Sunday, 26 December 2010
Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation.
They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send, and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.
God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them
The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place – he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history.
And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross.
And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God.
Out of love for us he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability, and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life, to a share in the life of God himself.
As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us, and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down; he gives us hope, he brings us life.
Dear friends from Scotland, England, Wales and indeed every part of the English-speaking world, I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this Holy season.
I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time.
I pray especially for the elderly and for those who are approaching the end of their days.
I ask Christ, the light of the nations, to dispel whatever darkness there may be in your lives and to grant to every one of you the grace of a peaceful and joyful Christmas.
May God bless all of you.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
Abba Evagrius said: If you know how to practice patience, you shall always pray with joy.
Friday, 17 December 2010
The actual facts of the arrest of the case were recorded on video and make disturbing viewing. Among the the first words of the police when they arrive is:
"Hello sir. What have you been saying, homophobic wise ?"
This is barely English, let alone a question that can be answered by someone about to be arrested. Matters got worse:
"Preacher: I spoke to your officer earlier and he was upset that I was saying homosexuality was a sin – which is what the Bible says. And I affirm that’s what I say because that’s in the Bible. And there’s no law, there’s no law…
Policeman: Well there is.
Preacher: No there isn’t.
Policeman: There is. Unfortunately, mate, it’s a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act"
Well, actually, constable, it is just isn't and you are an ignoramus for knowing so little about the law that you were claiming to arrest someone for! And to cap it all the arresting officer actually arrests him for a "racially aggravated public order offence". Yep - racially aggravated! You just can't make this stuff up!
Nevertheless, the preacher was arrested, taken to a police station, made to give his DNA and fingerprints and eventually charged. What then happened? Err...well.... all the charges were dropped. Straight away. Like that.
Why? Once the facts of the case were examined by Crown Prosecutors, lawyers and police officers who were capable of using more than one brain cell at a time, it became blatantly obvious that there was no such law as the heavy-handed officers of the law had falsely claimed.
How could this be contrary to section 5 of the Public Order Act? It has never been any part of the Public Order Act to decide what is or is not "a sin" and it is not illegal to say that any form of behaviour is "a sin". So - were the 3 police officers and 2 PCSOs involved in this situation just plain stupid or is there a problem with the wording of the law itself?
Section 5 actually reads as follows:
"Public Order Act 1986, s. 5 Harassment, alarm and distress
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he–
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.
(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove–
(a) that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, or
(b) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
(c) that his conduct was reasonable.
S6(4)Mental element: miscellaneous)
A person is guilty of an offence under section 5 only if he intends his words or behaviour, or the writing, sign or other visible representation, to be threatening, abusive or insulting, or is aware that it may be threatening, abusive or insulting or (as the case may be) he intends his behaviour to be or is aware that it may be disorderly"
So the Police had to decide that Mr Mcalpine was using "threatening, abusive or insulting words" when he said that "homosexuality was a sin". There is no legal definition of "threatening, abusive or insulting" and the words are to be taken in their normal and natural meaning. Clearly, the phrase "homosexuality is a sin" is not "threatening", nor "abusive". Someone might, conceivably, consider it "insulting". But should it be an offence to use words that are merely subjectively insulting?
Where does that end? Is it criminal? In fact the judge in the Rollins case used his commons sense and came to the conclusion that Mr Rollins had been wrongly arrested and had been assaulted. The question has but to be stated for its answer to be obvious. Of course, it cannot and should not be criminal. In fact, it is simply not criminal. The police officers were simply off on a crazy frolic of their own.
The proper view must be that the words "threatening, abusive or insulting" ought to be taken together, that the preacher could not be said to have caused "alarm, harassment or distress" and/or his conduct was perfectly reasonable (per s.5(3)(c)). Doubtless, the CPS came to their conclusion for these or similar reasons and the charges had to be dropped.
There have been numerous similar incidents of police over-reaction to complaints of Homophobia, Islamaphobia, racism etc and the reason for this is the abysmally low standard of training of police officers regarding the dubious concept of "hate crime". Common sense and the right to freedom of speech seem to have been left on the shelf at the police station.
Now view the video and see what I mean. The uniformed official grinning vacantly in the background is apparently the PCSO (Police Community Support Officer) who had actually called the police to report the preacher for "Homophobia" (which is not an offence known to the law).
Monday, 13 December 2010
Monday, 6 December 2010
If you do not hope, you will not find what is beyond your hopes.
Clement of Alexandria
If you feel like you're at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on! Because God's a God of miracles, and He's holding the other end.
A number of years ago researchers performed an experiment to see the effect hope has on those undergoing hardship. Two sets of laboratory rats were placed in separate tubs of water. The researchers left one set in the water and found that within an hour they had all drowned. The other rats were periodically lifted out of the water and then returned. When that happened, the second set of rats swam for over 24 hours. Why? Not because they were given a rest, but because they suddenly had hope!
Those animals somehow hoped that if they could stay afloat just a little longer, someone would reach down and rescue them. If hope holds such power for unthinking rodents, how much greater should is effect be on our lives.
I am not a connoisseur of great art, but from time to time a painting or picture will really speak a clear, strong message to me. Some time ago I saw a picture of an old burned-out mountain shack. All that remained was the chimney...the charred debris of what had been that family's sole possession. In front of this destroyed home stood an old grandfather-looking man dressed only in his underclothes with a small boy clutching a pair of patched overalls. It was evident that the child was crying. Beneath the picture were the words which the artist felt the old man was speaking to the boy. They were simple words, yet they presented a profound theology and philosophy of life. Those words were, "Hush child, God ain't dead!"
That vivid picture of that burned-out mountain shack, that old man, the weeping child, and those words "God ain't dead" keep returning to my mind. Instead of it being a reminder of the despair of life, it has come to be a reminder of hope! I need reminders that there is hope in this world. In the midst of all of life's troubles and failures, I need mental pictures to remind me that all is not lost as long as God is alive and in control of His world.
As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev's widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev's wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband's chest.
There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.
Gary Thomas, in Christianity Today, October 3, 1994, p. 26.
Friday, 3 December 2010
Thursday, 2 December 2010
The observance of the season of Advent is fairly late. One finds no sermons for Advent, for instance, among the liturgical homilies of St. Leo the Great in the mid-fifth century. About that time, however, the season was already was already emerging in Spain and Gaul. A thousand years later, the time of the Reformation, Advent was preserved among the liturgical customs of the Anglicans and Lutherans; in more recent years, other Protestant groups have informally begun to restore it, pretty much as it had originally started--one congregation at a time.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the corresponding penitential season of preparation for Christmas always begins on November 15, the day after the Feast of the Apostle Philip. For this reason it is popularly known as St. Philip's Fast. A simple count of the days between November 15 and December 25 shows that this special period lasts exactly 40 days, the same as Lent.
More recently Christians of the Orthodox Church have begun to call this season by its Latin name, "Advent." One now finds the term standard in publications of the Antiochian Archdiocese, for instance. The adoption of the word "Advent" by Eastern Orthodox Christians is inspired by the same reason that prompted the adoption of other Latin theological terms, such "Sacraments," "Incarnation," and "Trinity." Very simply, these are the recognizable theological terms that have passed into Western languages. They also happen to be theologically accurate! If the Christian West can adopt Greek terms like "Christology," it seems only fair for the Christian East to adopt Latin terms like "Incarnation."
(On the other hand, one finds some Orthodox Christians, especially among recent, hyperactive converts from Western churches, who resist the adoption of the word "Advent," preferring to speak of "Winter Lent" or some such anomaly. One is hard pressed to explain this eccentric, lamentable preference for Anglo-Saxon over Latin on a point of theology.)
Several other features of Advent deserve some comment:
First, in the West the First Sunday of Advent is treated as the beginning of the liturgical year. (In the East, the liturgical year does not begin with Advent but on September 1, which bears the traditional title, "Crown of the Year." Its historical relationship to the Jewish feast of Rosh Hashana is obvious.)
Second, during the twentieth century there arose the lovely custom of the Advent wreath, both in church buildings and in homes. This wreath lies horizontal and is adorned with four candles. The latter, symbolic of the four millennia covered in Old Testament history, are lit, one at a time, on each Saturday evening preceding the four Sundays of Advent, by way of marking the stages in the season until Christmas. This modern practice has already started in some Orthodox Christian homes, where the longer season requires six candles on the Advent wreath.
Third, because of its emphasis on repentance, Advent is a season of great seriousness, not a time proper for festivity, much less of partying and secular concerns. Advent is not part of the Christmas holidays, and Christians of earlier times would be shocked at the current habit of treating this as a period of jolly good times and "Christmas cheer," complete with office parties, the trimming of Christmas trees and other domestic adornments, the exchange of gifts, caroling, and even the singing of Christmas music in church.
All of these festive things are part of the celebration of Christmas itself, which lasts the 12 days from December 25 to January 6.
The seasons of the liturgical year involve more than liturgical services. The liturgical seasons is supposed to govern the lives of those who observe them. For this reason, anticipating these properly Christmas activities during Advent considerably lessens the chance of our being properly prepared, by repentance, for the grace of that greater season; it also heightens the likelihood that we will fall prey to the worldly spirit that the commercial world would encourage during this time.
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Low levels of mercury in the diet of male white ibises cause the birds to mate with each other rather than with females. As a result many of the females can't breed, and fewer chicks are produced.It's the first time a pollutant has been found to change an animal's sexual preference. Many chemicals can "feminise" males or reduce fertility, but males affected in these ways still prefer females.
Mercury is extremely toxic, particularly in the form of methylmercury, which reduces breeding in wild birds by disrupting their parenting behaviours. To find out if it also affected mating, Peter Frederick of the University of Florida in Gainesville and Nilmini Jayasena of the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, captured 160 young white ibises from south Florida. They gave them food laced with methylmercury and monitored them closely.
The birds were split into four groups. One group ate food with 0.3 parts per million methylmercury, which most US states would regard as too high for human consumption. A second group got 0.1 ppm, and the third 0.05 ppm, a low dose that wild birds would be exposed to frequently. The fourth group received none.
All three dosed groups had significantly more homosexual males than the control group. Male-male pairs courted, built nests together and paired off for several weeks. Higher doses increased the effect, with 55 per cent of males in the 0.3 ppm group affected. Male-male matings were responsible for 81 per cent of unproductive nests in the dosed groups.
Meanwhile the heterosexual pairs courted less and were bad at parenting – patterns of behaviour that were both already known to be caused by methylmercury poisoning. The combined effects of male-male pairing and poor performance by male-female pairs could be severe. "In the worst-case scenario, the production of young would fall by 50 per cent," says Frederick.
Looking for effects on courtship and mating is novel, says Tony Scheuhammer of Environment Canada's National Wildlife Research Center in Ottawa, Ontario. "People normally study pairs that have already mated to see how good they are at parenting," he says.
Other birds would probably be similarly affected, though both Frederick and Scheuhammer say it's far from clear whether other animal groups would be. In particular, there's no evidence for increased homosexuality in humans resulting from mercury poisoning, despite several long-term studies. "If the effect was as strong in humans as in the ibises, they'd have found it," Frederick says."
One wonders how much mercury is in the environment and we don't realise it. And what about mercury fillings or a century ago the use of mercury to treat various diseases like syphillis?
In addition to my usual reading - the Bible and Christian literature - I find myself more and more drawn to Christian history and esepcial...