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Silence

Martin Scorsese’s new film, ‘Silence‘, is out in the cinemas now.

Based upon the classic book by Shasuko Endo, it follows the story of two 16th Century Jesuit Priests as they enter Japan in search of their mentor. They journey at a time when the Christian communities in Japan were mercilessly persecuted and driven underground. The film, (and book), asks probing questions about sacrifice, suffering and commitment. Most tellingly it explores and examines the constant silence of God in the face of such suffering, and plunges the protagonists into a deeper examination of their own simplistic assumptions. The film, (and book), remains relevant for us today when faced with deep questions about suffering and the way we might begin to understand God within that, if indeed God is caring at all…

One of the other interesting things which arose at this time, through necessity was the beginning of ‘Hidden Christianity’, (Kakure Kirishitan), which over the centuries became something which looked like a strangely muddled synthesis of Christian ritual and Shinto practice. The questions this raises about what faith is, and is based upon, is also worth some serious pondering.

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Not for the faint-hearted, but highly recommended.

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Zygmunt Bauman

 

A fascinating thinker died this week, the man who left us the term ‘Liquid Modernity’

” things which are plural in the postmodern world cannot be arranged in an evolutionary sequence, or be seen as each other’s inferior or superior stages; neither can they be classified as “right” or “wrong” solutions to common problems. No knowledge can be assessed outside the context of the culture, tradition, language game, etc. which makes it possible and endows it with meaning. ”

Bauman, Intimations of Postmodernity, p. 102.

 

Quite how we learn to hold this ‘Liquidity’ in an era now cynically known as ‘Post-Truth’ might be the next big challenge for both church and society.

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Celebrate Christmas with us!

As well as the big dinner, the presents and the decorations, why not complete the whole Christmas experience and join us for one of our Christmas Services;

We’d love to see you!

Sun 18th Dec       Carols by Candlelight  6.30pm
Christmas Eve     Midnight Mass  11.30pm
Christmas Day    Eucharist   10.30am

Sweden – A Green Link

A Green Link

Not long after retiring to Reading we discovered that our diocese of Oxford is linked with the same diocese in Sweden as the one where our daughter Anna had recently settled with her Swedish husband.   This led to my joining the link committee and going with them this month on a visit to our counterparts in Växjö (pronounced ’Vaykwur’ or ’Vaykshur’, depending on where you live), Småland, southern Sweden. The theme for our meeting was the environment and how our respective dioceses are responding to climate change. We arrived in snow and sub zero temperatures, apparently unusual so early in the winter. It generally starts snowing after Christmas. The preceding months had been exceptionally dry, resulting in low water levels in the many lakes and, for those living in rural areas, the drying up of their wells. We knew something of this already as Anna’s sister in law had been without water for some weeks and was having to collect it from her parents’ home. So, we were immediately in the middle of climate issues.

Dealing with extreme cold is part of the Swedish way of life. Their homes and public buildings are exceptionally well insulated and have triple or even quadruple glazing. Given the amount of heat needed in winter, they continue to explore alternative sources of energy. Växjö, with a population of 89,000, has a huge power plant fuelled by wood waste (that part of Sweden is covered by forest). This provides 90% of Växjö’s heating and 20% of its electricity. They are also building what is called passive housing where the construction is designed to retain body heat from the inhabitants and their activities. These too are wooden and our guide explained that it is only recently that the law has changed to allow blocks of flats and not just houses to be built in this way. Their buses run on biofuel generated by the sewage works. They aim to be fossil free by 2030 and already their carbon emissions are amongst the lowest in Europe. Members of the town council, of whatever party, are united in supporting the green agenda.

In nearby Alvesta the church has invested in a biofuel plant that converts cow dung into biofuel and manure. The biofuel is used mainly by lorries and buses. Its use in cars is less popular because the cars cost more. Our hosts felt that the government could offer incentives to drivers wanting to switch to biofuel. It was noted that in Norway the government has made plug in electric cars such an attractive option that they are driven by the majority.

The church of Sweden is responsible for all funerals, whether or not they are Christian. Everyone pays a funeral tax to the government which then pays the church. The majority of funerals require cremation. In Kalmar, a big city, we visited a beautiful woodland cemetery where the heating and the furnace in the crematorium are powered by rape seed oil, from crops grown north of Växjö. Coffins are much plainer than here, their lack of polished wood and trimmings hidden by an attractive cloth and flowers. Urns for ashes are made of biodegradable material.

In the residential church college where we stayed I saw some of our LOAF principles being practised. There are many farms and smallholdings in Småland. Much of the meat, dairy products, bread and vegetables we ate were produced locally. There were plenty of local apples too. We did, however, also try reindeer meat from the far north of Sweden!

On our side we spoke about the Creation season which is now a regular feature of the liturgical year for many Anglican churches. Dr Martin Hodson, director of the Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES) course based at Cuddesdon theological college, demonstrated how equipping even a small number of practitioners on this course can effect significant change at local level. Dr Joanna Laynesmith from my own church in Reading described how our church had become an eco church, and pointed to Reading’s impressive green network and our even more impressive buses which are mainly hybrid diesel or gas powered. I shared information about Green Christian’s Joy in Enough project with its focus on encouraging Christians to draw on deeper spiritual and theological roots as they form a movement for a new, more sustainable economy.

Our Swedish colleagues were particularly interested in our Creation season and in the importance we attach to equipping our members spiritually for tackling climate change. There is no tradition of spiritual acompaniment (spiritual direction) in their diocese nor does Småland seem to have convents or monasteries where church members can go on retreats or Quiet Days.

The aim of the link is to enable mutual learning. We noted the practical engagement in green issues at local level by the church of Sweden. We were also impressed by the theological lead given at national level by their bishops – see especially ‘A Bishops Letter about the Climate’, chapter 4, for a beautifully clear account of creation theology. (Check out Church of Sweden on Google. The Letter is available as a pdf)

 

The face to face contact between our committees was very enriching. I’m already looking forward to next year when Växjö comes to Oxford and the topic will be Refugees.

Christine Bainbridge                                 November 2016

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The Peace of Wild Things

Last week’s remembrance service was a very moving time. The Poem at the end of the two-minute silence was by Wendell Berry;

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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Prayer Station – the hidden silence of prayer

Psalm 148. The Hidden Prayers

_img_5022This Prayer station was developed in September 2016 as a focal point for prayers for the community of both the church, the school and hopefully the wider community.

The writing on the wall is Hebrew script and so reads from right to left. The text is Psalm 148, a hymn of exultant praise to God, whereby all of creation is called into worship and delight of the creator,

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

_img_5037The use of Hebrew text is inspired by the artist Michael L. Radcliffe. It is both beautiful, and yet unfamiliar; and refers to the historical origins of Christianity from the Hebrew religion.

The Psalm on the wall indicates the ongoing prayers and praise of creation, that takes places beneath our radar of awareness, like a chant unheard; it even goes under the more obvious surface images, a subconscious prayer which we only glimpse from time to time.
The more obvious prayers are the Icons; an inheritance from the Orthodox Church, making the invisible visible, opening windows to reveal the presence of God in specific moments, (Theotokos-Incarnation, Pantocrator-Christ, Trinity). So the subconscious is drawn into consciousness, and our prayers are spoken into the warm embracing silence.

The Psalm continues its journey on the wall, and through the door to where?

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The second images are an evolving piece on the Trinity, the life of God as expressed in self-giving relationship.

Further to this idea of the silent praise of creation, children from the school were asked to write hidden prayers for the community, for family, and the world. These have been wrapped up and are no longer visible, and placed on the walls as small parcels. They represent the silent prayers of all people; our hopes, fears and dreams, and they hold the church in a space of silent, longing prayer.

Please do take time to use the prayer station; light a candle, say a prayer or write in the prayer book, take some time to sit quietly, to think, to reflect and allow those unheard prayers carry and strengthen you in solidarity and hope.

 

Gary