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What is Theology Saying? XXII: God revealed in their friendship with Jesus

As time passed, Christians kept asking questions about Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father, and about the title Lord. Here again, as with the Eucharist, we face a mystery. We have the living experience of Jesus, and of the risen Christ in the early Church along with their testimony of what this meant for them. They used whatever words they could put together to express this in language that was mysterious and religious and which hinted at more than it said. God had been revealed to them in their friendship with Jesus in an overwhelming way.

The questions they asked were against a background of Greek philosophy and religion – a vision of the universe in which their time and space were somehow contained within eternity and infinity as though these were continuations of time and space. This was a world that believed that gods sometimes descended and mingled with humankind, intervening and then withdrawing again. In fact, their great problem – and ours – was to find any way to express religious experience and faith. No matter what words are used to explain mysteries, they are analogies and comparisons that never quite fit. Gradually, formulations were worked out to answer the questions, and examples remain with us today in what we know as the Nicene Creed of 325 AD.

This is a statement of what Jesus Christ means to us. We say it so frequently as almost to take it for granted. Yet if we read it as for the first time we will see in a single recital two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation and could be found in any police record. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate [before this he was son of God but not human]. After his death he was back again and at another point in time went back to the Father; he will return, establishing the endless kingdom.

This second recital could not have been checked by observation – yet the account is written as though it could have been observed: a story of two persons, one who stays always in that upper region, the other moves to and fro between heaven and earth, linking them in one experience. They did not think that Jesus came down from heaven like he came down from Mount Olivet, nor that he sat next to the Father in the way he sat next to John at the Last Supper.

Bring the two recitals together as one and see that the historical facts provide the immediate experience which the Christian community has always wanted to interpret. It does not matter that theology through the ages has discussed the mysteries of his life, treating both accounts on equal footing. The whole account means we see Jesus as the meaning of history, everything was at the beginning with God, and at the end linking everything together reconciling human and divine.

AMcC

Canterbury Cathedral Easter Tomb;
African Pilgrims at St Maurice, Switzerland (MAFR)
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July 24, Shared Table XXIII: an unwritten tradition.

bread-fish-strasbg

She was coming out of the corner shop, on her way to choir before her night shift at the Hospice. In her hand a packet of halal biscuits: I knew she was careful what she ate but not that careful …

‘I forgot to pack a snack to share,’ she said, ‘so I popped in and thought, these look interesting. pistachio wafers. There’s an unwritten tradition at work that we bring something to share through the night. Sometimes I bring crisps or grapes. We may not all three sit down together but we can still share.’

Shared food building the team, or if you like, the community. Shared food asserting life in the face of death.

So why did Jesus eat with all sorts of people? What happened on Maundy Thursday? He took our natural sharing to another level: this is my body, given for you. A promise that transforms every shared meal.

The boy shared his bread and fish with Jesus … Strasbourg Cathedral

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23 July: Shared table XXII, Wedding Cake.

We went to a couple of weddings last year, as I was reminded by the photograph in yesterday’s post. The top of the cake on that day was given to the bridesmaid for her birthday party: wouldn’t you feel special if that happened for your seventh birthday?

A friend of the bride’s mother made the cake; it was a real labour of love, and the love rippled on as the bridesmaid and her friends enjoyed it, as well as we who later ate some at home.

At our wedding, my brother made the traditional fruit cake. The top layer was still good eighteen months later when our firstborn was baptised. Ponder the many connections there, the sharing of our wedding cake, not with our daughter (even I would not offer a newborn a crumb of wedding cake), but with people we had not known when we got married. But soon after the wedding, slices had been posted around the world to people who were unable to be with us on the day. As far as Burkina Faso, Paraguay and Australia.

You don’t have to be in the same room at the same time to share food and drink.

Such sharing points to something very important, don’t you think?

The best willow pattern service accompanied the eating of our slices of wedding cake last year.

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A Message from the leader of the L’Arche Kent Community

Many of you know L’Arche is an international organisation and aims to spread the word about how valued people with learning disabilities are, and how important it is to work with people from all over the world. L’Arche has a core tradition of hospitality and welcome and we believe that having assistants from abroad that live within the community brings an important irreplaceable asset to our Community and to the lives of people with a learning disability.

For over 40 years, L’Arche Kent has welcomed  people from within and outside Europe as assistants on a temporary basis, adding to the richness and diversity of our Community.  Whilst nationally the proportion of international assistants  every year is small, there are seven from outside the EU in L’Arche Kent this year, and they remain a vital element of our Community. L’Arche is both a well-regarded service provider and peace-building network.  By enabling relationships between such a diverse body of people, we evidence the central importance of relationship in the building of understanding, trust and friendship between different human beings.

We are now facing a time when this tradition is being challenged and the future of these “live in assistants” is being threatened and we think you need to know about what is happening.

The benefits these people from abroad bring to us all are now under threat by a recent tightening of the regulations and a more strict interpretation of UKVI guidance which applies to the type of visa which international live-in applicants require to join L’Arche (a Tier 5 Temporary Charity Worker visa). These community assistants  are provided with board and lodging and subsistence; they provide friendship and sustain the life of the Community, whilst also providing care and support to members with learning disabilities. We have operated this way for over 40 years.

Our  assistants who are affected would have to leave prematurely and suddenly in September were our visa sponsorship licence to be revoked. This would cause distress to them and to our Community  and disrupt the support we provide.

These live in assistants, these community members from abroad that are willing to give us a year of their lives to help us, are not a strain on the resources of the UK or the UK taxpayer.  International live-in assistants  have no recourse to public funds. They are not eligible for welfare benefits, and they pay their own way via the Healthcare NHS surcharge, and other costs such as short breaks away during their year.  Any change in their status or whereabouts during the year is reported to UKVI by L’Arche.  Live-in assistants are not paid a salary; they receive free board and lodging and subsistence. L’Arche was awarded an exemption from the National Minimum Wage Act in 1999, in recognition of the Intentional Community nature of shared living, and in pursuit of a religious and spiritual objective (Section 44A of the Minimum Wage legislation).  Live-in assistants receive the same training as live-out assistants, plus additional input tailored to their specific community-building role.  They contribute to the support which Social Workers assess for each person with a learning disability – and add enormous value through the daily life they share living alongside people with learning disabilities.

Why is the UK Government changing our lives? 

Prior to the introduction of the Points Based System for visa awards in 2008, the Home Office guidance contained a concession for charities wishing to invite voluntary workers from outside Europe (chapter 17 section 9 of the Immigration directorate’s instructions in force at the time).  L’Arche was specifically named in Annex B to that section of the guidance, and our live-in assistant roles were described as falling within the concession.

With the introduction of the Points Based System, the guidance was rewritten, and the Annex containing the list of legitimate charities was deleted.  At the time, we understood we had clear agreement from UKVI that our continued Mission would fit with the criteria applied by the new Tier 5 visa rules. This proved to be the case for several years, and our view was affirmed by two inspections in 2012 and 2015.

However our commitment to International live-in assistants  is now jeopardised by the recent UKVI decision on 8/6/18 to suspend L’Arche’s licence to sponsor Tier 5 visas.  Although we have not changed the way we welcome international live-in assistants, these roles are now judged to fall outside the guidance. This decision partly rests on a tightening of the wording of the regulations in late 2015; it had previously been accepted that International live-in assistants were not taking up permanent roles, because they were dependent on a one-year visa. The new wording said that permanent roles could not be filled on a temporary basis, and our arrangements have been judged to fail this test. More generally, UKVI staff are implementing a stricter interpretation of the guidance than had been in place; arguing for example that our subsistence payments are too high, although we are confident that we are operating within our concession under the National Minimum Wage Act.

We have responded challenging these points, but if UKVI are not convinced by our arguments, they will revoke our licence and all of our International assistants will have to leave the country within 60 days. We fear that even should we mount a successful challenge this time, the questions will arise again. We are therefore asking for your help in lobbying the Minister to not revoke our licence, but instead to reinstate the explicit concession for L’Arche (and similar charities) within the guidance, so that our Communities can continue with the life-affirming mission in which we have been engaged for over 40 years.

We hope that you will share our concerns and contact your MP or visit them to help create awareness amongst our politicians as to how this change will affect the L’Arche Communities and the L’Arche Kent Community.

Yours

David Bex

Community Leader

L’Arche Kent

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20 July, What is Theology Saying? XX: The Eucharist 7; Presence for our presence

The Paschal Mystery is the New Covenant – not that the Old has gone [there is only one covenant]. New means greater depth of intimacy with universal outreach. Jesus takes the Law and the Prophets – Israel’s heritage – and through this loves his people into existence. By the end of his short life they were still in receiving mode, not yet deepening into giving what was received and so, as Scripture says, he loved them to the end; handing over his Spirit which has lived and a human existence to the Father to give to all willing to receive – Pentecost.

To sustain and feed them along this new way he gives himself as the bread of life; not like the feeding of the 5,000. Being with him at the Last Supper, eating the bread he broke, accepting his death is to continue his way; to come together to break bread and become sustaining food for others. The Covenant Community was set up at that supper table. This is why there is much more involved in celebrating the Eucharist than a memorial experience; it is to accept his presence through his death, to become body given and blood poured out for others – service.

The Eucharist is the mystery of God’s graciousness and our salvation. Transubstantiation is a word for something we cannot understand, something beyond the competence of human language; to claim to capture it is to nullify the challenge to attune the way we live so as to address the cry of the poor. Augustine [who used the word Transubstantiation] says we are present not to satisfy personal needs [or commandments] but to be attentive and proactive to the cry of the poor. We cannot appreciate Transubstantiation if we by-pass the challenge for personal change.

The Eucharist is the real presence, not just a memorial ritual. It is Presence there for our presence, so that what is in him can be in us. Jesus does not stand-in for us, but invites us to get involved. We cannot receive the Eucharist in passive ways – the fruit of the Eucharist is one community allowing God’s love to be felt in our world.

AMcC

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17 July, What is Theology Saying? XVII: The Eucharist 4: he is the beloved.

cross.st.nick.cathedral

There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

Scripture will have none of this – it is totally refuted by Jesus. One of the most significant comments Jesus made was the seemingly simple – the Father loves me – John.15.9. et al. Indeed his total identity as we hear at his baptism and the Transfiguration is that he is the beloved of Abba – Galatians 4.4. So, Abba can love! But God cannot love a creature as such: as we have seen, there is no equality; but there is a reality in Jesus which is beyond creaturehood. To say God loves me is to say he is divine.

Where does this leave us? In telling us that the Father loves him, Jesus – who is truly human – is telling us that the father loves everything about him – and especially the common humanity we share with him: to all who believe he gave power to know God as Abba – i.e. we are loved by God as Jesus is loved, as equals yet each one uniquely; which is why the Church always concludes worship and prayer with ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saint Paul writes that it is the re-shaping of community that allows us to see the presence of Christ. Eucharist fails in its purpose if it allows any form of discrimination for whatever reason: 1Corinthians.11; Romans.12; Galatians.2. The Eucharist asks us individually and collectively where we are as regards God’s unconditional hospitality.

AMcC

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July 13, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXI: A boy shares Francis’s mystical vision.

Francois.Anne. beaupre.2

How a little boy-brother while Saint Francis was praying in the night, saw Christ and the Virgin Mary and many other saints hold converse with him.

A LITTLE boy, very pure and innocent, was received into the Order, while Saint Francis was yet alive and he abode in a little House, wherein of necessity the brothers slept on mats. It befell on a time that Saint Francis came t0 the House, and in the evening, after Compline, lay down to sleep, to the intent that he might be able to rise up in the night to pray while the other brothers slept, as it was his wont to do.

The aforesaid little boy set it in his heart diligently to keep watch upon the ways of Saint Francis, that he might come to know of his sanctity, and chiefly that he might learn what he did by night when he arose. And to the end that sleep might not play him false, that little boy laid him down to sleep close to Saint Francis, and tied his cord to the cord of Saint Francis, for to be ware when he got up; and of this Saint Francis perceived naught. But at night in his first sleep, when all the other brothers were sleeping, he arose and found his cord thus tied; and softly he loosed it, so that the little boy was not aware thereof, and Saint Francis went out alone into the wood that was hard by the House, and entered into a little cell that was therein, and set himself to pray.

After some short space the little boy awoke, and finding the cord unloosed and Saint Francis gone, arose and went in search of him: and finding the door open that led into the wood, he deemed that Saint Francis had gone thither, and s0 entered into the wood. And coming close up to the place where Saint Francis was praying, he began to hear much discourse; and drawing nigher for to see and learn what it was he heard, he beheld a marvellous light that shone round about Saint Francis, and therein he saw Christ and the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist and the Evangelist, and a great multitude of angels, speaking with Saint Francis. When this he saw and heard, the little boy fell on the ground in a deep swoon; so when the mystery of this holy vision was ended, Saint Francis, returning to the House, stumbled upon the little boy lying as though dead upon the ground; and in pity lifted him up and bore him in his arms, as doth the good shepherd with his sheep.

Learning thereafter from him how he had seen the vision set forth above, he bade him reveal it unto no man so long as he should be alive. And the little boy grew up in great favour with God and devotion to Saint Francis, and became a man of worth in the Order, and after the death of Saint Francis he revealed unto the brothers the vision set forth above.

From Ste Anne de Beaupré courtesy of Christina Chase.

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4 July, What do the Saints Know? Part II, 4: HOPE: The Gift of Filial Fear

The image of God having a ‘lap’ that we looked at in the last post chimes with the gift of the Holy Spirit that strengthens hope. St. Thomas calls the gift “filial fear” (II.II.19:9) – the fear not of a slave for his master, but of a son/daughter, “whereby”, he continues, “what we fear is not that God may fail to help us, but that we might withdraw ourselves from his help. Wherefore filial fear and hope cling together, and perfect one another.”

This reminds me of something Jean Vanier* said in a talk once that I was privileged to hear. He said that the only thing to fear in our relationship with God is not that we might get angry with God over the sufferings we are going through. Anger with God isn’t the problem. It is the fact that we might just start to ‘tune God out’ he said, just stop turning to Him, stop praying to Him, just switch off. This fear of switching God off is an excellent description of ‘filial fear’. The saints know themselves. They know that they are at risk of turning away from God. They don’t want to.

This loving language of leaning and clinging that St. Thomas uses in writing of hope suggests connaturality again. In the virtue of hope, it becomes connatural to lean more on God than on the self. We’re looking for the kind of mentality the saints have. A certain peaceful leaning-on-God-mentality must be what becomes connatural to them as hope grows within them.

SJC

*Jean Vanier, born in 1928, is a Catholic philosopher, theologian and author. In 1964 he founded L’Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. His vision was that disabled individuals would live together in community as equals with those who are not disabled, in a sharing of life and of gifts that is profoundly healing and enriching for all community members. There are now L’Arche communities spread over thirty-seven countries. Jean Vanier has authored at least thirty books on religion, disability, community, human development. He has received numerous honours and awards, including the Community of Christ International Peace Award (2003), and the Templeton Prize (2015).

Images from L’Arche in India, England and Syria.

 

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June 20: You have to help me! II

A previous version of this post appeared in the Will Turnstone blog last month.

young sparrow

The story about Abel and the letter box reminded me of watching  the two fledgling sparrows that left the nest in next-door-but-one’s roof to flit and flutter down to our back gate, where they could perch, and cheep and flutter their stubby wings in the hope that their parents – or any passing sparrow for that matter – might feed them.

They could see how to get food from the fat ball holder, but hadn’t the co-ordination or confidence to try for themselves.

Here is one of them watching intently as his mother (or is it his aunt?) pecks at the fat balls over the gate. The fact that he was fed a second later did not prevent him starting to call again as soon as he’d finished swallowing.

Although the adults are very tolerant of humans moving about the garden we share with  them, young Chico took off as soon as the back door opened. Three metres’ flight to the washing line, where he could not get a grip, and turned base over apex before achieving enough co-ordination to crash into the holly bush.

The two chicks were soon back on the gate, ‘Please Sir (or Madam) I want some more! When the psalmist sang of the sparrows finding a home at God’s altar, did he expect the priest to scatter food for them?

Of course Francis fed the birds, and so should we. And perhaps we should attend to the needs of each other as well. As Abel said, ‘You have to help me.’

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17 June: News from L’Arche Kent.

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We have just received the latest newsletter from our friends at L’Arche Kent which they have asked us to share. Just click on the link below!

As you can see from this shot a few weeks ago, the Glebe garden is right in the city, thought now that the trees have greened up it is a good deal more private than in winter time. It looks as though Rupert and Mark are busy cutting the osiers (willow stems) for craft work. Where is everyone else?

2018 Spring Newsletter

MB

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