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Yelling kids

23 Nov

I walked past a primary school the other day.  Now schools are back the classes are having playtimes at different times – so more play going on throughout the day.  I could hear the screams and yells of joy accompanying the exuberance of energy and excitement with life – especially at playtime with pals playing together.  It’s almost and uncontrolled and limitless excitement and joy.  It makes me think that control and orderliness are all very well but exuberance and self-expression are the real joy and signs of life.  People who are ‘church-going’ (at least in normal times) well know of the order of service and expected practice – it is much the same across the denominations and probably in other religions’ services.  As we get older (I am thinking of myself again here) we yell less if at all but we still need freedom and time for self expression.  I say this because I believe we are being made in the image of God and this is His self-expression – limited by our co-operation or not.  Yes there are rules to be obeyed even rituals for respectable behaviour and religious practice (and even accepting ‘church teachings’), but…  to be the unique expressions of God that we are, we need to be ourselves and among our fellow creations of God – people, animals and the universe!  But if the internet or phone is all we can manage at this time we must not forget that we can interact with God Who is always with us: complaints are permitted (even important) but if we feel disappointment it is perhaps because our world isn’t all it should be – it is in the process of becoming what God wants of it – of us!  Like the yelling kids in the playground, we too have to restrict our inclinations sometimes and settle down to the lessons that God has shown us in the life of Jesus and His saints and other good people.  God is teaching us, not just through the church or through our own conscience but through the many other people who might impinge on our life, as the yelling kids did on mine!

Ways of reading the bible

16 Nov

The bible is the word of God according to Christian belief, so we should try to find out something about the original meaning, and then try to express the same meaning for ourselves in our present (different from the original) situation.  When reading it, as always, we should be aware that we are in the presence of God (as we always are).  So we should think what God might be saying to us just now at this time we are reading.  We should pause while reading and even pay attention to any ‘distracting’ thoughts that come to us – they bring to mind things that are  part of our life in this world and they can lead to ideas of some good that we might do.  If we are reading with others in a group it helps to listen to others reading, also to look at different translations that are made of the same original text.  Listening to others might help us hear what God wants us to hear from His words to us.


9 Nov

The word ‘company’ originates from two Latin words: cum meaning ‘together with’ and panis meaning ‘bread’ (food).  But if you consult Google about the word company its first meaning is a commercial business or association and the second is togetherness, friendship – socializing.  In a dictionary it is defined as “1  A commercial business. 2 the fact or condition of being with another or others. 3 a number of individuals gathered together.” (Concise Oxford dictionary dated 1999). Two different realities of ‘company’ may be seen as also in the word ‘church’ defined in the same dictionary as “1a building used for public Christian worship. 2 a particular Christian organization with its own distinctive doctrines. “  and as an archaic verb “take a woman to church for a service of thanksgiving after she has recently given birth”.   You will note how the notion of food has been lost from the Latin root of the word – and yet we are particularly aware in our present Covid19 situation that meeting together for ‘a coffee’ or meal has become an important part of our human life which we still want to maintain as far as possible.  For most Christian denominations the ‘services’ they have may well include partaking of a little wine and bread (seen as the presence of Christ) but their real service to each other and to the wider community is the companionship (from the same word ‘company’) that they give to each other and in the wider community.  So if we are not attending ‘church services’ for one reason or another, we can still provide service to the wider community in the best way permitted in the present ‘lock-down’ situation – and in this Christ is also present.

Not religiously

2 Nov

We use the adverb religiously to describe the way something is done – some work, some hobby, following some sport or undertaking.  In the context of religion, whether Christian, Muslim, Sikh or whatever, it means being very particular and serious about how things are done, the performance of rituals and, perhaps especially, how rules and practices are adhered to and kept.  Now Jesus was a Jew in a Jewish family and even in a Jewish location although overruled by Romans.  The gospel writers knew this but also tell of incidents and actions of His that shows that He wasn’t religiously in all that He did, and the gospel writers for whom He was a hero tell of a ‘laxity’ with regard to the Jewish religion at that time.  We read of this attitude in accounts about Jesus’ in regard to lepers, His attitude to non-Jews, to ‘loose’ women and even to those crucified beside Him.  He was so friendly and loving towards everyone.  I particularly like the story of him and Samaritan woman at the well, whose past life, according to the account, He knew was ‘not all it should be.’  I think we should conclude that He was promoting an approach to all humans without being religiously concerned about the ‘attitude’ promoted by His religion.  We have learnt from our Covid19 situation that many of the ‘rules’ of our Church should give way to a more general concern for everyone’s safety and all the Church regulations need not always be followed religiously.

Be an angel

26 Oct

People used to use the word angel more often than they do nowadays. I can even remember as a child being told after a meal, “be an angel and help me clear the table.” Some religious people believe there are angels living in another world that we can’t see, but that they would appear sometimes in our world. They were a bit like the fairies in fairytales which we had as children, and which we still tell our children to this day (or do we?); perhaps now some stories are more about aliens that inhabit other planets – some good but many quite scary or dangerous.  At the time of Jesus his people believed in angels and there are stories about angels in the bible. After Jesus, people still believed in angels and good things that happen through them – there are some stories about them in our Christian past. In the Roman Empire in which Jesus and the first Christians lived, there were people who believed there were these spiritual messengers many of whom they called gods.  A lot of people nowadays like to think that all these beliefs about supernatural beings are poppy cock. However almost everyone likes someone to help them and may often help others themselves – when we might say they are “being an angel” to them. Whether we believe in them or not I think we should as good human beings be helpful to others and sometimes surprise others by how kind and caring we are – lets all try to be angels for all saints day!

Meet God

19 Oct

Like Moses, all religious believers in a deity, in some way encounter God – some time ago I wrote about such a chance encounter:-

                        Chance on God

God’s the secret vision that you chance upon a time,

The picture without canvas, the poem beyond rhyme.

Impossible to raise it, we cannot nail it down,

But happen on the presence – God in country, God in town.

We credit it in Jesus and worship from the stall;

We glory in His greatness, but He’s largely in the small.

The rhyme behind the reason, the wit that fools the wise,

God is like the tragic that takes us by surprise.

Hindered by unheeding, alone and in the crowd;

We hear so many voices, but God is not aloud.

God is always otherwise, in every where and when –

So chance on celebrating the Present with “Amen.”

(Jeff Bagnall Feb. 1993)

The creator’s problem

12 Oct

Parents are creators, so are those in the construction business, also farmers and gardeners – not to forget artists (which in a way we all are).  When I headed this jotting with the word ‘creator’ you might have thought of God, but God is a bit of a mystery to us, so think about the creators that we are and that all beings are to some extent.  An artist is a good example; a sculptor or painter generally finds some things go wrong but they try to find a way to correct, overcome or incorporate these ‘mistakes’ into their creation.  Parents too are a good example (and are creative together with God); however parents all know that children can be difficult, sometimes as naughty kids or maybe as rebellious teenagers.  You can think of many human examples of creation, but it’s not just us humans, think also of animals and plants of all kinds, with ‘offspring’ and seedlings – and just sometimes the evolution of new species.  Even the non-living material in our universe changes with time and can cause disasters – the corona virus might come to mind. God, like all these examples but infinitely more so, is creating the universe – all the time and everything in it.  However – utterly beyond our understanding – God is outside of time (is eternal), so with God in charge of all creation we can be assured it will turn out well despite the struggles we have and the troubles we even cause. We (with God’s help) can overcome the problems (to which we contribute) and in the End will.


5 Oct

Newman may have begun as a ‘free church’ member before becoming Anglican and indeed ‘high Anglican’ as those with beliefs almost like RC’s were called, but finally he became a Roman Catholic.  An oratory is a place of prayer, but the group of secular priests that John Henry Newman joined called themselves Oratorians and had churches called the oratory.  I grew up near such a one in Birmingham where Newman had eventually lived and died.  He was a great respected scholar from Cambridge university and wrote a considerable lot, but was also good at a paster for more ordinary parishioners.  When he was made a cardinal – unusual for a ‘non-promoted’ priest – he was allowed to have an altar and say mass in his room at the oratory where he lived.  Even in my time, priests used to like sometimes to say mass there and at least once I was asked to serve the mass in his room.  It was just as he had it when he died in 1824; a candle on his desk, a pen and ink for all his writings, religious pictures and a bed.  In October 2019 he was canonised – recognised as a saint – and I felt some emotion because of my experience but also because I have studies some of his writings for my degree some years earlier.  I have known and been near many people who are now saints with God though not recognised as such by the Church.   His feast day is Friday.

Christian development

28 Sep

Newman wrote a long essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine; this was towards the end of the 19th century and it was a set book in my first theology degree.  This was at the time of the emergence of the idea of evolution – about physical developments among the creatures and features of the universe. But for humans there is more than the physical – there is the intellectual, the poetic, aesthetic, theoretical and social – manifested in attitudes and ways of life (which we might call religion). Just as non-human animals show differences even within one species, that evolve gradually,  so too, while remaining human, some individuals or groups develop interpersonal relationships and beneficial ways of living that may be seen as progressive developments in being a ‘good’ human.  Christians might see this in Jesus’ adult life as told in the gospels, with such developments as the love and care of fellow humans whatever their nationality, religion or attitude in life and whatever the cost to Himself.  This we believe was the way which Jesus lived and which even led to His execution.  There had been examples of this among His nation and other civilisations, but in Him it came to a climax and intensity which Christians would see as a new heightened way of life, and this might be counted as a development in humanity.  Christians who try to follow Jesus’ way and others who exhibit the same attitudes are almost like humans on the verge of a new and better humanity – but it is an inchoate development only yet at an early stage but which we can help to enhance by our way of life.  Let’s renew our efforts in this long-term and gradual process for a ‘better’ world!

Demonstration is better than instructions

21 Sep

I think I was mostly brought up with instructions on how to be a Catholic Christian.   To start with I was baptised and named appropriately – though Jeffery was not a saint’s name so I was Jeffery John; I was weekly at Mass and later Sunday school; in time there was first confession and communion, and when I was old enough Confirmation (the initiating sacraments); continuing a routine of attending mass on Sundays and ‘days of obligation,’ reciting the creed about believing in God as Trinity and Jesus as saviour as well as the Holy Spirit, the Church organisation and its teachings, then Mary and life everlasting – amen.   I learnt this creed (at first in Latin – affirming its mystery).  But in more practical matters I learnt how to tie my shoe laces, not through instruction but by being shown, trying and being corrected until I got it. Similarly at school, where I remember especially that spelling was by demonstration for each word with very few instructions or rules about it. As I grew up I learnt from my dad about carpentry and later from my wife about baking – all with demos and corrected mistakes rather than instructions. Just the other day I read on line how to make scones – but I benefitted most from the video demo and also from trial and error. But learning to be a Catholic, by contrast, seemed to be largely about rules and regulations, accepting ‘mysterious’ doctrines and various ritual practices.   But now I think I am learning more about how to live (as a good person) by observing people (of all faiths and none) who live good human lives – helping others, being patient with difficulties, being forgiving and helpful to those needing such treatment etc. And I am still learning – how about you?