"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Friday, March 28, 2014

World Vision USA

For sometime now Rachel and I have been sponsoring a girl in Ethiopia. We do this through a Christian charity called World Vision. It had never occurred to me for a moment that this might be a problem.

World Vision USA has been all over the feeds of my American Christian friends over the last couple of days. Unbeknown to many - well unbeknown to me anyway (and here is a learning point about checking the background of organisations you support) - W.V. USA had a policy not to employ workers in same-sex relationships because to do so would be "unscriptural". The reason this has been all over Facebook is because in a compassionate, humane and inclusive Christian move, W.V. USA had reversed that policy.

Then the shit hit the fan. The Religious Right - Fundamentalists and Evangelicals - came out in force with their Biblical proof-texts to complain about the change of policy and threatened to remove their sponsorship unless the policy reverted to the original, ie: no Gays. W.V. USA caved in and within 48 hours it was business as usual.

Then the shit hit the fan again. I popped over to the W.V. USA's Facebook page to express my discontent at the U-turn on the U-turn. I was delighted to find there many thoughtful and compassionate comments from American Christians who supported the initial inclusive change. I also encountered - and was disappointed but not at all surprised - expressions of the same old tired anti-LGBT sentiments and prejudices wrapped up and disguised as Christian doctrine.

I should know better, I suppose, than to engage with these folk but, emboldened by the many Liberal American Christians who had, I added my twopennyworth. Regardless of the fact that I was polite and used temperate language and theological argument I was called a bigot and accused of smearing other Christians. I was told that to withdraw my sponsorship would lead to untold suffering in third world countries.

Now is it just me who recognises the irony in being lectured about withdrawing my sponsorship by people who 48 hours earlier had been threatening to do the exact same thing? Or the irony in being accused of smearing other Christians when W.V.'s original employment policy and its decision to U-turn on the U-turn had done exactly that? Or the ridiculousness of being called a bigot for expressing discontent at someone else's questionable moral actions?

What also struck me (again) was the determination of many who supported the original policy on "Biblical" grounds to avoid engaging in discussion or considering that there might be alternative Christian perspectives. No one would engage with me or answer my questions but rather continued to restate their own proof-texts with an increasingly bad tempered and exasperated manner. When I offered to debate the hermeneutic of key N.T. Greek terms and phrases there was a deafening silence.

According to one commentator, failure to agree with the party line is evidence of Atheism or false discipleship.

Those who disagree with the Biblical Literalists are roundly and arrogantly condemned as not being Christians, or of being false Christians, which is an outrageous abuse. It must be wonderful to know the mind of God in relation to the spiritual status of others.

One pastor who acknowledged being gay was then referred to as "pastor" in all subsequent posts. "You aren't a proper priest." He was told. "You can't be gay and a minister of God." Isn't it depressing?

I hate that sort of language.

The idea that anyone who is straight could support their gay brothers and sisters was clearly an idea beyond contemplation. "No, you must be gay or you wouldn't be saying these things."

How dare anyone judge the spiritual status of anyone else and make self-congratulatory and damning conclusions about others?

Learning point. Don't engage in religious discussions with people who can neither spell nor punctuate. That is as a good an indication of someone's theological literacy as you can get. "I'm concerned about the soles of others." Ah, right.

I phoned W.V. UK today. I was greeted by a rather nervous lady who acknowledged that they had had a lot of enquires about this, as had other countries. She was at pains to stress that W.V. UK did not share it's American counterpart's views. "W.V.UK works within existing British anti-discrimination law and does not discriminate in recruitment based on sexual orientation." I was told. Gratified by this I popped back to the W.V. USA Facebook page and posted the U.K response.
Having chosen not to be provocative up until that point, I couldn't resist pointing out that gay-marriage becomes legal in England and Wales at midnight tonight and my own view that this will bring the Kingdom of God closer

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Life of the Priest: being or doing? Or both?

I’m just thinking out loud here really: this has been a topic I’ve been challenged to consider recently and I’d appreciate some feedback from others.

It does strike me that the role of the priest is often task driven, and often in a reactive rather than a proactive way. Parish life is full of “doing” which is both routine and unexpected. I know many clergy who seem on the verge of burn-out because they are so busy. However, I wouldn’t want to claim any special pleading for clergy: this position is hardly unique and I know teachers, doctors, social workers and solicitors who feel much the same about their own professional busyness.

What is it about the role of the priest in terms of the distinction between being and doing? Being v doing? What does that mean? How am I being? What am I being? What do we mean when we talk about the inner life as balanced against the external life?
One friend who acknowledges that he is easily distracted by the doing element of his job talks of being challenged about the distinction between being a priest (being) and being a vicar (doing). That seems a good place to start.

I suppose it seems obvious to note that although teachers, doctors, social workers and solicitors etc. can be Christians and therefore have a spiritual element to their lives there is no expectation that this will be the case. It is a given for the priest.

In their book, The Fire and the Clay: The Priest in Today’s Church, Peter Allan, George Guiver et al. note, If priesthood were simply a matter of doing certain jobs on behalf of the church, it would be natural to think of priests as no more than people delegated by the church for certain functions from time to time. But priesthood is a matter of becoming a certain sort of person: and it is by the gift of God that any Christian is able to grow into personhood and it is God’s call and that person’s response that initiates growth.
Everything that Jesus did followed from his close relationship with God. Making a practical application to our own lives with Jesus as role model is a bit more complicated. I have a number of friends who talk about the Rule of St. Benedict. This rule for living argues for a balance between the doing (manual labour in monastic terms) and the being (reading, prayer and meditation). It is absolutely essential that a priest have a "rule of life" - that is "doing" but which nourishes the "being"! It is, of course, a structured balance built into the life of the monastic community. My daily life has routine but it is not the strictly delineated routine of the monastery. My days have structure but that structure is far from timetabled and so while I can appreciate the teaching of St. Benedict in terms of the need for balance between the doing and the being, I can only take it as a general principle.
There is one element, however, that does resonate. Those monks who were working away from the community were exhorted to maintain the discipline of the spiritual life of the monastic community and to pray wherever they were at the same time as their brothers in the monastery. Prayer is part of the life of the church: I may not be able to literally pray at the same time as other members of the universal church without spending the whole day on my knees, but when I pray I know that I am joining in solidarity with the wider worshipping community.

So, to recap: what am I doing when I am “being”? We are in danger of getting all ontological here and so it strikes me that there are two possible approaches:
·       To be authentically myself and in the moment

·        To be in God’s presence

You can, of course have one without the other, but they are not mutually exclusive. Either way the basic requirement is time and privacy. I’m really not sure how we can be responsive to the call of God in all the busyness that surrounds us if we are not taking time to be still and quiet. Surely to be otherwise would lead me to act from my own agenda and in my own strength?
One immediate problem is that the time alone spent with God can itself become an activity – even a chore: it’s another thing that I must build into my routine and therefore it loses spontaneity.

I have always had an interest in the link between spirituality and personality types. My Myers-Briggs profile is ENFJ and, apparently, I can expect to be bored by routine approaches to spending time with God. This has certainly been my experience and I have berated myself down the years for the unsatisfactory nature of my prayer life. I find the daily office largely a barren exercise. (There, I’ve said it.) I also regularly fall into the trap of seeing prayer as a means to an end (intercessions) rather than an end in its own right. I am a hopeless case and yet I need to be clear about the fact that I need that time just to be in the presence of God.
Steven Croft in Ministry in Three Dimensions notes that intercession is the calling of every Christian. However, we need to assert that this aspect of prayer which is the giving of one’s self secretly on behalf of others is a vital discipline and tool in priestly ministry ….. it represents the foundation and core of any ministry which is concerned with seeing individual people reconciled to God, churches established and made strong and society transformed.

That said, I have to identify more with Barbara Brown Taylor who, in her writing, An Altar in the World, notes, I know a chapter on prayer belongs in this book, but I dread writing it. I have shelves full of prayer books and books on prayer. I have file draws full of notes from courses I have taught and taken on prayer. I have meditation benches I have used twice, prayer mantras I have intoned for as long as a week, notebooks with column after column of names of people in need of prayer (is writing them down enough?). I have a bowed psaltery - a Biblical stringed instrument mentioned in the book of Psalms - that dates from the year I thought I might be able to sing prayers easier than I could say them. I have invested a small fortune in icons, candles, monastic incense, coals and incense burners.
I am a failure at prayer. When people ask me about my prayer life ... my mind starts scrambling for ways to hide my problem. I start talking about other things I do that I hope will make me sound like a godly person. I ask the other person to tell me about her prayer life, hoping she will not notice that I have changed the subject. Perhaps this is what Ramsey means when he talks in a more upbeat assessment of “wasting time with God” and notes that such time is never actually wasted.

However, this isn’t the place to get side-tracked into discussions about models of spirituality and approaches to prayer. We need to concentrate on the nature of being v doing.
However, in those quiet moments with God I am acutely conscious of the danger of making God too small: we are talking about the supreme being in the universe and I have to constantly remind myself that this God transcends any descriptors we can have of Him and, that although this God can only be known by what He chooses to reveal of himself to me, at the same time that revelation is on-going and is not to be limited or constrained by the limit of that self-revelation as found in scripture. Although that is a good start, there is so much more which is to be revealed which is why we constantly need to be in conversation with God and listening.

In that respect, but as an aside, I am regularly struck by the thought that God’s self-revelation did not stop at the death of Saint Paul. That’s why I find Bonheoffer, Martin Luther-King, Desmond Tutu, John Shelby Spong and others so inspiring because they continue to reveal God to us.

A number of clergy friends have talked about the ontological change that comes with ordination. Whatever we were before, we continue to be but with the added dimension that we are now priested: an indelible change takes place. Priesthood is part of the nature of being: we are priests now where we weren’t before. What I admire about those who talk about this is their realisation that it takes a lifetime to grow into a fuller understanding and practice of the changed person ordination ushers in. Even here, though is an awareness that the being leads into the doing: the priest does priestly things – those things only a priest can do: presiding at Sacraments, absolving, and pronouncing the blessing of the Church etc. A priest is a person who stands in the place between heaven and earth and who accompanies other human beings as they attempt to see where God already is. The priest is a sort of guide, but is that guide because of their own personal experience on the journey. So doing can sometimes be a part of being. This leads others to argue that there is a false duality at the heart of the discussion.

Perhaps another way of looking at things is to consider that the "being" part is about recognising that we are sons and daughters of God who are loved beyond measure and that the "doing" part is about how we put that into practice. I have read that this position is summed up clearly in John 15.4, "Dwell in me as I in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, but only if it remains united with the vine; no more can you bear fruit, unless you remain united in me." Without that deep inner relatedness and indwelling we cannot move outwards in love and giving and creative action. Without it we run the risk of burn-out through trying to do things to our own agenda and in our own strength. A number of people I have spoken to talk with conviction about the day going better if they have started it in silence with God.

Others stress that we minister with our own selves. So whether someone is prayerful, emotionally well-balanced, informed, wise, judicious, generous etc. makes a difference - and that doesn't have anything to do with "ontological change" but with whom we bring to ministry. So the being of ministry is vital and brings us back to the idea that being can mean being authentically ourselves and in the moment.

The problem for priests and the Church in general is - and this is a personal view - that it has a poorly developed understanding of being and undervalues just 'being', and has a very inadequate training in being because most Church leaders themselves don't have a well-developed awareness of their inner life – or am I projecting? In my time of theological training and formation I can remember no emphasis being put on the being but quite a lot being put on the doing.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Clearing Mum's flat

We spent the weekend clearing out Daphne's two bed roomed flat - sorry, apartment - and I am knackered! The trouble is, after two days - which in some ways seems far too soon - the place looks like the denouement of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It seems that we have achieved so little - until we took stock: 17 black bin-bags full of clothes to the charity shop. (My mother was the curator of the National Knitware Collection. I kid you not. Every time we opened a drawer it was crammed full of cardies! She was a true Cockney, but you'd think she'd have acclimatised to more northern climes after 23 years in Yorkshire!) Had she been physically present in the room with us she'd have been laughing, but making a case for every item to go back into the wardrobe. "Really Nanny? Really? You're 83. When will you ever wear that Dallas power-suit again?" "You never know. Put it back."

 Anna was a great help with the sorting, if often rather brutal about her grandmother's tastes. "Hahahaha. She never wore that?" "I'll have you know that shoulder pads were all the rage in the 1980s Young Lady." She had a point though: the 70s and 80s did seem to be the golden years for my parents' social lives: son fled the nest, a nice house, some disposable cash for the first time. The photos we unearthed - and my father was no photographer - showed very happy times with a lot of foreign travel.

 There is something slightly strange, almost an awesome responsibility, it felt, dismantling the collection of someone else's life. And the ornaments! Why, for instance, would a widow want 9 sets of various alcoholic drinks glasses? (In a Methodist Homes Association complex?) Or, indeed, that much bedding? There are currently 10 bags of bedding and Rachel, ("Don't start me on the bedding!") estimates more to come. "They must have bought a set of bedding every time they left the house! I know why you gave me this cupboard now!" Anyway, one way or another, it's all going to charity. Tomorrow, hopefully, the furniture goes and then we'll be able to see the wood for the trees.

 Bone china tea service anyone?

On the way out of Victoria Court, and loaded down with bin bags full of clothes for the charity shop, I encounter Mum's next-door neighbour. They had an odd relationship. On one occasion they brought the whole complex to a halt when Mrs. P. Chased mum down the corridor with a broom and mum barricaded herself in her flat. However, Mrs. P. who is not in good health herself, had been very solicitous of mum's health and had expressed genuine care and concern. In the last few weeks I had spent a little bit of time with her chatting and offering a little companionship. 

 She beckoned me over and, from her wheelchair, gave me a big kiss. "Now, just remind me who you are again." "I'm your neighbour Daphne's son." "Of course. Poor Daphne. How is she?" "She passed away on Friday morning." Mrs. P. Is galvanised into action and literally launches herself at me - not easy from a wheelchair - and embraces me. "Oh poor you. Well, poor Daphne, of course. I haven't seen her for a while. How is she?" "Erm ... I'm afraid she died Mrs. P. You'll have a new neighbour soon." Mrs. P. Visibly brightens. "Really? Who?"
Life goes on.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

End of Life Care British style

Dear American Republican Friends,
                                                         When my poor old Mum was diagnosed with a terminal cancer at 83, in addition to the Alzheimer's she was already suffering from, a number of things slipped into place automatically.

Since her Alzheimer's diagnosis, Mum was already in receipt of an additional benefit called Attendance Allowance. This is not means tested and she received the higher rate.

On the very day that her cancer symptoms began to show, her Doctor referred her to the hospital, bypassing Accident and Emergency, where she was seen at once, scanned and admitted. She remained in hospital for two weeks while her condition stabilised and she had a small procedure.

On the day of her discharge we had a meeting: the consultant, the ward sister, the area palliative care team, the area joint coordinator (funding), my wife and I. The outcome was that Mum would return home in a special palliative care ambulance.  On her return home she was visited daily by the Community District Nurses, who managed her drugs regime and pain relief. As her condition worsened a night nurse was provided to sit with her. She was given a hospital-style bed in her apartment and additional equipment as necessary. Mum was also linked to the local Hospice care team. A Healthcare professional was with Mum 24 hours a day in her last month.
This is universal health care, free at the point of delivery. Because her cancer was terminal, The National Health Service also met all the costs of the care package Mum needed at her apartment including food and additional carer input from her supported living accommodation. This is only payback for what Mum contributed to the system through taxes all her working life. There was no health insurance policy because there was never a need for one.

This is how a civilized society cares for it's marginalised and vulnerable. Although our government makes no claims to be a Christian government, it is nevertheless following Jesus' injunction to care for the marginalised and the vulnerable and this treatment is about entitlement.

This is why the British public treasures the NHS.

This is end of life care British-style.
Did I hear anyone mention a Death Panel?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Farewell Daphne

On Friday morning at 6.00 Daphne gave up the unequal struggle and slipped away. She was 83. I was with her. She loved life which is, perhaps, why she fought to keep it for so long. She never once showed self-pity: she never cried or asked why, or raged against the injustice of it all. She didn't go easily but did have peace in her last hours. What struck me most of all was the indignity of it all as I watched this shell of the woman who had been my mother with her mind destroyed by Alzheimer's and her body eaten away by cancer.

But that is not how I shall choose to remember her. This picture shows Daphne in her prime. My Dad must have thought all his Christmases had come at once!

At some point in the last couple of days someone had given Mum a manicure. She left this life with beautifully shaped and deep fuscia nails. Classy to the end, Daphne. It seemed like a sort of annointing.

While we were waiting for the undertaker I was able to sit with Daphne and enjoy being with her at peace. I was deeply touched by the many visitors she had as word got round amongst her neighbours and staff at Victoria Court, and people came to say their farewells.

She had found some comfort in music in her final weeks and seemed particularly moved by the reflective sounds of Midori, All Angels and Luminosa and, of course, she never tired of Nat King-Cole.

I was concerned about the effect of her death on her neighbours and wondered whether we might find a way for the undertakers to take her into their care discreetly.

"She came in through the front door and she'll go out through the front door." the Senior Carer said and it was so - after two sprays of her favourite perfume - to an honour guard of the complete staff: the manageress, all the carers, the catering staff, the maintenance staff, the cleaner, the Chaplain and the District Nurses, all standing with heads bowed in respectful silence. I was not prepared for that and it completely destroyed me. The undertaker said he had never seen that in all his experience. What a wonderful community!

It was a long and difficult struggle. You were so brave and uncomplaining. So, Rest in Peace at last Daphne. We shall miss you.
See more

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sunday Sermon: The Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

So “Transfiguration”: Jesus takes a handpicked group of his friends up the mountain and this remarkable event happens. Our Epistle this morning also refers to this event, “For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”

The supernatural and glorified change in appearance of Jesus is itself a witness to who Jesus was and is - even if the disciples didn’t quite join the dots at the time - and the writer of 2 Peter is at great pains to talk of his personal witness to Jesus’ majesty. In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment, and the setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth. The Transfiguration not only supports the identity of Jesus as the Son of God (as in his Baptism), but the statement "listen to him", identifies him as the messenger and mouth-piece of God. This is enhanced by the presence of Elijah and Moses, because it shows to the apostles that Jesus is the voice of God above all others. Jesus surpasses and supersedes all the key religious leaders who have gone before and their teaching! The early church fathers came to see this event as a prefiguring of the resurrection, both for Jesus and his followers; his followers now as then. We too will be transfigured.

Now, depending on who you are at this point, maybe it’s about your maturity in the faith, maybe it’s about your concentration span, maybe it’s about over-familiarity with the story, or whatever, but I guess you’re falling into one of two camps. One group will be the “Oh, he’s doing theology. I like theology.” camp and the other group will be in the “Oh, he’s doing theology. My brain hurts.” camp.

As you get to know me better you’ll no doubt hear me say this over and over: what is the point of this Gospel passage? Why are we being invited to consider it today? It strikes me that the Gospel story - any Gospel story - has to have the power to challenge us and to move us. There needs to be a relevance to who we are and where we are now otherwise it remains merely an interesting piece of ancient religious writing. (Or maybe not so interesting!)

So, let’s change gear.

Does the name Marion Morrison mean anything to anyone here? Or Reg Dwight? The clue is that they’re not on this week’s prayer list. One or two nods but mainly blank looks. A bit like most of my classes up at the Knowledge College.

Let’s try another approach: just a show of hands – how many of you made a new year’s resolution? I won’t ask you what it was, I don’t believe in the Ministry of Public Humiliation. Keep your hands up if you kept them. Thank you. We’re approaching Lent: can we have another show of hands from anyone intending to make some sort of Lenten vow – again, I don’t need to know what it is. You may not even have got as far as planning this year’s yet. It’s only a couple a weeks away, though, so maybe it deserves some thought now.

Hold those thoughts for a moment.

When I was thinking about this morning I was mulling ideas over with my wife. “Transfiguration.” It’s not an everyday word is it? It is a specifically religious word and for a while we thought that was the main reason it’s not in everyday use. About an hour later we were in Boots where she redeemed some of her points. “Redeemed”. Well, that word’s made it into everyday use. We hear people talking about having their crosses to bear; about their baptisms of fire; about nests of vipers – back to my classes again; casting the first stone; lambs to the slaughter and forbidden fruit. “Don’t touch that, it’s mine. Its sacred.”; “This old thing? It’s been in the wardrobe for ages. I’ve resurrected it.” “I had a real epiphany there.” and so on. But there’s not much use of the words “Transfigure” or “Transfiguration” in everyday language. Five house points to anyone who can give me a credible everyday example over coffee.

My first thought about the meaning of the word “Transfigure” was that it’s a fancier way of saying “Transform”: It is clear from the passage that Jesus was, indeed, transformed: there was an obvious change, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Why? Because he had a religious experience and in words reminiscent of those at his baptism we hear God’s words, This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!

That’s why I asked the questions I did at the start. The two names I mentioned: Marion Morrison anyone? John Wayne. Reg Dwight? Elton John: two of countless examples of people transforming themselves. Our popular culture seems obsessed with this idea. Talent competitions are an example. We have Susan Boyle transformed from an awkward, anonymous lady into an international recording phenomenon. More recently the X Factor transformed prison officer Sam Bailey into its latest singing sensation. We have home and garden make-overs, Gok Wan showing dowdy ladies how to dress well and regain their confidence and before him we had Trinny and Suzannah doing much the same. Does anyone remember “10 Years Younger”? The names change, but the obsession remains the same. And here we are between New Year and Lent, having (possibly) given up on one set of self-improving promises that were due to transform us only to take up a second.

I wonder if anyone here has tried to re-invent themselves. It’s more easily done during some big life change that has an element of geographic movement: leaving home to go to college, changing jobs, moving house, starting at a new school, changing churches and so on. Sometimes that physical movement of place is the impetus for change. Occasionally as a teacher I see youngsters who are desperate for change but who have backed themselves into a corner. Without the geographic change they are locked into a cycle of self-defeating behaviour because of the expectations of those around them – others won’t let them change. If you have the reputation of being the class clown, or the year group’s gobby girl it’s really hard to transform and in all areas of life the more close-knit the community, the more difficult transformation is.

And yet transformation is a part of the Christian life: through the power of the Holy Spirit we are being transformed from what we once were into what we shall one day be. It is a work in progress. We are works in progress. As 2 Corinthians tells us, If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.

The problem here is that we can’t see the wood for the trees: it’s like being a parent or grandparent who sees the children daily and because of that doesn’t notice the subtle changes that take place. It takes the visit of a family friend or other relative who hasn’t seen them for a while to say, “Haven’t they changed?”

I remember as a teenager being fed a genre of Christian writing with lurid titles like “From Witchcraft to Christ” and “The Cross and the Switchblade” which told dramatic tales of transformation as people made a Christian commitment. I’m not doubting the truth of those testimonies but they were so far removed from my own uneventful upbringing that they were hard to identify with and yet the Holy Spirit was still at work in my life. I was just too close to the wood to see the trees. So, slowly but surely, attitudes and behaviours changed. I know I’ll never know the answer to this but I sometimes wonder how very different from the current me the old me would have been at this stage in my life had I not made a Christian commitment. I suspect not very. As I try to analyse my own life and as I look at the lives of other Christians I have known for a long time I am increasingly convinced that there aren’t that many of us who need the radical transformation of the Holy Spirit so beloved of those 1970s authors. What the Holy Spirit does, though, is to take the essential us, the essential you and me and works with that God-given material to challenge and effect incremental transformations that we may not even notice. The fact that we don’t notice that transformation mustn’t be taken as a sign that it isn’t happening.

Perhaps every once in a while we should surprise our friends here, maybe during the Peace, by affirming what we admire and value about their spirituality and Christian witness. We are a work in progress. We are being transformed by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit but it’s not going to be accomplished this side of the grave so let’s not look for or expect perfection.

We do need to be clear, though: there is nothing we can do that will merit the grace of God as Ephesians reminds us. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—   not because of works, lest any man should boast.  My Lutheran friends used to argue with me about this because I would always quote St. James at this point, So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Good deeds or not good deeds to help accomplish transformation? Well, both really. We can’t earn God’s grace by our behaviour, which is what many in modern society assume, but our behaviour should reflect obedient discipleship. In the end God knows our motives. We do things because they are the right things to do and that is also part of our transformation.

Just one minor point to finish on: Jesus chose to take friends with him. They were to witness the event and talk of it to others. Let’s not be afraid to do the same. Talk to others of the Transfiguration of Jesus and the Theology bit behind that – Jesus as the link between the human and the divine and the prefiguring of the resurrection but let’s not forget to talk about what God is doing in our own lives – our own little transformations by the Holy Spirit: and if we can’t recognise it in ourselves let’s make more of a point of affirming it in each other. Sometimes it’s the personal rather than the profoundly theological that grabs others.