Andy Irvine: ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me’

Come one, come all, for your daily fix of traditional folk music. Here is the great Andy Irvine (formerly of the famous Irish folk band ‘Planxty‘) playing the traditional song ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me’. By the way, a variant of this tune (in a major rather than a minor key) has found its way into Christian hymnody as the melody to Bunyan’s hymn ‘He Who Would Valiant Be’.

What Happens To Us After We Die?

Today in our parish we’re beginning what we hope will turn out to be an annual custom: an opportunity for us to remember with prayer and thanksgiving those of our friends and family who have died in the past year or two. In our congregation we have experienced several deaths this year, and some of us have also lost friends and relatives outside this little Christian community of ours. In fact, there can be very few of us who have not been touched, at one time or another, by the reality of death. And young or old, there can be very few of us who have not wondered what that reality means.

So what’s going to happen to me after I die? This is one of the questions human beings have pondered throughout history. We go through life, we work hard to achieve something, we find someone to love and if we’re fortunate we build a family and experience good and positive and lasting relationships. But what does it all mean if it all ends in death? What’s the point of learning, if my brain’s just going to go demented and then die out? What’s the point of love, if sooner or later you’re going to lose the one you love? Is it really possible that all these years of laughing and working, eating and sleeping, learning and loving are going to end up in nothing more than the decay of my body in the grave?

Human beings have always pondered that question, and throughout our history we’ve continuously speculated about what happens to us after we die. Some, believing that the person continues to live in some sense after death, have left tools and articles of clothing in the grave to help the dead person in the next life. Some people have tried to contact the dead, and others believe that the dead have contacted them. Some people have been afraid of what comes after death and have paid money for masses to be said for the safety of their souls. Some have believed that when we die we go to a better place. Others have been skeptical: we just die, and that’s the end of that.

The Christian faith is firmly on record as teaching that there is life after death. In the Nicene Creed, which goes back in its earliest form to the fourth century A.D., we say, ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’. What does this mean? What do we actually believe about life after death?

Read the rest here.

Rob Heath and Tim Chesterton live

It’s a real honour for me to be sharing a gig on Friday night with my good friend Rob Heath. Rob, in my opinion, is one of the finest songwriters in Canada and is a vital member of the music community here in Edmonton; he has just been nominated for a Canadian Folk Music award for 2009. He has released four albums and you can hear all the tracks from the last two in streaming audio on his website here.

We’re playing Friday night at the Bogani Café, 2023-111 Street, Edmonton (right beside the Sobey’s on the corner of 111 Street and 23rd Avenue). The show runs from 7.30 – 9.30 p.m. The Bogani Café is a fine independent coffee shop serving Fratello Coffee. There’s no cover charge, but there will be a donation box.
Hope to see you there!

Death Penalty for Homosexual Acts?

In Britain in the eighteenth century there were literally hundreds of crimes that were punishable by death. The so-called ‘Bloody Code’ included over two hundred felonies for which people could be executed, including treason, arson, murder, rape, burglary, robbery, animal theft, the concealment of effects by bankrupts, and the malicious maiming of cattle.

As time went by, however, there was a gradual change of opinion about what constituted appropriate punishment for these various crimes. By the middle of the twentieth century, in most civilised countries, the only crimes that remained punishable by execution were murder and treason. And by the end of the twentieth century most civilised countries had abandoned capital punishment altogether.

However, it seems that Uganda is going in the opposite direction. Uganda is in the process of deciding to expand the list of crimes punishable by death. What is the heinous crime they are targetting, you ask? Is it drug trafficking, gang rape, or treason against the state?

No, it is ‘aggravated homosexuality’. What is ‘aggravated homosexuality?’ Apparently it is engaging in homosexual sex when you are HIV positive, or when your partner has a disability, or is under the age of 17.

Now, granted, having sex with anyone (not just someone of the same sex) when you are HIV positive is probably not a good thing (especially when you don’t tell your partner). But the death penalty? Isn’t that rather extreme?

Uganda has some pretty draconian laws against homosexuals already, but this proposed ‘Anti-Homosexuality Law’ would strengthen them even more. Committing homosexual acts is already punishable with life imprisonment in Uganda. This proposed bill expands the definition of ‘homosexual acts’ to include ‘merely touching another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality’. Anybody who ‘aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality’ or anybody who keeps a house or room for the purpose of homosexuality would be liable to seven years in prison.

The bill also proposes harsh sentences for people ‘promoting homosexuality’; they face a stiff fine and a prison sentence of five to seven years. ‘Where the offender is a business or NGO, its certificate of registration will be cancelled and the director will be liable to seven years in prison’. Failure to disclose the offence, if you find out about it, within twenty four hours , would make you liable to a stiff fine or up to three years in prison.

Haute Haiku, writing on Global Voices Online, shares that, “The bill further prohibits adoption by gay couples; any person who aids, promotes, counsels any acts of homosexuality in any way will face up to seven years imprisonment, or risk a fine…” These sorts of sympathizers include friends (who are required to “report” when a gay person comes out to them within 24 hours), NGOs that offer services to gay Ugandans along the lines of HIV prevention, producers and/or distributors of materials geared towards gay Ugandans and – yes – bloggers.

As most of my readers will know, I write as a person who has a fairly traditional view of sex, marriage, and homosexuality. However, I’m also glad to number gay and lesbian people among my friends and immediate family members, and I feel compelled to speak up against this proposed law (which, by the way, apparently is almost certain to be passed). Whatever view you take of the morality of homosexual acts, is it any business of the government? And are not these penalties blowing things out of all proportion? We’re not talking about drug lords, arsonists, gang rapists and murderers here! We’re talking about people whose crime is simply that they understand themselves to be wired to love people of the same sex.

Why are gay people seen as such a threat in Uganda? The bill states that its purpose is to protect the traditional family. How are gay people a threat to the traditional family? My daughter recently married her same-sex partner. I can assure you that my wife and I do not feel our marriage to be in any way under threat because of hers! Furthermore, I would suggest that if we want to find out what is threatening the traditional family we ought to look a little closer to home: having sex before you are married, living common law before marriage, or being the child of divorced parents are all factors that statistically increase your chances of going through a divorce yourself. Heterosexual people need to take a long hard look in the mirror before they blame gay people for the demise of the traditional family. We were doing that to ourselves long before anyone dared raise the question of gay marriage in public!

Where is the Christian Church on this issue? Where is the Anglican Church in Uganda? It has a long history of cheering for the legalised repression of gay people in Uganda. And yet their bishops vote for Lambeth Resolution 1.10 in 1998, which, while accepting the traditional view that homosexual acts are sinful, also

  1. recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
  2. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
African bishops have loudly condemned American, Canadian and British Anglicans for violating Lambeth 1.10. Surely it’s time for the Anglican Communion as a whole to stand up and call our Ugandan brothers and sisters to account. Why are they supporting these draconian anti-gay laws in Uganda? Why aren’t they ‘condemning irrational fear of homosexuals’?

All this week the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican blogosphere, has been consumed by the news that Pope Benedict is going to make it easier for a small group of conservative Anglicans to become Roman Catholics. Surely this is a prime example of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! It’s time for us all to speak out against this legalised persecution of gay and lesbian people in Uganda, and to do so in the name of Jesus. I’m glad to add my voice to this cause, and to urge others (especially those who, like myself, take a traditional view on this issue) to do so as well.

Why I’m Not Blogging About Pope Benedict’s raid on Anglicanism

Many people around the Anglican blogosphere have been talking about the announcement that Pope Benedict is making special provisions for disaffected Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church without giving up their entire Anglican liturgical heritage. I’ve decided not to comment, and the always interesting David Keen expresses my reasoning very well:

I may blog at some stage about this weeks Vatican manoeverings. But actually there are far more important things going on in the church, and in the world. In the grand scheme of things, how much does it really matter if a few dozen priests and a few hundred worshippers decide to become semi-detached Roman Catholics? Stick a couple of zeroes on the end if you want, it’s still nowhere near the billions in poverty, the 800 million without clean water, the number of chronically depressed people in the UK right now, or pretty much any other indicator of human need and suffering you choose.

We love the intrigue, I’m not sure God does.

The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit

‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’.

So says Paul in 2 Corinthians 13, and so have Christians said for two thousand years since, as we have made his words into a blessing we invoke on ourselves and others.

But I’ve often thought that we drain the lifeblood out of the third part of the phrase – ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ – by over-spiritualising it. Fellowship in the early church didn’t just mean warm feelings at the coffee hour – it meant that those who had plenty shared with those who had little, so that everyone had enough. It meant that those who were safe went to the aid of those who were in danger. It was a real, practical, bodily-incarnated thing.

Another word for fellowship is ‘communion’ (that’s the way the NRSV translates the verse from 2 Corinthians 13). We refer to our Anglican family of churches around the world as a ‘communion’, and Bishop Charles Jenkins of the Diocese of Louisiana has just borne eloquent witness to the power of that fellowship in the face of Hurricane Katrina. The following quotation from his diocesan newspaper comes to us courtesy of Grandmère Mimi at Wounded Bird:

I shall never forget the day the tea arrived. Cases and cases of tea, shipped to us by the Bishop of Ceylon. More tea than I have ever seen at one time donated to us in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I remember my amazement when at “Community Congress 1” the realization came upon me that many of the volunteers working there were from London and came as part of the efforts to help of the Church of England.

How strengthened I was when Bishop Josiah Fearon of the Diocese of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria phoned to say that the entire Diocese was praying for us and he and a group were trying to find a way to come to us. Eventually, Bishop Fearon came and he came to see about me.
The amount of the check may have been small, but how grateful we were for the ordinand in the Church of England who asked that the loose offering at his ordination be sent to us. That check with tens of thousands of others has made a difference.
“Like a deer caught in the headlights” was how someone described me after the levees failed. Then a call came (I wonder how he got through) from Rob Radtke at Episcopal Relief and Development asking what we needed. How the heck did I know? I told Rob we needed him. Though brand spanking new to the job, he managed to get on a plane and come. He brought with him Courtney Cowart and Peter Gudaitis.
It was humbling to be asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Lambeth Conference of 2008 to search out the Bishops from Burma so affected by tsunami and pray with them. Of course, they had been praying for us.
When evil stands before me, I stand not alone, but this fractious, schismatic, heretical, wonderful, faithful, sacrificing, Christ-like Communion stands beside me, before me, behind me, and above me. As lonely as the past four years have been, even in dark nights of depression and doubt, I have not been alone. The last phone message I had before the system went down was from the Rev’d Susan Russell.
The tabernacle would not open in St. Luke’s Church, New Orleans, when Frank and Phoebe Griswold and I moved aside trees to get into the church. We had Holy Communion there in the muck, mold, and mud thanks to Senior Warden Elvia James who managed to get the door open to the tabernacle. That Holy Communion pointed me towards our Communion.
Communion is not only about right believing and right acting. When our lives were in the ditch by the Jericho Road, when we had been robbed of life’s dignity and much of the material of life, our Samaritan was the Anglican Communion. Rich and poor, orthodox or whatever, conservative and liberal, they came to us. They gave us of what they had and all prayed for us.
This Communion that I have experienced is the Church forced by circumstance to be what I think God has created His Church to be. I warn those who would break down and destroy this tender vessel that they are on the side of the enemy. Whether the iconoclasts be from the left, the right, or from the don’t care side of things, let the warning be heard, Communion matters. Communion is not simply a matter of affiliation, or of like-minds; for some of us Communion is life or death. Communion is more than a man-made Covenant between us. We are called by God the Father into a greater Covenant that we dare not break. We are called to be here, together, one, broken, messy and yet strong, faithful, and rejoicing in the Lord.
The issues are many, the disagreements and disappointments many, and the opportunity to each do our own thing (which we suppose to be of God who blesses all our doings) is enticing. Such is not real religion.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Charles E. Jenkins

From Churchwork, Fall 2009, the official publication of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.

To all of which I can only say – yes, this is what it means to be part of a worldwide family of Christians. Thank God for one another, and for the love of Christ that motivates us.