Franciscan Incarnational Theology

ThirdSpace met yesterday (Wednesday) evening at Holly House to learn about Franciscan Incarnational Theology.

A member of our community introduced the subject, followed by questions and discussion.

Incarnation instead of atonement. (Richard Rohr).

Franciscans never believed that “blood atonement” was required for God to love us. Our teacher, John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), said Christ was Plan A from the very beginning (Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:3-14). Christ wasn’t a mere Plan B after the first humans sinned, which is the way most people seem to understand the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Great Mystery of Incarnation could not be a mere mop-up exercise, a problem solving technique, or dependent on human beings messing up.

Scotus taught that the Enfleshment of God had to proceed from God’s perfect love and God’s perfect and absolute freedom (John 1:1-18), rather than from any mistake of ours. Did God intend no meaning or purpose for creation during the first 14.8 billion years? Was it all just empty, waiting for sinful humans to set the only real drama into motion? Did the sun, moon, and galaxies have no divine significance? The fish, the birds, the animals were just waiting for humans to appear? Was there no Divine Blueprint (“Logos”) from the beginning? Surely this is the extreme hubris and anthropomorphism of the human species!

The substitutionary atonement “theory” (and that’s all it is) seems to imply that the Eternal Christ’s epiphany in Jesus is a mere afterthought when the first plan did not work out. I know there are many temple metaphors of atonement, satisfaction, ransom, “paying the price,” and “opening the gates”; but do know they are just that—metaphors of transformation and transitioning. Too many Christians understood these in a transactional way instead of a transformational way.

How and why would God need a “blood sacrifice” before God could love what God had created? Is God that needy, unfree, unloving, rule-bound, and unable to forgive? Once you say it, you see it creates a nonsensical theological notion that is very hard to defend. Many rightly or wrongly wondered, “What will God ask of me if God demands violent blood sacrifice from his only Son?” Particularly if they had a rageaholic or abusive parent, they were already programmed to believe in punishment as the shape of the universe. A violent theory of redemption legitimated punitive and violent problem solving all the way down—from papacy to parenting. There eventually emerged a disconnect between the founding story of necessary punishment and Jesus’ message. If God uses and needs violence to attain God’s purposes, maybe Jesus did not really mean what he said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and violent means are really good and necessary. Thus our history.

In Franciscan parlance, Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity; Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. This grounds Christianity in pure love and perfect freedom from the very beginning. It creates a very coherent and utterly positive spirituality, which draws people toward lives of inner depth, prayer, reconciliation, healing, and even universal “at-one-ment,” instead of mere sacrificial atonement. Nothing changed on Calvary, but everything was revealed as God’s suffering love—so that we could change! (Please read that again.)

Jesus was precisely the “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27) sacrifice given to reveal the lie and absurdity of the very notion and necessity of “sacrificial” religion itself. Heroic sacrifices to earn God’s love are over! That’s much of the point of Hebrews 10 if you are willing to read it with new eyes. But we perpetuated such regressive and sacrificial patterns by making God the Father into the Chief Sacrificer, and Jesus into the necessary victim. Is that the only reason to love Jesus?

This perspective allowed us to ignore Jesus’ lifestyle and preaching, because all we really needed Jesus for was the last three days or three hours of his life. This is no exaggeration. The irony is that Jesus undoes, undercuts, and defeats the sacrificial game. Stop counting, measuring, deserving, judging, and punishing, which many Christians are very well trained in—because they believe that was the way God operated too. This is no small thing. It makes the abundant world of grace largely inaccessible—which is, of course, the whole point.

It is and has always been about love from the very beginning.



I have the immense joy of being a [human being], a member of a race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. —Thomas Merton [1]

You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. —Matthew 5:14, 16

A mystic—like Merton, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, John Duns Scotus, and many others—is one who recognizes God’s image and likeness in this human being, in this creature, in this moment, and from that encounter with the sacred comes to see God everywhere and always. The mystic cannot help but love and have compassion for what is right in front of them. God’s indwelling presence—in every created thing—is inherent and cannot be earned or destroyed.

In her book, Scotus for Dunces, Mary Beth Ingham writes:

Haecceitas points to the ineffable within each being. . . . According to Scotus, the created order is not best understood as a transparent medium through which divine light [from the outside] shines (as Aquinas taught), but is itself endowed with an inner light that shines forth from within. [This is like the] difference between a window (Aquinas) and a lamp (Scotus). Both give light, but the source of light for Scotus has already been given to the being by the creator. Each being . . . possesses an immanent dignity; it is already gifted by the loving Creator with a sanctity beyond our ability to understand. . . .

Once we recognize the value of nature, of others, and of ourselves, we are called to act in imago Christi, as images of Christ who embodied divine love. [2]

At a CAC conference many years ago, Ingham reflected:

In the most concrete we discover the most ultimate. That is what it means for God to become one of us. The concrete individual who lived in the Middle East 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth, was both divine and human.

And so, what does this mean for us? We are called to see the greatness of God in the smallest of things. We see divinity within humanity. We discover in ourselves a light within, and we discover in every human being, and as Scotus teaches, in everything that exists, an inner light that is a gift from God. [3]

When we become open and receptive to the ordinary, we discover:

The one is the way to the many.
The specific is the way to the spacious.
The now is the way to always.
The here is the way to the everywhere.
The material is the way to the spiritual.
The visible is the way to the invisible.


1              Incarnation instead of atonement

Richard Rohr, OFM

Daily meditations


Printed verso

2              Revisiting the Franciscan Doctrine of Christ

Ilia Delio, OSF

Theological Studies 64 (2003)

3              Incarnation in Franciscan Spirituality

Seamus Mulholland, OFM

The Franciscan, January 2001

4              St Francis and the incarnation

John Quigley, OFM

December 2012

5              Things hidden

Richard Rohr, OFM

SPCK, 2016

See especially Chapter 9 and most especially pp 195-200


Bible references:

John 1: 1-18; 3:13; 8:28; 12:31; 15:15; 19:37

1 Corinthians: 1:8; 2:8; 2:16: 2 Corinthians 5:21

Colossians 1: 15-20; Galatians 6:16

Ephesians 1: 3-14; 20-23

Hebrews 7: 27; 10

52 Ways to improve your Carbon Footprint

We had an interesting discussion in the pub about being more green – the challenge was, could we think up 52 simple ways to lighten our carbon footprint.

This is what we came up with – you might be able to add more. We would love to hear your suggestions

  1. Avoid food waste try not to buy or make too much food
  2. Buy fruit and vegetables when they are in season rather than those that have to be flown in from miles away
  3. Compost peelings, and any cooked food scraps (not meat or fish)
  4. Avoid the temptation of “Buy one Get one Free” if it makes you buy more than you need
  5. Shop carefully – look at labels and consider which product is most environmentally friendly to buy
  6. Cook things from scratch rather than buying readymade food
  7. Eat less meat and try to buy ethically sourced fish
  8. Sort your recycling carefully – check the labels of things as you throw away to see if they can be recycled
  9. Check any cosmetic products to make sure they do not contain micro beads
  10. Recycle batteries and ink cartridges or use refillable cartridges and rechargeable batteries
  11. Use peat free compost
  12. Plant bee friendly flowers and encourage other wild life through careful planting
  13. Feed birds and wild life
  14. Grow some vegetables if you have a garden, balcony or window box
  15. Resist the temptation of using chemicals in the garden. Use nematodes, egg shells, coffee grinds and wool pellets etc to prevent slug and snail damage and spray plants with dilute washing up liquid to keep away other garden pests.
  16. Have a pond – even a small amount of water in a garden encourages and helps wild life
  17. Buy a reusable take away cup rather than using the throw away ones you purchase hot drinks in
  18. Insulate your loft
  19. See if your property is suitable for cavity wall insulation
  20. Investigate buying power from ECO friendly energy suppliers
  21. Can you get solar panels for your property?
  22. Can you use wind power for your home?
  23. Avoid using Amazon – a company that has put many local firms out of business and uses large amounts of packing and fuel to ship goods to your home
  24. Look for more ECO friendly materials as alternatives to concrete in building projects
  25. If you don’t have a duel flush toilet – put a brick in your cistern
  26. Keep wearing your clothes until they wear out rather than always buying new ones
  27. Pick up rubbish left lying around when you are out and bin it – try to recycle it if possible. Many towns now have recycle bins for plastic, cans, paper etc.
  28. Use the correct amount of water in your kettle. A kettle uses a huge amount of power to heat water.
  29. Switch off your tap when you are cleaning your teeth rather than leaving it running
  30. Ask for goods to be wrapped in paper bags that can be recycled
  31. Recycle carrier bags – most super markets have a recycle bin for carriers and will replace those reusable plastic bags when they get damaged and then will then recycle old ones for you
  32. Buy food not wrapped in plastic if possible – be prepared to leave plastic wrapping in the place you have purchased from to show your dislike of the excess use of the material. Campaign where you do your shopping and ask / email / sign petitions or write to say you do not want goods wrapped in plastic
  33. Buy glass bottles of liquids where possible and recycle them
  34. If you buy a product and have a choice about the colour of the plastic container buy the white one – it can usually be more easily recycled
  35. Use Freegle (Freecycle) or charity shops as this saves lots of things going to landfill
  36. Think carefully about holidays, can you use public transport, stay in the UK or travel abroad without flying?
  37. If you use HRT patches be careful how you dispose of them as they are hazardous to the environment
  38. Always carry a bag when going shopping
  39. Conserve energy (switch off)
  40. Switch on heating for less time – use a timer for switching on and off
  41. Turn heating and hot water down or off when you are away
  42. Put on an extra layer rather than the heating
  43. Use low energy light bulbs
  44. Put thermostats on radiators adjust heating in each room rather than have all rooms at the same temperature
  45. Turn your heating down a degree or two
  46. Is there a way you can cut down on junk mail sent to your home if not make sure you recycle paper correctly
  47. Travel light it uses less fuel
  48. Support local food growers, markets and farmers markets
  49. Share, borrow and lend or think about hiring rather than buying something you might seldom use or never use again
  50. Resist advertising and the lure of “new and improved”- ask yourself – is what you have perfectly adequate?
  51. Tell your MP that the environment matters to you. That clean air, water, national parks, habitats and resources need to be protected for those who come after us
  52. “The lads” spent the time discussing the virtues (or not) of electric cars – something not quite so easy but all of us should consider how we replace our vehicles when the time comes.

That is one for every week of the year – best of luck!

Walking lightly on God’s Earth

The best thing about meeting out of doors is when the season changes and the best season change is when spring reveals all it’s newness.

Before we met together this morning a roll of paper was laid up the steps and spread on the floor of the bandstand. It was quite amusing watching people trying to avoid stepping on it.

This morning we were thinking about our footprint on the earth and how we might step more lightly.

Walk lightly

Each leaf, each petal,

each grain, each person,

sings your praises,

Creator God.

Each creature on the earth,

all the mountains and great sea

show your glory,

Spirit of love.

And yet the hand of greed

has patented and plundered

your splendour,

has taken and not shared your gift,

has lived as owner of the earth,

not guest.

And so the ice is cracked

the rivers dry,

the valleys flooded

and the snow caps melt.

God our Father, show us

how to step gently,

how to live simply,

how to walk lightly

with respect and love

for all that you have made.


Linda Jones/CAFOD


Psalm 104 1-5The Message

 ” O my soul, bless God!

God, my God, how great you are!
beautifully, gloriously robed,
Dressed up in sunshine,
and all heaven stretched out for your tent.
You built your palace on the ocean deeps,
made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings.
You commandeered winds as messengers,
appointed fire and flame as ambassadors.
You set earth on a firm foundation
so that nothing can shake it, ever…

24-30 What a wildly wonderful world, God!
    You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.”

Our activity was to walk in the park for a few minutes and see what we could glimpse of our “wildly wonderful world”

We praised God for the sun shine, the birdsong, for butterflies, for magnolia blossom, for tulips, for fresh new leaves and for the beauty and colour of the spring flowers.

Writing the things that inspired us on the roll of paper we were invited to step onto it (to make our footprints if you like).

Looking at our Ecological Footprint! Our impact on the planet’s resources is our “footprint”, and in the UK we use the resources of 1.3 planet earths. We can’t go on like this! If we really value this world as God’s creation, we should take a long hard look at our consumption of resources, our means of travel, our expectations of “more”. Rather than being overwhelmed with guilt, the result needs to be small achievable steps …

We were given another task to complete sitting on the benches in the sunshine

We had to think of ways were were trying already to leave a lighter footprint those we thought we were doing well were:

Avoiding waste, careful shopping, using solar power in our homes, throwing away less food, grow your own veg, watching air miles. not leaving taps running, not over filling the kettle, using paper bags that can be recycled, feeding birds and wild life, eating less meat, being more frugal with clothes, wear things out or if not give to Freegle or charity shops, holidaying in G.B. carefully destroying HRT patches, not using pesticides in the garden, bee friendly flowers, always taking bags when going shopping, composting food waste, encourage wild life through careful planting, conserve energy (switch off), only travel if necessary, switching on heating for less time, putting on a layer rather than the heating, low energy light bulbs, sorting and recycling carefully and never have heating set higher than 18C.

Many of us were doing these things already and should not to feel overwhelmed by the task of preserving our world for those who come in the future.

We were also tasked to think about things we are trying to achieve. These included:

Travelling by train where ever possible, using public transport, using less chemicals in home and garden, meat consumption minimised, buying a smaller engine/electric car, flying less often, trying to walk more often, avoiding buying things in plastic and shopping at the local market where food can be taken away in paper bags.

Our final task was to think of a real challenge for ourselves to achieve. We came up with the following:

Live in a carbon neutral house, use solar and wind power to be energy neutral, no air travel, , use minimal plastic, be less car reliant, be part of protecting forests and endangered species, save the pangolin and buy an electric car.

So we have something to aim at…


God our Creator and Healer
We confess that we have sinned:
We have used creation not cherished it;
We have lived selfishly; not watched the balance of life;
We have been greedy – not sharing earth’s gifts;
And our footprints are heavy not gentle.
Forgive us the damage that disturbs our planet.
Grant to us to live for the world’s healing and our own.
In you lies our hope for transformation                     Lent Challenge 2008, Lichfield Diocese

The Be-Attitudes

Blessed are those who use low energy light bulbs
for theirs is the light of God’s wisdom.

Blessed are those who travel by train (and other public transport)
for their lives are on God’s track.

Blessed are those who chose a car with low fuel consumption
for they are in God’s fast lane.

Blessed are those who insulate their homes
for theirs is the warmth of God’s love.

Blessed are those who put themselves out
to use energy from renewable sources,
for they have kindled the flame of the future.

Adapted from John Polhill, © Eggs and Ashes, WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow. 

Bread and wine

Jesus, teacher, healer, leader, story teller and friend,

We meet together to remember you.

Your life and example,

Your words of guidance,

Your sacrifice as a gift of love.

We remember with bread


Jesus wedding guest, table sharer, foot washer and affirmer,

We drink wine together to remember you.

Your actions and relationships,

Your wisdom and compassion,

Your death and resurrection.

We remember with wine 


All that remains for us to do now is to go and sit in the sun together and enjoy our beverages (Fairtrade naturally)

Easter Sunday.


We met in the park on a bitterly cold Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.



Our worship included contributions from most of those gathered, here are just a selection:

Stand in a close circle

Welcome friends to Third Space

Jesus is risen

All: He is risen indeed – Hallelujah

Widened the circle

Allow ourselves to feel at home here.  Be yourself here, know you are accepted and loved here.

Take one more step back

We widen the circle to include a space for Jesus to speak to us at all times.


We widen the circle to what God wants to say to us in this place.

Turn to the west, north, south and east.

We pray a silent blessing on this place and on this town

Take one more step back

We widen the circle to include people in history.  The saints and traditions of old. We remember, those who have nurtured us on our journey in life, those who have loved us and guided us.  Those in the past who trod the roads, and brought the love of God to this town. We thank you for their wisdom, faith and endurance.

On this Easter morning with all who have follow Jesus from the beginning, with God and with friends, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Amen.


Resurrected with wounds.

After his resurrection, Jesus appears to be resurrected and yet wounded at the same time. This is the unexpected appearance of the Risen Jesus.

His resurrected body remains scarred. Thinking about this over the last few days I’ve found it very strange, surely we’d expect his resurrected body to be perfect, to be unscarred.

Then we find from reading the gospels that Jesus’ wounds are part of his identity. Because it’s by his wounds that his followers recognised him as Jesus. It is only by seeing his wounds and scars that Thomas is able identify Jesus as his Lord and his God. The brokenness of Jesus body seems to be a very important part of his identity, his wounds are part of who Jesus is.

So presumably we’ll also be resurrected with our wounds.

We all have wounds that are caused by sickness, by accidents, by the actions of others and by the problems and disappointments of life.

All of us are wounded.  Even Jesus is wounded after his resurrection.  Resurrection hope doesn’t seem to do away with our woundedness.  By retaining the wounds of his torture and execution, is Jesus showing us that we can find hope and strength in him?

It seems to me that many Christians think faith requires denying the ways our bodies retain the scars of continued pain and injury; in our memories, in our struggles with illness and injury, in our despair over others’ apathy in the face of injustice.

The risen yet wounded Jesus wants to open our eyes to see the pain of others, the destruction of the earth due to our greed and foolishness, and  our part in wounding others near and far. Jesus offers us a peace that recognises the hard reality of injury and hurt.

So our resurrection hope does not deny the reality of wounds. Jesus although resurrected with wounds is not disabled by them. That’s what I think he wants for us.

We can freely enter into his resurrection hope just as we are, wounds and all.

Our faith is in a God who is always with us in our woundedness.



living peacefully on earth

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Living Peacefully on Earth
To live non-violently—both toward humans and nature—requires that we recognize God’s image in each living thing. We cannot be violent toward someone or something when we see the divine in them. My friend and nonviolent activist John Dear recently published a new book, They Will Inherit the Earth, from which I’d like to share today.

Over the decades, I have witnessed the destruction we humans have done to Mother Earth and her creatures. I’ve read about catastrophic climate change and experienced the changes—the droughts, the strange weather, the extreme fires and tornadoes and rainfall. . . . I grieve for Mother Earth and the creatures who die because of our systemic greed, violence, and destructive habits. But I never made or felt the connection between my vision of nonviolence and the ongoing destruction of Mother Earth. Until now. . . .

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says in the Beatitudes. Thomas Merton wrote that “meekness” is the biblical word for nonviolence. “Blessed are the nonviolent,” Jesus is saying. . . . “They will inherit the earth.” . . . A life of nonviolence leads to oneness with creation and her creatures.

A life of violence, of course, leads to an abrupt discord with creation. In a time of permanent warfare, nuclear weapons, and catastrophic climate change, the message couldn’t be clearer. The God of peace, the nonviolent Jesus, and his Holy Spirit call us to practice nonviolence. In that way, we’ll renounce and stop our environmental destruction, tend our Garden of Eden together, and restore creation to its rightful peace. In the process, we will discover peace with one another and all the creatures.

This is the journey we are all called to live, to make the connection between active non-violence and oneness with creation, so that we all might dwell peacefully in this paradise. . . . I [see] not just the vision of peace and nonviolence, but the vision of a new creation, where we all live as one in peace with one another, Mother Earth and her glorious creatures. It’s that vision of peace, nonviolence, and the new creation, the vision of the promised land before us, the practice of proactive nonviolence, that offers a way out of environmental destruction, as well as permanent war, corporate greed, systemic racism, and extreme poverty.

All we have to do is open our eyes to the reality of creation before us, to be present to it, to take it in and honour it, and welcome its gift of peace—and do so within the boundaries of nonviolence. In that present moment of peace, a new creation is offered to us once again.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.


Fairtrade & Fair Trade

Two weeks ago we were busy with events for Fairtrade Fortnight (26 Feb – 11 Mar 2018). During that time I came across this excellent article which I would like to share with you.


Using the Fairtrade Mark.   by Robin Roth,  Traidcraft Chief Executive.

In 2017 we have seen a number of announcements from various brands, retailers and traders that they are moving away from the Fairtrade Mark. This is a shame and we should continue to support those mainstream companies that are bringing Fairtrade labelled products to the mass market, and so starting their journey about what real fair trade means. For Traidcraft and other 100 per cent fair trade companies and pioneers however, focusing on a label misses a fundamental point in the origins of fair trade. Fair trade was all about partnerships with people: it was not about certifying products. It should not be forgotten that fair trade began well before standards, certifications, labels, monitoring and impact assessments were even thought of. Traidcraft was formed in 1979, the label introduced in 1992. As a dedicated fair trade company with these principles running through our DNA, all our products are fair trade, but many don’t carry the Fairtrade Mark. These include those that we sold before the label came along as well as the handicraft items Traidcraft has sold over the last 4 decades where we use the WFTO mark. Our Palm Oil from Serendipalm, is certified “Fair for Life” by the Swiss organic certifier I.M.O, because no “Fairtrade standards” yet exist. In truth, the Fairtrade label is limited to a relatively small number of raw commodities, or easily identifiable products, like tea, coffee and bananas, but it does not include most of the things we actually buy on a daily basis. For all its limitations the Fairtrade label is actually a brilliant idea: simple, understandable and credible. It is simple because it captures a degree of certainty in highly complex supply chains with a single, easily identifiable graphic. It is understandable because there is an implied promise behind that graphic that says something about decent wages, fair price and decent working conditions. And it is credible because there is an independent certifier who checks out the claims. This is an important principle for any organisation making ethical claims. As far back as the early 90’s, before the Fairtrade label had become established, Traidcraft was a pioneer in social accounting, reporting on its impact and having its findings independently verified. The reality behind fair trade, however, is anything but simple. Many of the companies no longer using the Mark are right to hint at this – for example citing the anomalous situation of a large multinational having a couple of fair trade product lines which gives them a consumer boost, whilst they continue to avoid tax, destroy the environment or treat workers in an appalling fashion. Few consumers have the time for this level of complexity when it comes to buying a pack of tea. And herein lies the problem. Fair trade is complex. It was never a single idea, and depending on whom you talk to, the core emphasis varies. For some producers, price is an important issue, but not more so than solidarity with trading partners, establishing land rights, access to pre-finance, long term relationships and a level playing field when competing with multinationals. In some cultures and environments, fair trade is simply incomprehensible if not aligned with organic production, and in the United States, an understanding of fair trade might just as much include working with migrant labour in the plantations of Southern California, as it does with coffee cooperatives in Guatemala. The standards that form the basis of the Fairtrade label are good, but they are not perfect, and certainly not all encompassing, which is why other standards, and other labels have emerged. At Traidcraft, as among most European fair trade organisations, we acknowledge the value of a number of fair trade standards as well as the Fairtrade Mark;

  • Fairtrade Mark – Product focused, fair trade but not Organic, based in Germany, stakeholder owned.
  • WFTO’s (the World Fair Trade Organisation) system, organisational focus, owned by its members.
  • SPP (Small Producer Symbol from the Producers of Latin America), product and organisationally focused, owned by farmers; based in Mexico.
  • Fair for Life – product focused, fair trade and organic, based in Switzerland.
  • Naturland Fair – product and organisationally focused, fair trade and organic, based in Germany and owned by farmers.
  • Eco Cert – product focused, fair trade and organic, based in France.

All of these are based on 3rd party, independent certification and all of them capture different, important nuances of what fair trade means. Of the systems, or labels, that Traidcraft recognises, some are specifically product focused, some are more interested in the “fair trade-ness” of the organisation itself. This distinction is important since ultimately, no product label can guarantee what really goes on in the heart of a company – nor are they designed to achieve that. But at Traidcraft we have always viewed fair trade as something you do as a matter of course, rather than something you do from time to time. After all, being fair to your suppliers makes no sense if you treat your employees abysmally. Fair is an absolute. Traidcraft was set up to “do” fair trade. It is what we do. It is all that we do. Sainsbury’s, just to take one example, was not. It has other imperatives and no matter how good or benign their governance structure may be, it is a company dedicated primarily to the interests of its shareholders. So, when companies decide to remove the Fairtrade Mark from their products, what does this tell us? It tells us that a commercially driven organisation has made a strategic decision to disengage with a certification system that no longer suits its business model. The main reason for the shift in focus seems to be towards long term supply security before and above producer empowerment. As a commercially driven organisation that may make sense, but it would be disingenuous to describe their new scheme as “fairly traded” since producer empowerment, one of the core concerns of all fair trade schemes, has been very substantially downgraded. In conclusion, the Fairtrade label is an excellent concept, but is neither the last, the best, nor the only word in the world of fair trade. It is a useful tool for commercially driven organisations to make a claim, or start a journey, with a fairly limited range of classic products. But the label says nothing whatsoever about a company’s real engagement with its partners, nor its intentions towards its staff or customers. The only real predicator of fair trade in its broadest context, is whether the company itself is whole-heartedly engaged and connected to its core principles, and to have this rooted in its governance structure. There are precious few real Fair Traders around, and at Traidcraft we see all labels merely as the beginning, not the end of a journey. Other companies are not likely to change their minds, but thankfully, neither will Traidcraft. Fair trade is all we ever aspire to do.

Lenten Worship.

We met in the park on a mild early spring morning. Our worship focused on Lent with help from Richard Rohr and Dale Ryan.

Call to worship

Lord God,

early in the morning when the world was young,

you made life in all its beauty

you gave birth to all we know.


This morning, in the multi-coloured company

of your church on earth and in heaven,

we celebrate your creation,

your life,

your love,

your interest in us.


We are your people, the creatures of your care,

the bearers of your image.

This day we will walk in your light,

live by your spirit and follow Jesus.


Richard Rohr – thoughts on the temptations of Jesus.

The first temptation of Jesus was to turn stones into bread. Sounds good, but this is our need to be immediately impressive and successful, and make things happen right now. It is our natural desire to look good…. You can be a very popular and successful when you operate at this level, and you will think very well of yourself. That is why Jesus has to face this temptation first, to move us beyond what we first want, to what we really need. In refusing to be immediately successful and impressive;  in refusing to respond to people’s immediate requests, Jesus is saying, Go deeper. What do you really desire? What do you really need? It is not usually what you first think.

The second temptation of Jesus is another one that all of us must face. Jesus imagines himself up on the pinnacle of the Temple, symbolising the very top of the religious world itself, and he is tempted to play “righteousness games” with God. “Throw yourself off and he’ll catch you”. Holy words can be used for evil purposes. This second temptation is to think of yourself as saved, superior to others, the moral elite on the side of God and religion, and to quote Scriptures for your own purpose—being against God in the name of God. Actually it’s quite common.

The third human temptation is the need for control, importance, wealth, status, and power. The devil tells Jesus to bow down before the power systems of this world: “All of these I will give to you”. All you have to do is to make these things into your belief and security system. Formal atheism is rare, but this kind of practical daily atheism is almost the norm for most people. Jesus refuses to bow down before the power systems of the world….. He knows that the price of such love of power is to “fall at Satan’s feet and worship him!” Jesus says, “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone”. When you can recognise and face up to these kinds of well-disguised demons, temptation doesn’t have a chance.


In the blazing light of your love

our failings are illuminated

our failure to love

our failure to always be kind

our failure to be generous

our failure to serve others

our failure to truly follow Jesus.

Please forgive us and renew us.

Enfold us in your arms

that we might know

your forgiveness and healing love.


let’s say to one another –

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

(Psalm 103:8)

 Preparing for more (in Lent).   Dale Ryan.

“Lent gets messed up when we experience it as an exercise in deprivation, like we should give up something for Lent as if in God’s family scarcity is of value. A lot of us have already lived lives of scarcity where there’s not  enough, you can’t get enough love, enough whatever, life for many is already about not enough, and here the Christian community says lets practice more of not enough, and that’s profoundly counter productive.

I learned a lot about Lent from my wife, who one year for Lent decided to give up shame. Her notion was why not give up something that’s really killing her. Something that’s really a burden that you don’t need. Give up shame for Lent. But that’s not the point. The point is to have a glimpse of what life might be like if you were a shame free person. First time through you might only get a glimpse, and maybe you only begin to see with more clarity about the amount of shame you are carrying. But that would be a gift, that would be having something you didn’t have before. And if there is a dynamic for living with less shame, that would be a lot to show. …………………………………………  Lenten practices should leave us in a spot where we’ve got more than we started with, not less. So don’t give up something that you really love, give up something that’s dragging your life down. Something that’s making your life have less resurrection – cause that’s what Lent is preparing us for – a life where there’s more, not less. ………………………………………………….”

Our fasting and feasting is a great way to start thinking about, for example, giving up shame for Lent while taking up positive things like attempting to be more generous, more kind and more patient.

Spend a few moments in prayer and ask yourself if you could fast from destructive feelings like; anger, resentment , bitterness, unforgiveness, guilt, shame, envy and regret.


sharing bread and wine………………….

Jesus, we offer ourselves,

To be your hands reaching out to the world,

With your compassion.

Fill us with the breath of life

To be instruments of your peace.

Where there is silence about how others are treated,

Impassion us with a desire for justice.


As we share bread and wine

may our eyes be opened

to recognise Jesus among us.


Blessing for Lent

In this season of Lent,

May we turn

May we dance….

Dance defiance on injustice

Dance inclusion on division

Dance forgiveness, generosity and kindness

Dance life in all its fullness.

May we join the dance of Jesus

And dance for a better way to live.




God, Jesus, the Bible and violence.

On Wednesday, 17th March we met at Moca to study the important topic of violence in the Bible.

The scene was set with the following study; then followed a lively and very interesting discussion.

God, Jesus, the Bible and violence.

I’ve always found the violence in the Bible troubling – even when I was still an evangelical storm trooper! The Bible is riddled with violence from Genesis to Revelation.

You can read the Bible — from cover to cover — and draw up two contrasting pictures of God. In one, God is a God of violence who expects and commands humans to act violently. In the other, God is a God of non-violence who expects and commands humans to be non-violent and to act with compassion.

In Joel 3: we read: “Beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears;  let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior’”(Joel 3:10).

Numbers 31: God tells Moses to take vengeance against the Midianites. When the victorious Israelites report to Moses that they have only slaughtered the men, he tells them to go back and kill all the males of whatever age and all the women who aren’t virgins, and to take for themselves the virgins – presumably to use as sex slaves!

Joshua 6: on taking Jericho Joshua tells his men to spare Rahab and “all who belong to her”, then every living thing – men and women, old and young, and all livestock must be put to the sword.

Samuel 15: God tells Saul through Samuel to punish the Amalekites – “do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys”.

It’s important to realise that the Israelites by slaughtering people after taking their towns are not behaving in a godly fashion but are acting as every tribe, civilisation and nation did until armies were paid! (And even sometimes after they were paid!!!)

In contrast Zechariah: says: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

And in Isaiah and Micah: we read: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4 & Micah 4:3). And “every man will sit under his own vine, and under his own fig-tree, and no-one will make him afraid…..” (Micah 4:4).

Is God non-violent and/or violent? Is it honest to accept only one biblical portrayal of God and, if so, which one?

Even in the New Testament we are given two very different images of Jesus presenting even more difficult questions.

In his “first coming” the non-violent Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem. And as Zechariah says: “he will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow will be broken, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations”. (Zechariah 9:9-10; with V9 quoted in Matthew 21:5).

But then in Revelation at his “second coming” the violent Jesus rides on a “white horse … makes war” and “from his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (Revelation 19:11,15).

We have God revealed in a Jesus who is both non-violent  in the Gospels and very violent in Revelation.  Has Jesus changed or have Christians changed Jesus?

How can we reconcile these two different pictures? Are we to imagine a God of both violence and non-violence? Could it be that a combination of violence and non-violence belongs to God alone and humans must leave violence to God? But we are made in God’s image so does divine violence mean that  humans can’t help but be violent? Christians can’t be expected to be the non-violent people of a violent God, can we? As Christians how can we explain the Bible’s contradictory pictures of God?

Our starting point has got to be Jesus of Nazareth. No one has ever seen God. But for Christians, God is visible in the person of Jesus. Central to Christianity is the claim of the incarnation: that Jesus is God made man; that Jesus is the son of God; that Jesus is the image of God; that Jesus shows us what God is like; that Jesus is if you like God in sandals.

Therefore, Jesus is the norm and standard by which we must understand the entire Bible.

John’s Gospel tells us that God so loved the world that he sent us a Person, not a Book, but a person – Jesus (John 3:16). That is why we are followers of Jesus rather than followers of the Book. We are the People of the Person. Not the people of the book! That is why we count time “down” to Jesus birth (BC) and count time “up” from his birth to the present (AD).

But you may ask, how do I know that Jesus himself was non-violent? The best answer comes from Pontius Pilate who executed Jesus publicly but never bothered to round up his followers. Don’t you think that if Jesus had been a violent revolutionary then the Romans would have rounded up his followers and executed them as well. But because Jesus and his followers were non-violent the Romans just executed Jesus and left his followers alone (although from the Gospel accounts the disciples were very fearful of being arrested, as they hid themselves away until they thought they were safe from the threat of arrest).

For me the non-violent character of God is fully revealed in Jesus as the non-violent radical against Roman and Sadducee  injustice.  Jesus presents the Kingdom of God with its values of non-violence, justice, and  compassion as God’s alternative to “the powers that be” obsessed with violence, status, and power.

Secondly, when we read the Bible it is important to understand that we are reading a library rather than a book. It was written by many different people who had very different pictures of what God is like and had very different purposes for writing. If we read the various books of the Bible with an open enquiring mind we’ll see that they are competing against one another with opposing visions of God.

Thirdly, we also need to grasp that throughout the Bible God provides a radical vision for society – one of non-violence, justice and compassion, while all the time “the powers that be” are constantly subverting and undermining that vision with our human obsession for violence, greed, vengeance, status and power. The Bible is a struggle between God making us in God’s non-violent image and we humans making God in our violent image. 

Here are some examples of diversions around God’s radical vision:

God says in Leviticus 25: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; and you are but aliens and tenants”.
The powers that be say: “OK, but we can still make loans with land as security. So it’s not about buying and selling but about loaning and foreclosing”. (Foreclosing means that everything is taken and not just the value of the actual debt).

God says in Deuteronomy 23 & Leviticus 25: “You cannot take interest on loans to your fellow countrymen”.
The powers that be say: “OK well perhaps no interest charges, but we can still charge penalties for default, and get another’s land that way”. (Isaiah 5:8 provides judgement against this practice – “woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land”. Also Micah 2:1,2 “…woe to those who plan iniquity…because it is in their power….who covet fields and seize them, and houses and take them….”).

God says in the Law: “In every Sabbatical Year all loans must be cancelled, all debt-slaves freed, and the land get a rest from exploitation”. (Exodus 21:2-11; 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:2-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-2,7-18).
The powers that be say: ”That may be so but we will find loopholes whereby we can transfer our claims to the courts. (The device to avoid cancelling debt was provided by the “Prosbul” – a loophole devised to get round the law of cancelling debts during the Sabbatical year by transferring a creditor’s claim to the courts).

Jesus showed humanity that God is very different and far better than religion up to then had depicted. Jesus personally had the full human experience of failure and rejection – while still forgiving his enemies – and told us;  “Follow me” and “do likewise”. Jesus message has always been too much for us and for 2000 years we’ve managed to avoid almost all of his radical teaching.

To briefly recap –

  • Jesus is the yardstick and standard by which we understand the entire Bible.
  • If we read the various books of the Bible with an open enquiring mind we’ll see that they are competing against one another with opposing visions of God.
  • The Bible is a very honest record of the constant struggle between God making us in God’s non-violent image and we humans making God in our violent image.
  • In the Bible God provides a radical vision for society – one of non-violence, justice and compassion; while all the time “the powers that be” are constantly subverting and undermining this vision.
  • Once we begin to realise what’s going on in the pages of the Bible we can begin to read it with new eyes and change our understanding of much that’s written there.

Questions for discussion:

The Sabbatical/Jubilee principles placed radical social justice at the centre of a fair and harmonious society, one where all people get a fair share of God’s good earth. Do you think these ideas are outdated and inappropriate for modern society?  What might modern applied versions of these principles involve doing today?


In Jesus’ time, Rome with the cooperation of the Sadducees was forcing many Jewish families into destitution, with high taxes and land seizures. People who had owned small pieces of land ended up as day labourers. Some Jews – the Zealots – advocated violent rebellion, others chose non-violent resistance.  I believe Jesus called for nonviolent resistance to Rome while advocating social justice with regard to land, wages and food. Was he crucified because the Romans saw him as a threat to stability and the Sadducees saw him as a threat to their financial activities?

Jesus came proclaiming the message that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Yet “the powers that be” continually say: “We are about power and wealth. Who are you to bring up this social justice thing? It’s nothing but a race to the bottom!” Is this how God’s radical vision for society has continually been subverted, and undermined?

Ideas for further study?

Does God really need Jesus – his only son – to be a blood sacrifice before God could love what he has created? Is God really that needy, unloving, unfree and unable to forgive? Is violence and vengeance really the way of the universe? Does a violent theory of redemption legitimise violence as a way of problem solving in human affairs? What does Franciscan Incarnational Theology have to say on these questions?

Was violence legitimised in Christianity when it became the religious arm of the Roman Empire? As a result was the life and teaching of Jesus sidelined and spiritualised so as not to offend the “powers that be”? Was Christ emphasised at the expense of Jesus? Was God portrayed as Jupiter/Zeus and Christ as the Emperor?

Haven’t all Christian groups & denominations  evaded major parts of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, Jesus’ warning about idolising “mammon,” his example of non-violence, the parable of the sheep & the goats, and his instruction to love our enemies and forgive 70 X 7. Jesus has always been too difficult for us!



Lindisfarne comes to the bandstand!

Steve and I were just back from Northumbria and brought some shells from Holy Island to facilitate our worship. It was COLD, so we spent just 15 minutes outdoors and did the rest at Cool River.

We began using a meditation from the brilliant David Adam as we walked around the park trying to look with new eyes at the beauty of our surroundings (in the Celtic tradition) saying over and over:

You, Lord, are in this place.
Your presence fills it.
Your presence is peace.
You, Lord, are in this place.
Your presence fills it.
You, Lord are in this place.
You, Lord, are.
You, Lord.

Each had chosen a shell and carried it, symbolically connecting with our brothers Aidan and Cuthbert who loved the sea and stones and shells or Lindisfarne and found God in their surroundings – as we do.

Back at the bandstand we considered how opening our eyes to encountering God in the world around us can open our expectations and awareness of things we might not otherwise have noticed. On one occasion Cuthbert tended to a very weary traveller and urged him to stay to eat, saying that the bread was not long from coming out of the oven… He went to pray and brought the bread only to find the young man vanished and no footsteps in the snow. On entering the storehouse to put away the table, he found three steaming loaves of unusual whiteness awaiting him. He had thought to feed a stranger but was fed himself.

So, in memory of Cuthbert and all our brothers and sisters who are no doubt cheering us on in finding new ways to encounter God, we shared bread – three warm rolls from the oven, and then wine.

In the warmth of the café we heard stories of Cuthbert’s other encounters with angels and I shared two ideas that had come to me regarding these stories and all my reading about these Celtic saints.

1. In Rob Bell’s ‘Everything is spiritual’ he says ‘What you look for you will find’ – if we choose to live as if there is no intervention of God in our world and if we see with those eyes, that is what we will see. If we ask God to open our eyes to the wonders of this world that speak of him, we can see things we would otherwise miss. The Celtic tradition is about reading the world, looking for God in his creation, expecting to encounter him using the five-stringed harp in all activities.
2. Our recent thinking about the kingdom of God seems to tie in with this. Stories about Cuthbert about angels or of unexpected things happening could be dismissed as exaggerations (what you look for you will find) or we could say, it’s just an extension of looking for the kingdom being at work here – of the kingdom breaking through in thin places and thin moments. Isn’t that what we pray for?

So, to prayer.
We put our shells on the café table and shared people and situations  that needed our prayers – who needed that thinness of Lindisfarne and of Aidan and Cuthbert, to allow God’s work to break into their situations… Then  I commissioned the shells, so to speak, with the  following words and we took our shells away for the rest of the week:

May these shells bear witness to these prayers in this coming week. May they remind us that thin moments and events happen! And may they challenge us to be like our brothers who loved Holy Island, who loved the sea and stones and sand and shells, in reminding us to have open eyes to see God and his kingdom all around us in the coming week.

Finally we were set homework: To try out a prayer of Cuthbert once this week. Pray standing with your arms outstretched in the position of the cross and see how you want to pray as you do. Join us?