Wednesday 30 May 2007

Faith based schools: Past their sell-by-date?

Listening to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin last night offering to give temporary patronage to a school catering for non Roman Catholic immigrants got me thinking…..Certainly he is to be highly commended for stepping in to help these families whose children cannot find a place in our primary schools because of the lack of an appropriate baptismal certificate but another thought also occurs: Why is this not such a bad idea on a more permanent basis? Why should Catholic schools only provide for Catholic kids? And similarly why should Church of Ireland schools only cater for Church of Ireland kids? What are the churches hoping to achieve through their involvement with education? Is it really about spiritual formation and indoctrination? Or is it the elusive concept of ethos, and if so what is this whole ethos thing about and is it significantly different to the ethos in society at large?

As one who has attended schools of both denomination and in my work have an ongoing role in schools of both denominations I would have to say: NO - not now, whatever about the past when differences may have been more acute! Schools of both traditions reflect European Christian (and now post-Christian) civilization, mirroring society at large. They may differ in areas of doctrine taught in RE class but otherwise the so called unique ethos of our schools is a shared one, both across the traditions and with the rest of Irish society.

Ahh yes, but what about preparation for First Communion and Confirmation? A good question indeed, where in many cases preparation for these rituals is overseen by teachers whose own involvement in the Church is otherwise a zero sum! Surely this fools paradise is neither helpful to the children or the teachers who are forced to play the game by going through the motions. Much better by far to let the parents and the local church of whatever denomination do this preparation outside the school context. At least then it could be reasonably assumed that those preparing the children might have a genuine level of personal commitment. Children can spot a fake a mile off! Politicians would have a much rougher ride if we gave the vote to primary school children!

But there is another fatal flaw in this whole faith school based approach to faith formation. It is rooted in the model of Church as a club with rules of membership and association. That model is no longer valid! Children today don’t operate on the basis of club loyalties and boundaries. Like the rest of society they network freely with one another regardless of ethos or creed in new communities of shared interest and association; communities which pay no heed to and have no understanding of the exclusive model of community that our churches still find it so hard to let go of.

If the churches, and any faith community for that matter, are to have a future in education it is surely better focussed in providing a high standard of education to all our children which simultaneously promotes a mutual respect for the ever growing variety of religious tradition, ethnicity and spiritual expression on this island. Perhaps this is a role better suited to Educate Together and other like minded organisations but what a shame it is that the churches only seem to see their role in education in terms of reinforcing the troops and maintaining the battlefronts.

It is amazing that all our Christian traditions, which claim to follow in Jesus one who spent his whole life breaking down boundaries and setting people free from institutional bondage are now enslaving people to hypocracy and deceit. On the one hand we are forcing people into the hypocracy of going through rituals they do not believe in so that they can get places in their local school and our teachers likewise into sharing a faith that is not always their own so that they can keep their jobs in faith based schools. In using faith as a bargaining chip for the provision of education we are turning faith into a currency and by implication our relationship to God into an economic transaction. For the Christian, Grace is something that is freely given by God, no strings attached. By its very nature it cannot be repaid. If God gives us this gift without conditions how can we as Church attach confessional conditions to the provision of education? I think the time has come to ask ourselves just what it is we think we are doing in faith based education. Faith of whatever type should be about building bridges not walls! As followers of Jesus if we don't get that then we have completly missed the point!

Saturday 26 May 2007

Cooking with Jesus

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Holy images have been popping up all over... A grilled cheese sandwich with the image of the Virgin Mary sold for over 17-hundred dollars on Ebay.
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- JesusPan is perfect for holiday meals
- Jesus Pan has been featured on Tonight Show with Jay Leno!
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Thursday 24 May 2007

An Anglican solution to an Anglican problem…Not!

Gay bishop is left off Canterbury guest list
So it seems in the interests of unity and the preservation of the increasingly fragile Anglican Communion we have decided to exclude those whose mere existence threatens the status quo. Therefore +Gene Robinson is not welcome to join his brother and sister bishops when they gather at Lambeth 2008 to discuss among other issues ‘human sexuality’! Ah yes it makes perfect sense….if heaven forbid certain Anglican bishops were actually to listen to +Gene Robinson they might begin to understand that gay people and more specifically gay bishops are not a threat to the faith and integrity of fellow disciples of Christ. Perhaps part of the problem is that our focus is not on Christ but on our own institutions and we see any difference as a weakness rather than part of the rich diversity which is basic to humanity and which a God who is much bigger than our differences is well able to cope with! The unity which we achieve through exclusion is a inherently flawed and dishonest. What is even more disturbing is the fact that bishops who support Mugabe’s murderous regime in Zimbabwe remain in favour while one who happens to be part of the 10% of humanity who are created by God as gay and has the courage to be true to himself is deemed unwelcome! I despair for the Anglican Communion and I long for the day when the Archbishop of Canterbury has the courage to share his own personal conviction on this issue with the Anglican Communion. Leadership is about consensus but it is also about integrity and there is a distinct shortage of that at the moment.

Saturday 19 May 2007

Wiring up the Church - Who do you call?

I recently discovered a really good and balanced resource for 'doing Church' in this online World. It's a site called and it hosts a plethora of really helpful podcasts as well as a blog and a Myspace site. Something here for everyone and the crew that run it have the one essential trait for living in this postmodern world - a wicked sense of humour! There are some free podcasts which are well worth checking out even if you don't want to make the investment of becoming a paid subscriber - but if you do - It's worth it! Some of the subjects covered include 'potty training for the Church', 'A heretic's guide to eternity' and even 'Evangelicals and Transvestites' - you get the idea - an irreligious look at faith which just might help some people rediscover what lies beneath centuries of accumulated baggage.

How others see us

This post entitled: 'There is litter everywhere' from Krystian Kozerawski, one of the 'new Irish' who has a blog called: 'Ireland from a Polish perspective'. Interesting and sometimes uncomfortable to read, this blog raises some challenging issues about our hospitality to strangers.

Thursday 17 May 2007

‘Without a Vision, the people perish!’ - Election musings from a disillusioned voter

‘Elections should provide lots of good material for bloggers such as myself who love to highlight the strange, bizarre and unbelievable aspects of life. Sadly I find myself totally uninspired by the lead up to this General Election and find little of substance to comment on. Perhaps that is because to date it has been a campaign marked by the usual, ordinary and banal!

From all parties we have heard a variation on the theme of doing down the opposition and promising the electorate a cocktail of rewards! Some of the behaviour has been so pathetic that to call it childish would be complimentary! It also seems utterly soulless! There has been so much spin in recent years that our politicians are dizzy to the point that they do not know who they are or what they really stand for. There is no real passion – there’s plenty of righteous anger and rhetoric but nothing recognisably sincere. I don’t see people putting themselves on the line.

Where is the vision and integrity? Apparently we are told – that’s not what people want on the doorsteps! They are more concerned about health services, law and order, housing and schools for their children. Well of course they are – we all are – but hang on a minute – the provision of these services is based on values such as the integrity and value of every human life, the right of people to feel secure in their homes and indeed to be able to afford a roof over their heads and have basic shelter, not to mention the rights of children to a fair start in life.

So, where do these values come from?…Not the Church – perceived as a instrument of former oppression and enslavement it has nothing to offer!……….Not the politicians….apparently we don’t mind what they do behind closed doors as long as we get what we need!………So where are these values enshrined in our society? For a number of years one slogan has dominated politics in developed and developing economies: “It’s the economy stupid!” Is that where the values we cherish will be protected? Does the rising tide of economic prosperity really float all our boats? Is the Economy really the new Gospel and is our devotion to it truly liberating?

Integrity and values are not optional extras for politicians no more than they are for any human beings. They are part of being a complete human person. We do our politicians no service by telling them otherwise. In-fact we rob them of the tools they really need if they are to truly serve us. No leader can be a great leader if they live a lie…..even if it is a lie that we are content to overlook. What we need at this time in our history is Vision. We have escaped from a repressive and unhealthy past but we are directionless and confused. Having thrown out the old maps and compass we are in uncharted territory and our satnavs are warning us that we have gone off-road! Like the Israelites in the desert we are inclined to hoard the new Manna from Heaven only to find it is beginning to go bad as we fulfil our desires but neglect our needs!

We are moral beings, regardless of whether we are people of religious faith or not! It is shared morality that gives protection to the vulnerable and to the weak and protects the strong from themselves. Increasingly we live in a society that is not so much immoral as amoral! In removing morality have we really broken free or have we enslaved ourselves to a very curtailed view of human potential? It seems very pessimistic that we should settle for a world without values and integrity. The consequence is a world without meaning and maybe we should ask ourselves whether that is why so many people in these ‘prosperous’ times are ending their lives through suicide? “Without a vision the people perish!” (Proverbs 29:18)

Life goes full circle!

This sent to me by my friend and fellow blogger Allen Galbraith. A timely reminder for some of us who are driving faster than our angels can fly into an uncertain future and seeing life as a blur in our side windows.

The Fisherman's Parable

An American businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while. The American then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.
The American then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time?
The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor."

The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.
You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise."

The Mexican fisherman asked, "But senor, how long will this all take?"
To which the American replied, "15-20 years."
"But what then, senor?"
The American laughed and said "That's the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."
"Millions, senor? Then what?"

The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."

Thursday 3 May 2007

All Politics is Local.....Barack Obama for Moneygall!

I have never been subject to an embargo before – but now as I write at a minute past midnight on 3rd May the embargo has passed and I can share the news! What news? I hear you ask….Well it seems that the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a parishioner of mine! Ok – that’s a bit of an exaggeration but certainly his Great Great Great Grandparents and indeed his Great Great Great Great Grandparents on his mother’s side were – or would have been if I had been around at the time. Somewhat tenuous I know :-)

It all started before Easter when I got a phone call from a researcher in Salt Lake City Utah who asked me to do a few searches in our parochial records which go back to 1799. We are lucky in this respect as many parishes have lost earlier records and a huge amount of data was lost in the Four Courts fire of 1922. The enquiry was about a Joseph and Phoebe Kearney and their son Fulmouth/Falmouth who emigrated to America in 1850. I have to confess that I get a lot of these requests and it was only after the nature of the possible link with Senator Obama was revealed that I fully engaged with the search. The particular records had been in the safe hands of my former parish treasurer who sadly died a few months ago and so I was not overly familiar with them. Thankfully an index had been compiled about 20 years previously which made the task a little easier.

Searching through these records I found Joseph & Phoebe in the context of baptisms of Fulmouth’s siblings and these entries also provided the occupation of Fulmouth’s father, a shoemaker from Moneygall, Co. Offaly which is within my parish boundaries. I sent all this data along with digital images of the records back to the researcher and other members of the team from / who made the initial discovery of Obama’s Irish links back in March.

As if all this were not strange enough; on the day I collected the records in question from my late treasurer’s son I had an unannounced visit from a charming couple from Tasmania who were …. You guessed it….looking for their roots! Sometimes these visits come at a time when I am too busy or on my way out, and so I often ask visitors to make an appointment to come back. However there was something about this couple that made me want to help them and despite the fact I was a bit pressed I invited them in and gave them access to the very registers that I had just collected. I went to my study to catch up on the dreaded admin which is an ever increasing part of parochial ministry. Oh for a secretary….if I was organised enough to delegate….alas probably not!

After a while I returned to see how my visitors were getting on, only to find the lady in tears of joy having found a record she had been trying to trace for 30 years! WOW! Telling my new acquaintance in Salt Lake City about this he commented that such ‘SERENDEPITY’ was remarkably common in genealogy research. I can see how people get hooked on this. I think I may be a late convert! :-)

Anyway back to Obama. Today was the day for interviews and I reckon I have done about 15 at this stage including prelims for RTE and BBC in the morning. The highlight was a photoshoot with the Irish Indo in the garden this afternoon dressed in my black suit in the sweltering sunshine striking various poses as directed. Not quite Page 3 but equally embarrassing with the neighbours looking over their fences :-)

Following RTE TV running the story tonight I got a phone call from one of my parish secretaries (1 have 4! One for each church) who had some very interesting information about the Kearney family including documents signed by Barack Obama’s direct ancestors! Not only that but he was able to tell me where the family holding was and where the shoemakers shop was probably located. Can’t beat local knowledge.

So what will all this mean for our little parish? – A senatorial or a presidential visit? Time will tell. Either way I am sure we will be delighted to welcome Senator Obama to these parts and show him some good Irish hospitality. I am particularly happy (no relieved) that he is a Democrat, and not just a Democrat but a politician who seems to have an integrity and independence that will not be easily manipulated by the inevitable temptations and opportunities for abuse that all power wields.

Mind you Obama is not the only presidential link our parish can boast - Borrisokane parish which is also part of my responsibility frequently enjoys visits from Martin Sheen (aka President Josiah Bartlet of the West Wing) who traces his own family roots to Borrisokane! It's a funny old world!