What would you get rid of for Christmas?

A friend of mine one taught me that rather than “giving up” things for Lent, it is better to add something—more quiet time, more prayer. Similarly, I suggest that Christmas be a time not for getting more and doing more, but a time to get rid of some unwanted stuff. For instance …

In 2009, in its series The Question The Guardian asked “What would you get rid of for Christmas?” Anglican clergyman Peter Bolton responded that he would get rid of churchmen who denounce sexual sins with a fervour they never apply to any other sin.

This is like writing a letter to Santa! Resisting with all my might the temptation to ask for the extermination of certain people who get on my nerves my mind wonders around to the big and worthy issues. Should I ask for the end of war or global warming or poverty or homelessness or child abuse? Well, yes, I should […]

I can just about understand that Christians might regard homosexual acts as sinful but what I completely fail to understand is why they get so worked up about it. I just wish that churchmen (yes, I do mean that) who get so upset about what they regard as sexual sins would get just as worked up about illegal wars, the greed that leads to global warming, or the violence done to women in the name of Christian marriage. I wish were as vociferous in their campaigning against world poverty, against nuclear weapons or the appalling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Why do they seem to get more upset about people trying to love than they do about poverty, the penal system, or the exploitation of women?

So, dear Santa, please get rid of all talk from churchmen about sex unless it is a celebration of God’s wonderful gift. […] Come to think about it, though, it might be more realistic to hope for the end of poverty.

I too would get rid of Santa. If we must have a feast of gift-giving, then St Nicholas is the real deal (and in Advent, not on Christmas Day).

nicholasThe Roman Catholic Church demoted Nicholas in 1969, by making observance of his feast day optional (December 6th in the Gregorian calendar) but he is much venerated in the Orthodox tradition and held by some to be patron saint of children, thieves, bankers, prisoners, sailors, unmarried girls and pawnbrokers—as well as the nations of Greece and Russia.

In 1892, Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia travelled to Bari, in south-eastern Italy, to visit the basement of a medieval basilica, to pray where the remains of his namesake, brought to Italy in 1087, are kept. A year earlier, Nicholas had blessed the building of the trans-Siberian railway by installing an image of St Nicholas at its Pacific extreme in Vladivostok. The Bari basilica still receives many Russian pilgrims every year on St. Nicholas’ feats day by the orthodox calendar), drawn to honour the man whom Russians call Nikolai Ugodnik, Nicholas the Helper.

Bethlehem Christians claim Nicholas as their own because of a cave where the young Nicholas is said to have rested during his own pilgrimage to Bethlehem. There is a church built over the cave, scarred by fighting between Palestinians and the Israeli army. It was in Bethlehem that Nicholas heard the call to be a bishop in his native Asia Minor.

Nicholas is but a human story. Yet, if he were honoured instead of Santa, there would be still greater respect at Christmas for the Greatest Gift, Jesus the Christ.

Come sweeping through us

Thursday, 6th December 2016, will be an important day for our local parish, as we welcome our new minister, the Revd Martin Johnson. The music will include this hymn, which is very much my prayer:

O breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and power;
O breath of life, come cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.

O wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need;
then in your tenderness remake us,
revive, restore: for this we plead.

O breath of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart;
come, love of Christ, afresh to win us,
revive your church in every part.

Revive us, Lord! Is zeal abating
while harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive us, Lord, the world is waiting
equip your church to spread the light.
—Elizabeth A. P. Head, (1850-1936)

Williams thinking royally

I am studying Rowan Williams. Recently I came across these short talks on two royal occasions. To me they are the epitome of gentle statement of thought-through understanding.

On the wedding of Prince William and Catherine.

On the diamond jubilee of HM The Queen

What to do and what not?

I’ve long valued a list of tests by the late Professor Hedley Beare, published in the Melbourne Anglican years ago, that helps one assess what to take up that’s new, and what to stop doing—tasks to get rid of, to resign from, to give up or just quit. Each Advent I look at it again. This is a summary; a copy of the full article is here. Beare writes of the tests of:

  • Bliss: Is this activity something I really like doing, deep down? Is it something I really want to do?
  • Vocation: Is this something I am suited to doing, which appropriately makes use of my talents, and which is in keeping with my Christian and professional calling?
  • Uniquenes: Why me? Why have I been asked or approached? Is this something only I can do, for which I have unique competence?
  • Coherence: Does this activity harmonize with my current priorities and centres of interest?
  • Networking: Does (or will) this activity keep me in touch with significant people or activities, and will it do the same for my spouse or partner?
  • The Strategic: Is the audience or the target group for this exercise important enough to warrant the investment of my time and energy?
  • The Prophetic: Does this activity or assignment give me the opportunity to be prophetic (in the biblical sense)? Does the undertaking make me bold?
  • Remuneration: Who is meeting the costs of this assignment, literally?
  • Opportunities Foregone: Will this assignment prevent me from doing something else more important, or something which I must do, which I am already committed to do, or which I really want to do?
  • Peace: At the primal level, does this assignment leave me feeling easy in my mind?

Beare wrote: “One need hardly add that this review takes time; if I am not accorded that time, the answer is always ‘no’. Because such a review combines inner work and prayer, you don’t have to justify your decision or make excuses. ‘Simply let your Yes be Yes and your No, No’, Jesus advised (Matt 5:37).”