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Reckoning with righteousness

  'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.' The preacher was reading from the book of James. It was a passage all about how faith is useless if it isn't accompanied by good works - actually feeding the hungry instead of just saying you'll pray that they'll have food! And James used Abraham, that patriarch of the Jewish faith, as an example of someone whose faith showed up in action. 'Hang on,' I thought. 'I'm sure I've seen that quote in one of Paul's letters, too.' I flicked back a few pages and found it in Romans 4.   'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.' But in this passage, Paul is arguing exactly the opposite thing! The whole chapter is about how we can't  earn righteousness through works, but only by faith. And Paul uses Abraham as an example of this, too. Abraham was righteous because he trusted God, not because he followed the law. So the exact same quote is use

Reading for Spiritual Formation 2022-23

It's the summer holidays, and I have finished my spiritual formation reading list for the year! I've really enjoyed the process of reading and reflecting, even though I haven't found every book helpful. Of course, one book leads to another, so I was barely halfway through this year before I'd started making a list of what to read next. I've ended up with five books, but last year I managed to fit Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations in as an extra, so I think it will be doable.   Interestingly, my list this year has skewed towards British women (Evelyn Underhill, Penelope Wilcock, Chine McDonald) and Catholics (Stephen Bevans, Oscar Romero, Evelyn Underhill). They are also all 20th-21st century authors - Underhill, who was born in 1875, is the earliest. None of that was intentional. So it's not quite as balanced a list as my previous one. But I'm looking forward to reading them so much that I had a hard time deciding which order to put them in. I wante

Ffabulous Ffestiniog

As I stood on the metal platform in my harness, I reminded myself that this wasn't the really  big one. That was the one where you swooped for a kilometre over the cluttered heaps of grey slate, possibly with a parachute fluttering behind you to slow your speedy descent.  This one was - I risked a look down - really quite small. I glanced at Theo, next to me, as the man behind us counted down. Three...two...one... And we jumped. The boys said the zip wire at Zip World Llechwedd was the highlight of the holiday in Wales. Of course, they now want to go back and try out the massive Titan one. "Big Red" was quite big enough for me! I have to admit that was a good day all round. After our zip wire experience in the morning, we headed over to Criccieth in the afternoon, which was surprisingly hot and sunny. Criccieth has a beautiful big sweep of bay with a castle perched at one end, and the kind of beach where you can spend a long time hopping over rocks and paddling through li

The Universal Christ: Spiritual Formation Book 4

" Everything visible, without exception, is the outpouring of God. What else could it really be? "Christ" is a word for the Primordial Template ( "Logos" ) through whom "all things came into being, and not one thing  had its being except through him" (John 1:3)" In recent years many Christians have shifted away from a faith which demands that you believe certain definite things, exclude certain definite people, and follow certain definite rules. They have moved - they hope - to a faith which is more comfortable with mystery, fuzzy edges, and a wider variety of practice and personal experience. In these circles, Richard Rohr is a name that is often held in high regard. I would regard my own faith as having moved in this kind of direction, so when I selected The Universal Christ  by Richard Rohr as one of my spiritual formation books, I expected to be inspired and enlightened. I wasn't. I found his writing unclear and somewhat irritating, and

The Sacred Sandwich

Yesterday a news story about a " blasphemous sandwich " popped up on my Facebook feed. The cafe in question had a caramelised onion, chutney, cheddar and mozzarella sandwich named the Cheesus Christ, which someone took exception to. They vandalised the cafe sign, demanded that the sandwich be removed from the menu, and - I rather liked this touch - wanted the cafe to donate £300 to the local church. The cafe declined all requests. Well, I'm afraid that tickled my brain. So may I introduce my latest business venture, The Sacred Sandwich Cafe. Donations to any church in your vicinity are welcome, whether you are offended or not. Menu Breakfast The Holy Toast - French toast topped with vanilla yoghurt, fresh strawberries, and maple syrup. A spiritual experience. Eggs-alted on High - two poached eggs on super-seeded bread. Guaranteed to raise you from slumber. Bacon-viction of Sin - unforgivably large bread roll stuffed with thick-cut bacon. Sandwiches The Great I Ham - B

Cake, canal and cotton: A walk near Cromford

Just before Easter, Graham and the boys received an invitation to join some friends on a canal boat for a couple of days. That gave me the chance to have a rare day out walking - and fortunately the weather cooperated with some beautiful warm sunshine. This excursion fitted all my criteria for a good walk: well-marked paths, beautiful views, interesting things to see, very few people, and even a decent cup of coffee along the way! I parked at the High Peak Junction car park near Cromford, and started by climbing up through spring-flowered woods, with views across the Derwent valley. When I came out onto a lane, I discovered a farm with a blue plaque saying that Alison Uttley was born there. On my bookshelf there is a very battered yellow paperback called Magic in my Pocket , a collection of some of Alison Uttley's short stories. They contain some beautifully evocative descriptions of sledging down snowy slopes and walking across moonlit meadows, but I had never connected her with

When guinea pigs change your life

 In our back garden is an empty hutch. We got it a few years ago when we intended to get rabbits. That didn't work out, sadly. Then we spent a long time talking about getting pets - but not quite yet, maybe after the next holiday, or when the weather warms up. Finally we introduced two fluffballs to our family by the names of Lily and Violet. They're guinea pigs. But of course they are far too cute to live outdoors, and have to have a cage in the dining room where they can squeak at us during dinner. So the outdoor hutch is still empty, for now. Lily left, Violet right   A lot of other things change when you get guinea pigs, though. Here are a few I wasn't expecting. You cut grass in your pajamas  Somehow we've got into this routine where Graham, who is up first, gives the guinea pigs their vegetables. Then by the time I get up they are ready for a big bunch of grass. So there I am, wading through the dew in my flipflops and dressing gown, cutting grass with scissors. T

The God Who Sees: Spiritual Formation Book 3

"Hagar in the desert reminds all of us that the Spirit can be found in the places we least expect: with the poor, the outcast, the enslaved people, the domestic help, and the foreigners. God is present with anyone who is treated as a human resource instead of a human being."   The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong by Karen Gonz├ílez is the third of my spiritual formation books this year. (It was meant to be fourth, but after battling through The Imitation of Christ I decided I needed something easier to read.) Gonz├ílez moved from Guatemala to the USA with her family when she was a child, escaping the civil war in her home country. She currently works for an organisation which supports immigrants and refugees. Her book intersperses her own story of relocation with reflections on the Bible and the experiences of people she has worked with. What are the main themes of this book? The chapters of The God Who Sees alternate between Bible stories and

Being different (a queer Bible story)

Here is a man. He's always known he's different. It's the kind of difference that, when people find out about it, they ask questions like, "What went wrong? Was it his upbringing? Or something faulty in his brain?" He often asks himself the same questions. In the endless hours of the night, he wonders what could have been changed, or what could still be changed, to alter who he is. One day this man meets someone who says a startling thing: that this difference is not  something wrong inside of him. He doesn't need to alter who he is in order for God to work in his life. They say this in such a way that the man actually starts to believe it. They enact a simple ceremony - a little mud to dirty him, a gentle touch, a wash in a pond to make him clean - which fixes this belief in his soul. His difference is no longer a sign that he is broken. It is a sign that he is whole. His community quickly notice the change in him. For the first time, he starts to feel like h