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Bethlehemian Rhapsody December 30, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas.
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Best Christmas Video ever; enjoy:

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Reclaiming Marriage: What it is, what it isn’t, what it will finally be December 22, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Church, Current Affairs, Life.
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Your Church Wedding: The Official C of E Wedding Planner

Want to get married in the Church of England? Sorry, straights only…

MARRIAGE: We’re hearing a lot about it these days as Her Majesty’s Government crosses swords and angry words with the religious right and the Church of England’s officialdom in particular, an ecclesiastical officialdom that appears to be increasingly out of touch with its own people, who are the Church. Whilst the government seeks to make marriage inclusive and available to all irrespective of gender and orientation, these self-appointed guardians of public morality seek to restrict it as an exclusive preserve of heterosexuals. Marriage, they declare, is sacrosanct: the government has no right to govern it. Marriage, they insist, transcends government: it is ordained by God, the union of man and woman, given by God to provide a stable family life in which children can be brought up.

To which God, to anyone prepared to listen, replies: balderdash and piffle! And does so in no uncertain terms as he begets a bastard to save the world: yes, Jesus, the bastard babe of Bethlehem, born to an unmarried woman in poverty, dependent upon gifts from strangers to survive as a refugee on the run from the authorities; and this child grows up, remains single, owns no property, befriends prostitutes and others outside mainstream society, ends up framed by the religious leaders of his day and gets murdered. That, my friends, is the true Christmas story: no fairy lights, no romance, no happily ever after as the hero carries his blushing bride over the threshold. Instead, God eschews marriage both as Father and as Son, and delivers a whole new twist to the meaning of “stable family life” — all our precious human conventions tossed aside as eternity breaks into time.

In engaging with humanity, God sets himself outside marriage, for marriage is a human institution, one of the ways that our society has developed — not so much ordained by as approved by God, God’s gift to humanity, like the Sabbath; and if we would but heed his voice, I suspect we’d hear Jesus saying, as he said of the Sabbath, “Marriage was made for people, not people for marriage.”

What, then, is marriage? To marry is, quite simply, to join together: it’s a term used in the construction industry, in carpentry, plumbing and engineering as items are bonded to one another. “I’ll marry up that joint,” says the carpenter. We don’t hear the religious right objecting to the use of the term in these contexts, only when it comes to human relationships. I wonder why?

And what is marriage about? There is an absurdity here: those who claim they want to defend the importance of marriage seem to want to reduce it to nothing more than a sexual union. Really? Is that what marriage is about? A licence to have sex? Of course it isn’t: marriage is about far more than what people get up to in their bedrooms; if you dare, ask any couple, married, cohabiting or partnered, what proportion of their time is spent having sex — I’ll wager few apart from newly-weds make it up to even 5% of their time, and for most it will be far less than that.

What, then, is marriage about? Above all, it’s about faithfulness, about commitment; about making that commitment under the terms of a covenant: a covenanted relationship. Faithfulness is what God calls people to, throughout the Bible. Faithfulness versus unfaithfulness is the constant, recurring theme of scripture: from the story of Adam & Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in Eden to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane; in the Commandments; in the Prophets as Israel is lambasted for her unfaithfulness to God; in the New Testament as the church is called to remain faithful to God — and it’s this relationship with God that the human institution of marriage but faintly reflects. Again and again, God cries out to his people to be faithful. Go read those ancient prophets and experience the sorrow in God’s heart at his people’s inconstancy!

What makes a marriage is faithfulness; what breaks a marriage is unfaithfulness — and if marriage is in danger, if marriage is in disrepute, it’s heterosexuals who have done the damage and made a mockery of it. Seems to me God is now saying, “Enough! You people have disregarded my call, have betrayed my trust: you’ve thrown it away; but now I will give that trust to all people who will commit to faithfulness regardless of gender” — a repeat of what happened to Israel when Christ came and threw the doors of the covenant wide open to the Gentiles: no longer an exclusive covenant but an inclusive one, for all who will put their trust in God. Just as God once used an outsider, Cyrus, to restore Israel, it seems — irony of ironies — that God is now using the Conservative Party and David Cameron in particular to restore marriage.

Those people to whom I entrusted this gift of marriage have not honoured it, says the Lord, therefore I will find a people who will honour it.

So, at least, it seems to me. Many will disagree; and no doubt numerous marriages of gay couples will fail just as they have done for so many straight couples. No matter: because the story is not over until our hero carries his bride over the threshold. I said that in this story that didn’t happen, didn’t I? I spoke too soon, for the final threshold is death; and our hero, Jesus, tenderly carries his bride — the Church, his broken, bleeding bride, ravaged by her own self-harm and self-interest — in his own broken, bleeding arms over that final threshold into a place where marriage is no more, where questions of gender are set aside, because all are one in Christ and love wins.

Marriage: here we have the Church being precious about it, trying to put a hedge around it, and all the time Christ calls us beyond it to something far deeper — an eternity of love. Marriages are not made by church or state; nor are they made in heaven: they are made in the heart, forged in the home. Church and state, heaven and hell, can only look on in wonder at a covenanted relationship of love that culminates in God and, for those who will, in that glorious consummation between Christ and the Church, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

And what a party that will be!


Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge the following, whose recent thought-provoking posts have helped to shape and clarify my thinking in this area. Those named, however, bear no responsibility for anything here written; that responsibility is mine, and mine alone.


GroomNews Christmas 2012: A Year Like No Other December 15, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Family, Life.
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GroomNews Christmas 2012: Printer-friendly version (pdf, 168kb)

GroomNews Christmas 2012: Printer-friendly version (pdf, 168kb)

Thank you…
to everyone who has already sent us Christmas cards: we’re sending out a few to close family but otherwise we’re making another donation to WaterAid in lieu of cards; please accept this news roundup instead.

Phil’s Ankle
The beginning of the year seemed to slip by quietly and uneventfully until a dramatic turn of events landed Phil off work for three months with his left ankle strapped up in a “Beckham Boot”. You can read all about it here: The car didn’t get me, but the cardboard did… — to cut a longer story short, he skidded on a piece of cardboard at work and broke his ankle. The three months weren’t wasted, however, as Phil used the time to carry out some long overdue updates to UKCBD, the UK Christian Bookshops Directory: christianbookshops.org.uk

Sue’s Sabbatical
Not to be outdone by Phil taking three months off work, Sue did likewise in the autumn: from September to November she was on sabbatical. Unlike Phil’s time out, though, Sue’s was planned and we take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in making it possible, from those in the diocese who took on DDO responsibilities to those in the parishes who kept the respective shows on the road. She spent most of the time in Durham, working on her DThM thesis on the language of formation in ordination training. Staying with religious communities and worshipping at the Cathedral provided her with wonderful spiritual refreshment.

Silver Wedding Card and Flowers

Silver Wedding Cards and Flowers

Silver Wedding
At the end of October — two thirds of the way through Sue’s sabbatical — we celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary by booking into a hotel in Durham, from where we proceeded to sample the city’s cuisine with visits to different restaurants each evening, interspersed during the day by various outings. Another vote of thanks, this time to everyone who sent us cards, gifts and greetings on the day as well as for your friendship and support down the years.

Repaint for Almost
And how better to celebrate that anniversary than to commission a repaint for Almost? If you’ve seen us out & about on the waterways in recent years, you’ll have noticed that her paintwork leaves much to be desired. It was easy to keep on top of it when we lived afloat: whenever the sun was shining, one of us would be out there with a paintbrush; but since she’s been a holiday home rather than our main residence, it’s been more of a challenge, so we’ve at last called in the professionals: as we write, she’s with Colin & Kevin at Spiderworx (www.spiderworx.co.uk) undergoing a complete repaint and getting new signwriting.

Christmas TreeFamily News
Last year we reported the birth of our great-nephew, Oliver. This year it was wedding bells as niece Ruth married Ashley; and more wedding bells are planned for 2013: niece Claire to marry Simon, and nephew DJ to marry Nat: congratulations to one and all; only another 10 to go … not sure how we’ll ever keep up with them all! That’s all on Phil’s side of the family: over on Sue’s side, Alison, her sister, has left her job as a chaplaincy assistant in Plymouth to set up on her own as a counsellor, Cuthbert Counselling — if you’re in the south west and looking for counselling (or know someone else who is), do give her a shout: www.cuthbertcounselling.co.uk

Health & Fitness
Sue has added Aquafit and Pilates to her  regular exercise routine alongside all the swimming, and the routines are paying off, keeping her supple and, on the whole, free from aches & pains in her joints: doing very well, in fact, for someone who hits the big 50 in 2013! Phil has resumed cycling to and from work, and since his work itself is a matter of constant physical activity, he too is pretty much as fit as ever.

Taking Time…
Christmas: it’s all about God taking time out from eternity to be God with us. This year we’ve realised how important that is, and in the year ahead we’re determined to take more time out to reconnect with our friends. We look forward to seeing you! For now, however, as always, this comes with our love, best wishes for Christmas and prayers for peace in 2013,

Phil & Sue

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