Archive for the ‘Doing good’ Category

John Henry Newman has now been declared a saint.  It seems the right moment to delve into his voluminous  writings and come out with gems such as this cry from a bruised heart (courtesy of the Gutenberg project).

“Do not be too eager to suppose you are ill-treated for your religion’s sake. Make as light of matters as you can. And beware of being severe on those who lead careless lives, or whom you think or know to be ill-treating you. Do not dwell on such matters. Turn your mind away from them. Avoid all gloominess. Be kind and gentle to those who are perverse, and you will very often, please God, gain them over. You should pray for those who lead careless lives, and especially if they are unkind to you. Who knows but God may hear your prayers, and turn their hearts, and bring them over to you? Do everything for them but imitate them and yield to them. This is the true Christian spirit, to be meek and gentle under ill-usage, cheerful under slander, forgiving towards enemies, and silent in the midst of angry tongues” (Sermons Vol VIII: X).



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Islamic tiles

Throughout history, each generation has revisited and reshaped the “God” concept in continual attempts to get answers to humankind’s great questions.  Religions are nothing more or less than constructs designed to provide persuasive answers to those questions.  The answers are based on scripture, dogma and revelation.  This approach systematises our encounter with the divine,  but not always as we would wish that to be. (more…)

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The church in the slums

These days, there seem to be growing calls to exclude organised religion from the public space, as it is excluded in explicitly secular polities such as Cuba or France.  In the US, the debate about school prayer and displaying the Ten Commandments never really goes away. (more…)

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Concentration camp inmate

Bergen-Belsen, 1945

Now, at the beginning of Holy Week, it is difficult to imagine science fiction shedding any light on what Christians believe is about to happen.  The Passion and the Crucifixion are in a different category, full of various layers of meaning, none of which seems to have any direct relevance to what science writers might depict.  But I remember reading a short story, years ago, that makes such a connection, and powerfully, and opens the door to an uncomfortable truth, about who is crucified and by whom. (more…)

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What happens to priests who journey to the end of the world and then cannot leave?  I can think of at least two films where this is shown.  Both are moving.

In The Nun’s Story (1959), set in the 1930s, the nun played by Audrey Hepburn is sent by her order to the Belgian Congo.  There, miles upstream in the great jungle, she encounters a priest ministering to lepers.  He has himself become a leper.  He knows he will die there.  God has ordained this.

In Black Robe (1991), set in 17th century Canada, the Jesuit played by Lothaire Bluteau is ordered to go and relieve the priest at a remote mission station on one of the Great Lakes.  After a perilous journey, he eventually reaches the station to find the priest dying and his frightened flock begging the Jesuit to stay.  He does.  His face shows what he knows: that he has no choice.  He will never be able to leave; he will die there in his turn.

What goes through your mind, Father X, as this realisation sinks in?  Do you lament?  Do you rail against God?  Or do you say:  it was all ordained that this was always how it would end?  If so, are you comforted?

It makes me all the more wanting to see the film Of Gods and Men, about the monks massacred in Algeria, but I know it will be hard to watch, particularly the scene in which it dawns on them that they will not survive.

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Somewhere in her books about God, Karen Armstrong remarks that amongst the great belief systems of humankind, only Christianity agonises about what or who “God” is.  The others give a theological shrug: who can say?  But they all know what the “God” concept is for.  It is to reinforce the idea that it is up to us, all of us, to do what we can foster the well-being of others.  This is the Golden Rule which, as John Hick points out, is to be found in all great religions’ scriptures.  In Christianity, the relevant text is Jesus’ exhortation, Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31).

That is not the whole of Christianity, of course, but is surely its tagline; together with the Great Commandment.  If we have got past the idea that God intervenes in the world through signs and wonders, we are stripping the religion down to its core, its essence, its emphasis.  God does not act on earth except through us and the colossal idea that God appeared amongst us as an executed criminal is the relevant object lesson; and perhaps, in some way that I haven’t thought through yet, the true meaning of redemption.

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I often write about my conviction that religion’s basic reason for being is to explain. People want to know, in particular, why all the bad things happen.  But of course this desire is never enough.  The problem needs more than explanation, it needs action. The bad things will stop, we tell ourselves, if and when God intervenes. (more…)

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I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This observation reminds me of St Benedict’s dictum: to work is to pray.  If we have finally realised how infinitely, categorically impossible it is for us to explain ‘who’ or ‘what’ God is, we can be attentive again to all those messages in scripture and tradition which point us to our own truth:  that if “God” is indeed impossible to comprehend, well then, it is up to us to enact the divine in the world, by our acts of living and giving. We have to ‘walk the talk’.

Come to think of it, wasn’t that Jesus’ Great Commandment: that being the best that we can be as humans, and being for others, is the central duty we have – both the opportunity and need for us to demonstrate by our words and actions that humankind is redeemable from itself?

“Go forth and show his glory in the world” (Psalm 96:2).

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Diwali lights

Again and again I try and synthesise all that I have read about “God” and then put it into my own words.  All this has been said before: this is only the latest attempt on my part to understand what others have said and what I think. (more…)

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On balance, I believe, the great world religions have been a force for good in the world.  Their contribution to the development of human society has been immense because in many ways they have carried out their mission.  That mission has been to provide and propagate explanations for those most basic questions asked in every age: what does it all mean?  who are we?  are we alone? how can we interact with an imperfect world? (more…)

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