Monday 24 December 2007

Christmas Sermon 07

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

When I was preparing this sermon that verse from St Luke Chapter 2 kept going around and around in my head. For some reason I could not let it go, especially the last phrase: “because there was no place for them in the inn”.

On reflection I think I know now why that verse was so prominent in my mind. For the last few weeks our son Aaron had been preparing for his role in his school nativity play in St. Anne’s: He only had two words to say – he was an innkeeper in Bethlehem and the two words were: “NO ROOM”. These words were repeated ad nauseum from morning to night and thankfully when his moment came the words were shouted out in no uncertain terms! NO ROOM! And Mary and Joseph shrank away to that stable where it all began.

And so the Messiah, the Prince of Peace begins his life as a homeless person… invisible person….a person of no substance or worth… outcast!

It’s a strange celebration this time we call Christmas – we romanticize it and sanitize it – but in reality Jesus is born in chaos and squalour. The stable is a shed – it is probably cold and draughty, smelly and unhygienic - It’s a long way from a lot of the Christmas carols we sing!

Listening to Christmas music this year I have been struck by one song which while not overtly religious portrays more effectively than any other the brokenness that is an integral part of the Christmas story.

That song is not a new song, nor is it an ancient one: It is Fairytale of New York’, sung by Shane McGowan & the late Kirsty MacColl which shows the ups and downs of the live of a young couple – high hopes and shattered dreams – its all there! And as the music fades we see in the accompanying video they are still dancing together through it all……somehow in their brokenness they find a way through. That irreligious song may in fact be far more religious that some of the pious sentiment in our traditional Christmas hymns and carols. They are beautiful and they are inspiring and they do add to our experience of Christmas but sometimes they only tell part of the story….they speak of the light but shy away from the darkness. And as we know the light is only the light when it illuminates the darkness!

And there is plenty of darkness in the Christmas story: Jesus is born in a shed to an underage mother…..his paternity seems to be a mater of some confusion….he is homeless and his parents will soon have to flee with him to escape Herod’s wrath….he is to be a refugee! It doesn’t get much more messed up than that – we love to talk today about dysfunctional families but Jesus’ early family circumstances leaves even the most unusual family I have ever encountered looking decidedly NORMAL!

And yet! With his birth nothing will ever be the same again……God has intervened in human history in the most concrete way possible by becoming as one of us! And who does he come as? ….. A King, a ruler, a great warrior, a wealthy businessman…….NONE of these! A homeless refugee! Just like the refugees of today who daily die in their thousands for want of food, medicine, shelter and safety! NO ROOM!

This is how Jesus first came into our lives and as he was ignored and despised by many then so today he would certainly have the same experience. Homeless people aren’t top of the list of the guests we invite to our homes and our hearts at Christmas or any other time of the year for that matter: NO ROOM!

I have been reading recently a book called THE IRRESISTABLE REVOLUTION by a young Christian called Shane Claiborne. He is a founder member of a modern monastic community in Philadelphia called THE SIMPLE WAY and they live among the poor and the marginalised building community and hope in places of despair and lonliness. A lot of his work is among the homeless and he tells a wonderful true story about a group of about 40 homeless families who had been living in a tent city and through flooding and rat infestation had to abandon their tents and found refuge in a disused and abandoned cathedral! Predictably enough after 48 hours the caring local church served an eviction order on them. However they were not alone – a body of over 100 college students moved in alongside them and refused to budge until homes were found for these people. The protest went on for weeks and months and eventually the church authorities used health and safety legislation to serve another eviction order on the grounds that the building did not meet fire regulations! This of course presented a huge problem for the occupiers of the cathedral: How could they possibly meet fire standards? The night before the inspection was due there was a knock on the door. It was almost midnight and as the occupiers opened the door they saw 2 firemen standing outside. In fear thinking the inspection had been brought forward they tried to close the door as the two firemen protested – “Don’t do that – We’re here to help! – What’s happening isn’t right and we want to help you get ready for the morning – we could loose our jobs for doing this but we can’t let them do this to you! - We know what they will be looking for – let us help you!”

And so they did - they brought in boxes of signs, fire-xtinguishers, smoke detectors and worked all night to get the building up to standard. The next day the fire marshall had no choice but to pass the building and ultimately the protest only ended when the city authorities finally opened up empty housing and other private individuals actually gave houses to homeless families. And as Shane Claibourne comments in conclusion – “we never saw the firefighter angels again!”

I don’t need to point to the terrible irony in that story – It is blindingly obvious!

And it is a caution for all of us who call ourselves religious that what we say with our lips is in harmony with what we do with our hands and feet. Are we as Church – as the people of God - able and willing to respond to the needs of the poor and abandoned, the marginalised and unloved? Are we prepared to do more than just dip our hands into our pockets and dispense loose change or are we really prepared to get our hands dirty and befriend and embrace the broken people we encounter at a distance? That is the uncomfortable implication of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth! Because of what God did in the squalour of that shed in poverty and depravity then God is calling us into those places of brokenness and ugliness to discover the beauty that is in every human being created in God’s image!

That is the Gospel of the Incarnation – It’s a big, big package, it breaks down doors, it takes risks, it demands our everything and our response can sadly only be NO ROOM unless we get rid of a lot of the worthless baggage and ballast that enslaves and traps us in lives of mediocrity and safety.

The Gospel is not safe, nor secure, not predictable nor tidy but it is life in all its extraordinary beauty, fragility and brokenness, epitomised in the birth of a helpless infant born in squalor and fear who can through weakness transform and beautify the most ugly parts of our lives.

Have we room?………Have you room in your hearts for HIM?

Friday 21 December 2007

Armed robbery at TESCO

Went to TESCO this evening to buy some of their budget photocopy paper. I picked up a sealed box of 5 reams and headed for the till. That was when it all started to go pear-shaped! The checkout girl scanned the barcode on the box: Error! Then she manually entered the code and same result: Error! She then informed me that she couldn't sell it to me if it didn't scan. I calmly suggested that she open the box and scan the reams inside which seemed like a moment of genius to her! She then looked helplessly at the box which was sealed with one of those unopenable seals as used to seal bales of briquettes. Realising her predicament I helpfully suggested: "I have a knife" and took out my trusty swiss army knife. Only when she stepped backwards and looked at me in terror did I realise she thought I was about to steal a box of A4 paper at knifepoint! Just before she hit the alarm I managed to say: "It's not a threat - I was only going to open the box!"
Still visibly shaken she watched as I opened the box and she duly successfully scanned the paper.
Happily the rest of our transaction passed without incident. Though in future I will keep my weapons concealed! :-)

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Monday 22 October 2007

Real Kitch from a Virtual Friend

One of my regular haunts on the blogosphere is aka Gordon Atkinson. Recently his first book also called was remaindered (no reflection on its quality) and Gordon bought up the entire stock to sell to his online friends. I had already read the book but I had to have another copy because this time he was personalizing each edition. My copy, as well as a lengthy inscription also contained between its pages the following items: A Texas Music CD, A Maryland quarter, a US postcard of Route 66 and finally the item in the pics which is self explanatory! I just had to share it :-) (Double click on images to see larger version)

Sunday 14 October 2007

Saturday 13 October 2007

Pain so close to Pleasure?

Sermon for Sunday 14th October 2007

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c & Luke 17: 11-19

Leprosy is the common factor in our readings today. Of all of the diseases that afflict human beings Leprosy is at the same time the most familiar to us and the most unfamiliar. It is familiar because all of us grew up with it being the most widely supported overseas charity in our churches and perhaps most especially in our parish schools. Those ‘L’ shaped red transparent boxes are one of the earliest images that remain imprinted on my mind since my days in primary school in Abbeystrewry National School in Skibbereen, West Cork.

And yet for all that how much do we really know about Leprosy? – Do we really know what it is and what it does? We associate it with mutilated limbs and faces but perhaps we are a little blurry on the details. For those of you who are not quite clear on it let me describe it in a nutshell:

Leprosy’s effect upon the body is devastating. Where it attacks it causes a loss of the sense of touch. That doesn't sound too bad but consider the implications. When you reach for the cooker to pick up a frying pan that is hot you immediately drop it and put ice on the burn. You watch as your skin turns red and blister. Now, if you had leprosy you would grab the pan and feel nothing. You've lost your sense of touch. You carry the pan unaware of the damage it is doing to your hand. As you set the pan down and remove your hand several layers of your skin are left around the handle. But you feel nothing! You have no pain – and so everything must be alright but it isn’t!

Philip Yancey in his book called, "Where Is God When It Hurts" tells the story of a basketball player Bob Gross. He insisted on playing in a key game despite a badly injured ankle. Knowing that Gross was an important part of the game, the team doctor injected Marcaine, a strong painkiller into three different places of his foot. Gross started the game, but after a few minutes, as he was battling for possession, a loud snap could be heard throughout the arena!
Gross, oblivious to the break, ran up and down the court twice more, then crumpled to the floor. He felt no pain, and yet a bone had broken in his ankle. By overriding pain's warning system with the anesthetic, permanent damage had resulted and so ended the basketball career of Bob Gross.

To the question “Where is God when it hurts?” we could answer: God is in the pain! Sometimes a bit like disappointment and failure, pain is a way of telling us to do things another way – to change direction and to reconsider our plans. It’s a well worn cliché but sometimes it is true – “No pain, No gain!”

In the readings today then healing is actually a recovery of the ability to feel pain. Naaman, the commander of the army of Aram and the 10 Lepers are healed and can once again feel pain.

Perhaps it’s a strange way of looking at it but it is quite important when we consider it a little further. Without pain life would be nothing but pleasure, there would be no values because whatever you did could only bring pleasure, there would be no need for Love because it would be surplus to requirement, there would no need for loyal friends because there would be no situations in which you needed the support of loyal friends. And so in other words while we do not welcome pain (unless we are very strange) we realise that it is an intrinsic part of the human condition. Without it life would be meaningless bliss – perhaps enjoyable for a little while but ultimately totally destructive and enslaving. Pain is a necessary part of our human experience.

But so too is healing – and like pain it has a few surprises rolled up its sleeve. Healing happens in the most unexpected ways and sometimes it doesn’t seem to happen at all. For Naaman before he could be healed he had to let go of a lot that was dear to him – He had to let go of his pride – he had to accept firstly that this was something that he a mighty warrior could not do for himself – despite all his conquests he was helpless in the face of this illness.

Not only that but he had to travel to a foreign land and accept the advice passed on by a mere messenger telling him to do the most sensless thing – to wash 7 times in the Jordan! He ridicules this suggestion and only reconsiders when his own servant points out that he would have responded otherwise if he had been asked to do something difficult to achieve healing! But because it was a simple thing he was being asked to do it made his own powerlessness even more obvious – he was humiliated and yet the message got through and in what was effectively a declaration of faith he did bathe 7 times in the Jordan and was cleansed and healed.

When we turn to the Gospel we another dimension of this healing from leprosy – again location is important (location, location, location is a phrase that had meaning long before the now fading property boom). We are told that we are on the border between Galilee and Samaria – This was not just any border, this was a border every bit as tense as our own border with Northern Ireland once was. But the message here is that earthly boundaries and rules are overturned by the Kingdom of God – Jesus extends his healing to all, including a Samaritan and what is more attaches no conditions to the healing of the 10 – All they must do is show themselves to the priests!

There is a very important message here – The Grace of God is not dependent on our action – Its not so much that we have to earn God’s love – that is a given! – Grace is something we can opt out of but there is no need to opt in because God has already taken the initiative in our lives. This has been described by some as the scandal of Grace – it does not make sense – it certainly doesn’t add up in mathematical terms – there is nothing that we do or can do to deserve or earn God’s Love and what is more it is offered to ALL!

It is no wonder Jesus was seen as a heretic in his day because effectively this subverts all religious systems that seek to control access to God! Not just then but now!

It is a powerful reminder to those of us who call ourselves Church that God is not limited by the boundaries that we draw in the world. The healing of the 10 lepers, regardless of their faith or lack of faith reminds us of the Universality of the Love of God! In performing this miracle where he did and to whom he did Jesus sets the world on fire – he throws out the rule book and gives the complacent and the comfortable a firm boot up the backside!

There is also a lesson to be learned from the conclusion of the story – As you will recall, only one former leper returns to give thanks and he is a Samaritan, an outsider! He is on the margins and yet he is the one, the only one who realises the full significance of what has happened. The others, the insiders take it for granted but the outsider, the Samaritan gets it!

Where is the Church today? Where are we today? – Are we on the margins or are we on the safe ground, the centre where we can maintain our comfort zone around us? Or, are we like Naman becoming aware that we may have to leave this place if we are to find true wholeness, fulfilment and the healing of God?

I leave you with one question: Where would Jesus have us be?.......................

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Rapture - Not what you think!

Via Bock the Robber and Darwin:

This is good - a wonderful if slightly cruel prank played on a very gullible disciple of the 'Left-Behind' nonsense ;-) If you are of the opinion that faith is based on a secure evacuation to heaven then this will probably offend you and further reading of this blog will only serve to convince you further of my heresy! If not - enjoy!

Friday 5 October 2007

Harvest Sermon

Bits of this appeared in an earlier posting: Crazy World - Irish Rugby, Spiderman 3 and the Gardai in Lusk but this is 'churchy' version (greatly expanded).

“When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression”

In tonight’s Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy chapter 26, a reading which gives us wonderful imagery, such as “a land flowing with milk and honey”, and a promise that “you shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given you”, you might be surprised that I chose as my text for tonight one of the preceding verses which seems to be more about suffering than thanksgiving and celebration! Words like ‘hard labour’ , ‘toil’, ‘affliction’ and ‘oppression’ do not fit well with our traditional understanding and expectations of harvest!

When I think of Harvest the kind of words and pictures that come to my mind are of a happy event, the culmination of a years work – a testimony to the skill of the farmer in knowing when to sow and when to reap, how much fertilizer to use, when to spray – I see full grain silos and plenty of hay and straw, and churches such as this one decorated with the fruits of your labours. We have also come to realize in recent times that harvest is not just a rural festival but can also be a time for those who do not work on the land to give thanks for the fruits of their labour, whether in the home, the office the factory or wherever. But what all of these aspects of Harvest have in common is that they are about success! Harvest is traditionally about success albeit a success in which we acknowledge that God plays the decisive role.

Thankfully this year has, despite predictions to the contrary, been a success – the twin threats of torrential rain and the proximity of Foot and Mouth ultimately did not frustrate the harvest and while quality and quantity might have been down, prices were up enough to compensate. And so this year we do have a lot to be thankful for.

But – What about others? What about the vast swathes of English countryside where the fields turned to Lakes, what about the farms affected by Foot and Mouth and now Blue tongue….. and further afield, what about the Sudan where war and population displacement have destroyed the farming infrastructure or parts of Africa and Asia where drought regularly makes the land barren and infertile?

How would we feel about the harvest if that was the situation we found ourselves in, or to take harvest in its broadest context how do we celebrate harvest when we feel our own lives are not bearing fruit? I don’t want to be a dampner but these are very real questions if harvest is to have meaning in the bad times as well as the good – and I believe it can and does, and perhaps even more meaning in times of catastrophe and pain.

So what is there in this notion of harvest that we can take into the darker corners of our lives? Surely harvest thanksgiving in times of disaster is empty and hollow?! That may be but let us consider what we are saying by implication – We are saying I will praise God not because God is God and worthy of praise at all times but I will praise God when God gives me what I need or want! In other words its about me – Its not about God! Its about my success!

This fascination with success was brought home to me recently in the context of Ireland’s World Cup campaign and the criticism of the squad and most especially Coach Eddie O’Sullivan. Criticism is certainly justified but it is thrust of that criticism that concerns me. It was typified by the crass interview question put by TV3 reporter, Sinéad Kissane, who asked if, in light of the Irish performances in their pool, he would now consider his position. This to me was depressingly symptomatic of the ‘One strike you’re out’ culture which now defines Irish society. In this rarefied environment failure is unacceptable and carries an immediate and terminal penalty. This is a pessimistic culture which assumes we are defined by our past with no hope for a better future – once a failure always a failure! Such a society that cannot accept failure and learn from it is dehumanising and demoralizing. It ensures constant frustration and ultimately destroys the learning curve that is part of life. To use a basic if not base analogy: When potty-training a child do we expect a constant and unbroken progression or do we resign ourselves to the inevitability of the you know what occasionally hitting the fan rather than the potty? One of the things that appeals to me about Christianity is the expectation that we will make a mess of life on a regular basis – and that despite this we can pick up the pieces and start again. We may live in a post-Christian Ireland but this is one element of Christianity that even the most militant secularist might usefully take on board. The alternative is a very ruthless and cruel society where success is the new God and failure the new leprosy! Its worth noting that the Gospel from Luke 17 about the healing of the 10 lepers does not see leprosy as the end! – There is life after leprosy!

This is an area where we as church can make a difference – we can challenge a society which is based on instant gratification and a lack of tolerance for failure.
In a time of instant credit, instant communication there seems to be no place for looking forward – we live in the moment and what we cannot have now is useless and irrelevant to us.
Something happened to me this week that illustrated this perfectly. On Wednesday afternoon I got a phone call from my wife who was in Scotland on business. She had called to confer over a gift for our son. She was in Woolworths and saw ‘Spiderman 3’ DVDs on sale and was checking whether he had already got the film. I was able to tell her that he had not and so she decided to buy it as a “I’m home – sorry for going away gift”. A few minutes later another call from Scotland – “It’s not available yet! – It’s only on pre-order! – all the DVD boxes were empty! – The displays were just an enticement to purchase something that didn’t yet exist! Not only can we not wait for success but we can’t wait for anything and if we can’t have it now then we console ourselves in purchasing an option now on future fulfilment. It seems to me that this demonstrates how insecure we are as a society. We worship success but we have no resources to deal with failure and disappointment.

So, how do we turn our failures around? How do we celebrate harvest through times of ‘toil and oppression’ as the writer of Deuteronomy describes it?
For me the answer, or at least the beginning of an answer came in a sermon I heard last Sunday. We clergy don’t get to hear others preaching very often and it is important to hear others proclaim the Gospel if we are not to get entirely wrapped up in our own agendas. This is where the internet is a great resource – Some years ago while visiting America I paid a very short visit to Harvard university campus in Cambridge Mass and in the college bookshop came across a book of sermons by Peter Gomes, an African American who is the senior chaplain to the university. I came to love his writing and still listen to his preaching online on a regular basis. Last Sunday he preached a sermon entitled “When things don’t go your way”, and there were a couple of very profound observations that he made that might be helpful to us. He said that it was important to make mistakes and that we should even be thankful for our mistakes!

Does that sound strange? It should do! It flies directly in the face of the culture of success that increasingly dominates our lives! So why or how can mistakes be a good thing? Because they present an opportunity for change. Our mistakes draw us up short – they cause us to stop dead in our tracks and ask questions like Why did that happen? What am I doing wrong? How could I do better? What are the things that really matter to me?

These are questions we don’t ask when things are going well – rather we sail on regardless, increasingly addicted to the drug of success and with no time for reflection. I can’t remember who said it and the quote may even be a bit inaccurate but there is a lot of truth in the saying that “an unexamined life is no life at all”. Reflection and memory are part of being human – how sad it is if we have no time for them!

Our own Judaeo Christian tradition has huge resources to help us with living through the difficulties of life into a time of fruition and harvest. Harold Kushner a Jewish rabbi points to the story of Cain and Abel (the sons of Adam and Eve) and how Cain killed Abel and then fled as a fugitive. Despite that tragedy which taught Adam and Eve about heartbreak, they picked up the pieces, had a third child and several more after that. Commenting on the same passage, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said of Adam & Eve: “It is a fine thing to begin, but it is a much greater thing to begin again after what you have worked for has been taken from you. Again coming from Auschwitz (the most terrible failure of humanity) was Victor Frankl who said: “What happens to you, no matter how hurtful or unfair, is ultimately less important than what you do about what happens to you.

So back to tonight and our celebrations – let us indeed be thankful for the success that is demonstrated around us – for the Harvest, for the fruits of our labours that God has blessed. And let us also try and bring that harvest into the broken parts of our lives and our World – We might be surprised at how receptive those places can be – but perhaps we should not for as the songwriter Leonard Cohen puts it: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Lecture of a Lifetime

Randy Pausch is a US college professor who is terminally ill. In what will probably be his last few months he is facing the prospect of death head on and in a very public manner. Here he delivers his 'last lecture'. A lot of wisdom in this man's thinking, which while not cold is certainly not sugar-coated or overly sentimental. This is straight talking about an issue we will all face sometime.

UPDATE: Full lecture is available here

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Crazy World - Irish Rugby, Spiderman 3 and the Gardai in Lusk

It’s been a funny sort of a day today – busy, but with some time to reflect on the absurdity of existence. I spent a lot of time in the car and listened to various stuff downloaded from itunes, including a wonderful sermon preached by Peter Gomes of Harvard Memorial Chapel last Sunday. The sermon had the title: “When things don’t go your way”. It was a superb argument for the importance of making mistakes, which might sound strange but Gomes made a convincing argument for the case that it is through our mistakes rather than our successes that we grow and develop. Our mistakes pull us up short and cause us to ask the ‘Why’ questions of life and to reflect on what we are doing wrong so that we can move on and do better. Gomes even goes so far as to suggest we should be ‘thankful’ for our mistakes!

In light of this I couldn’t help but think of the Irish rugby squad and coach Eddie O’Sullivan. I watched the immediate aftermath of the defeat by Argentina last Sunday afternoon and was disgusted by the crass ignorance of TV3 reporter Sinéad Kissane who asked if, in light of the Irish performances in their pool, he would now consider his position. This to me was depressingly symptomatic of the ‘One strike you’re out’ culture which now defines Irish society. In this rarefied environment failure is unacceptable and carries an immediate and terminal penalty. This is a pessimistic culture which assumes we are defined by our past with no hope for a better future – once a failure always a failure! Such a society that cannot accept failure and learn from it is dehumanising and demoralizing. It ensures constant frustration and ultimately destroys the learning curve that is part of life. To use a basic if not base analogy: When potty-training a child do we expect a constant and unbroken progression or do we resign ourselves to the inevitability of the shit occasionally hitting the fan rather than the potty? One of the things that appeals to me about Christianity is the expectation that we will make a balls of it on a regular basis – and that despite this we can pick up the pieces and start again. We may live in a post-Christian Ireland but this is one element of Christianity that even the most militant secularist might usefully take on board. The alternative is a very ruthless and cruel society where success is the new God and failure the new leprosy!

This afternoon I got a phone call from my wife who is in Scotland on business. She had called to confer over a gift for our son. She was in Woolworths and saw ‘Spiderman 3’ DVDs on sale and was checking whether he had already got the film. I was able to tell her that he had not and so she decided to buy it as a “I’m home – sorry for going away gift”. A few minutes later another call from Scotland – “It’s not available yet! – It’s only on pre-order! – all the DVD boxes were empty! – The displays were just an enticement to purchase something that didn’t exist! Being in a reflective and profound mood this immediately struck me as another perfect example of the impatience of our culture – not only can we not wait for success but we can’t wait for anything and if we can’t have it now then we console ourselves in purchasing an option on future fulfilment. Talk about insecure!

The last provocation for my philosophical musings came with the evening news and the announcement that the Lusk enquiry had sensibly ruled that the armed robbers who had threatened the lives of innocent civilians by their actions had had ample opportunity to surrender before being shot. Thankfully the political correct bleeding hearts lobby had been frustrated in their attempts to blame the gardai for their deaths. I was surprised at Connor Brady (who I thought quite sensible in his previous Irish Times incarnation) and his inept and clumsy intervention in the procedure. There is no question that any death involving members of the gardai should be investigated but that does not mean that the integrity of the force should be undermined by unsubstantiated claims of undue force. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. If gardai are met by armed (or possibly armed) criminals they have every right to protect their own lives and the lives of innocent civilians with lethal force. I don’t see why any guard should have to risk their own life on the possibility that a criminal may or may not fire on them. If a criminal carries a gun then they have already determined the rules of engagement for themselves and anybody who accompanies them. Excuse the pun but we need to cop on and support the gardai who face the real ‘One strike you’re out’ situations on a daily basis!

Monday 1 October 2007

Choir for Sale on Ebay! - In Good Condition!

Yes its true!
Venerable Anglican scarlet-robed choral tradition (SATB), of St Stephen's Church, Centre of Bristol. Good condition.
Reason for sale: The choir have (with extreme sadness) decided that even though they would have liked to have assisted with the future plans for the church, they essentially have no place in the new worship arrangements that will soon be imposed, and that little opportunity for negotiation now exists.
Over the past few years the choir have sung in guest appearances at: Notre Dame de Paris, Wells Cathedral, Buckfast Abbey, Bristol Cathedral, and St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, and produced well reviewed concerts.
Bid for this item on Ebay

Monday 10 September 2007

Sunday 9 September 2007

Faith based education - Don't write it off yet!

Sunday Night -Watching ‘Rosh Hashanah: Keeping the Faith’ on BBC1, a discussion of the persistence of faith in a secular world presented by Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth. One of the most interesting parts of the program was a visit to the King David Jewish school in Birmingham where a significant proportion of the children are Muslim! Why? Because they value a school where faith and the ethical tradition that goes with it is taken seriously. Given a choice of a secular school or a Jewish school these Muslim parents are voting with their feet and sending their children to King David. I can’t help wondering whether there is a lesson for us to learn in the Irish context where faith based education is increasingly seen as sectarian rather than a possible aid to inter-faith reconciliation and understanding.

Saturday 8 September 2007

A solution to falling vocations: Build your own Priest!

This from Lark News:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Don Lawrence preaches three times a week to an appreciative congregation at Life Baptist church. His sermon tapes often sell out, and this year he is leading the people through a study of Matthew’s gospel.
But Lawrence is not a real person. He is a virtual, on-screen pastor whose sermon topics, personality, even mannerisms are chosen collectively by his congregation.
"We’ve never been happier," says head elder Louie Francesca. "We finally got the pastor we all want."
Virtual Pastor, a UK company, began pioneering the "virtual pastor model" in 2005, and has created a dozen lifelike, on-screen avatars which preach, joke and give personal anecdotes as if they were real people. All their sermons and personal stories are scavenged from the Internet.
When a church subscribes to Virtual Pastor, each person in a congregation helps "shape" their pastor by entering likes and dislikes into a response box during services. This live feedback is fed into the company’s servers and helps to change the pastor’s sermon topics, hair style and more in following weeks. The result is a pastor perfectly tailored to the will of the congregation.
"We unify churches and remove any reason for quarreling," says co-creator Gavin McReady, standing next to the servers in Scotland where all the virtual pastors reside. "It’s a monumental achievement."
It takes eighteen months for a congregation to fine tune their pastor so he becomes a perfect representation of what they want, he says. The shaping include gestures, physical appearance, personality, hobbies and sense of humor.
Different churches have produced widely differing results. A congregation in Huntington Beach, Calif., adopted the Virtual Pastor model last year. Within weeks their on-screen pastor stopped wearing suits and started wearing Hawaiian shirts, shorts and flip-flops.
"We loosened him up quite a bit," says one congregant with a laugh.
The pastor also stopped preaching expository sermons in favor of topical sermons like "How to Make Life Matter" and "Surfing through Paul’s Greatest Hits."
Some church-goers have been surprised by the results. A woman in Bangor, Maine, was alarmed to see her virtual pastor turn progressively more "British and tweedy." He began quoting C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, speaking in a British accent and wearing wool vests.
"My church was a bunch of Anglo-philes," she says. "You learn a lot about people by how the pastor gets shaped."
McReady and his programmers also like to throw random events into the pastor’s life, such as an unexpected crisis, decision or funny occurrence. A virtual pastor might walk on-screen one day and announce he is going on a diet to lose 35 pounds by Christmas. That theme plays out for the remainder of the year as he announces his progress week after week.
"People like surprises as long as it doesn’t impinge on their basic control of the pastor and his message," McReady says.
Churches with virtual pastors say troublemakers tend to quiet down or leave because they don’t have a real person to target with complaints.
"People can’t pin their problems on the pastor anymore," says an associate pastor who handles day-to-day matters at a Virtual Pastor church in Idaho. "He’s their creation. They can only blame themselves."

Thursday 6 September 2007

"Let the children come to me!..... Oh, and bring your baptism cert!"

"The Catholic education system has been far-seeing and has provided Catholic schools for Catholic parents. We have done our job, if there are others who are left without schools they should not blame us."…Archbishop Diarmuid Martin….Irish Times 6th September 2007

The current debate on school enrolment policies sparked by the shortage of places in our national schools for non Roman Catholics and the new Irish has once again brought matters religious into the headlines. The Roman Catholic Church finds itself accused of discrimination and is not surprisingly uncomfortable and unhappy with the defensive position it has been cornered into. In the interests of fairness it should be said that the Church of Ireland could equally be accused of this discrimination and perhaps has only escaped censure because of its small size and perceived vulnerability. Its enrolment policies are largely equivalent, giving priority to Church of Ireland students and only allocating places to children from other traditions when all Church of Ireland children have been placed.

The Archbishop’s response as reported in the Irish Times clearly articulates his frustration at taking the hit for a lack of forward planning in the Department of Education. However there are other voices within the Roman Catholic Church who seem to have a very different understanding of the Church’s responsibility in the sphere of education. Most notable among these is Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe who for some years has overseen a very different enrolment policy in the schools under his patronage. Between 5 & 10% of places in the diocesan schools are reserved for the Traveller community and non Roman Catholics. It seems Bishop Walsh has a much more generous view of the responsibility of the Church.

The way in which the two Bishops have responded to this aspect of the increasing cultural and religious diversity in Irish society represents both sides of a fundamental debate that is going on in all Christian denominations. How does the Church perceive its relationship to the world in which it finds itself?

It is clear that Archbishop Martin sees the extent of the Church’s responsibility as largely defined by membership of the Church. While he has provided temporary patronage to schools catering for the new Irish he does not see this as part of his responsibility. He is right not to let the State off the hook for the provision of universal education but his vision of “Catholic schools for Catholic parents” is very telling. It is very much in harmony with the recent State of the Nation sermon delivered by Archbishop Brady at Knock. Underlying that wide ranging and much commented upon sermon was a very insular model of Church. The theme seemed to be that the Church will flourish despite the world and that the Church is a safe refuge from the shallowness of the increasingly secular society. There was an unspoken assumption in the sermon that the Roman Catholic Church and the domain of God were interchangeable and overall a very pessimistic notion of the world beyond the Church, quite out of sync with an incarnational faith! The assertion that the Church “holds the answer” is the final nail in the coffin for any notion of the Church engaging with the world, let alone serving the world. If we have the answer why bother looking beyond ourselves? It may be of course that there is another reason for this retreat from the world and that is the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church in recent years and contributed to a rising tide of anti-religious sentiment. If so it is understandable but not necessarily a positive or appropriate response

But not all Bishops see it this way and Bishop Walsh’s vision seems to reflect a view of Church that exists for others and not simply for itself and its own membership. It is not as tidy a vision of the Church as the ‘traditional’ one. The boundaries are not so clear and the sphere of responsibility of the Church seems to be more open ended, but underlying this vision is a much more positive attitude towards the world and a greater optimism for the world beyond the boundaries that the Church might wish to build around itself. It is a more humble Church more comfortable in operating in spheres where it does not have control or even desire control. It is a Church which is not about boundaries but bridges; not about division but reconciling.

But what about other churches? The Anglican Communion to which I belong finds itself in an almost identical tension. In the current debate on human sexuality it is dangerous to generalize about the motivations driving the conservative and liberal elements within the Communion. However one of the major fault lines is between those who see the Church as a refuge of purity and perfection and those who see it as a hospital for the broken and damaged people that make up the richness and diversity of humanity. The former is a place for those who wish to avoid the contamination of the world and use sanitizer spray to wash their hands when they have to engage with the world outside the Church; the latter is a place where hands get dirty and stay dirty; where the Church brings hope into the world rather than projecting hope beyond the world. It is messy but it is Incarnation!

In the current climate of militant secularism and anti-religious sentiment it may be tempting to follow Archbishops Brady and Martin in retreat to base camp but the only choice for a Church that wants to be true to its calling is to follow Bishop Walsh’s example and rediscover the edginess of the Gospel in pilgrimage through and conversation with the world. To do otherwise is to become a church that exists for itself alone and so loose that very thing that makes it ‘Church’! As Jesus Christ is so often described “The man for others” so the Church is called to exist for others and not for itself! The only way that the Church can overcome the cynicism and negativity it is experiencing today is to demonstrate that it is not about self-preservation and control but rather about selfless Love and liberation.

Carbon Treadmills - Indian Gym machines!

Huge relief! I am not a cynic! I am not environmentally ignorant! I am not a selfish carbon emitting eco-destroyer! I am a quite sensible individual (well most of the time :-) ) that happens to think that the carbon offsetting industry that has developed on the back of global warming is at best cynical and opportunistic and at worst dangerous and damaging to those who are most vulnerable!

I know i'm right because even the Guardian agrees! But the best expose of this deceitful business is to be found in a recent article in the London Times with the following headline:
"To cancel out the CO2 of a return flight to India, it will take one poor villager three years of pumping water by foot. So is carbon offsetting the best way to ease your conscience?"
The opening paragraphs are worth a read if nothing else:

When David Cameron flew to India to open a JCB factory for a party donor, green-thinking supporters could rest assured that his visit would be carbon neutral. “We are offsetting all our emissions through Climate Care,” the Tory leader wrote on his blog. “As well as planting trees, they also invest in renewable energy projects in the developing world.”
Somewhere in the Indian countryside, a farmer is about to repay Mr Cameron’s debt to the planet. Climate Care’s latest enterprise is to provide “treadle pumps” to poor rural families so they can get water on to their land without using diesel power. The pumps are worked by stepping on pedals. If a peasant treads for two hours a day, it will take at least three years to offset the CO2 from Mr Cameron’s return flight to India.

As Spikedonline observe: Cameron can fly around the world with a guilt-free conscience on the basis that, thousands of miles away, Indian villagers, bent over double, are working by hand rather than using machines that emit carbon. Welcome to the era of eco-enslavement.
All of this confirms my continuing scepticism about the whole climate change hysteria which has almost taken over the media. Perhaps sea levels are getting higher, perhaps the ice-caps are melting and just perhaps we have overestimated our ability to change the current trajectory?

Tuesday 10 July 2007

CHURCH - It's all about Insiders and Outsiders - Apparently!

So - The Pope in a statement released today, for some reason known only to himself sees it necessary to declare those of us "born of the Reformation" as "deprived of a constitutive element of the Church"....and "cannot according to Catholic doctrine, be called Churches in the proper sense". Nothing new in this - Dominus Iesus (2000) has already told us that we are merely "Ecclesial Communities".

Once upon a time I would have got very angry and worked up about this but not any more - I do find it both profoundly sad and pathetic. Sad because it seems to me that one of the chief works of the Church is to build one another up in Love - to recreate community and not to undermine it - to build bridges not walls - to be merciful not arrogant - to be humble not self-righteous.....I could go on - this statement is so anti-Christian it is almost surreal.

It is also pathetic and in saying this I do not want to fall into the trap of triumphalism but I cannot help but observe that in my own 'ecclesial community' (Church of Ireland) which comprises 4% of the population we have more candidates for the priesthood than the Roman Catholic Church! Why is that? Why is it that the same Roman Catholic Church in Ireland will in a generation at most have so few priests that only one in three parishes will have a priest?

But this line of argument is a dead end too - because its not about numbers, its not about who is in or who is out, its not about who is more worthy (as we are reminded in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican) or even who can claim an unbroken Apostolic succession - No, what it is actually all about is being a follower or disciple of Jesus Christ - that is the true nature of Church and it belongs to no institution but is open to all - available to all as Jesus was. Infact perhaps true Church is most visible where Jesus spent most of his time - on the margins, with the outcasts, with the broken and those who as the Pope so charitably describes "suffer defects"!

I for one am glad to be on the outside of this pure and flawless Church. I only hope and pray that the majority of those within the Roman Catholic Church who do not think along these lines do not let this Pope further damage and pervert the witness of Christianity in our world. It's hard to reach out to broken people from a perfect Church which brings shame and rejection where what is needed is Love, affirmation and healing.

Friday 6 July 2007

Tony Campolo - Reclaiming God from the Religious Right!

This is a short interview with one of my favourite people - I don't agree with him on every issue but he is one person who gets what Christianity is all about!

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Obama: "Faith got hijacked."

Obama said Saturday that the religious right had “hijacked” faith and divided the country by exploiting issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and school prayer.—“But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together,” Mr. Obama said. “Faith started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hijacked.”

read more | digg story

I think Obama has hit the nail on the head here - Reminds me of what a lot of people have been saying recently about the current hunger for spirituality being a quest for connection and community while institutional religion (not least Christianity) seems more concerned with marking boundaries and raising barriers.

Wednesday 20 June 2007

Spread a little Love wherever you go!

Now your soles really can magnify the Lord. Shoes of the Fisherman sandals leave their unique message "in the sand at the seashore, on sidewalks after a rain shower, and on wet pool decks." Because, "while the words disappear as the sands shift and the sidewalk dries, these footprints leave the greatest impression on the soul."

Hand-finished in Thailand, Shoes of the Fisherman sandals are blue and white with a contoured insole, and are "waffled to keep feet cool." Take your first steps into a new world of witnessing for just $19.95 (plus postage and packing). Available here.

I suppose thats what you call "Walking the Talk"

Marriage and Pre-nuptial agreements

Like most clergy one of the happier parts of my job is conducting marriages. They are very fulfilling to be involved in and I always feel a certain privilege in my role as officiant. However one development which seems likely to become a part of the scene in Ireland is the pre-nuptial agreement which will it seems to me make it difficult for those of us who act on behalf of churches to continue to do so where such agreements are entered into.

Why am I so worried or what is my concern? Well it comes down to this: From a Christian perspective marriage is a covenant not a contract and there is a significant difference. A contract can be voided by mutual agreement and is based on limited liability and on distrust. A covenant cannot be broken in new circumstances and is based on unlimited responsibility and trust between the parties.

But what about divorce - does it not already undermine the covenant of marriage? I am a realist and I do believe that people should get second chances and that most marriages which end in divorce were entered into in good faith. However if on the other hand you enter into a marriage with the conditions for dissilution already discussed it seems you are 'preparing to fail' and that is a fairly hopeless and sad basis for any relationship.

So what would I do if asked to officiate at a wedding where the couple had entered into such an agreement? I think I would have to refuse, for to do otherwise seems to me dishonest and misleading. The Church wedding is not just a fancy backdrop to a civil occasion. It is something different than the civil ceremony and perhaps we need to make that clear to those who are embarking on this path in life.

Double Misconception!

A mother of seven has today been awarded €90,000 in damages after a sterilisation operation failed and she gave birth to two children. However, Mr Justice Peter Kelly refused to award the woman and her now estranged husband damages for the cost of rearing the two children to adulthood. In what was the first claim of its kind, the couple had said they should receive the same costs as would have been incurred if the two children were raised in foster care. They were seeking just over €381,000 in damages for that aspect of the case. (

Not simple this case - it seems that the doctor knew that the operation had failed and explained the first post-op baby by saying the mother was already expecting when the procedure was done! I imagine he was praying hard that she would subsequently feel called to chastity - but like St Augustine it was a case of 'not yet' and so his failure was rumbled.

I think the judge got it right - not least because of the consequences for the two children whose parents would effectively be compensated for their existence. Whatever the circumstances of the mother concerned it seems unhelpful for all concerned to bring economic compensation into the delicate mix that is parental love and care. I know that they never planned to have more children (obviously) and that they had good reason but would such massive financial compensation really make it alright? I suspect it would make an already difficult situation even more devisive. This was a case where the wisdom of Solomon was called for and in his arguments Mr Justice Peter Kelly did a good job. The judge said that the benefits of having a healthy child outweighed any loss incurred in rearing them. And he said that if he did award damages in such a case it would open the door to a limitless range of claims in respect of every aspect of family life.

Common sense won the day and on this occassion we have been well served by our judiciary.

10 Commandments for the road!

This from the Vatican:

Drivers’ “Ten Commandments”

61. With the request for motorists to exercise virtue, we have drawn up a special “decalogue” for them, in analogy with the Lord’s Ten Commandments. These are stated here below, as indications, considering that they may also be formulated differently.


You shall not kill.


The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.


Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.


Be charitable and help your neighbour in need, especially victims of accidents.


Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.


Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.


Support the families of accident victims.


Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.


On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.


Feel responsible towards others.

Hmmm - now we await the "Summary of the Law" Any suggestions?

Giving God a bad name?

The following is a comment (a very long comment!) which I sent in response to a posting by fellow Irish blogger GUBU aka Sarah Carey (Sunday Times columnist and frequent panellist on various Irish TV/Radio shows). Sarah was discussing a recent book by Christopher Hitchens: God is not Great: The case against Religion. In her blog she points to a radio interview with the author’s brother who disagrees radically with him. My comment is so long and obviously erudite I thought it worthy of posting on my own blog ;-):

Sarah – interesting clip. I had already read a review of Hitchens book in the ST culture section this past weekend. The reviewer, Christopher Hart saw through the circular nature of most of his arguments (“All wicked rulers are in essence religious, and therefore all religion is wicked”) but bizarrely in my opinion seemed to swallow the portrayl by Hitchins of Jesus as anti-Gentile, otherworldly and focussed on what I call the “I’m a Christian – Get me out of here!” attitude to the World.

Sadly this ‘evacuation theology’ (Thank you Rob Bell for that wonderful description) is what Christianity has for the most part presented to the World and one can hardly blame Hitchens and the like for reacting against it. But it is soooooo wrong! Jesus was not about pie in the sky when you die! When he was asked to show his disciples how to pray he said “thy kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in Heaven! In other word’s this world is not simply a waiting room for something better – this is it! As Rob Bell a contemporary writer and Christian pastor put it when speaking in Dublin last week: “Nobody gets beamed up!”

And as for being anti-Gentile…..what Bible was he reading?…..This is the Jesus who was so radically inclusive and contemptuous of barriers and boundaries that he got up enough noses to get crucified! Tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritains, lepers, all the unwanted people on the margins were the ones Jesus hung out with – despite what the Christian Right might like to tell us.

The problem is not so much with Jesus but with Christianity as a religion and how it presents (misrepresents) Jesus and in that sense Hitchens is justified in much of his criticism. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

If you want a great read on the Church’s misrepresentation of Jesus, which is as much for atheists as Christians can I suggest “A heretics guide to eternity” by Spencer Burke which manages to pull Jesus out from under all the shit the Church and Religion has heaped on top of him through two millennia! Its on amazon at and well worth checking out.

Just to give you a flavour some of the points he makes are as follows: “Nowhere does Jesus call his followers to start a religion. Jesus invitation to his first disciples was to follow him”….”religion at its most basic, provides a way of understanding the relationship between humans and the divine…for centuries, religion generally developed along the arc of human progress, but it no longer seems to be the case. At some point, religion dug in its heels and stopped advancing………..Religion works best in fixed societies…where ideas are static and boundaries are clearly defined. But this is not the postmodern world……Religion by nature always tries to divide…Spirituality seeks common ground……….What if God’s primary occupation isn’t punishment for sin?.............The role of religion is to point the way to God, not to control the flow. The goal is not to make people forever dependent on the Church………..Maybe the greatest gift the Christian religion can offer the world right now is to remove itself from the battle for God……In our current culture, it isn’t the local church or pastor that is providing a compelling vision of the afterlife but musicians, filmmakers and authors……….The message of Jesus is about making connections with each other and rooting the world in the love of God………part of faith’s role in society is to inject a vision of another way of being human…..grace is a miracle because it is not controlled, structured, shaped, or handed out by human beings or their religions”

Many in our churches today would dismiss this as ‘heresy’ and they would be right but they forget that the one who we wrongly call the ‘founder’ of the Church was the greatest heretic of all. And ironically I think Christopher Hitchens would be much more comfortable in Jesus’ presence than many of those who are a part of that institution we call Church.

Sorry to be so long-winded Sarah but this confusion of Jesus with Christianity really gets me wound up!

Thanks for providing a safety valve!

More thoughts on reality TV – Connection not equal to Communication!

I know, I know! – Two consecutive posts about reality TV. I am obviously ill ;-) I was listening to a podcast discussion earlier today from and one of the contributors was talking about the whole Reality TV phenomenon and how it has become so central to many peoples lives. In exploring Society’s addiction to the genre he observed that those being observed in these shows are being forced to experience Community without the distractions of the increasingly inter-connected world from which they are temporarily removed. Deprived of phones, internet and TV they have no option but to speak to one another and engage with one another face to face in real time and with no electronic gateway required. In doing so they rediscover an authentic experience of Community which ironically for all our inter-connectedness is a rare and diminishing reality. So it seems that what motivates us to watch these bizarre phenomena is envy – NOT envy of celebrity – but envy of an experience of intimate interdependent Community.

Redemption of Reality TV!

This is one of those rare moments when beauty breaks through banality and takes the legs from under you! Watch it and see what I mean! The singer is Paul Potts - a mobile phone salesman who went on to win the recent 'Britain's Got Talent' show. This was his audition and if it doesn't either make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up or make you shed a tear then I suggest you call the undertaker because you are obviously dead!

Wednesday 30 May 2007

Faith based schools: Past their sell-by-date?

Listening to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin last night offering to give temporary patronage to a school catering for non Roman Catholic immigrants got me thinking…..Certainly he is to be highly commended for stepping in to help these families whose children cannot find a place in our primary schools because of the lack of an appropriate baptismal certificate but another thought also occurs: Why is this not such a bad idea on a more permanent basis? Why should Catholic schools only provide for Catholic kids? And similarly why should Church of Ireland schools only cater for Church of Ireland kids? What are the churches hoping to achieve through their involvement with education? Is it really about spiritual formation and indoctrination? Or is it the elusive concept of ethos, and if so what is this whole ethos thing about and is it significantly different to the ethos in society at large?

As one who has attended schools of both denomination and in my work have an ongoing role in schools of both denominations I would have to say: NO - not now, whatever about the past when differences may have been more acute! Schools of both traditions reflect European Christian (and now post-Christian) civilization, mirroring society at large. They may differ in areas of doctrine taught in RE class but otherwise the so called unique ethos of our schools is a shared one, both across the traditions and with the rest of Irish society.

Ahh yes, but what about preparation for First Communion and Confirmation? A good question indeed, where in many cases preparation for these rituals is overseen by teachers whose own involvement in the Church is otherwise a zero sum! Surely this fools paradise is neither helpful to the children or the teachers who are forced to play the game by going through the motions. Much better by far to let the parents and the local church of whatever denomination do this preparation outside the school context. At least then it could be reasonably assumed that those preparing the children might have a genuine level of personal commitment. Children can spot a fake a mile off! Politicians would have a much rougher ride if we gave the vote to primary school children!

But there is another fatal flaw in this whole faith school based approach to faith formation. It is rooted in the model of Church as a club with rules of membership and association. That model is no longer valid! Children today don’t operate on the basis of club loyalties and boundaries. Like the rest of society they network freely with one another regardless of ethos or creed in new communities of shared interest and association; communities which pay no heed to and have no understanding of the exclusive model of community that our churches still find it so hard to let go of.

If the churches, and any faith community for that matter, are to have a future in education it is surely better focussed in providing a high standard of education to all our children which simultaneously promotes a mutual respect for the ever growing variety of religious tradition, ethnicity and spiritual expression on this island. Perhaps this is a role better suited to Educate Together and other like minded organisations but what a shame it is that the churches only seem to see their role in education in terms of reinforcing the troops and maintaining the battlefronts.

It is amazing that all our Christian traditions, which claim to follow in Jesus one who spent his whole life breaking down boundaries and setting people free from institutional bondage are now enslaving people to hypocracy and deceit. On the one hand we are forcing people into the hypocracy of going through rituals they do not believe in so that they can get places in their local school and our teachers likewise into sharing a faith that is not always their own so that they can keep their jobs in faith based schools. In using faith as a bargaining chip for the provision of education we are turning faith into a currency and by implication our relationship to God into an economic transaction. For the Christian, Grace is something that is freely given by God, no strings attached. By its very nature it cannot be repaid. If God gives us this gift without conditions how can we as Church attach confessional conditions to the provision of education? I think the time has come to ask ourselves just what it is we think we are doing in faith based education. Faith of whatever type should be about building bridges not walls! As followers of Jesus if we don't get that then we have completly missed the point!