Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

Religions and Sin

August 17, 2013

Christianity: The Chess Game

A young man said to the abbot from the monastery, “I’d actually like to be a monk, but I haven’t learned anything in life. All my father taught me was to play chess, which does not lead to enlightenment. Apart from that, I learned that all games are a sin.

“They may be a sin but they can also be a diversion, and who knows, this monastery needs a little of both,” was the reply.

The abbot asked for a chessboard, sent for a monk, and told him to play with the young man.

But before the game began, he added, “Although we need diversion, we cannot allow everyone to play chess the whole time. So, we have the best players here; if our monk loses, he will leave the monastery and his place will be yours.”

The abbot was serious. The young man knew he was playing for his life, and broke into a cold sweat; the chessboard became the center of the world.

The monk began badly. The young man attacked, but then saw the saintly look on the other man’s face; at that moment, he began playing badly on purpose. After all, a monk is far more useful to the world.

Suddenly, the abbot threw the chessboard to the floor.

“You have learned far more than was taught you,” he said. “You concentrated yourself enough to win, were capable of fighting for your desire. Then, you had compassion, and were willing to make a sacrifice in the name of a noble cause. Welcome to the monastery, because you know how to balance discipline with compassion.”

Judaism: Forgiving in the Same Spirit

The Rabbi Nahum of Chernobyl was always being insulted by a shopkeeper. One day, the latter’s business began to go badly.

“It must be the Rabbi, who is asking for God’s revenge,” he thought. He went to ask for Nahum’s forgiveness.

“I forgive you in the same spirit you ask for forgiveness.” replied the Rabbi.

But the man’s losses just kept increasing, until he was reduced to misery. Nahum’s horrified disciples went to ask him what had happened.

“I forgave him, but he continued to hate me deep down in his heart.” said the Rabbi. “Therefore, his hatred contaminated everything he did, and God’s punishment became more and more severe.”

Islamism: Where God Is

At a small Moroccan village an imam was thinking about the only well of the entire region. Another Muslim approached him and asked:

“What is in there?”

“God is hidden in there.”

“God is hidden inside this well? That is a sin! What you may be seeing is an image left by the unfaithful!”

The imam asked him to get closer and lean out on the edge. Reflected on the water, he could see his own face.

“But that is me!”

“Right. Now you know where God is hidden.”

– Paulo Coelho

St Mary’s Church

July 2, 2013
St Mary's candle

St Mary’s candle

St Mary's old Bible

St Mary’s old Bible

St Mary’s in Quarry Street in Guildford is an Anglo-Saxon church. From its tower, was sighted the Norman invaders.

The main name for fame of St Mary’s, apart from being the oldest church in Guildford, is that it where Lewis Carroll would occasionally preach. His sisters lived in a house around the corner.

I was pleased to find St Mary’s open, as it is rarely open, but today was farmers market and farmers market is one of those rare occasion when if lucky, it can be found open.

I wanted to light a candle, but no candles. For some reason, for which I have never been able to find a satisfactory answer, there are never matches. I spoke with a lady. She went off in search and came back with a box of matches. But I was asked to return to her and not leave with the candles.

I came across a very old Bible, that I had not seen before.

Later in the day, I was able to pick up an illustrated copy of Alice in Wonderland.

Lesley Hazleton: The doubt essential to faith

June 24, 2013

When Lesley Hazleton was writing a biography of Muhammad, she was struck by something: The night he received the revelation of the Koran, according to early accounts, his first reaction was doubt, awe, even fear. And yet this experience became the bedrock of his belief. Hazleton calls for a new appreciation of doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith — and an end to fundamentalism of all kinds.

A fascinating talk by Lesley Hazleton on doubt and its relationship to faith. Without doubt, without questioning, we have no understanding. Without doubt, we have bigots and fundamentalists.

Thomas doubted.

Many of those who advanced Christian thought and ideas, did so through doubt.

The Shack, arose out of one man’s doubt, as did What We Talk About When We Talk About God.

I am not sure if it was earlier this year or towards the end of last year, BBC Radio 4 had an excellent series on doubt by a former Scottish Bishop, but like many excellent series, the BBC failed to keep it available on-line.

Those who express doubt are called heretics, burnt at the stake.

Rob Bell faced a tidal wave of hate for writing Love Wins.

A traditional English wedding

June 23, 2013

Er, not quite!

In the NSA we trust: The trouble with faith in an omniscient state

June 17, 2013

Too many Americans think of their nation as inherently Christian and worthy of absolute trust, but the state is not benign

NSA surveillance

NSA surveillance

It’s nothing new, this fear that there is someone out there watching my every move, knowing my inmost thoughts. It used to be a fear of God. Now it’s a fear of Google, the NSA and GCHQ. In other words, we have invented a secular form of omniscience. For the sake of argument let us bracket out the question of whether this God actually exists. For present purposes, I am interested in how human beings have historically reacted to the prospect of there being some powerful agent/agency who knows everything about us. Thousands of years ago, the psalmist had it thus:

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” (Psalm 139 vv. 1-8)

But, the psalmist concludes, if we having nothing to hide, why worry? “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This is not dissimilar to Barack Obama’s line that in the trade-off between security and privacy, we ought to trust the listening spooks not to misuse information they gather about us, that they are working in our best interests. But, whatever one thinks of (let’s call it) the God idea, the big difference between God almighty and the secular almighty, is that the former is supposed to be benign, indeed the very epitome of love itself, whereas I don’t think it entirely uncontroversial to say that the NSA is not.

The problem is, however, that too many Americans think of their nation as inherently Christian, as set apart by God. For all their supposed separation of church and state, and for all their supposed suspicion of big government, in the end a significant proportion of Americans believe in America in the same way that they believe in God. They over-identify the Christian “we” with the American “we” – as Stanley Hauerwas puts it. In 1956, the USA replaced its unofficial motto, E pluribus unum (Out of the many, one), with an official motto, “In God we Trust”.

Thus the state not so subtly claims for itself the same level of trust that Christians have in the almighty – thereby answering the initial fear that the psalmist has about absolute surveillance with the reassurance that the powers that be are benign and have our ultimate interests at heart. Nothing could be more dangerous than this, that the state deserves absolute trust. Which is why it is worth stating and restating the theologically obvious: the NSA is not God – however much it might aspire to the absolute power of omniscience.

– Giles Fraser

Published in The Guardian.

We may trust God to watch over us. We should never trust the state.

Candle at Ayios Charolambos

May 12, 2013

DSC02835

Candle burning at Ayios Charolambos.

Yesterday, I found Ayios Charolambos closed. Today I was lucky, it was open, but closed as I left.

Ayios Charolambos

May 11, 2013

DSC02831

After freddo cappuccino at patisserie amelie, I walked around to Ayios Charolambos, but sadly I found it not to be open.

Happy Easter

May 5, 2013
Easter eggs

Easter eggs

Easter eggs

Easter eggs

Easter eggs

Easter eggs

Happy Easter to all my Greek and Greek-Cypriot friends.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

April 29, 2013
The Sun - Edvard Munch

The Sun – Edvard Munch

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

– John Updike

Resurrection and beyond

April 29, 2013

A detailed look at the various passages according to St Paul. A series of post-Easter talks by Canon Robert Cotton of Holy Trinity and St Mary’s.

Week III Paul and four paintings.

For both the Greeks and Jews, resurrection represents a paradigm shift.

For Greeks, death was a one way journey of no return. Not annihilation, a shadowy existence as shades. A few eminent persons, heroes and the like, may have a temporary earthly existence as shades.

For Jews, it was a developing concept. Pharisees had the concept of martyrs, fighting the enemy, a glorious death, to be resurrected to join the final victors. Not so the Sadducees, they were content as the ruling class, and the last thing they wished to see or encourage were martyrs to overthrow the existing order, they dismissed the idea of martyrdom, and victory as a shared experience.

the empty tomb

the empty tomb

An empty tomb. Shock at finding it empty. Where was the body? But to then simply go home!

Greek icon resurrection of the dead

Greek icon resurrection of the dead

A Greek icon. Jesus resurrecting the dead at the end of time.

The Resurrection, Cookham (1924-1927) - Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

The Resurrection, Cookham (1924-1927) – Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

As Jesus died on the Cross, the skies turned black, the Temple curtain was torn in two. Or does it signify the end of time? Very Gothic, very Victorian.

The Gospels speak of the Resurrection of Christ, Paul takes this further, the resurrection of everyone.

John Updike, in Seven Stanzas at Easter, asks us to not mock God with metaphor, in other words, accept the harsh reality.

A little girl asked: How does God make people real? Then she answered her own question: First he draws them, then he colours them in.


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