Football, Faith and Scotland…

Who was it that said something like ‘Football is not life and death- it is more important than that’?

World cup mania is upon us. All over the world ordinary people are seized by a kind of quasi-religious madness. National flags are being festooned on cars and out of a million bedroom windows.

Apart from Scotland it seems. Here the national tone is driven by the fact that our national team did not qualify for the competition- through perennial inconsistency and an ability to snatch defeat from the brink of victory.

But the other overwhelming feature that dominates Scottish football is sectarianism. It is only possible to worship our team if we hate our main rival. And hate has a full spectrum- from a kind of fixed sneering prejudice right through to outright nasty violence and murder.

At club level, this has become mingled in with religion in an overt way- the Rangers/Celtic Protestant/Catholic stuff, which is a shameful stain on both football and faith.

At national level, this same process can be seen in the vitriol reserved for that old enemy- England. It is an instinctive, self perpetuating and self sustaining reaction- constantly re-enforced by repetition and peer pressure and sanctioned by school teachers, politicians and ministers of religion.

Of course, this is not just a Scottish phenomenon. After all, most great religious movements require the dual polarity of good and evil to drive passion and zeal. However, there is something particular Scottish about its application. It has becomes mixed with a thousand years conflict, of wounds both felt and dealt and of a kind of selective history that nurtures old enmity and perpetuates the possibility of more blood being spilt in the future. Is it possible that football has allowed us to ritualise these divisions in our national make up? Has it become a vehicle for the passing down of prejudice to the next generations?

Does this matter? Well I think it does. I believe that we Christians are called to bring blessing and healing to our communities- to be the embodiment, the  demonstration and the very channels of peace.

Because we believe in the power of forgiveness.

And the call to love our enemies.

To be in this world, but not of it- which means that we are prepared to go against the cultural flow.

And the challenge to confront our own motives and motivations honestly before the God who knows all.

So here is a provocative challenge to those of us in Scotland who ascribe to this way of being. (I hope it does not get me into too much trouble!)

I want to invite you to participate in the spiritual discipline/practice of…

Supporting the English football team during the next world cup.

(If you are English- substitute ‘German’ for the word ‘England’.)

And if you think I am just being provocative and English- know this. I am simply not that much into football. My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a democracy, or clan. It is to a King and Kingdom.

Where are all the ‘Emerging’ Catholics?

We just had a lovely weekend catching up with our friend Maggy Cooper.

Maggy is originally from Australia, coming over to the UK to become a Nun, before moving into secular work with adults with learning disabilities. She currently works as a community leader of a L’Arche community.

Although she remains Catholic, Maggy began to attend the church we attended in England, Calvary Christian Fellowship in order to learn and share with others from a different Christian tradition. She has been a bridge into a new world for many of us over the last 10 years or so…

So through Maggy I heard about people like Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen. And she opened up for me a whole new stream of contemplative understanding of the life of faith. Maggy has years of experience as a prayer guide, and in leading retreats- now most commonly at St Beuno’s in North Wales.

Talking to Maggy is always a blessing.

But perhaps the common language that she and I have most in common is that found in and around the ’emerging church conversation’. She reads more books than I do on the subject (some of my friends will find this difficult to beleive!) and  the excitment offered for the future by the ideas and thoughts coming out of the EC debate seems to fit naturally with her Catholic faith.

Indeed, it has been very noticable how much of the ’emerging’ movement has embraced older contemplative practices- in many ways this could be describing a healing of rifts formed by the Reformation- a bringing together of different Christian traditions.

Which kind of makes me ask again- where are all the other Emerging Catholics? I have met a few. Some of them are returnees to the church that they had previously rejected- like Vince down in Ayr. For him, the EC has made it possible to speak about things that previously had no words, or at very least were unmentionable.

This is particularly important here in Scotland, where sectarian division runs deep and toxic.

In this pluralistic world, movements still require leadership– and given the rather conservative stance the Pope takes on most matters Spiritual perhaps this is difficult thing to do within the Catholic Church.

One voice that will be increasingly familiar will be that of Fransiscan Preist Richard Rohr, and his Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico USA. He even gets a mention in ChristianityToday.

Here are a couple of clips of him speaking…

I am not interested in seeing us all the converge on a common form of faith. How boring and lifeless that would be! I am fascinated to see these common streams emerging in the different traditions however.

And at the heart of this has to be a kind of generosity to one another’s view points.

I would love to hear about Catholic movements that I have missed…

Holy Mary, mother of God

This is a duplication of a post from the Aoradh website, and also on the Emerging Scotland Face book group. There was much (heated) discussion on the latter, and you can check it out here http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=11526988099&topic=4447

I post it again with some trepidation, because entirely predictably, it has got me into trouble. Scotland still feels our sectarian separateness deeply. I have come to believe however, that despite genuine doctrinal disagreements, sectarianism has become a kind of sickness for us.

Not just the obvious football tribalism, but also within our churches.

I am from a Protestant background. Many things were given to me as absolute truth. Some of these I cherish, but many others I question and wrestle with.

One of the issues that was self evident to those from my church background was the fact that the Catholic Church was built on, at very best, very shaky foundations. There were debates as to whether it was really possible to be a Catholic AND a Christian. I lived in England, and these ‘truth-wars’ have mostly died down, but here in Scotland, there are many places (even outside football, and inside the church) where we still fight over the same battle lines.

Some of the sectarian positions Christians take up on this issue I can not begin to understand. Politics and social history are mixed in, along with the legacy of hurt and pain from previous generations. This has stained religion on both sides of the sectarian divide. Theological rationalisation for this hatred is very hard to bear though- all the stuff about the Pope being the anti-Christ, and the demonic influence on the formation of various monastic orders. I have heard these things rehearsed by otherwise rational and caring people in my town.

Back to my own prejudice however. When I was younger, these were the facts I knew about Catholics;

  • They prayed to saints, not God.
  • In particular, they prayed to Mary, and appeared to worship her.
  • They did all sorts of things according to Papal edict, not through their own direct study of the Bible.
  • Priests controlled access to God, through confession, absolution and the mass.
  • They had lost the vibrant influence of the Holy Spirit that was so important to my tradition.
  • They lived in a dead religious world of incense, Latin and gold leaf.
  • Rome wields political clout for its own interests.

All these facts I knew because someone told me them. I did not know any practicing Catholics- although I knew a few ex-Catholics (who were a bit like evangelical ex-smokers!) Likewise, it was possible to find evidence to support a negative view of the Catholic Church. Like most large organisations, it contains much that is rightly questionable.

But as I have become older, I have had to re-evaluate this narrow and blinkered view of Catholicism again and again. It is just impossible to avoid the evidence of God at work within and through the Catholic Church. I read and wept over the stories of the courage of the priests who lived out liberation theology under persecution in South America. I met Charismatic Catholics. I saw the immense depth and power of the contemplative traditions from various Catholic Orders, and the beauty in ancient liturgy impacted me perhaps for the first time. I have seen at close hand a Priest who operates in grace and love.

I also became less and less secure in the absolute rightness of my own traditions. I see the Reformation and subsequent Protestant project, in all its messy fervency, as richly blessed by God. But I am also aware of its dark side- the divisive self defeating squabbles, the constant battles of ‘truth’, the condemnation and judgementalism that has allowed our faith to co-exist with rampant capitalism, slavery and imperialism.

I am not Catholic, but now I have great Christian friends that are. I am proud to share my journey with people who have such a rich and complimentary understanding of who Jesus is, and how the Kingdom of God can be made real. I found I had much more I common with these friends than many from my own tradition. They confounded my prejudice, and joined me in my prayers to the Living God. Saints are barely ever mentioned, apart from as examples.

And then we come to Mary.

There is a wide variety of veneration of Mary across the Catholic Church. Many do pray to her directly. It is for those people to decide how that brings meaning to their worship, and not me. To those of us from a different tradition, perhaps we can even learn something from this.

Mary.

The bearer of the Saviour of history.

Virgin who risked all to carry Jesus to us.

This young girl was greeted by an Angel, who told her she was highly favoured

Despite her fear, she said ‘I am the Lord’s servant. Do with me as you like’.

In a burst of prophetic song, she sang this

From now on all generations shall call me blessed, for the mighty one has done great things in me!

Witness to Angels and Stars and Shepherds and wise men.

Protector and refugee in Egypt.

Real woman, wife to Joe, and other kids too.

Proud proud mother of the miracle maker.

Listener of sermons.

Worrier.

Lover.

Observer of arrest and trial.

Follower of the Cross on the way to Golgotha.

Broken hearted as the nails drove home.

Hearer of these words from a dying son

Dearest woman- here is your son (and to the man who Jesus said was the rock on which he would build his Church) Here is your mother.

Taker of the broken body.

Airbrushed out of the faith story by the Protestant reformists as reaction-formation?