Friday, January 31, 2014

INDONESIA: ATHEIST ALEXANDER AAN RELEASED FROM PRISON

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan, who was sentenced to two and half years imprisonment on 15 June 2012 under the nation's blasphemy laws for publicly declaring himself an atheist on Facebook, was released from prison on 27 January.

Alexander Aan, a 30 year-old former civil servant, allegedly posted statements and pictures on the social networking website as a member of the Minang atheist Facebook group, which some people construed as insulting Islam and the prophet Mohammed.

On 20 January 2012 he was charged with 'disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility' under Article 28(2) of the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law, religious blasphemy under Article 156a(a) of the Indonesian Criminal Code and calling for others to embrace atheism under Article 156a(b) of the same code. At the conclusion of his trial on 15 June 2012 he was sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment and a fine of 100 million rupiah (the equivalent of US$11,000) for violating the ITE Law.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) visited Alexander Aan in prison twice, firstly in May 2012 prior to his sentencing, and again in June 2013, as part of fact-finding visits to investigate violations of freedom of religion or belief and threats to religious harmony in Indonesia, and has advocated for his release. CSW's landmark report, Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril, The rise of religious intolerance across the archipelago, will be launched next month.

Although Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, has a tradition of religious harmony and pluralism enshrined in its state ideology, 'Pancasila', it only officially recognises six major religions and requires Indonesians to adhere to a religion. The six approved religions are Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, while followers of other religions, and atheists, are provided no legal recognition and are particularly vulnerable to abuses under the blasphemy laws.

CSW's East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers, who visited Alexander Aan in prison and is the author of the forthcoming report, said: 'We are delighted that Alexander has been released, before the completion of his sentence, and hope that he will now be free to continue his life without threat or harassment. We urge Indonesia to look very seriously at the blasphemy laws and other legislation which violates freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. We hope that Indonesia will protect, promote and expand the principles of religious pluralism set out in 'Pancasila' so that they apply equally to all Indonesians, and ensure that no one is unjustly imprisoned for their beliefs in the future.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Friday 31 January 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how … But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ 
Mark. 4. 26-29

Reflection 
God's kingdom will come whether you share in the work or not. When the harvest comes will you be gathered in with the ripe grain or cast aside?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

NIGERIA: AT LEAST 138 KILLED IN WEEKEND TERROR ATTACKS

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press releasse

At least 138 people are now known to have died on 26 January in attacks by members of the Islamist terror group Boko Haram on villages in Adamawa and Borno States in north east Nigeria.

Around 53 people are reported to have died and dozens were wounded in Adamawa State when militants armed with AK-47s and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) attacked a Catholic church in Wada Chakawa in Madagali Local Government Area (LGA) just as a busy Sunday service was ending. After killing a police inspector and sergeant who were guarding the church, the gunmen barred the doors, shooting anyone attempting to escape through windows. They cut the throats of several victims before burning houses and holding residents hostage for four hours. According to the chairman of Madagali LGA, the assailants went on to invade a border village before retreating into neighbouring Cameroon.

So far 85 people are now known to have died in an attack by Boko Haram on a weekly farmers'
 market in Kawuri Village in Konduga LGA, Borno State, on the same day. According to survivors, sect members descended on the market in 26 vehicles, two armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and six Toyota Hilux vans painted in army colours. They blew up the market, shot men, women and children, and set fire to buildings, destroying over 300 homes. Many victims were burned beyond recognition. The gunmen also left IEDs in the area that exploded the following morning as people searched for missing loved ones. Around 40 people have been hospitalised with severe burn or gunshot injuries. The death toll is expected to rise even further; according to local media reports, 16 people are still missing.

Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states have been under a state of emergency since May 2013. Since then, Boko Haram has shifted its attacks from urban areas, to soft targets, such as highways, schools and remote rural communities.

Madagali LGA in Adamawa is situated on the border with Borno State, where Boko Haram has mounted a series of attacks on that have devastated rural communities. Over 200 people are estimated to have died in terrorist violence this month. Within the last week 37 communities in Damboa, Konduga and Gwoza LGAs suffered terrorist attacks that have caused large scale population displacement. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 6000 Nigerians fled into Cameroon and Niger within a ten day period.

Nigerian nationals and foreigners kidnapped by the terrorists are regularly held in northern Cameroon. The Cameroonian government recently said it had reinforced security on its northern border with Nigeria, Chad and the Central Africa Republic.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We extend our heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones in these appalling attacks. The devastating violence suffered by remote communities underlines the need for the state of emergency to be enforced in such a way as to protect those in rural areas also. Moreover, the fact that militants fled to Cameroon highlights the transnational nature of this insurgency and the need for a co-ordinated solution involving cooperation from neighbouring states in military and intelligence matters. Neighbouring governments must ensure that Boko Haram is no longer able to evade justice by finding refuge in their territories. If this tendency is not addressed decisively, it will ultimately undermine peace and security in the entire region.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Thursday 30 January 2014

Jesus said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand?' 
Mark 4.21

Reflection 
You are not being humble if your idea of humility involves neglecting to do God's work in the world; it is all right to 'shine' as long as it is done for the glory of God, rather than self.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: PASTOR AND SON KILLED AS RELIGIOUS LEADERS STRUGGLE TO KEEP PEACE

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) PRESS RELEASE
Pastor Kongbo, treasurer of the Union des Eglises Baptistes (UEB), was killed on 28 January along with his son at their home by Seleka forces as violence erupted in the northern suburbs of the Central African Republic'
s capital city Bangui.

Two Seleka fighters were also killed on the same day by French troops following a battle between anti-Balaka forces and Seleka fighters, who were moved from military bases in the south of Bangui to a camp in the PK 11 area on the northern outskirts of the city. The Seleka fighters have not been disarmed, causing civilians in the locality to seek refuge in the church of Saint Charles de Louanda in PK 12 for fear of attack.

Since 21 January, there have been ongoing clashes between anti-Balaka forces and Seleka fighters supported by armed Muslim civilians in Bangui's PK5, PK11, PK12 and PK13 areas. Christian and Muslim religious leaders have appealed for calm and the CAR's senior Muslim leader, Imam Omar Kabine Layama, is visiting Europe with Catholic Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga to advocate for peace and call on European leaders to assist with the reconciliation process. However, Walidou Modibo, imam of the Central Mosque in Bangui, has said Muslim leaders had given up calling for peace due to the atrocities being committed against their community.

As a heavily armed Seleka convoy left Bangui for the north on 26 January, the group reportedly threatened retaliatory attacks on Christian communities in the northern towns of Bria and Birao in response to anti Balaka attacks on Muslim communities. The Seleka withdrawal has also raised fears of the possibility of a partitioning of the country along sectarian lines.

In a statement released on 27 January, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay expressed her deep concern at 'the proliferation of armed groups and the explosion of common criminality which are making the situation even more chaotic and dangerous,' and called upon the international community 'to strengthen peacekeeping efforts'; throughout the country as a matter of urgency: 'Many lives are at stake.' 

On 28 January, the UN Security Council agreed to sanctions allowing for targeted punitive action against anyone violating an arms embargo imposed in December 2013, committing human rights abuses, undermining peace and stability or obstructing humanitarian assistance. The Council also unanimously authorised the deployment of a European Union force.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with the family of Pastor Kongbo and with all who have lost loved ones in the last few days of fighting in Bangui. The continuing efforts of key leaders from both religious communities towards reconciliation in the face of relentless atrocities is courageous and laudable, and we join them in condemning violence committed by all armed groups. While recognising the international community's steadfast commitment to resolve the ongoing crisis, CSW echoes the call for the urgent and rapid deployment of sufficient peacekeepers to ensure security for the civilian population, which continues to suffer greatly. Every assistance must be given to Interim President Samba-Panza and interim Prime Minister Nazapa; as they begin the monumental task of stabilising the country, restoring law and order, disarming the various militia groups, encouraging reconciliation and facilitating the return of one million displaced citizens to their homes.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 29 January 2014

Jesus said 'And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ 
Mark 4.20

Reflection 
Do not be discouraged or envious when you think others are doing better in the spiritual life. Have humility and offer to God the fruits of your own labour, however poor you may think they are.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 28 January 2014

And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ 
Mark 3. 34, 35

Reflection 
To follow Christ is to be offered intimate relationship with him. But that relationship can only be achieved by obedience to the will of God.

Monday, January 27, 2014

prayer diary Monday 27 January 2014

Jesus said: 'If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.' 
Mark 3. 24, 25

Reflection 
The Church is full of many divisions. And while we struggle against ourselves, who is fighting to bring the Good News to others?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

sharing the story

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

I wonder what the people of Capernaum thought when Jesus went to live there and began to proclaim: 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven hascome near.' Capernaum was a small fishing village on the north shore of Lake Galilee, not all that far from Nazareth. We are told it was the place that Jesus made his home, not long after John the Baptist was arrested by Herod for speaking out against the unlawfulness of his marriage … the historian Josephus also mentions that Herod was worried that John might prove to be a political threat … perhaps he was worried that the popularity that his moral teaching held among the people might one day be turned into action …

In any event, with John in prison, Jesus moved to Capernaum. Presumably, based on what is written in the Gospels, he went there after his time with John by the Jordan, and after his time in the wilderness, the 40 days and 40 nights when he fasted and prayed and was tempted by Satan. And hearing that John had been arrested, he decided to neither stay by the Jordan nor return home, but to go somewhere new, but not too far from home, by the shores of the great fresh-water lake after which the region he grew up in was named.

Had the people of Capernaum heard the stories about him? Did they know that he was the cousin of John the Baptist? Did they know that when he went for baptism to John that John was astonished and said that he was the one who needed to be baptised by him? Did they wonder if he was the one John had said he had come to prepare the way for when they asked if he was the Messiah, one whose shoelaces he wasn't worthy to untie? Had they heard what had happened when he was baptised – that the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven had cried out that this was his Son, the beloved with whom he was well pleased? Had they heard about his time in the desert where he confronted Satan and was tended by angels?

And when he moved to their little village, did they think how the location of Capernaum matched that of the prophecy made by the prophet Isaiah – the same one we heard in our Old Testamentreading today – one of the Messianic prophecies, where it is promised that those who walk in darkness will see a great light – a light that will bring joy into their lives and free them from oppression? The same prophecy that St Matthew in today's Gospel reading tells us was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Were those thoughts in their heads when Jesus began to walk their shores, beginning with the proclamation: 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near'? If they were, it would go a long way to explaining what happens next. Two fisherman, brothers, Simon and Andrew, out casting their nets, leave their work when he calls them to go with him and be fishers of men; soon after two more men, James and John, also brothers, walk away from their nets, boats, and father to answer his call. John's Gospel tells us that they had already met him, when they had been at the Jordan with John the Baptist, that in fact John was the one who had pointed him out to them, and he had declared to them that he was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.


Knowing what they knew, it isn't surprising they followed Jesus. The more one knows about him the harder it is not to follow him. And the call he had to those four men that day to follow him is the same call he has for all men, for not only you and I, but all the peoples of the world. And we, the ones who know him now and follow him now are the ones tasked with making him known to others so that they might also follow him … for they cannot know and follow if they do not hear of him … and it was Christ himself commanded those who follow him to make disciples of all people. It is an awesome responsibility … and one we dare not neglect. I ask you this morning to pray for guidance and help as to how you might live out that responsibility in your your lives … and that having prayed and listened to God's answer to have the courage to act in accordance with his will and to share what you know of Christ as others did so long ago and have been doing ever since. Amen.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Examin - Saturday 25 Jan 2014

Sacrifice is part of the Christian life. We are called to carry our cross and deny ourselves. That does not mean we are to lead a joyless life. On the contrary, a Christian whose life is like an endless Lent with no Easter in sight distorts the faith. But we must also remember that there are many behaviours and 'pleasures' of this world that we must deny ourselves in order to be true to our faith.

prayer diary Saturday 25 Jan 2014 (Conversion of St Paul)

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 
Matthew 19.29

Reflection
Consider all that St Paul gave up for the sake of the Gospel; can you not give up 
even a fraction as much both to win others for Christ and eternal life for yourself?

Friday, January 24, 2014

prayer diary Friday 24 Jan 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

He went up the mountain and ... he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message and … then he went home. 
Mark. 13-19

Reflection 
We think of Christ's wandering ministry of going from town to town so much that we can tend to forget that he had a place that he called home. We all need a quiet place where we can 'get away from it all' for a while, no matter how brief. Leisure is a gift from God and to be enjoyed – as long as it doesn't become the focus of your life.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 23 Jan 2014

Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ 
Mark 3.11

Reflection 
Even those in the thrall of the evil one were forced to admit who Christ was. But, much as our Lord asked Peter, who do you say that he is?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 22 Jan 2014

They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 
Mark 3. 2,3

Reflection 
Jesus wasn't afraid of those who criticise and accuse. Take courage from his example.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 21 Jan 2014

Jesus said: ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath;so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.’ 
Mark 2. 27,28

Reflection 
From the beginning the Sabbath was a day both for giving thanks to the Lord and for the resting of our bodies. How different is your Sunday from the other six days of the week?

Monday, January 20, 2014

prayer diary Monday 20 Jan 2014

Jesus said: 'The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.' 
Mark 2.20

Reflection 
Jesus reminds us that making sacrifices is part of the Christian life. What do you do to show sorrow for your sins, to grow in the spiritual life, or give thanks to God for all that he has given you? And what do you do without so those without enough may have something?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

is Christ divided?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The theme for this year's week of prayer for Christian Unity is 'Has Christ been Divided?' - referring, I think to Christ's body, the Church. The answer to that question is, I think both 'yes' and 'no.' 'No,' because Christ's body the Church is supernatural in nature; it is God's Church, founded by Christ our Lord himself and he founded only one Church, something we testify to each and every time we recite the Nicene Creed and say we believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. This One Church that Christ founded is something that no human being can ever damage.

But the answer must also be 'yes' because of the obvious divisions that exist, due to human weaknesses, in the way that the body manifests itself on earth. The problem is not one that began in our time; nor did it begin at the time of the Reformation, as much as we might to blame Martin Luther or King Henry the Eighth; it is something that goes back to the earliest days of the Church. We can see it as being a problem going right back to the earliest days of the Church, as we can see in the first chapter of St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, when he has cause to rebuke the church there for the divisions that existed among them in the tiny church of that small city only decades after the death and resurrection of Christ.

But understanding that it is a problem that has always been with us is not to say that it is not one that we do not have a responsibility of dealing with. Not that it is an easy task to leave behind nearly 2000 years of infighting and bad-blood. In many ways that situation has improved dramatically in recent years – the week of prayer for Christian Unity is proof of that; and the good ecumenical relations enjoyed in this parish is further evidence. But Christ,I think, wanted a little more than that we should be gracious and polite to each other when he prayed that we should be one, just as he and the Father were one. He wanted his followers to have a real, organic unity; he wanted us to be in full communion with each other, even if we have different ways of practising some elements of the faith.
How is that to be achieved? Well, I think our Gospel reading today provides a wonderful image of how that might come about. We are presented with John the Baptist, the wild-man dressed in camel hair; he's standing by the banks of the Jordan, preaching his message of repentance and baptising all who come to him. He's doing very well for himself and getting quite a following … and then along comes Jesus and John sees the Holy Spirit descending upon him like a dove … and the way John reacts is remarkable … he doesn't ignore it, or try to undermine Jesus in some, saying to himself 'I've put a lot of work into what I've done here; I'm not going to let some johnny-come-lately show up and take over.' No, without a hint of pride or resentment he at once declares what he has seen and cries out 'Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'

The answer to the problems of the disunity of the Church Christ founded could well be modeled in the heroic humility of John the Baptist; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness at the beginning of Christ's ministry leads the way for us by his immediate response in doing the will of God, even at great personal cost to himself – and not grudgingly; he cheerfully declared that he John must grow lessor, while Jesus must grow greater.

It is something for us all to emulate … how that is to work out in practise, I can not say. John was a great saint and his heroic humility is not easy for us to live … but the opposite of humility is pride, and pride is a sin, one of the seven deadly sins for those of you who remember the old way of talking about such things. And John, when he first beheld Christ, declared that he was the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The pride that separates us is among those sins. Christ, who called us to be one in the first place, will heal us of the divisions that keep us apart, if only we will accept him in the same spirit as John did.
Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Examin - Saturday 18 Jan 2014

repent, and believe in the good news
Mark 1. 14, 15

One of the greatest sins of all is that of refusing to accept that we are a sinner. It is a sin born of pride and it is deadly, for it prevents us from turning from our sins and accepting not only our need for redemption for the salvation that Christ offers to all who turn to him. The only cure is that of humility, of accepting our weaknesses and need of Christ's saving grace and mercy.

prayer diary Saturday 18 Jan 2014

‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ 
Mark 2. 16,17

Reflection
Christ is the physician of our souls, who came to heal all of their sins. But before we can be healed, we must accept that we, like all others, are sinners, and cry out to him for his mercy.

Friday, January 17, 2014

prayer diary Friday 17 Jan 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”?' 
Mark 2.9

Reflection
Those who doubted in Christ's power to forgive sins were met with an indisputable display of his authority. We now must trust in his power and call upon him to save us from our sins.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 16 Jan 2014

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 
Mark 1. 40, 41

Reflection
The Lord looks upon us in all our weaknesses and infirmities with mercy and compassion. He who sincerely calls upon him for the healing and forgiveness of their sins will never be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 15 Jan 2014

Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 
Mark 1. 30,31

Reflection
Christ heals us of all the evils of this world. The natural response to all he does for us is to serve him will all our heart, mind, body, and soul.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 14 Jan 2014

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 
Mark 1. 27

Reflection
None of the dark powers can resist Jesus' authority. If you trust fully in him as you turn from your life of sin your faith will be rewarded.

Monday, January 13, 2014

prayer diary Monday 13 Jan 2014

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 
Mark 1. 14, 15

Reflection
Jesus begins his ministry with a call to repentance. To repent means to turn away from and reject completely the old life of sin. Remember that as you daily answer his call to follow him.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

the baptism of our Lord: an eagerness to tell the good news

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany; it is also the the Sunday when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord; because of which, later in this liturgy we will be renewing our own baptismal vows. It might seem like an odd way to manage our liturgical calender … last week our Lord was an infant in the manger being visited by the wise men bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh … and today he is suddenly fully grown into manhood, being baptised, and about to begin his public ministry …

But perhaps it is not too odd a choice … after all, in the Gospels the story is told just like that in Matthew and Luke … they both spring from the infancy narratives to his baptism, except for Luke's brief aside for the Finding in the Temple when our Lord was 12 years old … so in that sense, our calendar and the choice of readings that go along with it only serves to mirror the story of Christ as we have it in Sacred Scripture …

Why, we might wonder though, do Matthew and Luke do that, leaving this long empty gap of years in the life-history of our Lord? They surely could have included a few more … incidents from the life of the young Jesus would have been very charming as well as illuminating … and given how fond most people are of the passage where Christ as a boy remains in the temple, talking with the learned men there, while his anxious parents search for him, further such stories would surely have proved very popular …

So why leave them out? Why not include more? Why the rush to take us from infancy to adulthood? At this point it is as well to remember that scant though the space that Matthew and Luke allot to our Lord's early life, it is more by far than either Mark or John do … they give us not a word about Jesus of the time before his public life … in their Gospels he appears fully-formed as a grown man on the banks of the Jordan, in the company of the throngs of people who have come to his cousin John for baptism … and if Matthew and Luke seem in a hurry to get to the story of the adult Jesus, they are positively sedate in comparison to their fellow evangelists John and Mark. In fact, they all seem to be in a rush to get to good news of Jesus Christ, his mission, his preaching & teaching, his acts of power that gave witness to his authority, the redeeming action of his death on the cross, and the wondrous assurance we have of eternal life through his resurrection.

And our Church Calendar reflects that eagerness. It's a little bit like the Church is saying to us – 'right, the Christmas break is over; time to get back to work.' And what work is that, you might ask? Well, when the young Jesus was found by Mary and Joseph in the Temple, his response to them was 'did you not know I must be about my Father's business.' That is the work that we must be about. The feast of the Epiphany is the last of the 12 days of Christmas … that day is also called the revelation of the Christ to the Gentiles … the day when we are reminded that Christ came not only for a small group, but for all mankind … and it reminds us, I think, as we get back to work after our Christmas break, as we continue with our task of going about our Father's business, that we must not be too inward looking … the Christ-child came for all mankind … the evangelists were eager to get to the part of his story where they could tell of the Good News he brought to all people … so must we in our part of the work that God has blessed us with be eager to share that Good News with others … whether they be those who have never heard that good news, or those who have but have fallen away …


Soon we will renew our own baptismal vows; and as baptism is a time of new beginnings, what better time than as we do so to dedicate ourselves to begin anew the work we must do, the Lord's work, of bringing his good news to all people and baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit? I pray it is a work that all of us and all of God's Church will join in with the same eagerness that the evangelists had to share that good news with us in the writing of their Gospels. Amen.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Examin 11 Jan 2014

Christ told his followers that they should make disciples of all people. In what way do you obey this command? Are you generous in your charitable giving to mission agencies and your local church? Do you instruct those in your care in the teachings of the Church? Do you lovingly remind friends and neighbours of their duties as Christians? And do you take care to teach all the ways of Christ's Church by the example of your life & your own faithful and regular Sunday by Sunday worship?

prayer diary Saturday 11 Jan 2014

... there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him. 
Luke 5. 12-13

Reflection 
We are all afflicted with the stain of the sins we have freely chosen to commit. But if we turn to Christ he will make us clean.

Friday, January 10, 2014

CUBA: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM VIOLATIONS CONTINUED TO INCREASE IN 2013

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release
CSW has renewed its call for Cuban leader Raul Castro to ensure that significant improvements are made in upholding religious freedom in 2014, after research showed a steady increase in religious freedom violations across Cuba in 2013 as the result of an ongoing government crackdown on religious organisations and individuals.

CSW documented 185 reported cases of religious freedom in 2013, up from a total of 120 in 2012. Many of the individual documented cases involved entire churches and denominations and large numbers of people. While Roman Catholic churches reported the highest number of violations, mostly involving the arrest and arbitrary detention of parishioners attempting to attend church activities, other denominations and religious groups were also affected. Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches in different parts of the country reported consistent harassment and pressure from state security agents. Additionally, government officials continued to refuse to register some groups, including the large Protestant network the 'Apostolic Movement', threatening affiliated churches with closure.

Church leaders in different parts of the country reported ongoing violations in the final weeks of the year. On 20 December, six members of an inter-denominational protestant group were beaten and imprisoned for nine hours in a windowless cell with no ventilation or light after attempting to carry out open air evangelism in the city of Bayamo. A few days later, on 22 December, 60 women affiliated with the Ladies in White movement were arrested in the early hours of the morning and held in prisons, police patrol cars and police stations across the country to prevent them from attending Sunday morning Mass.

Based on the documentation and information received from church leaders, the Cuban government seemed most concerned with control over religious groups, some of the only established independent civil society organisations tolerated by the regime. Various denominations told CSW that they are under heavy pressure from the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party to change internal governing structures, statutes and constitutions to make them less democratic and therefore easier to control. The government also announced that in 2014, bank accounts would be restricted to one per denomination or religious association; individual churches will no longer be permitted to maintain their finances independently.

The government continued to push religious groups to expel or bar Cubans associated with human rights or pro-democracy groups from their congregations. Religious groups that refused to comply with these government demands saw their bank accounts frozen and entire dominations found their requests to receive foreign visitors on religious visas denied.

There were some improvements, notably in the elimination of the need for Cubans to receive an exit visa, or 'white card' from the Cuban government in order to travel abroad. However, while many church leaders were able to travel outside Cuba for the first time some continued to see their right to travel curtailed. At least two leaders in the Apostolic Movement were informed in 2013 that they would not be permitted to leave Cuba with no reason given.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We are deeply concerned by the continued deterioration in religious freedom over the past year in Cuba. Each Sunday the government continues to violate the most basic of rights: the right to freely participate in religious services and form part of a religious community without interference. We are particularly concerned at attempts by the government to exert control over the internal affairs of religious groups, and specifically at the new regulation that limits entire denominations and religious associations to one bank account. Given that the government runs the bank and regularly freezes the accounts of individual churches as a way to exert pressure or punish them, this is an extremely worrying development. The Cuban government's claims of reform and respect for human rights cannot be taken seriously unless these violations are addressed and real protections for religious freedom for all put in place. Once again we urge Raul Castro to make this a priority of the government in 2014.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Friday 10 Jan 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ …‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 
Luke 4. 17-21

Reflection 
As he began his public ministry, Christ promised those who came to hear him many things. Those promises were fulfilled. He makes promises to us also. These promises will be fulfilled as long as we have faith in him.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 9 Jan 2014

... immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. 
Mark 6. 50-51

Reflection 
The world is full of many trials and dangers; and all lives lead to the grave. But if we remember that Christ is always with us then we have no need to fear.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

SUDAN: THREE YEARS PASS WITH NO OFFICIAL REFERENDUM FOR ABYEI

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is echoing the plea of an Abyei Elder for the future of the region not to be forgotten, ahead of the third anniversary of the delayed referendum on self-determination.

According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the Sudanese civil war, a referendum on the future of the oil-rich region should have occurred in tandem with South Sudan's referendum on independence, which took place on 9 January 2011. However, it was postponed due to ongoing disagreements between Khartoum and South Sudan over voter eligibility. The nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe, which accesses certain pasture-lands in Abyei for part of each year, wishes to be accorded full voting rights in the referendum. However, according to the CPA's Abyei Protocol and an international ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), only the Ngok Dinka tribe and permanent residents may vote.

On 31 October 2013, the Ngok Dinka General Conference organised an unofficial vote in Abyei, termed the 'Peoples' Referendum', in which 98% of registered Ngok Dinka voters participated. The unofficial plebiscite resulted in 99.9% of participants voting for the area to join South Sudan.

The current crisis in South Sudan threatens to overshadow ongoing negotiations on Abyei and the full implementation of the CPA. Since 15 December 2013, the nation has been embroiled in a political power struggle with increasingly ethnic dimensions. An estimated 1,000 people have died, over 200,000 have been internally displaced and over 30,000 have fled the country. President al Bashir of Sudan and President Kiir were reported to have agreed to consider the creation of a joint force to protect vital oil fields, although this was subsequently denied in a statement issued by the Sudanese Foreign Ministry.

The possibility of a joint force has raised anxieties in Abyei. The area has yet to recover from Sudanese invasion of 2011, and a Sudanese Armed Forces presence in oil fields in the north of South Sudan would be in close proximity to Abyei. The people of Abyei are also vulnerable to attacks from Misseriya tribesmen; in May 2013 the Paramount Chief of Abyei was killed in an ambush, despite being in a UN convoy. An Abyei Elder speaking to CSW said, 'We are extremely worried that Abyei will be forgotten. The international community and the UN in particular must ensure that the agreements reached on Abyei continue despite the recent developments.' 

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We offer our condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the fighting in South Sudan and urge all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire for the sake of civilians, and to reach a political solution with the utmost urgency. The plight of the people of Abyei must not be neglected in the midst of this appalling and volatile conflict. The international community must remain vigilant against any attempts to take advantage of the current chaos to undermine international agreements on Abyei through the use of force, intimidation, or by altering the local demography.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

The Principle


It'll be very interesting to see if this film lives up to its hype. Most movies don't, of course. But this is a documentary ... isn't it?

update: I know there's a lot of lively debate about 'The Principle,' most focused on its claims to prove we live in a geocentric universe ... frankly, I'm finding that a little hard to swallow, but I think it is only fair to watch the actual movie first to see what evidence they produce before passing judgement ... I'm especially interested to see what definition of geocentrism they use ... 

update 2: a link to a chat show featuring some of the makers of the documentary ... they make some interesting points about the cosmology behind their claims ...

prayer diary Wednesday 8 Jan 2014

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 
Mark 6.34

Reflection 
We who call ourselves Christians are called to be as Christ-like as possible. How then can we look upon those sheep without a shepherd, those who do not know Christ or have strayed from his path, without the same compassion that he had? How can we fail to teach them what they must know to lead a life that leads to eternal life?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 7 Jan 2014

From that time Jesus began to proclaim 'repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.' 
Matthew 4. 17

Reflection 
The kingdom of heaven is ever near, both in the time of Christ and now. And because of that the need for repentance, of turning away from all that would separate us from God, is just as great as ever.

Monday, January 6, 2014

prayer diary Monday 6 Jan 2014 (The Epiphany of our Lord to the Gentiles)

On entering the house they saw the child with his mother Mary; and they knelt and paid him homage. 
Matthew 2. 11

Reflection 
The message of the Messiah is for all. But who are the gentiles of our age? Do they not live among us, unbelievers in Christ, whether they are those who have fallen away from the faith or have yet to hear his word? And we are the ones who must bring then to the Lord so that they too may kneel and pay him homage.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

the Word was made flesh

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today we hear those powerful words: and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Carl Barth, the pre-eminent protestant theologian of the 20th century calls it the defining statement of the Christian faith and it is not hard to see why. That God became man and lived among us is pretty much at the heart of what Christianity is all about.

Now, it may interest some of you to know that there are those who say that the idea that Jesus was God was a fairly late idea of the Christian faith and that it wasn't until John's Gospel was written, somewhere between 40 and 60 years after the death and resurrection of Christ that such claims begin to be made; and that the other Gospels make no claims in regard to the divinity of Jesus at all. Now, it is true that it is in St John's Gospel that Jesus' claims to divinity are most explicit; however it is far from true that claims to divinity are absent from the previous Gospels.

Consider for example the account of the healing of the paralytic. When the man is lowered through the roof, Jesus first response is to tell the man that his sins are forgiven. The bystanders are shocked, because only God has the authority to forgive sins. They believe Jesus is guilty of blasphemy, that he a mere man is claiming the power to be able to do something that only God can do. But Jesus, far from denying that this is what he is doing, confirms it. I have the authority to forgive sins, he says. And to to prove that he has it, he then heals the man.

In other places in those earlier Gospels Jesus does something equally shocking, which also make it clear that Jesus sees himself as having divine status. Again and again we see people falling at Jesus feet, worshipping him, after they have been cured. When this happens to his followers in the Acts of the Apostles they are quite distressed; they tell those doing it to stop, that they are only men like themselves, not God. But this isn't what Jesus does; he accepts their worship. And in fact, in the passage about the healing of the 10 lepers, not only does he not stop the one who returns from falling at his feet, he wonders aloud as to where the other nine are!

Now these might be said to be implicit rather than explicit indications of Jesus' divinity in these Gospels. However, there are places in Matthew and Luke where the claims of Jesus' divinity are abundantly clear – and these are passages that should be ringing in the ears of us all during this Christmas season. I am talking, of course, about the infancy narratives, the accounts of Jesus birth that we have read so often over the last few weeks.

St Matthew in his account says not once but twice that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit and of how St Joseph was told of this by an angel in a dream. St Luke tells us the story from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin Mary, relating in detail the visit she had from the Archangel Gabriel; and how a few days later, when she visits her cousin, St Elizabeth prophetically recognises that the child within Mary's womb is 'her Lord.'

Now this early in the history of the Church, the understanding of the Holy Trinity was not as developed as it would later be, but one thing they would have understood quite clearly; and that was that the Holy Spirit was God. This they would have known from their Jewish background, because the Old Testament is full of examples of how God works and moves through the action of his Spirit. And Mary has conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit, not, as both evangelists are at pains to point out, in the ordinary human way. Christ has no father but our Father in heaven. He is the Son of God. And this is what St Mark declares plainly, opening, and unambiguously in the opening verse of his Gospel, where he writes: 'The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God.' A fact that is confirmed at the baptism of our Lord and his Transfiguration, when the heavens open and God the Father proclaims he is his beloved Son.

And we have, as well, even earlier documents than the Gospels that were produced by the early Christian community. They would be well known to all here today, for they are also part of the New Testament. I am speaking of the letters of St Paul. There are too many places to go into here where St Paul makes it clear that he considers that Jesus has the status of the divine, so I'll limit myself to just one citation, that from Philippines, chapter 2, where he states that Jesus was in the very nature of God, yet he emptied himself, and taking the form of a servant, was born in human form.

And the words of St Paul make it clear that Christians from the beginning believed that Jesus was God come down to earth for the sake of man, that the Word was truly made flesh and lived among us. Why would they not have? They knew the truth of what they had seen, and what the apostles and disciples bore witness to. This is the truth that Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote down; and what the Church Christ founded has passed down to us to this day. Why? Because they knew, as Karl Barth did, how central this fact is to our faith; that not only did God make us in his own image and likeness, but he made himself in our likeness so that our sins might be forgiven, that our relationship with him might be restored, and we might have eternal life with him. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us so that we might in the end dwell with him in heaven. This goes beyond truth – it is our joy and our hope – a joy and hope that I pray will fill you and all men this day and always. Amen

Saturday, January 4, 2014

lessons from Colossians on the Christian life

I was reading part of the third chapter of Colossians this morning (verses 5-16). It struck me that in it St Paul gives us a pretty good outline of how a Christian should conduct themselves. 

First, there are the behaviours we are to avoid: 

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 
But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Quite a long list there of things St Paul declares as inappropriate for the Christian! Next come the ways we ought to behave:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

Note that he calls love the central characteristic of Christian behaviour, but that St Paul doesn't see loving behaviour as excluding teaching and admonishing. How could it? Real love is to want what is good for the other; & for the Christian that begins with wanting the other person to go to heaven. That requires letting them know what they ought to do and pointing them when they go wrong. That's probably the hardest lesson for us all in this letter.

It only took a couple of minutes to read those few verses; if only it were that easy to take them to heart and live them out. But that, I'm afraid, takes most of us a lifetime.

Examin Saturday 4 Jan Dec 2014

The life of faith begins in the home. It is parents who bring their children for baptism; and parents who are tasked with ensuring they are brought up in the faith. The care of the souls that God has entrusted to mother and father is an awesome responsibility; they must prepare the child not only for this life, but also for the next. It is a ministry that requires not merely words, but the example of your own holy living. Does the witness of your own life of faith lead your child closer to God?

Prayer diary Saturday 4 Jan Dec 2014

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them 'What are you looking for?' 
John 1. 37

Reflection 
What are you seeking as you follow Christ? Think what the disciples who followed him that day found: a hard road, the challenge to spread the Gospel to all the world, and a martyr's death. God calls you to such a life also – and in return offers life everlasting.

Friday, January 3, 2014

HARASSMENT OF LAWYERS, CHURCH MEMBERS IN HENAN IN CHRISTMAS WEEK

A Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press-release

Church members, lawyers and Christians visiting the family of detained Protestant Pastor Zhang Shaojie were beaten, harassed and detained by 'hired thugs,' police, and government agencies on 23 and 24 December 2013.

On 23 December, Pastor Cao Nan of Shenzhen, who had traveled to Nanle in Henan province to conduct a service to pray for and rally support for Pastor Zhang's case, was dragged from his car by local police, who beat him. He was then taken to a police station where he had pepper spray sprayed into his eyes, according to an interview with Radio Free Asia and reports by Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Then on 24 December, lawyers representing the Nanle church detainees, along with some Christians, were prevented from leaving Pastor Zhang Shaojie's home. When one of the lawyers tried to leave the next day, a group of 'hired thugs' surrounding the house forcibly took away his legal documents, mobile phone, identification papers and other items. Others were physically attacked when they tried to leave.

Pastor Zhang and over 20 members of Nanle County Christian Church, Henan, which belongs to the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement, were detained without formal documentation on 16 November 2013. Since Pastor Zhang's detention, lawyers representing the detainees have repeatedly been prevented from meeting their clients and foreign journalists covering the case have also been intimidated and harassed.

According to further reports from China Aid, Pastor Zhang's family and the church itself are under constant surveillance, and government agencies have blocked church members and visiting Christians from entering the church building. In addition, China Aid reported several cases of harassment and restrictions against unregistered churches in other provinces, including warnings from authorities (Guangdong), pressure to cancel Christmas events (Shandong), and disruption of meetings using tear gas (Sichuan).

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'The harassment, intimidation, and physical attacks against lawyers and church members in Nanle is a clear violation of their human rights and further undermines the rule of law. Rather than responding swiftly to the lawyers' requests to meet with their clients, local officials have used violence, threats and intimidation to attempt to silence them. We urge the relevant authorities to immediately cease all attacks on the Nanle church members' lawyers, relatives and visiting Christians, to grant lawyers access to their clients, and to allow the church to meet together freely.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Prayer diary Friday 3 Jan Dec 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

John said: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.' 
John 1. 29

Reflection 
Christ was made flesh, suffered, and died to save you from your sins. Knowing that, you must now play your part in bringing that Good News to all people, so that they also may behold the Lamb of God.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

a legal high


Colorado has just legalised the sale of marijuana for non-medical use ... in state-sponsored stores. I guess that make's the choice of John Denver's Rocky Mountain High as one of the state songs of Colorado pretty apt.

Prayer diary Thursday 2 Jan Dec 2014

‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord”
John 1. 23

Reflection 
The words of the prophet concerning John the Baptist apply also to all who follow Christ. We all dwell in the wilderness of this world; and we are all called to proclaim him so that all may find the true path to him.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

my year in letters: 2013

A Happy New Year to you all. Here is some of the word-count that I provided free of charge to a couple of publications in 2013.

In the Irish Times:
January 3
A Chara - Anne-Marie Hourihane fires a couple of guns down at a Texas firing range and then reports back on her first hand experience of US gun-culture (Opinion, December 31st 2012). What's her next project - an in-depth report on the American fast-food industry in which she gives us a bite by bite account of her consumption of a burger in Chicago? -Is mise,

January 16
A Chara - Noel Whelan argues that the X case justifies what he calls the suicide test for abortion (Opinion & Analysis, January 12th). However, perhaps it is time to revisit that judgement. Many commentators have argued that it was deeply flawed. It is hard to see how it could not be. It seems torturous legal logic indeed to claim that the equal right to life of both mother and child are respected in a situation where the life of one is forfeited in a questionable attempt to rectify the mental health issues of the other. - Is mise,

February 14
A Chara - In the short time since the Pope announced his resignation there has been a litany of calls that his successor should remake the Catholic Church in various ways. However, it should be pointed out that, contrary to what some may think, the pope does not govern according to his own personal whim. His charge is to guide the barque of St Peter in accordance with the doctrines of the Church as passed down through the centuries. This makes radical changes unlikely to say the least.

When the conclave has done its work there will be a new pope, not be a new Church. Is mise, 


5 March
A Chara - Joyce Arthur claims Canada's 'abortion rates are fairly low' and hope's that Canada's regime of unrestricted abortion at all stages of pregnancy 'can be a role model to Ireland and the rest of the world' (letters, March 4th).

There are approximately 30 abortions for every 100 live births per year in Canada. Ms Arthur may consider that a 'low' rate. I, on the other hand, consider that it speaks of a model to be avoided at all costs. - Is mise


April 25

A Chara - Denis Looby believes that Fintan O'Toole is a thoughtful man who has run out of patience (letters April 23rd). Thoughtful? Indeed: Mr O'Toole has thoughtfully adopted the tactic of labeling those he disagrees with as bigots. He is not the first to go with this strategy, which is intended to end the debate on the basis that no one need discuss anything with bigots.

As the debate isn't over, the strategy clearly isn't working. A more thoughtful tactic might be to drop the name-calling and patiently engage in actual dialogue. - Is mise

May 2

A Chara - Presuming that Dr Graham Fry means human life when he asks for a definition of life, and further that he is seeking to know when human life begins, I am happy to essay an answer (letters, May 1st). Human life begins at conception. That is an indisputable scientific fact, as we know beyond all doubt that it is at that moment a completely unique genetic identity comes into being. Perhaps Dr Fry also wonders when we should begin caring for a human life? To my mind the answer to that is in the question: if they are alive and human than we must care and do our utmost to ensure their survival.  - Is mise,

June 26

A chara, – With all that ails our system of education, what attracts the ire of a committee set up by the Oireachtas? Uniforms and workbooks (Home News, June 22nd). What’s next from our our esteemed TDs; a suggestion that our economic woes will be solved by the banks handing our free pens? – Is mise,

July 6

A chara, – The arrest warrant for Edward Snowden US authorities handed our Government, on the off-chance his plane stops at Shannon, presents it with quite a dilemma. If it ignores it, who knows what action the US might take? Why it might even refuse to allow their “first family” to drop by on vacation ever again. But if they serve it, then they must deal with Mr Snowden’s asylum request. Which, of course, by current standards should take at least five years to process. Any less, and it will be accused of giving him special treatment just because he’s a US citizen.

All in all, I rather hope he does land at Shannon. – Is mise,

July 31

A chara, – Ivana Bacik (July 30th) characterises Breda O’Brien’s article (Opinion, July 27th) as a “tirade” against “militant pro-choicers”. She then launches her own tirade, describing all who disagree with her as fundamentalist anti-choicers, lacking in compassion, opponents of sensible reform, and hypocrites.

Why the trading in “tirades”? Why, because phase one of the abortion debate is over and the time has come for phase two: the campaign to relax the “restrictions” that our new regime places on “choice” even before the ink is dry on the new law. – Is mise,

August 16

A chara, – May I commend Dan O’Brien for his most excellent strategy of reminding us all of how good we are to our old people – no shanty town starvation for them in this country, thank you very much – before he begins softening us up for swingeing cuts to their pensions (Home News, August 16th).

However, despite his cleverness, I can’t help noticing that in all his talk about “social transfers” being passed from the hard-pressed young people to the elderly he leaves out an important point.

Those who are now elderly worked hard and paid their taxes towards the State pension all their lives. Cutting their pensions now would be to penalise them for the way in which successive governments have squandered the money instead of keeping it safe for its intended purposes.

If pension cuts are required, I’d be far happier to see them fall on the politicians and bankers who got us into this mess (and perhaps even some of the journalists who cheered them on) rather than the unfortunate elderly who were innocent bystanders to the debacle. – Is mise,

August 24

A chara, – Dan O’Brien’s suggestion that our blighted economy is a good reason to legalise and tax prostitution (Business Opinion, August 23rd) gives a whole new meaning to the notion “ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country”. I hope the women of Ireland are ready for his brave, new Ireland. Oh wait: that’s a little bit sexist of me – equality legislation would no doubt ensure that everyone had the opportunity to play their part.

I suppose there’d be a Bord Fáilte campaign to highlight Ireland’s new status as a sex-tourist destination? The logo could be a shamrock with a red light in the centre. Or maybe just a red shamrock? And there would probably need to be some kind of a national campaign to persuade the “prudes” that it is OK for the rest of us to live off what used to be called “immoral earnings”.

I’m still not clear though why Dan O’Brien thinks it would reduce trafficking. I’d have thought it would have the opposite effect as pimps struggled to meet demand. And wouldn’t a whole lot of licensed “knocking shops” be the ideal thing to help traffickers hide what they were up to? It would surely be tough for the punter to know the difference between a legal and a “black market” brothel. Still, it would be in a good cause. After all, what’s more important than the economy? – Is mise,

September 17

A chara, – Is not the “silencing” of Fr Flannery getting a tad surreal? His constant media presence surely makes this the most vocal silence in recorded history. Not to mention his supporters, who loudly and publicly proclaim that they have been “cowed into servility” and silence by the “oppressive” structures of the church (September 16th).

On this evidence, either those in the structures were absent the day they were giving the “how best to oppress” class in the seminary, or those doing all the shouting have an exaggerated notion of their own oppression. – Is mise,

October 5

A chara, – I am amazed Anthea McTeirnan (Opinion, October 4th) seems not to have heard the news that women now have the vote in this country. She must not have; why else would she think the only reason that abortion isn’t as normal as a tooth extraction here is the dastardly oppression of history’s “great men”?

I imagine it may also come as a shock to her to learn that modern women actually think for themselves and refuse to be bullied by either the great men of the past or the radical ideologues of the present. The reason we don’t have her dental clinic termination model in place is the simple fact that killing one’s child in the womb is not normal. Most people, men and women, know that. But clearly that notion will also be news to her. – Is mise,

October 15

A chara, – I wonder did Una Mullally consider when she was writing her article decrying the “idiocy” of the “lowest common denominator” obsession with the Love/Hate cat that she was still writing an article obsessing about the Love/Hate cat (Opinion, October 14th)? But presumably that’s okay, as long as it’s done in a consciousness-raising cause. – Is mise,

October 22

A chara, – We are living in strange days indeed. Eamonn McCann compares the Roman Catholic Church to the republican movement (Opinion, October 17th). Is there an outcry? Only from Gerry Adams who thinks the comparison unjust to his friends (Letters, October 19th). – Is mise,

November 8

A chara, – Dr Rachel Cave expresses bemusement at the Roman Catholic Church’s position on marriage (October 7th). How odd.

One might have expected her to notice that the Catholic Church does not tend to change its teaching on important issues. For example, the stance taken on recent debates in this country on issues such as divorce or abortion would have, I should have thought, given a fairly good indication of this. So the position taken on this matter shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

What is bemusing is that Dr Cave would expect the Catholic Church to hold any other. – Is mise,

28 November

A chara, – Denis O’Donoghue (November 26th) makes an important point: if ESB workers take industrial action it is likely that many who have nothing to do with this dispute will be left without heat. What happens to the old, the sick, the vulnerable, and families with young children if the power goes out? Many modern homes do not even have a fireplace as an alternative. A cold winter would make for a brutal and potentially lethal season.

While I understand the workers have legitimate concerns, I do not think it acceptable that innocent third parties should not only endure real suffering but be put at risk. Perhaps the time has come for our Government to recognise the service this industry provides is too important to people’s health and well-being to be treated as a bargaining chip and, if need be, change the law to prohibit it being used as one. – Is mise,
5 December
A chara, – Stephen Collins says we have it wrong when it comes to who gets most from the welfare budget (Front page, November 30th). The people think its the unemployed, but his figures show that it is pensioners. The problem here, I imagine, is that most don’t think of pensions as welfare, but as something that we have earned. Perhaps what’s really wrong here is treating pensions as welfare in the first place. – Is mise,

12 December

A chara, – Gearoidín O’Dwyer is disappointed by Senator Quinn’s attempt “to criminalise workers who wish to defend their pay and conditions” (December 10th).

While workers may have a right to defend themselves, society also has a right to defend itself against those who threaten to cut off its heat, light and electricity in the dead of winter; and I would be disappointed if our elected representatives did not act to do so. – Is mise,


In the Church of Ireland Gazette:

on the Interchangeability of Ministers 1Canon Michael Kennedy (Letter, 9th August) quotes the 16th century Richard Hooker: “Another extraordinary vocation is, when exigence of necessity doth constrain to leave the usual ways of the Church which otherwise we would willingly keep, where the Church must needs have some ordained and hath not, nor can have a bishop to ordain ... These cases of of inevitable necessity excepted, none may ordain but only bishops...”.

I am sure that Canon Kennedy is sincere in his views, but I do not see how this quotation serves to advance his argument in favour of the proposed Church of Ireland-Methodist interchangeability of ministries scheme.

No “inevitable necessity”, either of the kind envisaged by Hooker or any other, has arisen that would justify us leaving the “usual ways of the Church” regarding episcopal ordination.


on the Interchangeability of Ministers 2Canon Kennedy is incorrect when he states that I 'totally missed the point' of his argument (Letter, 6th September). I get his point only too clearly: Hooker admitted of a single exception in very particular circumstances and therefore in principle other exceptions are admissible.

Hooker, however, was very careful to lay out the conditions under which his one exception should be allowed - and he made them so stringent that it is all but impossible for them to be met. Effectively, he not only made his own exception impracticable but he also excluded all others.

Hooker is not an ally to this cause. Quite the opposite - he was a staunch defender of the necessity of episcopal ordination. He wrote, I believe, with the intent of securing the Anglican Church against future irregular ordinations, not
in order to validate future ones.

Ministerial interchangeability between the Church of Ireland and our Methodists brothers and sisters is something that can be achieved without forgoing the ancient practices of the Church of episcopal ordination. But if we decide to abandon it in pursuit of this project, I am afraid we must do so without Hooker's blessing.


suicide among gay peopleRevd Andrew Rawlings rightly highlights the important issue of the high-rate of suicide among our gay brethren. However, I believe it is generally accepted that any individual act of self-harm is as the result of a complex interplay of a variety of factors. I would therefore think there are dangers in attempting to attach particular importance to one out of many. The Church must, as he suggests, offer a life-giving response (as it must to all people in crisis); but it would, I think, be just as irresponsible as ignoring it if we were to somehow make it all about 'us' and treat it as a problem that begins and ends at the the church door.

Might it not be useful, for example, for the Church to sponsor, or at least advocate for, research on this issue? I myself would like to know why the rate of suicide is so high among gay men at this point in history, not just in Ireland but around the world. It seems counter-intuitive that this should be so, at a time when tolerance, on the surface at least, has never been higher. Possibly rates have always been high, and the reticence to declare deaths as suicide have served to obscure this. We need to know. Just as we need to know why it is that a homosexual man is seven times more likely than his heterosexual counterpart to die by his own hand. It would be of particular relevance for the Church, I suggest, to discover if there was a divergence in the incidence of self-harm between those who are people of faith and those who who are not.

Such research would likely be a sound basis for helping us to help others who find themselves without hope over this issue. It would surely be a good starting point to enable us to provide the life-giving response that Revd Rawlings has led the way in calling for.