Saturday, 30 July 2011

Heaven is a Place on Earth

Preached at St Peter's Dorchester, 24th July 2011. Matthew 13 vv31-33 & 44-52

Five parables in as many sentences, five snapshots, five visions of the kingdom of Heaven. But how are we to make sense of such a variety of visions, how are we to avoid being overloaded with imagery, conflicting, confusing ideas of the kingdom, which now feels more incomprehensible than ever before.

Don’t mix your metaphors, we are always told. Sir Desmond on Yes Minister was famously heard to remark:

“If you spill the beans, you open up a whole can of worms. How can you let sleeping dogs lie, if you let the cat out of the bag? Bring in a new broom, and if you're not careful, you'll find you've thrown the baby out with the bath water. If you change horses in the middle of the stream, next thing you know you're up the creek without a paddle.”

Make sense of that, if you can.

Just last week, on the final of The Apprentice, Jim was asked to describe himself simply, without the use of clich├ęs. He said, after due consideration, “I do exactly what it says on the tin”.

The truth of the matter is, that when faced with a difficult question, with the task of describing something complex and convoluted, we can often be found resorting to imagery, allegory, to parables. If you want to get really postmodern, it’s what I’m doing right now. Jesus is no different, realising that for his teaching to be effective and understood, we need concepts like the Kingdom of Heaven to be explained in terms that we understand, with reference to everyday life – mustard seeds and yeast, rather than a description of the cosmic glory of God.

Usually these parables of Jesus take the following form. Someone asks a question, Jesus tells a story rather than giving a direct answer, then his disciples take him aside and ask him to explain it, as they’ve missed the point. The meaning is spelt out to us, the literary device of the Gospel writer makes it clear to us what Jesus means. Today’s Gospel reading, however, gives us quickfire images – snapshots, a mixture of metaphors. The Kingdom of Heaven is a seed that turns into a tree, yeast that leavens all the flour, treasure hidden in a field, a merchant in search of pearls and a fishing net.

Vivid pictures indeed but somewhat hard to unpick. This is a passage which might well benefit from another read at some point, further thought and perhaps discussion. I’d like to venture a couple of points that might prompt this.

  • Firstly, Jesus doesn’t say anything as clear cut or as simple as, “The Kingdom of Heaven is a place where you go when you die, full of friendly people and where England beat Australia at cricket every time they play”. Rather, he gives us the image of the person who found some treasure in a field – rather than take the treasure and rejoice that he has found it, he buys the whole field. The treasure stays put. Who knows – the field may be full of it. No rapture, no separate treasure trove. Uri Gagarin was looking in the wrong place – the Kingdom of Heaven is here, it is now, it is among us.
  • Secondly, we are not passive bystanders. If the Kingdom of God is among us, bursting forth into the timeline of the human story, then we are the yeast, the leaven, at work in the world. We have the potential, living as forgiven people, to enable God’s work in the world, to bring about all the age-old descriptions of heaven here on earth.
  • Thirdly, we are commissioned to do so. We are scribes – trained for the Kingdom of Heaven, charged with bringing the best out of our society, our world, each other. Now that might be what Mr Cameron describes as partaking in the ‘big society’ – doing our bit for each other, but it might also be getting out on the streets and demonstrating against injustices in the world. Against the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world, against the ways in which multinational corporations are systematically exploiting the natural resources of the planet. We are commissioned to summon in the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

But where is God in this, you ask. If we can do nice stuff to each other and make the world a better place, who needs God? I point us back in the direction of today’s Gospel reading. God is the beginning, the alpha – the mustard seed, and God is the end, the omega, the branches extending and providing shelter and safety, shade and comfort for all. All things begin and end with God, and in between, encompassed by his love, we live and move and have our being.

At a time when our thoughts and prayers are rightfully with the victims of and the families affected by the recent attacks in Oslo, it is more important than ever that we turn our attentions to bringing about visible signs of God’s Kingdom, present here on earth. One of those is being here, together, partaking together in this heavenly banquet, united together as Christ’s body here on earth, but what we do out there is just as important. Jesus calls us – scribes – training for the kingdom of heaven – to train others and to recognise them as fellow treasure, buried together in the field, waiting to be found.

Having just mixed my metaphors, I should draw to a close. But first, Belinda Carlisle.

They say in heaven love comes first, we'll make heaven a place on earth. Ooh heaven is a place on earth.

AMEN.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Countdown to the Ashes

Well the countdown to the 2010/11 Ashes tour is well underway; the teams are announced, tickets are booked (I'll be the sunburnt Englishman at the Gabba) and bars throughout Australia are bracing themselves for the advance of the Barmy Army.

To whet my appetite as much as yours, here are my top five highlights from last summer's contest.

1. Flintoff runs out Ponting



Who says fielding is dull? Ok so for the most part it is, and the over-analytical introduction from @cricketanalyst doesn't help big it up - but a couple of steps, a clean pickup and then Freddie launches it at the stumps quicker than a rat down a greasy pole.

2. Swann bowls Ponting with a jaffa



There's something wonderfully poetic about seeing Punter trudging off in slow-mo minus any sound. There's something more poetic about the way this delivery from 'Rockstar' Swanney drifts away from the bat in the air then turns a country mile before rearranging the stumps.

3. Ponting takes one on the chin



Before you all get up in arms about me enjoying seeing him leathered in the face, that's not why it's one of my favourite moments. Much. Rather; what a chuffing legend. I mean, let's hope it's taught him to wear a helmet when fielding at stupid mid-off, but seriously, the noise that made. And he hardly flinched. I've seen footballers calling for the last-rites for much less.

4. Freddie Bows Out



So he'll never be lauded by the stattos as a serious achiever, but he'll go down as a true legend of English cricket. We miss you Fred.

5. This shiz just got real



Goodness knows what this chap uses his long lens and HD quality video for the rest of the time, but I'm glad he was at The Oval to capture this moment.

As a postscript, here is the moment when William Blake's Jerusalem was sung after the game.



I have no idea why this should have become the anthem of English Cricket rather than the official song from the 1992 World Cup, "Who Rules The World". Ahem.


Monday, 1 March 2010

Yorkshire Old-Timer Set For Shock Return?

For just a split second, I thought that one of the IPL teams had made the least-likely signing ever.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/cricket/8539089.stm

The headline, "Boycott Threat Hanging Over the Indian Premier League" caused me some misunderstanding. Unfortunately, I don't think Geoffrey Boycott will be lining up for the Chennai Super Kings, or any other IPL franchise for that matter, this season. This is a shame, because it might prompt countless more anecdotes like this!

A Lenten Alleluia

After what feels like months and months of winter; cold, dark and miserable both outside and in, bringing endless disruption from snow and ice and inducing colds and flu to fill our lives with coughs and sneezes… finally some signs of hope, that things may be improving. The birds are singing again, the spring bulbs are bursting into life, the days are getting noticeably longer and the sun finally has a modecome of warmth in it.

And so it is, just as spring is beginning to show its face, that I find it frustrating to now be plunged into the austerity of Lent. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, Lent comes round again. Laden with expectation, it is a season where we walk some kind of tightrope between the virtue of self-denial and the guilt of failure. Why do we do it to ourselves?

Why? Well perhaps like me you will have had the story of Jesus’ 40 day fast in the desert and subsequent temptations drilled into you from an early age. Out of context however, this is nothing more than a feat of endurance. This vision of Jesus paints him more as a forerunner to David Blaine than the saviour of humanity. Out of context, Jesus performs a superhuman feat of self-denial, which in Lent we strive to emulate by giving up chocolate. Or gin. And even such a paltry offering can be hard to maintain. As Oscar Wilde famously said, ‘I can resist anything but temptation’.

But, in setting up Lent as some vision of asceticism, where we strive to emulate Jesus by practising self-denial, we are setting ourselves up for a fall. Either into the guilt of falling off the wagon at some stage, or into the smug vanity of the Pharisee when we make it to Easter Sunday having not eaten meat, or used Facebook for six weeks. In doing that, we risk reducing Lent to a diet, and Easter Sunday to a meeting of WeightWatchers where success is rewarded with a spiritual pat on the back.

Because, the story of Jesus in the wilderness is not a story of asceticism. It is not of self denial, but of sign to what is to come. We heard the devil saying to Jesus, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus resists, stating that one does not live by bread alone. But that is not the end of the story! Jesus goes on to live this out, throughout his ministry and teaching he provides nourishment with the Word, proclaiming himself the bread of life. Yes, Jesus shuns the material of the world, but not for the sake of it. ‘Those who come to me shall never hunger.’

Next Jesus is tempted with power and authority over the kingdoms of the world. He resists, of course, refusing to worship the devil, refusing to enter into the murky world of earthly politics and power games. But this is not the end of the story. He goes on to live this out too, spending his time subverting the status quo, spending time with prostitutes and tax collectors alike, upsetting the ruling elite and even entering into Jerusalem, heralded as the Messiah, the King of the Jews, while riding on a donkey. Refusing the temptation of earthly power and influence is not an empty gesture for which he received a pat on the back, but a sign of the life he was to lead.

Finally, from the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus is asked to throw himself down, allowing the angels to bear him up and away from harm. Not to be fooled, Jesus refuses to put God to the test in that way. Yet this too is not the end of the story. By the end of his ministry, Jesus had thrown himself into the temple, denouncing the Chief Priests and the Pharisees, overturning the tables of the money-changers who worked within its walls and preaching a message so radical that they crucified him. Jesus’ words in the desert were not empty, he did not praise himself for having resisted temptation, but rather led his life shaped by these experiences. He was not borne up by angels, forcing some kind of intervention to prove earthly power, but rather suffered death and hell to be raised up heralding cosmic grace. He ‘put an end to death by dying for us, and revealed the resurrection by rising to new life’.

So, this is not a story of simple self denial, of empty signs, of ‘cheap grace’. For Jesus, temptation and self-discipline was not an end in itself, not something which in itself brings us closer to God. Rather it was a commission of what was to come. Can we say the same thing? Have we entered into the one-upmanship of Lenten discipline? It’s all too easy. It’s all to easy to make Lent a distraction, to make discipline an end in itself, putting out of our minds the fact that Easter is coming, new life is on the horizon, and ultimately that does not depend on whether or not you have not had a kit-kat chunky for six weeks.

This is not new, not a modern phenomenon, but rather something deeply human. In Isaiah God is heard to complain… ‘these people say they are mine, they honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.’ The Jesus of the Gospels has endless patience with those who are grappling, struggling with the big questions of life and death, but with those who claim to have the answers, whose hearts are hardened, he gets angry.

Picture a man, who brings home flowers for his wife. She, in delight spends a while arranging them in a vase, setting them in a prominent position and admiring their beauty. She thanks him.

“I’m your husband,” he says, “it’s my duty.” Or,

“Oh I just saw them and they were on special offer, it’s no big deal. They were cheap.” Or even,

“Well I thought you needed them.”

Does she even want the flowers any more? God wants the thoughts of our hearts, not simply words from our lips.

So. I suggest, that one of the greatest temptations of Lent is to get so obsessed with temptation, so bound up with self-denial… praising ourselves when it goes right and demonising ourselves when we fail… that the point of it all becomes obscured by not eating chocolate, by giving up alcohol, or by trying to avoid saying the word ‘alleluia’ in all situations. Lent becomes a sacred cow, focussed not on a deepening relationship with God but on our own personal journeys.

And so we pray for God’s help, that we may remain focussed on deepening our relationship with him, rather than being distracted with the earthly temptations that Jesus shunned.

God of the desert; as we follow Jesus into the unknown,

May we recognise the tempter when he comes,

Let it be your bread we eat, your world we serve

And you alone we worship. Amen.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Transfiguration

Preached in Fitzwilliam College Chapel, Cambridge - Feast of the Transfiguration 2009. 2 Corinthians 4 v3-6 and Mark 9 v2-9
(Picture Owen James Dobson, http://owenjamesdobson.wetpaint.com/)

Change, is a strange thing. Whether you fear it – the new, the different, the unexpected, or embrace it – dashing off into the next adventure, change affects us, the way we are seen, and the way we see the world.

Every birthday I can remember, I have been asked, ‘oh, you’re X age now, how does it feel?’ and the answer is always the same. I feel, the same. I haven’t changed. It’s mad. You’re only a day older; perhaps a mere twenty-four hours since last seeing that person, and they are expecting some sort of substantial change, perhaps a slightly gammy leg, or an increasing difficulty in remembering where I left my glasses, on account of the extra age.

You might think that over a longer time period it would be more understandable. I am forever meeting people who knew me as a child, be they former parishioners or colleagues of my mum or dad. ‘Oh look how you’ve changed’… comes the ubiquitous opening. No, I often feel like explaining… It’s still me… so I stick with the more standard, ‘well, it’s been 20 years. What did you expect? Last time you saw me I was being rushed to A&E with a pencil up my nose.’

While outwardly I may have changed, the world around me may see me differently in terms of being able to drink, marry, drive, I am not changed in myself. What it is, when coming of age or passing through a certain rite of passage, is a change in circumstance, a change in how I am perceived by the world.

Madeleine L'Engle said about age, "I am every age I have ever been." She believed age to be a cumulative thing. When you celebrate a birthday you don't "turn" another age and become someone else, rather you add another year to the person you already are. So we are all fresh faced children, moody teenagers perhaps... those ages and times of our lives are always alive within us. 
And don’t I know it. This is my 17th year in full time education, and each one has begun the same way. The best of intentions… precisely arranged folders, neatly laid-out pencils and pens, a fully equipped stationary supply. The intention to go to every class. The intention to do well and succeed by merit rather than blind luck. The intention to pay attention. And do all these good intentions last? Well, not really. Because, no matter how much I want to think age has changed me, that somehow I am not a different person because I have begun GCSEs, AS Levels, A Levels, University, Ordination Training (delete as applicable), I AM who I AM, and while who I appear to be does change, that which makes me me, does not.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.

What are we to make of this? Talk of transfiguration, of metamorphosis, the kind of imagery reserved usually for the kind of change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. How are we to understand this in terms of Jesus Christ – God incarnate, the unchanging God who was, and is, and is to come… the same God. How can God transfigure, metamorphose… change?

Back to that butterfly. What if, its metamorphosis, its change, is not a change of essence, of substance, but a lifting of that veil, that caterpillar body, that chrysalis, that has prevented us from seeing its true being all along? Because then, it is not changing, but revealing its true self to the world, and it is the world’s perception of it that changes.

His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Jesus’ chrysalis moment. Revelation… a lifting of the veil. Through this episode on a mountaintop, we come to see not what Jesus has become, what he has changed into, but what he always has been. A link is drawn to Moses – Jesus is to lead humanity to the promised land. A link is drawn to Elijah – Jesus is to keep humanity focussed on God, and not distracted by things on the peripheral. Links are drawn… but in the end…

This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to Him.

Jesus is God. He is human like any one of us, and yet he encapsulates all that has gone before. He fulfils the law and the prophets, commissioned by Moses and Elijah, and yet, in this wonderfully peaceful moment, up a mountain, away from the crowds, Mark tells us that there is more. Jesus is God, come in all his glory and wonder, to show us the way to eternal life.

The glorious grace of God is freely bestowed on us in the Beloved, and it is in reading and understanding passages such as that which tells of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop, that we can come to see that and appreciate what it means for us.

Because Jesus does not change. God does not change. But our understanding of both does. As we come to see in the Gospel writings that Jesus is much more than a pastor… much more than a Rabbi… much more than a prophet… we come closer to seeing that Jesus is that wonderful impossibility – fully God, and fully human.

And that is why, when the disciples looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Because Jesus was… is… everyone that had been present. The veil was lifted, the scales fell from their eyes. And in reading and understanding this passage, we can come to the same dazzling realisation.

Monday, 15 February 2010

On Living and Dying

Preached in Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge - 1st November 2009. Isaiah 25 v6-9, Revelation 21 v1-6a and John 11 v32-44

Yesterday was Halloween. As perhaps you all know. But for those of you who have been residing in a cave for the past few years, as the North American vigour for celebrating all things ghostly and ghoulish has infiltrated our psyche, Halloween involves dressing up as nightmarish creatures, carving images into large vegetables, and demanding sweets from strangers. Or so it seems.

Because beneath all the fun and frivolity lies a more serious side to this time of the year. In our clinical culture, so far removed from death and dying – to the extent that death can almost be seen as the last great taboo, Halloween gives us the opportunity to bring the idea of death, with its universal reach and finality, into the public domain. Albeit in a playful manner, Halloween gives us a chance to examine our feelings about death.

Seeing the body of someone who has died cannot help but have a profound effect on you. The first time I saw such a thing was in the clean, clinical conditions of the funeral directors, where the deceased are prepared, preserved and dressed before being placed in the coffin, often not to be seen by the family at all. While in some way maintaining the mystique of death and salvation, this whole process is western Christendom at its most paranoid. Associating and engaging with the death of a friend or loved one means exposing ourselves to our own mortality, whereas sheltering ourselves from the situation helps maintain that subconscious hope of immortality.

I never saw the body of my grandfather. I saw him in the hospital, raging, fighting against the decay of his elderly frame that was to overcome him. I saw him curse my father for not letting him go home, for leaving him in the hospital where they were ‘killing him’. I saw him slumped in resignation when the realisation that he was going to die kicked in. But I never saw him at peace. Reason tells me that he was; logic dictates that he did indeed die and his body was in the coffin that we sent off in the proper fashion, but the glory of God, evident at the funeral in all the talk of resurrection and new life, was veiled behind a confused outpouring of grief.

The second time I saw the body of someone who had died was in a very different context. The church where I worked in London had a very large African-Caribbean contingent, and when a young man from a family that hailed from Trinidad passed away, there was, as expected, a great outpouring of grief. In the days leading up to the funeral I paid a visit to the family. They were to be found, grieving, obviously, but carrying on with their lives with Dennis very much in the midst of them. His body was in an open casket in the living room, dressed in a sharp suit and smart, shiny shoes. His face was as I remembered him in life – gentle and passive, but he lacked that spark and twinkle that had been able to put even the most on-edge at ease. Dennis was most definitely dead. Dressing up the dead and bringing them home may sometimes be seen as personifying the body, a form of denial where we try to keep the dead alive by living our lives around them – but what I saw was the opposite of that.

Dennis’ family spent the days leading up the funeral living with a constant reminder of their mortality, a constant reminder of the fragility of life. Their little flat, on a housing estate in central London, became, for those few days, the tomb of Lazarus. His body may not have been decaying, as the preservation skills of the funeral directors saw to that, but Dennis’ family were waiting for the day of the funeral to arrive, and for them to hear the voice of Jesus cry out to his soul, ‘Dennis, come out’ – when, to the glory of God, he who was dead in their midst has been raised up to new life in Christ.

And so with that in mind, and celebrating Dennis’ renewal and rebirth among the saints and angels, the party after the service was something to behold. The family had gone to great lengths to prepare copious amounts of curried goat (really something to experience at some point), and rum was consumed late into the evening on the lawn of the vicarage garden. It did not feel wrong to be celebrating, or contrived, or disrespectful. In fact that day, Dennis’ family taught me something important.

It is in embracing death that we come to a greater understanding of what it is to be alive.

I touched on the story of Lazarus earlier, but it was in this passage that we heard today that we see an example of Jesus engaging with death. In fact, more than engaging with it, Jesus confronts death, giving us the sure hope that death is far from the end of the story. That command, “Lazarus, come out!” becomes one of the basic proclamations of the church. It speaks to things that are dead and calls forth life. The church – as the body of Christ – shouts for life from out of the tomb, and Jesus is there to unbind our grave clothes and release us into new life.

Our passage from Revelation spoke of the renewal of everything as we know it, bringing about an end to death, mourning, crying and pain. We pray for the coming of that kingdom, but in the meantime, following Christ in his commission to glorify God here on earth, we as Christians can echo Jesus in his call to humankind, to ‘come out’ from under the shadow of death and to really live. It is in taking our heads out of the sand, removing the scales from our eyes, opening our eyes… take your pick of the plethora of metaphors that are out there… and acknowledging death, that we can begin the often slow, and never easy journey out of death’s grip.

All Saints Day is not a time to look back on the dead and think kind thoughts about them. It is a time to see in those who have come before as signs and sources of life. It is a time for the mute stones to echo with the summons to life. For it is when we back off from death, treating it with fear and suspicion that we bind ourselves up in its grip, fuelling our own fears and masking the glory of God with our human emotions.

It is in embracing death that we come to a greater understanding of what it is to be alive.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

More Than Just a Riddle

Preached in Christ Church, Moss Side - 10th May 2009. 1 John 4 v7-end and John 15 v1-8

Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine’. Jesus did not say, ‘I am as round as a dishpan, as deep as a tub, and yet the oceans could never fill me. What am I? A sieve!’ Nor did he say, ‘I hold water, yet am full of holes. What am I? A sponge!’

We human beings have rather a thing for riddles, for puzzles of all kinds. November the 12th, 2004 may not strike you immediately as being a key date in history – but when I tell you that it was the day that a Sudoku puzzle was first published in this country, it may stick in your mind! Five years ago, the craze that is Sudoku was unheard of in this country, and yet now the magazine racks are full of endless volumes of such puzzles, such is the appetite for them. Pick up a discarded newspaper on the train, and the Sudoku section will be filled in, either perfectly neatly and correctly, with the minimum of fuss, or with the enraged scribbling of someone, desperate to work out which number they have put in the wrong place!

The year before that heralded the publication of Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’. This played right into our craving for puzzles, for cryptic clues and signs, as the characters race to solve the mystery. It remains an incredibly popular book, drawing on our obsession with puzzles and conspiracies. Hundreds of millions of copies have been sold in forty four languages around the world, reinforcing the notion that we human beings love a good puzzle. Even my current favourite – Doctor Who – plays on this each week, with the Doctor and his sidekick having to puzzle out what is wrong, (usually against the clock!) sort it out, and get back to the Tardis before the universe is destroyed!

Jesus often spoke in what sounded like riddles, refusing to be drawn in to making clear cut statements, and preferring to use metaphors, like the parable of the sower, from which people could draw their own conclusions. But what point did these metaphors have? Were they just riddles – cleverly designed to catch peoples’ interest – or is there something more to them?

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus makes a series of statements that begin, ‘I am’. But he does not make statements that may help us historically, or in what we deem to be factual. He does not say, ‘I am six foot tall with a beard’, or ‘I am a Capricorn, born in Bethlehem’. What he does say seems rather cryptic, statements like, ‘I am the good shepherd’, ‘I am the light of the world’, ‘I am the living bread’ and, as we heard this morning, ‘I am the true vine’. Almost as mysterious as the last of the Timelords when he proclaims, 'I am the Doctor'!

But are these statements really as cryptic and confusing as they sound?

Firstly, they can be explained by way of the fact that Jesus is talking to people with reference to things that they understand. Were he to describe the true nature of both his relationship with God and with the Earth, were he to make cut and dried statements about who he is – we would not be able to understand. They say that were a human being able to speak the same language as a lion, neither would be able to understand the other, because their frames of reference are so difference. How ‘true’ this is, is beside the point, but how much more must it be the case between us and God? Therefore, that Jesus is able to talk to us using metaphors that we can actually understand is a great bonus!

The people of the Eastern Mediterranean, to whom Jesus was talking at the time, would have been very used to seeing vines, perhaps even to growing them. They would have understood the reference – knowing full well that the branches were dependent on the stem of the vine, and also that, in order to bear much fruit the branches needed pruning and caring for. So they are not puzzles, not statements designed to cause confusion, but rather to promote understanding within the framework of our understanding.

The second thing to note about these statements, is that they are not so cryptic after all. Jesus says ‘I AM the true vine’, not ‘I am LIKE a vine’. Saying ‘I am like a vine’ would prompt a discussion as to the nature of a vine, and how this could relate to Jesus. Perhaps Jesus would come out as looking rather green, leafy, and trained to grow up a trellis.

But he does not claim to be LIKE a vine, rather he says ‘As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I AM the vine, you are the branches’.

In this positive statement about Jesus, we see something of the nature of God. Christ is not LIKE a vine, sort of wooden and leafy – rather he IS the vine to our branches. In HIM we have our being, in HIM we have life. In the same way – Jesus is not LIKE bread, sort of warm and doughy – he IS the bread of life. By him are we nourished, fed and sustained. Similarly Christ is not LIKE light – he is THE light of the world. In him are things made clear, in him we rise out of darkness, like children waking out of sleep.

But what about us? Well, let’s apply the same principle. We are together, children of God. Not like children of God, it is not AS THOUGH we are the children of God… we are the children of God, sisters and brothers in Christ, and as we heard in the first reading this morning – it is in living our lives accordingly and keeping the commandment to love one another that we know that Christ abides in us.

Christian Aid week is upon us – and if we do nothing else, let us all ask the question ‘who is my brother, or who is my sister’, and, looking around the world – seeing poverty, injustice, hatred and greed – let us resolve to love one another as He loved us… not LIKE we are brothers and sisters – but as true brothers and sisters in Christ. For it is by our actions that we may come to realise that Christ abides in us, and that we are indeed the branches to his vine.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The hills are alive...

I am sitting out on the balcony of my guest house, looking out at
sun-drenched snowy peaks, having had quite a hectic few days!

I got the train up from Delhi to Haridwar on Monday morning, then
managed to find a bus to take me to Rishikesh. This was more by luck
than judgement, but I find just wandering around the bus 'depot'
(field) calling out your destination seems to work. In Rishikesh
(where John Lennon learned to play the sitar...) I stayed at an ashram
(kind of a hindu monastery place, full of German hippies doing yoga)
called Shivananda Ashram, named after the Swami that started it. It
was an interesting place to stay, but prostrating myself before the
Swami's tomb was not really my cup of chai. My time was also limited
because...

... I spent all of Tuesday white-water rafting down the Ganges! It was
tremendous fun, although I ingested far too much river-water than
would be advisable, by diving off the raft in a calm spot of river. No
ill-effects thus far... touch wood! It was a fantastic way to see a
bit more of the area though, as we ventured 16km up river before
paddling back.

Yesterday afternoon I embarked on the 18 hour bus ride from Rishikesh
to Manali, via Dehra Dun. It was on the oldest, smelliest, noisiest
rustbucket of a bus that I have ever encountered, but it was home for
the night. Needless to say, no sleep was to be had.

So I arrived in Manali at 7am, took myself on a walk around town
(followed by a dog most of the way), met a friendly Indian businessman
who then tried to sell me a chicken, booked into my little guest house
and then treated myself to a nice lunch! Manali is great; I hadn't
realised how far into the mountains it is, so the spectacular views
make up for it being absolutely freezing!

I'm here until 6pm Saturday, before another overnight bus journey
takes me to Dharamsala- have opted for a private company this time, am
hoping for a more comfortable ride. Hollow laughter.

--
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Saturday, 14 March 2009

Delhi hotpot!

Been here in Delhi for almost a week now, and I have to say it is by
far and away the most bonkers place I've ever been! A seething mass of
humanity, it's the noisiest, busiest (and hottest) city that I have
experienced.

I am staying at Brotherhood House in North Delhi, which by contrast to
the outside world is an oasis of calm and tranquility! The company is
great, food good, and so far (touch wood) my stomach is proving strong
enough to cope with the rigours of Indian life.

The past two evenings I have driven across town with Father Monodeep,
to attend Lent groups in peoples' houses. After getting over the shock
of making it through the traffic in one piece, I have really enjoyed
these glimpses into Indian family life. I even think I managed to
avoid causing too much offense with my odd Western cultural ways!

Next week I am being a bit touristy, with tours of Delhi and Agra (for
the Taj Mahal!) respectively. The following week I am planning to
escape to the mountains, staying in Rishikesh, Manali and Mcleod Ganj.
The latter is where the Tibetan Government in exile is based, so I
hope to pick up lots of trendy Tibetan nick-nacks to bring home.

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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Heading East

I am about to break new ground. Having previously not been further east than Budapest, tomorrow I fly to Delhi, which is so far east that it's almost west. Nearly.


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My second Google Map in two posts(!) shows where I'm going - flying to Dubai tomorrow and then on to Delhi, arriving at 9.30am on Tuesday morning. I will be staying at the Delhi Christian Brotherhood, who have their house in the middle of the city. I'll be staying there for a week or so, seeing what they do among the underprivileged of Delhi, before heading north to Rishikesh, to stay in an Ashram for a few days. I'll hopefully use it as a base to explore further into the foothills of the Himalayas, looking at temples and monasteries and wandering along the infant stages of the River Ganges.

When I'm able to get on the internet, I'll try and post a few pictures and whatnot to let you know what I'm up to and that I'm still alive. It's going to be quite an adventure, partly as I have so little planned at this stage. But it is going to be fun.