Suffering

sam-squareI thought I’d explain why God allows suffering in the world, knock that one on the head because, let’s face it, the question’s been rumbling on for a while now. You’re welcome, don’t mention it.

Watching my kids grow from babies, it occurred to me there’s a bunch of wonderful things baked into us; things like justice, creativity, and love. When my daughter was 8 months old she’d cry when witnessing another kid have something taken off them. Compassion and justice are pretty difficult concepts to get across to what is basically a big crying, weeing chicken nugget that NEVER sleeps – so I’m pretty sure we didn’t teach her what justice was.

I reckon we have enough of these little Godly things built into us, that if we used them properly we’d live in paradise. But we don’t, do we? Anyone who’s been to Swindon can confirm that. And God doesn’t seem to step in when he really should, so what gives? Why do some kids get blood cancer? Why Rupert Murdoch?

Looking at the long game, the human race has very nearly solved cancer, in fact when we put some effort in, great things happen; look at the global efforts to eradicate smallpox in the ‘50s, or initiatives like Medecins Sans Frontieres. But when you put metrics to the effort, another picture is revealed. Yes we’ve spent X thousand man-hours trying to cure a certain type of blood cancer, but then we’ve spent 188 million man-hours watching Gangnam Style on Youtube, haven’t we? Yes we have.

In the UK, we’ve just dug deep and finally invested £130 million in radiotherapy kit; a whole nations’-worth of cancer treatment. That sounds good. But then a Spanish football team just spent £293 million getting a single chap to play football for them. We’re an interesting species, let’s face it.

The point of the Adam and Eve story was that we [humans] are capable of living in paradise, but we choose not to, we choose Gangnam Style and Donald Trump. We choose Sunny Delight and Wonga. We choose to turn our backs on God-given abilities. I do it, you do it, we all do it. As theological writer Francis Spufford put it, we share this “human propensity to f*ck things up”.

We are magnificent, ethereal, productive little so-and-so’s, created and clothed in wonder and joy, and called to walk with a creator in such a way that reveals the paradise just out of reach.

The question is not ‘Why does God allow suffering’, the question is why do we?

Blog by Sam Cavender, Senior Communications Officer

 

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The Great British Bake Off – our mission field?

Rachel Howie - square.jpgWatching contestants checking for soggy bottoms and sitting on the floor peering anxiously into ovens is not everyone’s idea of gripping television entertainment – but in our house it is. Absolutely, totally, utterly! Each Wednesday for an hour we rejoice together at successful signature bakes, anxiously await the outcome of technical challenges and celebrate spectacular show stoppers. It brings us together as a family from behind our respective screens and into a shared experience where we have a common vocabulary – not always the case in a household with two teenagers. We talk together about the bakes we’d each like to try and have high hopes for having a go at some of them in the coming week. It leads us into conversations about all sorts of things that at any other time would usually elicit disinterest at best. Food definitely brings us together.

Meals are a powerful expression of welcome and friendship in every culture. Meals are more than food – they’re social occasions that represent friendship, community, welcome. As well as preaching, teaching and healing, Jesus did a lot of eating. It’s not an accident that at the heart of what it means to be the church, the way Jesus told us to remember Him, is a meal.

A friend of mine talks about wearing her ‘God goggles’ wherever she is to spot opportunities to meet people where they are and engage with them, build relationships and share her faith.  She’s bold and gregarious in her evangelism. For those of us a little more reserved the kitchen table or picnic blanket may be a great place to start.

By Rachel Howie, Director of Education & CEO of DGAT

What impact does wildlife tourism have?

FullSizeRenderThe drama around the gorilla that escaped from its enclosure at London Zoo left visitors shocked this week. And it is one of a number of recent close encounters with wild animals which has worried the public. Think back to the child photographed in the rhino enclosure at Dublin Zoo and the Cincinnati gorilla who was shot when a boy fell into his pen.  When wild animals come into close contact with humans, there will always be an element of risk.

Advocates of zoos argue that they save endangered species and educate the public, and indeed some do amazing work in rehabilitation of animals and caring for unwanted pets. However, they inevitably have limitations. In 2014, a healthy two-year-old giraffe living at Copenhagen Zoo was killed and fed to the lions because the zoo could not find a suitable place for him to live.

Earlier this week, the world’s largest travel review site, Tripadvisor, took the decision to no longer sell tickets to attractions where travellers come into physical contact with captive, wild or endangered animals. They are also going to introduce an education portal with information on animal welfare practices and advice and opinion from conservation charities.

Some tourists might be surprised to learn about the stress animals experience when they are forced to take part in being ridden, swimming with humans or being photographed. Our misconceptions about animals often lead us to believe our actions are without consequence. For many years, it was thought that goldfish only had a three second memory and they were therefore suited to being kept in tiny bowls as pets. In recent research at St Andrew’s University, fish were able to recall information for up to five months.

The more that we learn about other species, the more we discover about their social networks, their language, their culture… the more our responsibility to our fellow creatures becomes clear.

By Katherine Clamp, Senior Communications Officer for the Diocese of Gloucester

What Libraries can do for Churches

 

In this season of Beckyconferences, I thought I would share a key message from a conference I went to last week.  This was the triennial conference of the Cathedral Libraries and Archives Association.  We were studying how the Cathedrals can help and support the mission and worship of Cathedrals, and this could be relevant to parishes too.  How do you use the heritage of your building to provide a new way to start conversations about the Christian message and the life and work of the Church?

As Cathedral Archivist I have in my care some wonderful items from the past of the Cathedral, for example a Victorian copy of Piers Plowman, Archbishop Laud’s backgammon set and a relic of the stake at which Bishop Hooper was burnt. These items bring to life the humans who were involved in major historical changes in our church.  Whenever we open the library for tours, items such as these and our historic books bring new people into our wonderful Cathedral, and help them to connect with the story of our faith’s past.  I am looking forward to working more on this use of the historic collection of the Cathedral in future.  What have you got within your Church that could be used in this way to bring the non-religious and the non-believing into your building on their own terms?

If you would like to visit the Library, there are still a few tickets available here for our last public tours this year – Saturday 8 October at 11am, 12noon, 2pm and 3pm.

By Rebecca Phillips, Trust & Pastoral Officer

 

What if…?

pauline-godfrey-squareIt’s hard to imagine how much has changed for those living through the unrest in Syria. Not so long ago families went shopping, lived in houses with all mod-cons and enjoyed the freedoms of modern transport.  Food was available, neighbours were friends. Schools, hospitals, businesses were day to day realities.  All that has changed – houses have been blown away, good sanitation is a thing of the past.  Clean water, food, means of cooking or providing heat – all resources which now have to be purchased at great cost from scarce supplies.  Friends and neighbours have become competitors – working for their own survival often at the cost of others. A way of living which had been reasonably straightforward has been turned upside down.

Of course our hearts go out to these folk and we pray for peace and justice for the people in Syria. However, I have also taken to wondering how I would cope if these things happened to me.  There’s the physical coping – the resourcefulness needed to change a lifetime’s habits to find innovative ways to provide for my family. Whether I’d be fit enough to cope with all the change which would be forced on me – the poor diet I would have or the physical effort it would take just to exist.  But there’s the spiritual side too – what would happen to my faith in God and God’s people?  Is my faith built on the fact that my life has been relatively easy? What would I believe if everything were taken away and the future seemed dark and bleak? One of my favourite psalms (Psalm 46) speaks of God’s help and strength even when the world is falling apart – ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’.  I believe I’ve experienced that. God’s very presence when we are going through dark times – not necessarily to stop the struggle but to provide a deeper hope and assurance that there is a way through to tomorrow.

As I think of all those who are in dark and difficult places today I pray that they will experience God’s comforting presence. I hope too that if I was in that place that someone somewhere would pray the same for me.

By the Revd Pauline Godfrey, Discipleship and Vocations Officer

War, what is it good for?

Arthur Champion July 2010The images of Aleppo are almost too painful to look at.  How did Syria’s largest and once most prosperous city, a UNESCO world heritage site, end up like a version of Hell on Earth? Shellfire and barrel bombs have blown so many holes in buildings that it’s a wonder they are still standing at all.  I’m reminded of recurring pictures of Gaza City and other war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.  The human cost of war is beyond calculation.  Surely the Arab Spring of 2011 was never meant to end up like this?!

As a child I had the idea that wars were fought by professional soldiers in fields that were far away from towns and villages.  Men went to war and women picked up the pieces afterwards.  As a teenager I was reassured to learn about the Geneva Conventions, which seemed to lay down some legally enforceable rules about how wars should be fought.  Then as a young adult I learned that for hundreds of years the Christian Church has been developing the “Just War Theory 1 ” aiming to deter nations from going to war except in certain limited circumstances.  The birth of our first child coincided with the deployment of Cruise missiles at Greenham Common but thankfully the Church of England published a brilliant report but now long since forgotten: “The Church and the Bomb”.  The CofE report came up with the big new idea of “nuclear pacifism” in other words calling Christians to become active peacemakers in an era when conventional wars could easily escalate into nuclear conflict.

This week we can celebrate the action of a Russian soldier who, on 26 September 1983, saved the world from nuclear holocaust.  Russia’s early warning system detected several incoming US missiles, which would have justified full-scale retaliation.  However, Stanislav Petrov 2  judged this to be a false alarm.  He dared to resist the impulse for war and sure enough the satellite warning system had indeed malfunctioned.  I think the world needs lots more people who dare to resist the impulse for war.

By the Revd Arthur Champion, Diocesan Environmental Adviser

1 BBC
2 Wikipedia

 

Keeping church moving

howard-gilbert-squareOne Sunday morning, at the 8 o’clock Eucharist, I stood before a bleary-eyed churchwarden who had stayed up until 5am watching the Olympics!  And I was reminded of the words of the Colorado ‘Adventure Rabbi’, Jamie Korngold, who wrote:

“… I realised that there are many rabbis who can serve the 30 per cent of American Jews who are affiliated with congregations, but how many rabbis are reaching the 70 per cent who are not a member of congregations?  How many can relate to those who prefer skiing or hiking on Saturdays to attending the synagogue?  How many rabbis are able to understand and accept those who say, “Running is my religion?”[1]

There are two main choices in my parish of Cirencester on a Sunday morning: there is church, and there is sport; and, on the whole, never the twain shall meet.  But as we develop our new Diocesan Vision and consider ways of reaching out to a new generation in fresh ways, I wonder how we might engage with those who whose idea of a good time isn’t trying to sit still in a beautiful old building?

We do have some good examples of churches re-imagining the traditional in fresh and exciting ways, but the rest of us need to realise that if we only build the church around those who are looking for the peace and beauty of the inherited church, then we will never offer the Gospel to the increasing numbers who are looking for something more.

Of course, innovation tends to be uncomfortable, as we know well in the Church of England, but as Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

By Father Howard Gilbert, Cirencester Area Dean.

[1] Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold, God in the Wilderness, Doubleday 2007 – p16.