unimaginable love in the light of which nothing will ever be the same and nothing will ever be ordinary again!
Friday 6 April 2007
Stephen Bates of the Guardian writes:
Evangelical Anglican bishops yesterday expressed their dismay that the BBC had allowed Dr Jeffrey John, the dean of St Albans who four years ago was hounded out of a bishopric because of his homosexuality, to give a “tragic” Lenten talk criticising their view of the Good Friday crucifixion by claiming it made God out to be a psychopath.
Insisting that their attack had nothing to do with renewing their assault on Dr John, the two suffragan bishops, the Rt. Revs. Pete Broadbent of Willesden and Wallace Benn of Lewes, claimed their criticism was theological not personal. They admitted, however, that they had not read the talk before launching their attack.
In the broadcast last night, Dr John said that the evangelical belief that Christ atoned for the sins of the world through his execution, made God out to be a monster: “What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people He created and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of His own son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing someone else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we’d say they were a monster.”
Dr John was forced to stand down as the newly-appointed Bishop of Reading in 2003 by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, his old friend, who had previously endorsed the appointment, following protests by evangelicals. The dean has admitted being gay and in a long-term relationship which he insists is chaste but has in the past spoken in favour of a more accepting attitude to gays in the church.
The doctrine of substitutionary atonement or penal substitution as it is called, remains highly controversial even among evangelicals. Critics say it makes no sense of Christ’s frequent talk of forgiveness in the Gospels and also devalues the importance of the Resurrection story on Easter Sunday. Dr John said: “God shows He knows what it is like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies…he bears our griefs and shares our sorrow.”
Bishop Broadbent said: “I think he is not being true to Scripture. He denies that there is a need for atonement… and wants us to see the death of Jesus as only expressing self-giving love and entering into ultimate suffering. It is of course - thank God - but it is also so much more. He is caricaturing the doctrine in order to criticise it. I am not being homophobic. It’s not a war on Jeffrey John. I’ve got nothing against him at all.”
In an entry on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, the Rev. Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney and a friend of Dr John’s, wrote: “Easter is a time for stringing up the innocent and this year once again the sacrificial victim is the dean of St Albans. We all know the reason why he’s hated by conservatives…not because he’s gay but because he’s honest…he has been saying nothing but the truth known by most people in the pews: that the idea of God murdering His son for the salvation of the world is barbaric and morally indefensible.”
Dr John himself last night insisted his remarks were in line with the Church of England’s doctrinal commission on the subject, drawn up among others by Dr Williams and the evangelical bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, who said at the weekend he was “fed up” with the BBC for allowing such “unfortunate views” to be broadcast.
Dr John said: “One of the reasons I wanted to give the talk was that the doctrine of the cross I was taught as a child kept me from faith for a long time and I have met very many others who have reacted in the same way.”
Monday 2 April 2007
In a BBC Radio 4 show, Mr Jeffrey John, who is now Dean of St Albans, urges a revision of the traditional explanation, known as "penal substitution".Christian theology has taught that because humans have sinned, God sent Christ as a substitute to suffer and die in our place."In other words, Jesus took the rap and we got forgiven as long as we said we believed in him," says Mr John. "This is repulsive as well as nonsensical. It makes God sound like a psychopath. If a human behaved like this we'd say that they were a monster."Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about "love and truth", not "wrath and punishment". He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could "share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us". (Daily Telegraph)
In the light of the above I was drawn to have another look at a book I read last year. That book is Marcus Borg’s, "The Heart of Christianity" (a real gem), in which he looks at among other things atonement theology. Borg is very clear that the traditional understanding of Jesus’ life and death as expressed in the signature phrase: "Jesus died for your sins" is not the only interpretation of Jesus life and death in the New Testament and that the theory only found mature formulation in the last 900 years. The principal problem Borg sees with this approach at the expense of all others seems to be two-fold:
1: If forgiveness is possible only for those who believe "Jesus died for our sins", then a rigorous following of this approach implies a limitation on God's power to forgive!
2: It gives no account of the historical reasons for Jesus' execution!
Borg suggests that "Jesus died for our sins" in the context of the day is not so much a literal description of God's purpose or Jesus' vocation but rather a subversion of the Temple sacrificial system and a declaration of radical grace. i.e. God in Jesus has already provided the sacrifice and thus taken care of what we think seperates us from God; we have access to God apart from the temple and its system of sacrifice. He actually describes it as 'Amazing Grace'
By way of illustration of the dangers of this singular understanding of Jesus life and death he goes on to quote another author, Barbara Ehrenreich, who was attending a tent revival meeting where the theme of the sermon was "Jesus on the Cross". As she listened she found herself thinking and here I quote as it is too good to paraphrase:
"It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth. I would like to stay around for the speaking in tongues, should it occur, but the mosquitoes, worked into a frenzy by all this talk of His blood, are launching a full-scale attack. I get up to leave, timing my exit for when the preacher's metronomic head movements have him looking the other way, and walk out to search for my car, half expecting to find Jesus out there in the dark, gagged and tethered to a tent pole,"
I think the difficulty arises for us again and again when we insist on painting our faith using only a palette of 2 colours! I love Leonard Sweet's ability to express in a few words the richness of reality. In his recent “The Gospel according to Starbucks”, his description of Paradox as the "midwife of truth" is so provocative. He asks rhetorically where we ever got the notion that truth is "clear and singular" when it is better described as "misty and multiple". As for heresy, it is "choosing one truth to the exclusion of all other truths" where Truth is "when a body holds together its various parts in conversation and harmony".
In summary - Jeffrey John may have used very strong and perhaps irresponsible and sensationalist language in his playing down traditional atonement theology but he did present another quite valid dimension of Jesus' life and death. He is not saying anything which many Christians have not said and thought before and it may be that he has played into the hands of those who are actively looking for the chinks in the armour of a person who is more of an anathema to some because of his sexuality and not his theology (Or am I being cynical?). We do well to remember that the fullness of who Christ was and is cannot be contained by any of our theologies and can perhaps be best experienced by immersing ourselves in the paradox and complexities of faith which are of themselves food for our souls.
Sunday 1 April 2007
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;
So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.