Archive for December, 2012

Mary Magdalene Picture.smallPicture 1; Mary Magdalene

As I sat in our church waiting for the Christmas service to begin, I reflected on the recent decision about women bishops made by the General Synod. What, I asked myself, is happening to the church?

The Christian Church was formed around the works of Jesus Christ, an extraordinary teacher, but it wasn’t only what he said that was important. The Jewish society into which he was born was very male dominated and women had certain roles they were allowed to fulfil in life and no more. Men were allowed the privilege of education, women were not. As we know, this domination over women has continued throughout our history and it was only this last century that women were allowed the right to vote in the UK. There are of course still many societies across the world in which women remain culturally, if not legally bound to live a heavily restricted and controlled life.

In these societies, the very concept of a women bishop is so foreign that if the Church of England Synod were to adopt this proposal, they would be likely to excuse themselves from the Anglican Communion. Their cultures would simply not allow them to support such a proposal. All of this plays perfectly into the hands of the traditional UK and USA church membership who don’t want change. Change is scary. Thus the vote was lost and the church remains trapped in an outdated mindset. It is interesting is it not, that the head of the Anglican Communion, the Supreme Governor, is a woman.

Christ on the other hand ignored these rules. His most important confidante was Mary Magdalene and he treated her as an equal as he did his mother and all other women around him. And yet if we read the Bible, we are given a very different picture. The scribes reduce her to being a prostitute, a way of putting her back in her place, a way of once again reducing the female to her position in society; one over which men have control.

If we are truly following the example and leadership of Christ and not following the prejudices of society, why then are we even contemplating this issue? Surely women should have been in the church hierarchy since the birth of Christianity?

This gives rise to another important question. Why do we need such a large Communion of churches in the first place?

Do we need such a huge church?

 The Anglican reach spreads far across the world and like the Catholic Church, it is more than just a place of worship. Underneath the spiritual message, the church is an extremely powerful, wealthy and political machine. It is powerful and it has influence. Yet in order to keep its power it must keep its flock together. In doing so however they are having to compromise, forcing their entire community to slow down, a dangerous position to occupy in such a fast moving world. The larger it is, the more immovable it becomes.

Why not allow the church to split up more succinctly than it has done so far, keeping the various bodies together in a looser union (a bit like the Commonwealth), where each church is autonomous? This way each branch of the church could mould into the local culture and develop at its own pace, without the need to conform to the hierarchy of a main church body. It would then be much more in touch with the people who form its core.

Yes, the church would lose some of its powerful political influence but should religion have that extraordinary power in the first place, where it can be misused? We have certainly seen this misuse throughout history and indeed we still see it today in countries like Iran. True spirituality is an individual journey, guided by an inner desire to connect with the divine. No amount of church going or pulpit pounding will change the heart that is not ready. Fear has been widely used as a tool to lever people into church with the threat of hell and damnation (and many still believe this) but whilst it may increase the number of participants, it does not increase the number with a real desire to embrace their spirituality for the sheer joy of doing so.

Perhaps it is time the church’s entire approach to spirituality should change. Too much time is spent on activities that really have no relevance at all to real spirituality. It is still too mired in history, still too tied to the original structure and purpose of the Roman church.

In 312 AD, Constantine converted to Christianity. This was not for spiritual reasons but practical reasons; it became a way to unify his people and consolidate his power. Its structure was moulded in such a way that people were held in awe by the huge temples and the finery of the church leaders and fearful of the threat of hell if they did not comply. Heretics were burnt publically at the stake. This was certainly not a time of spirituality.

The challenge we face is that our consciousness limits our future. It creates a tunnel* out of our past experiences (and with that I include our history) and continues that tunnel through our present awareness. Out of this tunnel of what is probable, our mind projects forward to construct our future but the tunnel is constrained and limited, so it falls short of what we really can be and do in the future. Our church leaders are trying to construct their present and future as a continuation of their past. Perhaps it is time to step out of the tunnel, re-examine the whole concept of spirituality and move forward with a new and vital message, a message of love. At the moment the symbol of Christianity is Christ suspended in an agonising position, dying on a cross. It speaks of violence, pain, anger and the abuse of power.

The ‘symbol’ of Christ on the cross was only adopted in the third century AD when Christians were being ruthlessly persecuted and killed across the Roman world for their beliefs. That is where the idea of Christians being prepared to “die for their faith as Christ himself had done” was first promulgated as a way of keeping their flock together. It worked and Christianity survived. The ‘symbol’ was adopted by Constantine and remains the same today.

Times have changed radically and I would like to suggest a new image should be adopted for the church, one that speaks of love; an image of Christ and Mary Magdalene standing together, reflecting the balance of the male and female energy and of course the equality between men and women. This is what Christ himself spoke of and how he treated everyone around him. All were equal in his eyes and in the eyes of God.

Now that really would be a powerful message for our time.

Jeshua & Mary Magdalene

Picture 2; Christ and Mary Magdalene

* Part of the wording and the concept of the tunnel comes from the book ‘The Power of the Magdalene’ by Stuart Wilson and Joanna Prentis.


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Celebrations as Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed M...

Celebrations as Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi announced Egypt’s president (Photo credit: Jonathan Rashad)

The last couple of years have seen the most extraordinary events in North Africa spilling into Egypt, Libya and then onwards into the Middle East. It has of course moved across the globe in various different guises but certainly that is where the main thrust of revolutionary action has occurred.

The battle rages on in Syria and an International political game of football is being played out with both the rebels and the Syrian Government each being funded and supported by different regimes with different agendas. This will not be solved with ease and whether the Assad Government survives or collapses will depend largely on deals made between powers outside Syria’s borders.

Egypt on the other hand was different. The Government was brought down by its own people and it happened with an extraordinary momentum. More than that, the revolution had no leader. There was no single person or no particular group for the Government to arrest or fight and thus they were unable to contain it.

What were the Egyptians railing against? Oppression, corruption and autocracy. What did they want? Freedom.

They wanted freedom from domination, freedom to choose their own leaders and freedom of speech. It was a very strong rallying cry and came from the heart of a people who had for years had to tolerate a system of Government they found oppressive.

Yet now, two years later, their newly elected President Mohammed Morsi has granted himself extraordinary powers which cannot be revoked by any authority, including the judiciary, until the new constitution has been ratified and a fresh parliamentary election held. He has in effect taken on even more power than the previous president held. More than that, despite overwhelming International condemnation, the Muslim Brotherhood are holding firm. Indeed, they have rallied their supporters who are publically supporting the President’s actions and they have come out onto the street in droves.

Why have the people done this? What has changed their opinions so much in the months since the revolution? How many of the same people who backed the revolution two years ago and were willing to risk their lives in order to do so are the same people who are now answering the rallying cry of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Freedom is frightening
As we grow up, wherever that may be and in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves, we attach ourselves to certain key pegs which in turn become the ‘anchors’ of our existence. For example our parents, our siblings, our homes, our family history, our culture, our race, our religion, and our class are obvious ones.

To feel anchored is to feel secure and yet being too anchored limits our freedom. Freedom is achieved when we release the anchors and become ourselves, free of the need to ‘fit in’ to a certain attitude and way of life. It frees us to make genuine choices. Whilst this sounds easy, for most people this is very unsettling and requires risking the very essence of what we feel makes us who we are.

In Egypt, with the revolution won and the prospect of a new ‘free’ future ahead, questions began to emerge about what that future meant. The longer it was in flux, the longer the insecurity hovered and perhaps sub-consciously, the insecure turned towards the known anchor of religion. Enter, the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, much to the surprise of the west, the Egyptian electorate turned towards a political leadership that is likely to be anything but democratic. The Brotherhoods’ credo is “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”

There are those in power across the globe (not just Governments) who wish for the status quo in the Middle East to continue as is. They may publicly applaud the revolution, but their anchors for their own continued success remain hooked to a ‘no change’ scenario so make no mistake, the Muslim Brotherhood will be well supported from outside Egypt’s borders.

This is not about religion, it’s about anchors. The older we get, the less likely we are to change as there is comfort in the known, good or bad. The future therefore lies in the hands of young people and we must do our very best to help them feel less tied to their anchors than we are, to help them make sensible choices about their lives and their futures rather than feel obliged to follow certain paths simply because we their parents (and their parents before them) have chosen to do so. That way they will be freer to make wise choices, unhindered by the anchors of their past.

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Henri Nouwen

I was recently reminded of the extraordinary work of the priest Henri Nouwen who wrote several very inspiring books, in that he was reaching out to those who were searching for their own personal relationship with God. He was an extraordinary communicator and taught for several years at Harvard University in the USA.

What Nouwen seemed to understand was that God does not see us as separate from him. Nouwen saw us as a part of God. He clearly understood, in a way that most regular Christians do not, that Jesus Christ was not alone as the son of God. We are all sons and daughters of God.

On the question of ‘who are we?’, Nouwen breaks it down into three categories in which, in this 3 dimensional world we are constantly trapped, not realising that there is a completely different picture if we would only slow down and allow ourselves the pleasure of tuning into ourselves.

1) I am what I do. (Job, charitable work etc)
2) I am what others say about me. (As long as it is good, we are happy. As soon as it is unpleasant or hurtful, it affects us, sometimes dramatically.)
3) I am what I have. (family history, family members, possessions).

He calls this a process of ‘survival’ and despite what we have achieved, what we own and what people say about us, we may still, when we come to die, be wondering who we really are and why we are here.

I wonder how many of us have grown up doing what others have suggested we do? For example, did your parents shove you in a certain direction when you were younger? Were you encouraged to follow the family ‘route’ and be a soldier, banker, solicitor, shopkeeper or anything else? Did you actually have the chance to explore what it was that you really wanted to do? It is in finding out who you really are and what makes you tick that allows you to blossom and flourish with a vibrancy that comes from deep within.

One of my favourite quotes explains this very simply. It reads as follows;

“When I reach the next world, they will not ask me why I was not Moses. They will ask me why I was not Zuzia”.
Rabbi Zuzia of Hannipol

Nouwen recognised that there was more to this spiritual relationship with God. “Claim your belovedness…what is said of Jesus is said of you…you and I are the beloved sons and daughters of God…claim it…make it your own”.
Part of understanding that we are more than we think we are is realising that there is a separate part of ourselves, which is best described as the ‘higher self’. This is the part directly connected with God. This is the part of us that, if we claim it, we will realise that we are bigger, more capable and really quite extraordinary creators, that we can achieve so much more than we could ever imagine and in so doing, help others along their own personal journeys.

The world is changing around us. The energy is changing for the better and the ‘credit crunch’ is all part of this massive adjustment. This crisis is part of a timely adjustment that is occurring globally which is seeing new changes that include amongst other things the collapse of the age old financial power houses, the calling to account of the ruling elite (UK parliamentarians) and the election of a seemingly inexperienced democratic President in the USA who has a propensity for thinking “out of the box” and is an Afro-American. No-one could have imagined any of this 5 years ago.

Now is the time to seek out who you really are and where necessary, adjust your priorities. Nothing could be more satisfying than to be doing something which genuinely comes from the heart, that part of us where the ‘higher self’ resides.

Henri Nouwen can be seen speaking of this on the following link. It is well worth watching.

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