Saturday 29 January 2011

Sermon for Epiphany 4 – 30th January 2011 - A response to the murder of David Kato

The world is changing rapidly and with it the nature of religious adherence. All the institutional churches have seen people drift away from regular attendance and involvement with their churches. We can no longer assume that our children will go to church just because they were brought up going to church. The social pressure and expectation that perhaps made some people go to church when they would have liked to do otherwise has to all intensive purposes gone and nothing has taken its place. I am very conscious that though there are new faces in our churches there are also a lot of old and familiar ones that are noticeable by their absence, and it is not that they have died, but rather given up going to church.

You could of course blame the rector and I know that you would not say such to me but inevitably clergy do ask questions of themselves when numbers begin to fall off and I am not so arrogant as to think that indeed perhaps there are some who have left who might still be here if I had done things differently.
But a church is more than the rector and I suspect that even if I was the greatest preacher this side of the Shannon things would be little different. There is only so much one person can do.

I think the change that is needed is one of rediscovering and recovering something that was there at the very beginning of the early Church and that is the essence of Faith which was not a system of beliefs but a response to Jesus. As the centuries have progressed Christians in defining themselves have begun to answer the wrong question. The most important dimension of faith is not ‘what’ we believe but ‘how’ we believe. The great Creeds which were designed to guarantee the unity and uniformity of the Church had the unfortunate effect of totally supplanting the relational element of faith with a doctrinal one.

Make no mistake creeds are necessary but when they become an end in themselves they become idols and Jesus as the contemporary theologian Robin Myers puts it becomes a ‘missing person’. Yes he is mentioned in the creeds but only as a dogmatic definition. You cannot have a relationship with a dogma – you can only have a relationship with a person.

The Old Testament Prophet Micah in today’s lesson reminds us of what is at the core of our faith:
“what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
As well as being a beautiful and poetic statement it is as concise a description of discipleship as one could ask for.
The Gospel reading today which was the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5 also put this relational faith at the forefront. They are not a list of theological doctrines but rather they celebrate what God has in store for those who acknowledge their need of God and can trust in his care for them. They turn the values of the world quite literally upside down. Here I quote Robin Myers again in a phrase which I think nails it!
“The Beatitudes bless those who are powerless but worthy” where the world acclaims those who are “powerful and worthless”.

The Anglican Communion as you will be aware is wrestling on an ongoing basis about what it believes and what it stands for. The Primates meeting in Dublin this very day are bogged down in the interpretation of a few verses of Scripture and seem destined to remain caught up in the what at the expense of the how. There is a price to be paid for it and indeed blood has been spilt this very week.

David Kato was an Anglican in Uganda who happened to be gay He served as advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Kato was murdered on Wednesday of this week, clubbed to death shortly after winning a lawsuit against a magazine which had published his name and photograph identifying him as gay and calling for him to be executed. Terrible and all as this murder was there was more pain to come.

The following are selected extracts from an eyewitness account by a retired Anglican Bishop, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo who attended David Kato’s funeral. Incidentally the account was transcribed by an Irish Anglican cleric Canon Albert Ogle who prepared me for Confirmation over 30 years ago:

Ten miles from a Ugandan blood-stained home, 300 friends, fellow activists from the LGBT community, his mourning mother and family joined foreign dignitaries and embassy staff to pay their respects to David Kato.
Since Kato was an Anglican, the local parish church of Nagojje was responsible for his funeral rites to be read from the Book of Common Prayer. Although tributes have been pouring into the Kato family from President Barack Obama and other international leaders, the Church of Uganda sent no priest, no bishop, but a Lay Reader to conduct the service.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo arrived in his purple cassock accompanied by his wife Mary and let the master of ceremonies know he would like to say a few words at some point in the service.
The Lay Reader began to make inappropriate remarks condemning homosexuality quite graphically and stating the Church of Uganda’s position that homosexuality was a sin and against the Bible. The crowd began to cheer him on and the bishop described the event as turning into an anti-gay rally. The bishop was never called upon to speak. He felt for the LGBT community having to suffer yet another public humiliation.

This kind of rabble rousing and hatred has been the daily diet for LGBT people in Uganda, causing a media frenzy from pulpits and scandalous tabloid like Uganda’s Rolling Stone that likely caused this senseless murder. Even in such a brutal death, the Church was at it again.
The anger and frustration of the LGBT community and its straight allies finally erupted when a young lesbian who worked with David at SMUG called Kasha seized the mic and the Lay Reader’s diatribe against LGBT people was finally replaced by the voices of those whom David fought and died for.
This moment will be remembered as a kind of “Stonewall” when the community said to the oppressors – Enough! Stop the lies!

The Church of Uganda, a member of the Anglican family of churches to which I belong, took a pastoral opportunity for healing and reconciliation with family members and LGBT people and allies and turned the event into an anti-gay political rally. Following this horrific incident with the Lay Reader who condemned the LGBT community, Bishop Christopher, as a bishop of the church and wearing his purple cassock, walked behind the coffin carried by David’s friends and family to the graveside. There, although he was disinvited by the Church to speak at the funeral, he found a way to bring words of comfort to the mourners and said the final blessing over David’s battered remains.

As the Anglican Primates gather in Dublin, Ireland, the question they must ask themselves and ponder this weekend is what kind of Anglicanism are we really representing? What are we proud of from David Kato’s life and the rites our church provided over his dead body? And what are we ashamed of?

It seems to me that the official response of the Anglican Church in Uganda was so caught up in the ‘what’ of Faith that the ‘how’ was obliterated.

All of this calls to mind the reflections of Barbara Brown Taylor, an American Anglican priest in her book ‘Leaving Church’
She deals very insightfully with the current bitter divisions within Anglicanism over sexuality and scriptural interpretation:

Whenever people aim to solve their conflicts with one another by turning to the Bible: defending the dried ink marks on the page becomes more vital than defending the neighbour…………human beings never behave more badly towards one another than when they believe they are protecting God. …..The whole purpose of the Bible is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me this willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.” Reflecting on fundamentalist Christianity Taylor comments that the history of Christianity is about “beholding what was beyond belief” and that for us today “to confess all that we do not know is at least as sacred an activity as declaring what we think we do know”. This same tension was leading Taylor to the realisation that she “wanted out of the belief business and back into the beholding business….to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything”
Or again as the Prophet Micah proclaimed:

“what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Sorry not the hardest word for Michael Martin - I'm Sorry! The Corrigan Brothers

Monday 24 January 2011

Why Swaziland? Why Me? Why Now?

It all started during last Autumn at a Harvest Thanksgiving Service in one of the smaller churches in our parish. On the suggestion of a colleague (Thank you Vicki) I had invited a young student, Amy Hanna to speak to the congregation about her experiences in Swaziland. She had just returned from a working trip with USPG Ireland and what she had to share with us quite literally moved me and many others to tears.
She talked of a population of little over a million people where almost half of the adult populations have HIV/AIDS. As a result of this appaling statistic the average life expectancy has fallen into the 30s and many if not the majority of households are led by grandparents or children. In some cases children as young as six are caring for their younger siblings and perhaps dying parents with little if any other adult supervision.
Economically speaking the country is in a state of ruin and it is quite hard to see how things can be turned around. And yet there is hope! Amy told us of the extroardinary vibrancy in the Church's worship and the sense of trust that many of the people have in God despite what to you and me must surely look like hell on earth.
It is this extroardinary sense of hope and the energy that comes from it that USPG Ireland are trying to harness and channel into practical measures to help create a real future for the people of this forgotten land. Due to the small size both geographically and in population the country has nothing like the level of NGO activity that is found in many other parts of the African continent and has been almost forgotten.
However the size of the country also means that despite the terrible situation which exists at the moment it is on a scale that can and could be addressed if enough aid and resources were put into the country. USPG Ireland has adopted Swaziland as its sole project for the time being and is putting all its energies into making a real difference in Swaziland.
I was recently approached by USPG and asked to become a Board member of the organisation which was both an honour and a challenge. As a member of the Board I have been invited to travel to Swaziland after Easter (28th April - 5th May) on a factfinding trip. We will be visiting Feeding Stations, Aids clinics, Primary schools all of which are supported by the Anglican Church and USPG through their Mission partners on the ground: Rev'd Andrew & Rosemary Symonds.
We also hope to look at a major new project sponsored by USPG Ireland, Luyengo Agricultural Project which aims to develop a 200 acre farm on church owned land which will in time provide employmnt, self-sufficiency and a produce and income stream to support the feeding stations and Aids clinics and programmes operated by the Diocese.
Needless to say all of this costs money and USPG like other charitable organisations working in development work overseas has been badly hit by the cut in the Irish Aid budget. And so if there is to be any possibility of a real future for the people of Swaziland it will rely on the genorosity of strangers like you and me.
However it is hard to look for support for strangers - we all find it easier to help those we know and we are wary of sending money to far off places for fear it will not get to where it is needed. It took somebody like Amy Hanna who got to know the people of Swaziland and to whom she is no longer a stranger to convince me of the urgency and importance of this cause. The Anglican Church and USPG are uniquely equipped to work effectively in this country. They have built up the trust of the people and are tolerated by the regime which is essential to meaningful progress.
I hope that my experiences in Swaziland will help me to convince others of the worthiness of this project and that I can help to raise the profile of this forgotten land.
This is where you come in. Firstly, getting me there(and back) is going to cost about €1500 - We fly into South Africa and from there by 'road' to Swaziland. I would also like to be in a position to make a financial contribution to the work of USPG in Swaziland while I am there. So I am asking you who read this to consider making a donation to help make this possible. There is a Paypal button on the right hand side of this page where you can donate via paypal or credit card. For details on donating via cheque and regular updates on progress please go to my dedicated page: Send Stephen to Swaziland I will provide a receipt to all donors and unless you stipulate otherwise will print a list of donors on this site. I will also provide regular updates on amount raised etc. I realise that I am asking a lot of you at a time when many people are really hurting financially. If you are unable to assist financially at this time please pass on the link to this page to anyone else who you think might be interested and if you are so moved say a prayer for the people of Swaziland and the work of USPG Ireland and their Mission partners Andrew & Rosemary.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and do come back for more information on the work of USPG in Swaziland and my progress and preparations for the visit in April.
Stephen aka Paddyanglican

Saturday 15 January 2011

Obama 2012 - Corrigan Brothers remix the Obama song - It worked before!

Here we go - Obama 2012!

Toor a Loo toor a loo toor a loo toor a lama

Our Irish President Barack Obama

You must believe it

He’s here to stay

The Irish President

Will have his day

Forget the tea party

And all their drama

In two thousand and twelve

It’s Barack Obama

So Megan Smo Lenyak

And Stephen Neill

What a family tree

you did reveal

From Moneygall town

In old offally

The Presidents roots

And his family

O’ Leary O’Reilly O’Hare and O’Hara

Vote Irish and President Barack Obama

He’s as Irish as riverdance

Guiness and Joyce

Two thousand and twelve

There’s only one Choice

From boston to Austin

And up to Montana

They’ll be voting for

President barack obama

O’ leary O’Reilly O’Hare and O’Hara

Vote Irish and President Barack Obama

From the green glens of antrim

To old lisdoonvarna

There’s one Irish President

Barack Obama

He fought like a tiger

Healthcare was his aim

He took on the bankers

At their own game

Justice for all

That is his goal

President Obama’s

Got Irish Soul

Toor a Loo toor a loo toor a loo toor a lama

Our Irish President Barack Obama

Two thousand and twelve

The shamrock will flow

When our famous President

Gives it a go

And old Sarah Palin

Well her destiny

A reality show

On cable tv

O’ leary O’Reilly O’Hare and O’Hara

Vote Irish and President Barack Obama

O’ leary O’Reilly O’Hare and O’Hara

Vote Irish and President Barack Obama