Bohemian Rhapsody, now for Bethlehemian Rhapsody.
Not your usual Nativity scene.
Shown on screen at Spirit of Rock: rock n roll Christmas party at North Camp Methodist Church.
Not quite what one would expect in a church, a rock n roll Christmas party, and we were joined by Elvis, well the echo of Elvis.
Music by a Metal Fatigue, a seven piece band.
Their blues version of Away in a Manage, mind blowing.
Then they were joined by ‘Elvis, for some classic Elvis hits.
On the screen Bethlehemian Rhapsody.
It is strange, I had been thinking of meeting with Canon Andrew White, and early hours Sunday morning, I found I had a message that he was at St Saviour’s Church in Guildford.
Sunday Services FROM DEVASTATION TO GLORY
11 am Chiswick Christian Centre.
6PM ST SAVIOUR'S GUILDFORD—
Canon Andrew White (@vicarofbaghdad) August 17, 2013
I had not planned on being in Guildford, but a change of plans, afternoon in Guildford, lunch in Guildford, maybe a walk along the River Wey, then wander along to St Saviour’s for the evening service.
Not quite according to plan. I did not get the roast pork I was looking forward to for lunch, nor did I get my walk along the river, but I did experience a black church called The Upper Room meeting in St Nicolas, and had afternoon tea at Glutton & Glee.
I arrived at St Saviour’s more than half an hour early and was told I was first one.
I was not sure I had the correct evening, as no mention on their website, but on arrival I saw a space had been reserved for Andrew White and there was a notice on the church door.
The service started with music. During rehearsal, they were awful, but during the service far better.
We were then told of the situation in Egypt, or rather were were told half truths.
It is good that a church is recognising the plight of Christians in Egypt and the Middle East as too often they feel ignored and the churches in the West do not give a damn, but what we should also recognise is that the Christians in Egypt especially their leadership, are not a reliable witness to events on the ground and will give a partisan view.
We should not forget, that when people occupied Tahrir Square and refused to leave until Mubarak was overthrown, those who supported Mubarak to the bitter end and condemned the brave people in Tahrir Square, were the leaders of the Christian Church in Egypt. Neither should we forget that Muslims and Christian stood shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir Square.
Morsi betrayed the revolution. He tried to Islamise what is a secular country, betrayal of rights for women, installation of cronies to positions of power. In other words, no different to every corrupt government in the Middle East.
20 million Egyptians took to the streets to overthrow Morsi. A lot of rubbish in the West about the democratic overthrow of Morsi. The will of the people was executed. That is democracy. Democracy is not rule by unaccountable elites, the people reduced to election fodder and having no further say.
But, the overthrow of Morsi, has been hijacked by a military junta.
Attention was drawn to a letter from Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis. This proved to be little more than a propaganda sheet for the brutal military junta, demonisation of the Muslim Brotherhood.
St Saviour’s need to be very careful that they are not being used as unwitting tools of the military junta.
Morsi supporters, and it is not only the Muslim Brotherhood, have every right to peaceful protest. The response of the junta, to massacre in cold blood several hundred peaceful protesters.
Yes, there has been attacks on Christians, on churches, but these attacks, pre-date the overthrow of Morsi, they are nothing new.
The slaughter of innocent protesters will have only one consequence, it will open the void for Islamic terrorists to step into.
We must hope, that the crimes against humanity being committed by the military junta, are documented and they are brought to justice, in the meantime, all Egyptians must unite to overthrow the junta, otherwise Egypt will descend into bloody civil war.
Coverage of Tahrir Square by mainstream media was poor. Post-overthrow of Morsi much better.
The pastor leading the service, invited Andrew White to join him, and they discussed what had led Andrew White to where he is today, leading a church in Iraq.
Andrew explained his interest in the Middle East had started when he studied at an ultra-Orthodox university in Israel.
Andrew White started from when he was a curate, then a vicar, and how he had then been asked to head the peace and reconciliation unit at Coventry Cathedral.
Formed out of the ashes of the bombed Coventry Cathedral, the focus had been Europe. Andrew refocused on the Middle East. He had acted as envoy for the then Archbishop of Canterbury, engaging in dialogue with Israelis and Palestinians and encouraging them to talk to each other.
Diagnosed with MS, he was asked to step down from what he was doing. His response was to take over the running of St George’s in Baghdad. His assistant was Justin Welby, now Archbishop of Canterbury.
The church costs over $175,000 a month to run. They have no money, no reserves. They rely entirely on donations, on people inviting Andrew to talk at their church, on buying his books.
The money given on Sunday, and during the week, will all go to FRRME (of which Andrew White is the Founding President).
The church has a school, a medical clinic, feeding programmes, all paid for through donations. All the programmes the church runs are free to all.
Beside the work at the church, Andrew acts as Embassy Chaplain, works on peace and reconciliation between the various factions, advises on security.
FRRME was formed to support the work in Iraq and the Middle East.
Following the reading of the lesson, Andrew White was asked to give the sermon.
Andrew started by blessing the congregation in Ameraic, the language used by Jesus, and the language still used in the Iraqi Church.
His theme was Matthew 24:6-8
You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
For people of Guildford, words in the Bible, for people of Iraq, daily occurrence.
There are rumours of war, there is war, there is bombing, there is killing.
Of the church over 1,250 have been killed.
When people have lost everything they have everything.
The church in Iraq is filled with joy.
To love your friends is easy. We have to learn to love those who are our enemies.
Andrew was once kidnapped. When he looked around, he saw severed fingers and toes.
He has to deal with his friends, who bomb and kill.
When dealing with one of he founders of Hamas, he invited him to dinner. He convinced him to work with a rabbi. When accused of being a Zionist, the founder of Hamas said no, he was walking the path of peace and reconciliation, a very difficult path to walk.
Often asked: How do you deal with Muslims? Easy we love them, we welcome them. The church is over 6,000 people, of which over 600 are Muslim.
When you love can also be very painful, when you see the people you love killed.
Andrew has three adopted Iraqi children. One, Lina, now also his personal assistant, has recently become engaged.
The service lasted almost two hours, but it seemed much shorter. I have known half hour service seem longer.
Too many people spend their lives griping about their lives and never getting off their backsides. Andrew is the exact opposite, faces danger every day, sees more tragedy in a day than most people would see in their lifetime, and yet, he is full of hope, full of joy, and always willing to take risks.
He said when people shake hands and say take care, no, they should shakes hands and and say take risks.
It is unfortunate the service was not filmed. As much my fault as I did not think to ask. It has at least been recorded, or at least the sermon recorded, and possibly the exchange at the beginning. This will be available on the church website.
Andrew then signed books:
I gave Andrew a copy of Manuscript Found in Accra. He said he enjoyed Aleph. He asked me did Paulo Coelho know the new Pope? I said I did not think so, but at a press conference in Athens, Paulo Coelho had been asked two questions, his thoughts on the Catholic Church and of the new Pope. He said there was much wrong with the Catholic Church and that he had high hopes of the new Pope implementing much needed reform.
I also gave Andrew a letter I have had in possession for many months, which a lady had entrusted me to give to him.
A chat with Andrew.
I came away with several signed copies of his latest book, Father, Forgive, one for me, the others I will have pleasure in giving away.
Next year, Andrew is to be awarded the William Wilberforce Prize.
I was on my way to The Keystone for a drink. Passing by St Nicolas, I saw it was open. This is rare for St Nicolas, and I did not think they had an afternoon service.
I walked in, to find a Black Church had taken up occupancy, I learnt later they were called The Upper Room.
I sat down. Not wise, as I would then have to leave in the middle of the service.
Had the woman leading the service not been shouting, she may have been intelligible. Those near me seemed more interested in their mobile phones.
I thought it would never end, but luckily after 20 minutes, but seemed more like two hours, it did end.
I asked a few people who they were, and they told me it was The Upper Room, that met in St Nicolas. They asked would I be returning. I said no, explained I was on my way to Saviour’s and invited them along, and said they had Canon Andrew White giving the sermon. Sadly none of them did.
I had what was probably the only white man there, come up to me, demand to know my name and tell me he wished to talk to me. Maybe it was his idea of being friendly, but I found him to be rude and offensive. You do not walk up to stranger and ask who they are, and say you wish to take them to one side and talk to them as though it is a police interrogation.
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 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.
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.
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.
Too many Americans think of their nation as inherently Christian and worthy of absolute trust, but the state is not benign
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.