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  • Unreconciled?: Exploring Mission in an Imperfect World
    Unreconciled?: Exploring Mission in an Imperfect World
    by Ann Richards, Mission Theology Advisory Group

    This book is the reference resource for the 2012 Lent courses at All Saints Ealing and St Martins West Acton. The focus is about making our theology of reconcilaition personal not just a matter of Christian duty. It is all too easy to pray for reconciliation for war torn countries "out there". But what about the reconciliation needed "in here"? What about the Unreconciled in our homes or on our doorsteps who feel left out, unheard, wounded or ignored? How can the local church offer the gift of Christ's reconciliation to those whose problems we are not even aware of?

  • Why Sacraments?
    Why Sacraments?
    by Andrew Davison

    A very thorough overview of the 7 sacraments and their relationship to the doctrine of the incarnation. Davison's writing is accessible, scholarly and succinct. 

  • Elements of Rite: A Handbook of Liturgical Style
    Elements of Rite: A Handbook of Liturgical Style
    by Aidan Kavanagh

    Essential source book for any liturgist. Kavanagh unpacks basic very profound principles informing healthy Echaristic worship.

  • Why Go to Church?: The Drama of the Eucharist
    Why Go to Church?: The Drama of the Eucharist
    by Timothy Radcliffe

    How the Eucharist brings us into slow work of faith, hope and love.

  • Creating Uncommon Worship: Transforming the Liturgy of the Eucharist
    Creating Uncommon Worship: Transforming the Liturgy of the Eucharist
    by Richard Giles

    This book highlights the great richness, variety and imaginitive potential of modern sacramental worship. A must read for liturgists.

  • The Art of Worship: Paintings, Prayers, and Readings for Meditation (National Gallery London)
    The Art of Worship: Paintings, Prayers, and Readings for Meditation (National Gallery London)
    by Nicholas Holtam

    An excellent collection of spiritual reflecions on selected artwork in the National Gallery. This is Nicholas Holtam (one time Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields and now Bishop Salisbury) at his best.

  • Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams
    Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams
    by Mike Higton

    A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the fundamental principles behind Rowan Williams' theology.

  • The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
    The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
    by Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett

    A compelling statistical study about equal societies and the broad based social benefits enjoyed in these nations. The numbers are easy and so is the read; but the implications are hard to swallow.

  • The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God
    The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God
    by Ronald Rolheiser

    What does authentic Christian spirituality look and feel like? This book explores these very relevant themes and will leave you deeply enriched.

  • Tradition and Imagination: Revelation and Change
    Tradition and Imagination: Revelation and Change
    by David Brown
  • Discipleship and Imagination: Christian Tradition and Truth
    Discipleship and Imagination: Christian Tradition and Truth
    by David Brown
  • God and Enchantment of Place: Reclaiming Human Experience
    God and Enchantment of Place: Reclaiming Human Experience
    by David Brown
  • God and Grace of Body: Sacrament in Ordinary
    God and Grace of Body: Sacrament in Ordinary
    by David Brown
  • God and Mystery in Words: Experience through Metaphor and Drama
    God and Mystery in Words: Experience through Metaphor and Drama
    by David Brown
  • Poet and Peasant: Literary-cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke
    Poet and Peasant: Literary-cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke
    by Kenneth E. Bailey

    An outstanding study of the parables. Kenneth Bailey's profound insights into the Middle-Eastern culture of Jesus' day will revolutionise the way you see the parables. 


Salvation is Not a Once-off Deal

My return visit to South Africa has reminded me that there’s always at least one fly about. He and his friends tend to have a protestant work ethic and are likely to be buzzing around in the general vicinity of your food, your face, your drink or your car windshield. In order to deal with this problem my mother has acquired a fly-execution device shaped like a tennis racket. I imagine the tennis racket shape is to enhance the efficacy of mid-air fly contact. This way fly extermination is rather like a bizarre Wimbledon.


To be fair, it is very effective and does avoid the nasty business of the old fashioned swatter. It also emits an impressive zzzap as it delivers the fatal blow. This turned out to be my undoing. I simply assumed that the charge wasn’t very strong as I tapped a finger on it. I was wrong.


It’s amazing how easily we are attracted to spectacle and drama. In our instant gratification, media saturated worlds we are programmed to believe that if it’s intense, dramatic and highly memorable then it must be significant. This is a habit that can skew the way we perceive God’s work in our lives.


The scriptures give us many accounts of dramatic encounters with God: Moses and the burning bush; Saul of Tarsus blinded on the road to Damascus; Peter, James and John struck in wonder at the transfiguration. These show the radical intent of God to reveal his purposes for humankind. But do they fully disclose the ways in which God reclaims us through grace. To put it another way, can one climatic emotional encounter with God give us the totality of God’s saving action in our lives?


Of course, many of us have life-changing encounters with the divine and these should not be diminished. However, the full work of salvation is a life long journey. Jesus says in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you to the end of the age.”


Ultimately, what I am trying to suggest is that our understanding of salvation should not be limited to one moment or even just one decision. Not only does God intimately understand who we are and what we need, but more surprisingly, he never stops calling us into his embrace:


You have searched me, LORD,
   and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
   you are familiar with all my ways.:


Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.

(Psalm 139:1-3 & 7 -10)


Yes, salvation is about making decisions. Yes, salvation is about experiencing God. But most importantly, salvation is about being transformed by Jesus through the Holy Spirit. God steadily enlivening, enriching and redeeming you and me in the ordinary, dull, painful, exasperating, even indifferent things of life is as vital as anything we may experience in a highly-charged religious experience. You could call this salvation of the ordinary moment. You could also just call it a relationship with Jesus.


I reflect on these things as our confirmation on 6 February draws closer. 23 candidates drawn from both of the parishes will stand before God and their Christian family and consciously choose to be a benefactor of God’s saving power. This is not the end of their faith preparation, it is the beginning. For it is not the years of church attendance, the months of classes or even the good intentions of parents or guardians that will light their hearts with holy fire, it is God himself. Without question, when we choose for God, God responds. But I take even greater comfort in the truth, that even when we do not choose for God, he waits faithfully for our return, never ceasing to prompt us and loving us unconditionally.  


Is God at work in our violence?

Despite what we may think, are we actually living in the most peaceful period in the history of our species? Steven Pinker, a highly respected but nonetheless controversial American academic, believes exactly that.
Steven Pinker
The two world wars, conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, genocides in Rwanda and Darfur and other atrocities are still fresh in our collective memories. Add to that the ever-present horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan and it’s not surprising that we associate modernity with unspeakable aggression. In our minds, earlier generations are just less violent, just less pathologically self-destructive and just more harmonious.

Pinker, is at pains to dispel what he calls “the myth of violence” by arguing that in fact our ancestors were far more violent than we are and that violence has been in decline for long stretches of time. He also admit that this statement may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene.

How then does he reach this startling conclusion? Well, he points to very compelling evidence which shows a decline in violence on a millennial, century and even decade scale. Archaeological evidence, for example, showing that there was a 60% - 15% likelihood for a male of a prehistoric hunter-gatherer society to meet his demise in violence compared to the meager 3% in a 20’th century world (and that includes all the deaths from both world wars).

Prehistoric versus modern human society is definitely a leap, but you may find the evidence on the decade scale to be the most astounding. Since 1945, worldwide there has been a steep decline in interstate wars. Statistics tracking the number of battle deaths show a decline from 60000 per conflict per year in the 1950’s to less than 2000 deaths per conflict per year in this decade.

If anything, Pinker’s observations raise challenging questions about our perceptions of violence and its prevalence in our time. One explanation is that we are perhaps now more than ever convinced that every human life is priceless.

As a Christian this rather empirical perspective points to a deeper spiritual reality that I have always held to be true. God is at work in all of human history, a divine force that is constantly seeking to redeem humanity from self-destruction and despair.

He has not abandoned his creation into the hands of a species that frequently chooses to abandon him. Through a perfect and definitive act of revelation in Jesus Christ, he has called us home by taking on the very nature of our humanity and then being subjected to one of the most odious forms of torture and execution.

If God is intimately involved in the course of human affairs it means that he is present with every man or woman who stepped up to confront an enemy. He is present with these people who have given of their lives, who like Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for those he calls friends.

We look upon this violence and the cost of human life and we are rightly appalled.  But let us never forget that nothing in human history is beyond or beneath the transformative power of God’s presence, that even in the midst of futile, pathological and heinous self-destruction God is at work. This is a great truth. God cannot stop us committing violence upon one another because of fear or greed or jealousy. But God is always at the task of ushering in a kingdom, a kingdom that is set upon a foundation of sacrificial love.

On Sunday we remembered those who have fallen and continue to fall in the violence of our time. We do this to remind ourselves of the priceless dignity of their lives and human life in general.  But we should also be painfully aware that the great work of God’s kingdom is in our hands, that it cannot be shaken by the despots or the misguided powerbrokers of our day. So as Christians, we do not remember passively but also offer ourselves as living sacrifices for that cause, the words of St Paul ringing in our ears “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13)


One less pint at the pub

If you could choose any 20th century invention to represent the history of modern times would it be a credit card? Well, that is exactly what Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, did. In the 99th episode of his excellent BBC Radio 4 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, MacGregor discusses the reach and power of these little plastic rectangles:
"Since they emerged in the late 1950s, credit cards have become in every sense part of the currency of life. Bank credit is now, for the first time in history, no longer the prerogative of the elite. And maybe as a result, the long dormant religious and ethical debate about the use and abuse of money has been reborn in the face of this ultimate symbol of triumphant consumer culture."

Besides its pervasive use in our daily transactions there is an assumption at work that we take for granted. A credit card is a promise in plastic. It is a guarantee that a financial obligation will be met. During Argentina’s financial crisis in the 1990s, a system of paper IOUs became popular. However, it did raise the question - can a strangers IOU be trusted? In some parts of the country, getting your IOU endorsed by your parish priest solved the problem. It wasn’t quite a holographic imprint from Mastercard or VISA, but it did the trick.  

The credit card is a neat reminder to us that successful transactions are built on trust. It goes without saying that this is also the overriding principle of our giving to God’s kingdom. But sadly we are reticent to place our trust in this particular transaction. When we prepare our family budgets where does our faith-giving feature? Is it an afterthought or non-negotiable priority? What would a small but regular commitment to the Church’s planned giving scheme actually cost us in real terms? Is it one less pint at the pub?

Here then is the ugly truth about human nature. It is not the size of a regular faith gift that actually unsettles us. “Quality Rather Than Quantity” could be a catchy title for a book on the gospel and giving. No, what is disconcerting and even terrifying is that when we give to the Kingdom it feels like something is being taken from us for no real reason. “I could buy a cold pint with this £5” may well actually cross our minds as we complete the planned giving form.

The truth of the matter is that there is no way to sugarcoat this discomfort. Self-sacrifice is an ongoing lesson of a life-giving faith. To avoid it, is to opt for spiritual stagnation. Jesus puts the matter in simple terms - those with the faith of a mustard seed will have the power to move mountains (Matthew 17:20).

When we place our trust in the kingdom through a financial gift, even if it is as small as mustard seed, that act of faith will be blessed and expanded by God in ways completely unimaginable to us. Think about this carefully. It may be the only part of our lives in which a transaction is much more profound than a simple exchange of cash for goods.

The next time you use your bit of plastic to buy something basic, reflect on just how reassuring and easy it feels. Then ask why you may not feel the same way about giving to God’s kingdom.


Sing we a song of high revolt

You may have already come across the book The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. In essence, it is an accessible academic study which draws on statistical analysis from 23 rich countries and 50 US states. The conclusions only confirm what we knew to be rationally true: the most pressing health and social problems of wealthy states are anything from 3 to 10 times more acute in unequal societies. There are a number of explanations for this including the profound psychological effects of inequality. It makes for compelling reading.

But how has this work by acclaimed academics Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pritckett been greeted? Initially, the mood was one of great excitement across the political spectrum. The Spirit Level has sold more than 36000 copies in the UK alone and has been read and praised by David Cameron, Michael Gove, Jack Straw and David Milliband to name but a few. This early bipartisan reception was very encouraging for Wilkinson and Pickett who had intended for the analysis to transcend the “leftwing ghetto”. Alas, it was not to last. The first assault came from the Taxpayers Alliance who labeled it “flimsy” and “absurd”. Next to weigh in was the thinktank Policy Exchange with a report entitled “Beware false prophets.” Right-leaning columnists from the Spectator and the Daily Telegraph offered their poisoned arrows including the catchy description “junk food for the brain.”  

Christian communities should be disappointed but not entirely surprised by this series of events. In the marketplace of ideas, equality has always been deeply threatening. It is not something we instinctively strive for as human beings given that it strikes at the very heart of self-preservation. The Spirit Level and its mixed reception is a reminder to us of the urgency of authentic Christian witness in our time. Proclaiming the life-giving power of “love your neighbour as yourself” is an obligation that will sadly never leave us.


 The Christian Gospel is not one of complacency or cultural complicity. It is driven by a revolution of intuition. Jesus’ message and actions subvert the social norms of his culture as well as the illusion of absolute self-preservation. He heals on the Sabbath, eats with tax collectors and prostitutes, identifies with an unclean culture (the Samaritans), encourages the rich man to sell all he has in order to find true salvation and preaches “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) from a mountain top.

It is apt that this debate reached intensity in the month we celebrate the feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15 August). Congregations across the nation would no doubt have heard the highly recognisable Magnificat or Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) during worship.  Though, how many of us would even have registered the radical content of this clarion call for equality. A prayer of the early church, the writer of Luke’s gospel literally puts words into the mouth of Mary. Words that are intended to incite a painful cultural shift and remind the disciples of Jesus that they should constantly strive to incarnate these values.  Perhaps the more modern interpretation of the Magnificat in a hymn by Fred Kaan will help unseat our familiarity:

Sing we a song of high revolt;
Make great the Lord, his name exalt:
Sing we the song that Mary sang
Of God at war with human wrong.
Sing we of him who deeply cares
And still with us our burden bears;
He, who with strength the proud disowns,
Brings down the mighty from their thrones.

By him the poor are lifted up:
He satisfies with bread and cup
The hungry folk of many lands;
The rich are left with empty hands.
He calls us to revolt and fight
With him for what is just and right
To sing and live Magnificat
In crowded street and council flat.

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