Reunions make you think, don’t they

I’m writing this article having just returned from a reunion weekend in Romsey with three couples with whom I served in the Army. I’ve known them for 54 years in the case of the men and about 48 years for the ladies. We are all married with golden wedding anniversaries spread over the next five years and apart from a bit of hearing difficulty, we are all blessed with reasonable health. The thing that struck me was that although our career paths diverged, after the Army, we are all content with how our lives have panned out and respect the variety amongst us. We had much to talk about and our hosts had arranged an interesting itinerary – altogether it was a most enjoyable reunion – it’s my turn to host next year.

Our time together reminded me of a story of a reunion of past pupils of a school run by a religious order. One of the priests, who’d been abroad for years, returned for the reunion and found himself surrounded by a host of ex-pupils whom he hadn’t met since they left school. To an observer it would have been obvious that he was much loved and respected.

He had a natural graciousness that seemed to trigger an outpouring of the details of their post-school lives. There was an architect who’d built a number of public buildings, including two churches; a university professor who was the author of a number of learned books; the CEO of an international company; a highly successful farmer who used the most modern technology in improving his harvests; a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church; and the Principal of a famous public school.

What a pleasure it was for the old priest listening to all their impressive successes and achievements. It appeared that there wasn’t a failure among those who had returned for the reunion.

He didn’t say much as he listened to them, just nodded and smiled. When they’d done, he congratulated them on their achievements. Then, opening his arms to them he asked them, “And now, tell me what you have made of yourselves?”

There was a long silence. They didn’t really want to talk about themselves. It was clear that they’d been so absorbed in their careers, with their energies focused on efficiency and success, that they hadn’t the time to grow emotionally, and so, in terms of relationships, many of them were impoverished.

There are people who may have done great things in their public lives but failed in their private lives. Most people who are successful at their careers leave their personal lives a long way behind. Indeed, their successes are often achieved at the expense of their personal lives.

Do you remember how in the parable of the Talents the first two men were commended by Jesus because they used their talents, but he berated the third because he had buried his talent?

When Christ talked about talents, he wasn’t meaning say, a musical talent, or a footballing talent. Those talents are important, and full marks to those who have, develop, and use them. But nowadays they are, in my opinion, outrageously over-valued and over-rewarded. Christ’s parable goes a lot deeper. Ultimately the only thing that matters is what we make of ourselves.

But we’re wrong if we think it is about making something of ourselves in a materialistic sense, though this is not ruled out. The ‘wife of noble character’ mentioned in the final chapter of Proverbs could hardly be described as being either successful or famous. Yet she is held up as a model. Why? Because of the person she is – industrious, caring, wise and virtuous. She’s got something more valuable than wealth or beauty. She has a loving heart. She has put her talents at the service of her family, her neighbours, and the poor. And so she is respected by the whole community.

Life is God’s gift to us. What we do with life is our gift to God.

Max Young

Thank you from Wendy & Steve

Wendy and I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who was involved in planning for my induction service and taking part in any way. We so grateful for the warm welcome we’ve received, for all your cards and many expressions of kindness and promises of prayer as we settle in to this new calling. Some fantastic work has been done by a dedicated band of folk who have worked so hard inside and out of the vicarage to prepare it for our coming, thank you for that labour of love which has been such an obvious sign of welcome.

Special thanks also to our churchwardens and the parish reps, not only for the great job they’ve done during the interregnum for also for the way they were so helpful in our initial discernment about coming. And I know how grateful everyone is to our dedicated ministry team and all who’ve worked alongside them in keeping on faithfully serving God through the work and witness of All Saints’ and St Mary’s during the interregnum, thank you for all you have done and continue to do in sharing the good news of Jesus.

Wendy and I look forward very much to getting to know you all and to settling in to this community. We’re delighted to be with you and we believe that God has good things in store for us to enjoy as we work together to connect new people with Jesus.

Our Priesthood

I was talking with someone in the Barber Rooms after Steve’s installation last month and we were trying to find a word that summarised our feelings – the service had been so uplifting and, to my mind, had illustrated very clearly that we ARE a priesthood of all believers (remember the last two articles I wrote in the magazine?).

From outside All Saints’ we were called by the bells, then inside we were greeted joyfully as we entered our church where it was so apparent that we were a very happy multi-talented crowd whose priesthood or ministry had worked so well during the inter-regnum and who were looking forward to continuing that priest-work with Steve and Wendy.

Well, the word that came to me to describe my feelings was ‘Hope’ – I felt that there was a feeling of confidence in the future of our work together under Steve’s leadership.

The Bishop and Steve were very clear that such work can only be effective by our efforts moving outwards from our church buildings to operate among the people of the two parishes. And one of the outstanding differences between the Christian priesthood and others is that in other religions the priesthood’s work is usually limited by the boundaries of the temple, shrine, sanctuary or holy place. It is concerned only with services, sacrifices and worship. No Israeli priest was expected to go amongst his fellow Jews to minister to them, to bring comfort, help or healing. No Buddhist or Hindu priest would dream of doing such a thing.

But we have a new kind of priesthood, one given to us by Jesus Christ. It is his own priesthood, as he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free’.

He sent his disciples out to preach and heal, and told his church ‘to feed his sheep’. And in telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, he showed the difference between the old priesthood and the new.

From its formation the Christian Church began to do what no other religious body had ever done before, and set up a ministry of teaching, helping, healing and shepherding amongst their neighbours.

I feel sure that the church’s success in winning over the hearts and minds of people was in a large part due to its pastoral ministry. This priesthood of the Christian Church – both clergy and laity – was a new phenomenon, and the success or failure of the church’s mission was, and is, a reflection of the degree to which its pastoral work is emphasised or neglected.

Today we have plenty of opportunities to exercise our individual priesthoods and it is heartening in Faringdon to see this work in action in so many aspects of our church life. Let us thank God for this and for all those amongst us whose personal examples in word and action are affecting for good the lives of those with whom they come in contact. This is truly priestly work and the scope for it is unlimited. By using our lives and abilities in almost any way in the service of Christ will fulfil our priesthood and help us to be worthy of the vocation to which we are all called.

Max Young

We believe in One Lord Jesus Christ . . .

In the Nicene Creed some of its truths are expressed in a down to earth way; i.e. in a concrete or literal manner. But there are some truths which cannot be stated that way at all! Our language has to be much more that of symbol, metaphor or analogy. Indeed some of its statements are a mixture of the concreteliteral and the metaphor analogy! The very expression Jesus Son of God is just that.

Moreover, we have to acknowledge that this Creed, like the Bible itself, was compiled and written long before the scientific era of recent centuries and to-day’s world. It does not mean (as some claim) that modern science, biology, psychology, etc., or the latest historical study, disproves the biblical truths, or shakes the Creedal beliefs. Rather it means seeing and understanding all these great truths of Faith with, as it were, wider eyes and minds.

After all, these are (as I tried to show in the second article) all expressions of a great Creator’s mind. Bringing this way of doing theology to the study of God’s holy Word, and also to our holy Faith, using all that new disciplines and studies teach us, far from denying or changing this Faith, actually enhances and enriches it; giving it greater depth and meaning. Many great scientists, philosophers and historians, etc. strongly acknowledge and believe this.

We come then to this second crucial Creedal declaration which is about JESUS. We profess our faith in “One Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father”. It states that there is only ONE Lord Jesus! It means that there is only one sure and certain mediator between humankind and God; and between the whole cosmos and God. For we live in what the Bible calls a fallen world; marred, distorted and sadly spoilt by wrong doing, sin and evil. We have to acknowledge this with utter realism, when we think about the Cross and how Jesus died for us. We are affirming that Jesus is the only One who can bring about our most certain reconciliation with our Father God.

In Ephesians 4:5 St. Paul wrote: “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all”. Jesus himself said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). In some way, whether in this world or the next, that truth has to be real for every single soul. There is no other way; no other philosophy or religion can do it adequately and completely! Does this mean that the other great world faiths like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, have nothing to teach us; and do not have meaningful understanding of God and genuine access to him? Certainly not! But it does mean that we believe the Christian faith can fully complete their differing paths, bringing a fullness of faith and enrichment. And always in humility, we must gratefully acknowledge the immense goodness and truth in them, and learn from them. We are all brothers and sisters in our humanity, and in God.

But why “the only Son of God”? Here again we are using very limited human language to describe supernatural divine nature. The Bible teaches us both in the Old Testament and supremely in the New, that every human person is made and meant to be a child of God; a son or daughter of our Father Creator. And that we don’t just know it, but live it fully and happily in his great love. So to make this absolutely possible and truly real, God actually came to live here amongst us.

The theologian and Bishop, Augustine of Hippo (in the 5th century) put it like this: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that all the sons of men might become the sons of God”. Nowadays we have to put it this way: The Son of God became the Son of Man, so that all the sons and daughters born of man and woman, might become the sons and daughters of God. This means affirming what the Bible teaches in Genesis 1:27 that we are all made in the image of God; actually sharing something of his eternal divinity and nature. It also underlines the truth, stated earlier, that there is only One Sure Redeemer, One Sure Saviour.

In his life here amongst us Jesus is our perfect role model and representative; the one who by abundant grace, can help us be truly sons and daughters of our Father God. The writer to the Hebrews (12:2) put it like this: “looking to Jesus the author (or pioneer) and perfecter of our faith”. St Peter expressed it this way when it seems many were doubting or even rejecting Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life?” (John 6:68). Bishop Richard of Chichester, in a beautiful prayer, describes Jesus as Friend and Brother in heaven. How true!

Later we shall look at what it actually means to be both fully and truly human, and fully and truly divine, when in his incarnate life (taking our flesh) Jesus shared our earthly journey. We can only do this by carefully exploring that earthly life and ministry as portrayed so strongly and graciously in the holy Gospels.

Finally, the phrase describing Jesus as “eternally begotten of the Father”, is again using human analogy and language to convey a divine reality. To conceive, bear and beget children, is one of the most joyful and beautiful gifts of our human life. The children given to us are for this life only of course. In Heaven we shall all share the eternal life of another family, closer then to our Father God and Christ his Son.

The relationship between God the Father and God the Son is similar to our human ones, but for them it is a fully eternal union in a bond of holy and perfect Love. Hence our Creed uses the very poignant telling phrase eternally begotten. And it reminds us of the privilege and joy, yet huge responsibility, of bringing children into our world; and bringing them up, and how much we need the parenting God to help and guide us. Moreover as St. Paul and others remind us, it underlines the truth of our adoption, our sonship and daughtership, into the very being of the Godhead, and into the Church and family of Christ. (Note Romans 8:14-16 and Galatians 4:4-6).

Next time we shall look at the outstandingly beautiful and meaningful words that follow, describing Jesus as “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God”.

Now, while God’s gift of time, moves on;
And we, in this world’s space, cry out our spoken Creed.
So may our Faith flow out in prayer and generous love;
And God our Father evermore be praised,
In his true dear, and only Son, our Lord.
“Jesus, my Lord and my God”

Amen.

George Abell

The priesthood of all believers (2)

I had quite a few interesting conversations with people after last month’s article about the Priesthood of all believers. It seemed that quite a large percentage of people had always assumed a vast divide existed between clergy and laity that was only bridged by ordination. Not only that, there was an assumption that a much lower standard of character and conduct was acceptable for the laypeople who themselves, quite rightly, demanded the very highest standards from the clergy. I’m sorry, but that’s not on, laypeople and clergy are equally ‘priests of the Lord’, and should have the same high standards.

I hope that you agree! Now I will try to answer one of the questions I was asked, which was, “What is it that this ‘royal priesthood’ of clergy and laypeople are ordained to do?” Paul, in Romans 15,  speaks of himself as “Doing the priest-work of the Gospel.” But what is this priest-work?

In the Old Testament the priesthood was a body of people set apart for the service of God’s Sanctuary – to keep the sacred fire on the altar alight; to offer the daily sacrifice; to trim the golden candlestick and to renew the showbread. In a word, their primary duty was the maintenance of God’s worship.

In the Early Christian Church, as we read in the Book of the Acts, the Christian community is seen thinking of itself as “a royal priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The Church maintained its priorities in the Breaking of the Bread, the prayers, and the gathering together for worship on the first day of the week. No doubt the Church preached the Word and ministered to the poor, but it saw itself principally as a society for worshipping God through Jesus Christ.

I think we sometimes have to remind ourselves in modern times, of the inseparable connection between priesthood and worship. Today there is a tendency is to make much of moral conduct and philanthropy, and to think that worship isn’t so important. We should be ‘decent’ people; kind to our neighbours and supporters of charities. As for worship, well it just doesn’t seem to appeal to some people. So we have become a nation that is largely non-worshipping – there are so many more appealing things to do with our Sundays!

Humanitarianism cannot take the place of worshipping God – the worship of the creature in place of the Creator – God has first claim on us, and as his priests, it is our appointed duty to “stand in his sanctuary.” It is, I think, obvious that, if the earliest Christians hadn’t seen their gathering together as their primary duty, the Church would have rapidly gone to pieces, and nothing more would ever have been heard of it.

Is the duty of Sunday worship just a mere matter of personal inclination?  What would have happened if the earliest Christians had regarded their priesthood in this way, and had felt no particular obligation to join in when the Church met for worship? Does it matter less now than it did then?

And if we accept and believe in the priesthood of all believers, then we must remember that the priesthood has always had a representative character. In Old Testament days, whether ‘the congregation of the people’ was there or not, the sacrifices were offered; the priests of the Lord kept watch in his sanctuary, and took their appointed place carrying out their priestly duties. Whatever the nation, Israel, did, the priesthood stood before God for them, and made offerings in their name, as their representatives. In the same way our Christian Faith reveals Jesus standing before the Mercy Seat and making his offering for us.

What we have to do is to think of ourselves as forming, collectively, the Church, the priestly body, God’s ministers, in a world which is alienated and estranged from God, as our modern world is becoming more and more – a world too ignorant of spiritual values, too neglectful, too careless, too absorbed in the feverish pursuit of amusement and of money, to offer God the worship which is his due.

God the Creator (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

As we saw in our last article there is Only One God; One Supreme Being who is the Creator – the source and life and power of all that we can see, touch, or feel; of all existence, animate and inanimate; of all life in endless variety and wonder; of a vast Universe with untold billions of galaxies, in which one of the smaller we are set. He is the Eternal God, the beginning and the end, described in the New Testament as “the Alpha & the Omega” (Revelation 1:8 & 22:13 ); the timeless One; yet also Our Father, with whom we have real personal bond, known by faith and sustained by Love; and with whom we are linked forever, in time and for eternity.

In this article we shall first think about the Creation itself, recognising that it has, along with its sheer greatness and grandness, a moral heart. In other words it is made for a purpose, with a good and wonderful plan, and a glorious final end. Creation, though beginning billions of years ago with what scientists call the big bang, is not a pure chance happening. It does not move in totally random, unsure direction with no certain goal. It is, as we know from the innate consistent dependable physical laws that govern it, the result of very definite design and meaning. It is the work, we believe, of a great Creator’s mind; the activity of God himself; who is forever intimately concerned with and caring of its entire life.

Within that plan of course is what we call Evolution. In modern understanding that process of evolution, taking place over many billions of years, far from denying Divine design and creativity, actually demonstrates the amazing genius, the great inventive mind, and unlimited power of God. As we come to faith in God, without which we can make only partial sense of creation and existence, we see that it is Divine Love that has both made all, and sustains all. That is shown all through the Old Testament, and supremely in the New, where in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, we see that Love at its fullest and most wonderful (John 3:16).

The Christian Faith, as do other World Faiths, asserts categorically that the Creation is GOOD.  The Genesis story of Creation states several times boldly and clearly that what God made was indeed both wonderful and good. He meant it to be wholly good, not something shoddy and inferior (Genesis 1:21). God does not deal in the substandard or second best. And God does not, and cannot create anything that can be described as evil or contrary to the good and his great Love. I have always loved the song “What a beautiful world” composed by Bob Thiele & David Weiss, set to music by Louis Armstrong (top of the charts more than once when I was a young curate!). Here are two of its verses:

I see trees of green, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white,
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
.

The Book of Genesis (began over 3,000 years ago by several authors, and later edited several times) is not a text book of geology, astronomical physics, palaeontology (study of fossils), or any other human or biological science. But it does present, within a framework of the highest religious thought of ancient times, a strong sense of Divine creative genius and power. And it proclaims the moral truth and purpose of Creation for all time. Creation Story is well thought out imaginative legend or myth, made in the only way possible for that era of human knowledge. Some see it as a poem of Creation, and like all good poetry, conveys truth and meaning and the truly beautiful. The Bible contains some of the world’s finest poetry; the Psalms; the Song of Songs; and countless passages elsewhere.

The tendency for some Christians is still to read and interpret sections of Holy Scripture in a largely literal way, failing to see that its particular genre and actual setting in ancient times and cultures must be taken into consideration. Remember that these were pre-scientific eras where myth, story or legend was usually taken as accurate historical fact and objective truth. Biblical understanding and interpretation today must take into account all that the wide fields of modern knowledge, the sciences and prudent literary criticism, have to teach us. Otherwise we do grave injustice to Scripture and fail to understand it properly, learn from it, and use it in the best possible way.

In this series we are thinking about the Nicene Creed, starting with the One Creator God who creates only the Good. So we have to ask what did go wrong in this good creation? There isn’t space here to explore the complex story of how our human species, homo sapiens, evolved over many millennia; and gradually developed a moral sense with awareness of right and wrong. Or, in the long distant past, the origins of human sin and evil, and all that is contrary to goodness and love. Genesis Chapter 3, in a poignant and telling legend, describes what we call The Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, choosing to go their own way rather than his. This falling away from the good and the best in human relationships, first with God, and then with each other, sadly affects us all. The Christian Faith proclaims the Good first, and then how God can indeed rectify our damaged moral state, and does so lovingly, faithfully and ceaselessly. So the next article will be about JESUS, how he and only he, can accomplish our SALVATION.

However, I want to stress again that the goodness of the whole Creation, and the essential goodness of all humanity, despite our many sins and failings, has never been destroyed or totally lost, however much it seems diminished at times. The Creed expresses our core faith that God in goodness and eternal Love never deserts us, but forever seeks to bring us back to himself, and to hold on to us, for all eternity. When we come to the Resurrection of Jesus I shall write something like this: “This central and wonderful truth of faith asserts that all creation is essentially good, for God made it so, and his plan from the beginning to the end, is to affirm its goodness and beauty, constantly restoring and renewing it through Christ. Indeed, all creation, everything around us, everything made and done for the good of humanity, every act of human love and kindness, reveals the life and presence and goodness of God”. (Genesis 1 again; Acts 14:15-17 & 17:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17).

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. Amen. Alleluia!

 A Song or Prayer for Easter Day or at other times

God, good Creator, please accept my praises:
Offered, dear Father, on this happy morning:
Death now defeated, life unending granted, heaven now wide open.

George Abell

Disaster

In hardship people seem to struggle and I’m not sure we get it right. Here’s an attempt to tackle the subject which is bigger than a small article, but runs on the lines an old friend helped me with years ago.

When devastating events occur in our lives how do we respond? How do we develop our attitude to the pruning-hook a heavenly Father takes to our life?

  • Consider the Lord Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured (literally ‘stayed under’) the cross…’ (Heb 12:2)
  • Consider the apostolic command to:
Rejoice Rom 15:10
Rejoice at all times 1Thess 5:16
Rejoice always Phil 4:4
Rejoice when ostracized and hated Luke 6:22 & 23
Rejoice in being brought low James 1:9 & 10
Rejoice in constraints Rom 5:3
  • Or the examples of
Rejoicing in institutional persecution Acts 5:41
Rejoicing in being misunderstood 2 Cor 6:10

 

Is there a way to reconcile the ruin of a career, thwarting of ambition, disappointment of hope, the loss of relationship, the devastation of family, or the destruction of home with this New Testament focus on joy and rejoicing which are, after all, commands?

At the last supper (John 15) the Lord Jesus called his disciples branches of himself. He said that any branch bearing fruit would be cut off by the divine gardener in that very area of fruitfulness and his purpose would be for the branch to bear more fruit in the future. Herein is the core of the rejoicing that is necessary.

Every son that is received is chastised, Heb 12:6 ff. Indeed if we have not known divine chastisement then in this same passage, Heb 12:8, it is made clear, we’ve not been begotten of a heavenly father.

Therefore we should rejoice in tribulation, Rom 5:3, at all times, always.

Colin Slater

Editor’s note: Colin has opened a discussion in an important area. If you have any comments please feel free to make a contribution in the magazine.

The British Church for Two Thousand Years

At thousand year intervals events have occurred in these islands whose effects are impossible to remove even after millennia. The effects are malign and irremediable. Though the prophets of Israel indicate that Messiah will remediate cruelties as great as these when he appears.

Rome invaded Britain in 54 AD setting a colony here till 410 AD. The Roman Empire established a frontier across this island which was later consolidated to the wall by Hadrian. The presence of this Roman barrier affected the history of much of Britain and determined the history of the lands around it since. Rory Stewart MP in TV documentaries on this ‘Middle-land’ demonstrated the malign influence of this barrier on the economy and life of the north of England, and borders of Scotland, to this day.

(A strange feature to me of the Scotland devolution/separation question seems to be that Scotland is at least two countries; the Highlands and the Lowlands. And the Lowlands have much in common with the northern counties of England many of whose people look to Edinburgh and Scotland rather than England and London.)

Prior to the Roman colony the British king and leader of resistance to Rome, Caractacus, was taken to Rome for the emperor Claudius’s triumph*. The victims of a triumph were killed at the end of the parade in a public sacrifice. Caractacus was the only such victim spared in the history of Rome.

The reason for this unique clemency was a speech Caractacus made to the Senate. Caractacus had been betrayed to Rome. It remains true that a foreign power can gain hold of these islands only by the inhabitants being betrayed or yielding.

The legend of King Arthur, which is related around the world in folk-tales and stories, has some of its purchase upon the imagination from betrayal by a near, half-relative, Mordred. There is in this tale also longing for hope and freedom. A longing, nostalgia, for what might not have been lost had there not been betrayal.

In the tenth century the English, Saxon kingdom was an integrated society with mutual respect and cooperation between its strata. Education was promoted and was in English. The Scriptures were translated into English. Life was conducted in English.

The last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, a Franco-phone, was pro-Norman, and loathed for his duties here. He promoted Norman friends and contacts within his country, circle, and society. There are Norman houses today that date from before 1066. He betrayed his Saxon country to the Normans.

Duke William obtained from the Pope encouragement to take Britain and impose Roman church practice on a country that was largely free of continental religion. So different from Rome was England that it took till the mid-thirteenth century to extirpate married clergy from England. British priests had always married, long before Augustine came to Canterbury in 597.

A later king, Henry II, was provoked by the Pope to destroy the Celtic church in Ireland as William’s successors had suppressed the English church, imposing Roman prelates and practice on the Irish. The story is that of another country but the malign influence of that treachery remains with us today.

Edward the Confessor was canonized. Rome would not have had a grip on the British church without him. The effects of the Norman Conquest cannot be rooted out now but its blight remains. A recent report claimed descendants of the Normans control the power and wealth of this country still1. I derive the ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide that has pervaded social and political comment in England for the last thousand years from that Norman-French take over.

Had the Franco-phone Edward loved his England more than his Norman home, history – and freedom – would have been different. The Harrying of the North of England in 1069-70 partakes of both these events; the Roman and the Norman legacy.

The theme of separation or integration into a continental power is again here a thousand years later. Maybe the same issues are at stake? And the same long legacy.

Ref 1 http://neilcummins.com/Papers/Clark_Cummins_2013.pdf accessed 10.5.16

* A triumph was a costly, public spectacle which gained its leader, by huge expenditure, publicity and popularity. The invasion of Britain may have been purposed to allow the emperor Claudius to claim a triumph and so improve his popularity. Colossians 2:15 uses the metaphor of triumph to describe Christ’s parading the principalities and powers to their imminent destruction at Calvary.

Colin Slater

We believe in one God

Exploring the Nicene creed

In this series of articles we are thinking about the important and central statements of the Christian Faith: i.e. the basics and essentials. So we begin with a brief declaration about God. That there is Only One God; one supreme being who is both Creator and Father, the source and life and power of all that we can see, touch, or feel: a 3-dimensional, living yet finite creation, with its (also finite) fourth dimension called time. But a Creator who is also the source and life of an eternal world, of which we can get only tiny fleeting glimpses with the eye of faith. It’s a world, that like God himself, is in a true sense, completely other and beyond us, yet touches us and impinges upon us as we shall see in a host of ways. This essentially is because there is yet another ‘dimension’ in creation called LOVE, which in all its depth and splendour and glory is made tangible and real in JESUS. Indeed God’s greatest strongest power is the power of Love. The power indeed which brings about and sustains ALL that there is. We shall look at this in more detail and frequently as we proceed in these articles.

There is a line in the closing scene of the powerfully religious musical “Les Miserables” which is very moving and true: “To love another person is to see the face of God”. St. John in his 1st Epistle put it like this: “… everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”. (1 John 4: 7). The world of our great Universe and Cosmos, and the eternal world of Heaven, are thus linked inseparably by their Creator. And that means that you the reader (and I the writer) are also linked in our humanity to “the life of the world to come” [the very last phrase of this Creed]. And that our Creator God and Father will never never unlink us. So though God is beyond and other, he is also in a true sense personal and knowable. We can therefore love him, and even more so be loved by him, speak to him, listen to him, and learn from him. We would expect that from any good father and mother, and God is just that in all perfection and measure, and in wisdom and endless mercy also. (See Luke 11:1-13).

However, we have still to acknowledge that even with our most enlightened human thoughts and words our understanding of God is very very limited. To begin with, as the Gospel of St John puts it “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”. (John 4: 24).  The passage of course is saying that the nature and substance of God is not like our human nature. His is a reality that we can only think of in spiritual but nevertheless real terms. Hence we can never fully and adequately describe God. If we could it would not be God but a human creation of our human imagination! We use terms like All Goodness, All Beauty, All truth (as great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas did): or words like All Merciful, All Compassionate, All Loving, All Holy (as the Muslim Faith does perhaps more strongly than Christianity). And these are certainly helpful and point in the right direction. And are strong clear Biblical concepts or truths. But we have only scratched the surface of the incredible depth of the wonder, mystery and majesty of the Eternal God.

All these notions speak the language of faith; and the gift of faith is a most precious gift of God, given to those who will open their hearts and minds and reason. I stress the place of the rational mind, for I want to emphasize strongly that there is no conflict or divide between the scientific mind and approach to truth and meaning, and the religious and spiritual mind with its truths, the way it seeks those truths, and the things of the spirit. The scientific mind, whose task essentially is to discover tangible observable facts and truth, concrete empirical evidence, and so forth, deals largely with the how of things; leading to invention and application, and how the worlds and things work. The religious mind and the theologian (and all deeply thinking Christians are theologians) pursue another complementary path to truth, and speak of the why of things, or the ultimate meaning and purpose of existence: Why are we here anyway? Is this all there is? How should I live my life? And so on…  Briefly, religion is essentially about a loving relationship with God and with each other. And this leads to what I will call “altruism”, meaning how we live our lives fully and to our best ability, around a framework of faith in the God who made us in his own image (more about this later), and the best possible ethic and morality. And a God who also has an eternal glorious destiny planned for us. As we shall see, supremely for us as Christians: “Jesus is the way, and the truth and in the life”. (John 14:6).

Good Science and Sound Religion are complimentary ‘reflections’ of a great Creator’s mind, meant to enhance in harmony, and for good, the precious gift of humanity that we share together, both constantly needing divine inspiration and guidance.

Both science and religion are on a journey of discovery. Both going forward in faith and trust, using of course the other tools of their respective professions; constantly learning, revising, and often having to jettison error and mistakes. Both need each other, for science has been and can still be the tool of evil ideology as well as for the best good of humanity; and where religion also needs scrutiny and dispassionate judgment and correction, for it too has been and still can be the tool of abuse evil and terror, often refusing to acknowledge an ever changing world with huge good advances in human knowledge in many varied fields.

Finally, such a faith that I am trying to share with you can only prompt a deeper love, with a more profound respect, reverence and awe, before our Creator and Father God. All through the Bible, as steadily and patiently God reveals more and more of himself, we see a growing knowledge, love, reverence and awe. For me I see that culminating in the experience of those who met and loved Jesus, or those who later took the great Gospel of his love to their hearts also. For me I find this summed up in the words of the once doubting apostle Thomas, who when the risen Christ gently showed him the wounds of his great sacrifice for us, could only say in grateful love “My LORD AND MY GOD”. (John 20:28). If we can say and mean that, as we make this most exciting journey of faith and prayer, then the Nicene Creed as we explore and open it up, will surely help us on the way.

“My God, how wonderful you are, your majesty how bright;
 How beautiful your mercy seat in depths of burning light!
 How wonderful, how beautiful the sight of you must be;
 Your endless wisdom, boundless power, and awesome purity

George Abell

Avoiding the Dinosaurs’ Fate

The EARTH & FAITH Group made an April visit to the Ardley Energy Recovery Facility near Bicester. The industrial site is huge, having been built on a discontinued landfill dump. The purpose at Ardley is to use non-recyclable waste to create energy and road-making materials; almost everything is computer-controlled and depends on the interdisciplinary skills of environmental scientists. So, wearing goggles, hardhats and gloves, it was good to see in a vast hall of pipes, walkways, noise, conveyor belts and fiery furnaces glimpsed through portholes, how our fortnightly black bin and pink bag collections are being put to such good use.

Particularly striking was the sight of the life-size “Megalawattosaurus” who not-too benignly dominates the Visitor Centre Reception. Made most amusingly out of rubbish of all kinds – carpets, vinyl records, sports shoes, an old telephone, cooking pots, garden tools, umbrellas and much more – “Meg” offers a convenient cautionary tale. “Meg” is not just a handy illustration: Ardley is itself the site where dinosaur tracks were first found – the ‘walk way’ is carefully preserved. Just as dinosaurs became extinct because, wholly or in part, their climate changed so as to make them no longer viable, so – the lesson goes – if we continue with our environmental despoliation, we will suffer the same fate.

The tour included seeing the vast dumping hall where all our non-recycled material goes: it is stirred, hoisted into furnaces, with gasses so controlled that nothing harmful escapes – even the gasses being recycled. At the end, most of the effort goes to contributing directly to the National Grid, generating enough power for a town of 38,000 households. Most of the solid residue that remains is turned into the pre-asphalt layer for major road resurfacing.

The message was clear: reduce dependence on non-recyclable materials; increase re-use; replace and throw out less; increase still further our recycling level; reduce recovery rates (‘recovery’ is what they do at Ardley); and reduce any landfill towards zero. We were congratulated for being from the best area in the best county for recycling, but our current levels of 61% recycling, we were told, needs to be over 80%. Looked at from that perspective, “Meg” seemed something more of a challenge. There are energy recovery sites like Ardley across the country but it is our choices, our behaviour, linked to new environmental safeguarding technologies, that will make the difference.

Ardley is a reason to do more, not less. For more information and to book a visit, Google Ardley ERF

Peter Foot