Three Pillars of Anglicanism.

If I were going to preach a traditional sermon, then I might tell you that  Matthew 13. 1-9, 18-23 displays the three pillars of Anglicanism. Scriture. Tradition. Reason.
But I don’t often preach traditional Sermons. I do want to talk about seed, soil and roots which are I suppose the same thing as Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Yesterday was St. Swithin’s day. And the film which came out of the box last night was One Day – because it is only the events of St. Swithin’s day that we get to see. One day each year for twenty years. It is a beautiful film with a wonderful soundtrack. If we believe st. Swithun’s lore we can expect another forty days of mist and rain. as the proverb goes: St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain For forty days it will remain St Swithun’s day if thou be fair For forty days ’twill rain nae mare Or: If on St Swithun’s day it really pours You’re better off to stay indoors. But I’ve not mentioned the film to talk about the weather. It’s a film about seed, soil and roots and it is written how we read our gospels – in snapshots. This is much how our Gospels are written, dipping in and out of the events and lives of Jesus and his companions.  In One Day we move from terrible London flats smelling of onions to awful post university jobs in restaurants and television.  From meetings in France to returning to the family home. From difficult conversations with parents to distant answer phone messages.  Missed calls and missed opportunities.  From new jobs, to new boyfriends.  From bad jobs to car crash employment.  Terrible live television to all star school plays.  Rows in restaurants to dead end relationships.  Break downs and making up to put downs and pick me ups.  By the end we are left with two people who we know so very well and who ought to be so very right for one another.  They are comfortable with each other, though not always comforting.  Our patience with their painfully slow coming together is rewarded with a romantic liaison in Paris, the wedding, plans for children of their own.  The dream is unfolding, and then, we ought to expect it as in many romantic stories but we don’t, it is cut short. Where there was a comforting voice there is now silence.  Where there was a companion there is now an empty chair.  Where there was a loving caress there is nothing.  And our Gospels have taken us on a whirlwind snapshot tour from a backstreet birth, refugees travelling the road, baptisms, weddings, funerals, confrontations, healings and reconciliations. The seed is planted at the beginning and it takes time to develop. It needs to put down roots in order to be fed, and it needs a heart of understanding, the soil, for it to be truly grounded. Eventually the film One Day brings us to that place where the heart is ready, the roots are sure and the seed has matured. Is it too late for Dexter and Emma each st Swithun’s day to flourish? Is it too late for us to fall in love again with the story of Jesus. We don’t fall in love with an idea, we fall in love with a person, we take them into our heart and let the roots go deep down. Therein lies our problem. And the film one day offers a solution… We have to live as if Jesus were still here as if he were around the next corner, in the face of the stranger, the friend, those at our work, in our homes. We need to fill in the gaps for ourselves taking the cues from the seeds of scripture we have and building a picture of the kingdom that Jesus taught. This is our tradition. At its best it provides the roots we need to be strong, but without a heart in which to plant, we have nothing to grow. Our challenge is to begin afresh with the seed once again, for sadly it has lay dormant in soil which has had no great depth and with roots which have often been cut off.

Church Closed. Graveyard Open.
Are only the dead welcome now?
Standing in the quiet hills life around
begins to emerge, or perhaps I being still
of heart become aware of its presence.
Amongst the flourishing grasses unknown
wild flower seeds have come and put down
their roots over which the occasional visitor treads.
The walls of grey stone sit silently here.
Songs once from within at an end.
Yet here outwith the walls there is a
full chorus as life takes back this ancient
space. And worship begins as we let it grow
within a heart that sings once again of love
and beauty. Wild, untamed, open and free.

Dirty Carrots and the Kingdom of Heaven

carrotsCarrots, which do you buy? I’d like to suggest that it is the ‘dirty carrots’ that can help to bring closer the kingdom of God. Today is Creation Sunday, and tomorrow begins Fairtrade Fortnight. It seems an appropriate time therefore to dwell on our relationship with the earth and all that we consume from it. We are children of the dust. Whether a person of faith, religion or no defined structure of belief it is not possible to escape the simple truth that we as humans are children of the dust. Just as any other carbon life on this planet we owe our existence to the earth, soil, dirt. Perhaps it is ironic then that our natural disposition appears to be away from the earth, to view the earth, soil, dirt as dirty and contaminating. Mechanisation brings many benefits, but at the cost of putting distance between us and the earth. We begin to loose our attachment to the very thing that brought us into being and sustains us.

Watching my children grow over the past 15 years it is clear that the tendency is to grow slowly apart from those who nurture and give life. In the best of families these ties remain into adulthood and though independent there remains a strong parent child relationship. Eventually those relationships are turned upon their head and the child nurtures and cares for the parent into old age and finally towards death. Such is the cycle of life. As children of the dust we as humanity perhaps naturally draw away from that which has given us life. Dreams of the stars and life on different planets. Dreams of becoming independent from the earth itself. The knowledge, whether acknowledged or not, that without checking ourselves we will destroy the capacity of this fragile planet to continue to provide for us as has been out wont. The word fragile is a misnomer. The earth itself is not fragile per se, it is a complex interweaving of life and relationship built for continued life. It is the intervention of humans that makes it appear fragile to our way of existence. With this relationship to our planet we grow yet further away from mother earth.

Relationship is the key word. A healthy relationship is one in which there is movement in both directions. The giving and receiving are equal. Relationships that have broken down are those where only one is giving and the other is always receiving. Relationships like these can indicate slavery of some kind or other. Until not so long ago it was hard to know who was being exploited with what and by whom. The fairtrade movement changed all that! It is now easy to see which products are produced with good relationships between growers and producers and consumers. Products that are not marked as fairtrade may well be made and grown in a slavery free environment, but the fairtrade mark guarantees that they are not. It is more than a mark of a good trade deal, it ensures that no-one is exploited along the way. The first cups of fairtrade coffee were marketed by oxfam under the campaign label. It was ground instant, and it was terrible. However, when people tell me now that they ‘don’t like’ fairtrade coffee, and I would have sympathised in the 80’s, – I wouldn’t suggest this now – there are over 23 companies selling at least one fairtrade coffee and many of them such as cafedirect have about 15 different coffee’s available, so the question is – which fairtrade coffee is it that you don’t like. I would suggest that initially people just don’t like being told what to buy, but if slavery is your thing, then who am I to stop you?

I guess the issue is that we are removed from the pain, and it is just another product on a supermarket shelf like any other. The beauty of FT is that it closes up the gap between producer and consumer. FT products are fully traceable – we all know where a lack of traceability leads to in foods. The relationship between ourselves and the earth with Fairtrade products becomes a little closer. I guess its a bit like buying carrots. You can buy washed, sanitised, diced, sliced, chopped and bagged carrots if you so choose, and i’m sure they are perfectly good carrots, but you can also buy ‘dirty carrots’. The cleansed ones work just the same, but all that is needed is to open the bag and throw them in the pan. The dirty ones take a little more effort. The soil has to be cleaned off, then peeling, washing, topping and tailing. In those simple actions, we have become closer to the source of our food and actually touched the earth they grew in and also become closer to the person who watched over them whilst they grew and pulled them out of the ground. We give a little back in recognising the grower in these actions. It is the same as choosing Fairtrade – choosing to close the loop a little between ourselves and the earth can be no bad thing. Jesus says do not worry about what you eat – so long as you seek the kingdom in all things, and as the kingdom is about our relationship with each other and this earth, dirty carrots really can bring the kingdom of God a little closer.

Soil, Soul, Society

I have been working on a paper for about six months, I knew that at some point I would have to write the beginning, but have not as yet until this morning found the right words.
Soil, Soul, Society. Alastair McIntosh describes this as the “Tripartite understanding of community”

(For those who are concerned about such things, it matters not, I think, where you begin, with either soul or society or soil.  The important thing is to begin where you are.)

This is the perfect beginning as it draws together all the strands which are at the moment hanging by the threads of an idea yet to be born.  In this simple framework it all comes together so well.

So we must (re)connect with the earth, realise our interdependence with all life on the planet and learn to tread lightly.

Connect with society, our life and our death is with our [global] neighbours.

Re-congnise the Soul, that which is connected to the source of all life, in the Christian context – God.

With these three in harmony, Soil, Soul, Society it might just be possible to move beyond our current obsessions and live a more balanced and far simpler life.