Thursday, 20 December 2012

Why wasn't God at Sandy Hook?

Such an enormous tragedy struck at Sandy Hook School on 14th December 2012. 27 people were killed, including 20 students. It was second only to the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007 in terms of the loss of human life.

It raises many questions. Firstly, how can anyone make sense of such an event. Episcopal Bishop Ian T. Douglas said, there is "no way we could make sense of what had happened. No explanation or rationale could assuage our shock, pain and grief. As a religious leader, I knew that my job was not to try and make sense of what had happened. Rather my job was to be there, simply be there, with those who had lost loved ones in the terrible rampage."

However the next question, especially to anyone religious is always,"How could God let this happen?"

Bishop Douglas argued that God is always with us and knows suffering in a real sense:

(His son) "was born to a homeless teenage mom and whose birth was attended by barn animals and marginalized sheep tenders. This God-with-us and his parents would then become refugees in Egypt to escape the slaughter of other innocent children at the hand of King Herod. And the same God-with-us, Jesus, would die a torturous death upon the cross as a religious and political revolutionary. We Christians, however, hold onto the truth that three days later Jesus rose from the dead. When confronted with the question "How could God let this happen?" we can proclaim that God is a God who is with us, who suffers with us, and who embodies the promise and reality of new life in the face of death." (Read More)

Interestingly one newspaper decided to formulate a possible conversation with God about the event:

"Do you realize that since prayer was removed from your schools in 1962, teen pregnancy has increased by more than 500 percent? SAT scores have dropped 80 points, teen suicide has tripled, the divorce rate has tripled and violent crime has increased sixfold? Who convinced you that teaching my little ones to pray or learn about who I am would be harmful? The opposite if true. The less someone’s heart depends on me for their life’s purpose, comfort and love, the more likely they are going to commit a crime."

I've no idea how accurate these statistics are, but the conversation ends rather poignantly:

"I understand how these parents feel. My son was murdered, too." (Read More)

Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, interestingly asked what kind of God people were citing with this question:

"The God we put in our back pocket, that we carry around in case of emergencies, the 'come to my rescue God', or the 'God that doesn't allow bad things to happen to good people'....I don't believe that God exists."

He went on to say: "The people who want to differentiate God from pain and evil, they're not talking about the Christian God because from the Old Testament to the New Testament, God is in the midst of pain, leverages pain and, here's the key, redeems pain for good because God is a redeemer....That's the essence of the Gospel. The murder of the innocent son of God resulted in the salvation of the world. That's redemption. It's taking evil and leveraging it for something that's good." (Read More)

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, reflected on how everything possible has been done in America to remove any aspect of God or faith from daily lives, that it is no surprise that such events occur. He said it was interesting how everyone keeps asking '"Where was God?" when in a day to day way, He is forced out. Huckabee also talks about how God was there, as soon as the tragedy began, with teachers selflessly giving their lives to save their pupils' lives, the comforting hugs from strangers, even in the White House in Obama's speech:

Do you think these reflections bring comfort to the families involved? Do you think that these Christians are right questioning the American public's notion of God? Do you think there is a satisfactory answer?

Various other interesting stories have now also begun emerging....

Should teachers be allowed, even encouraged to carry guns for the 'next time'? It's already legal in Texas! Superintendent David Thweatt said: "If something happened here, we would have to protect our children. You know, police officers are true, everyday heroes in my book, but one of them once told me something very revealing. He said, 'Ninety-five percent of the time, we get to the scene late.' I can’t afford to let that happen." The state of Michigan has just passed law saying it is legal for teachers to bring guns to school. (Read more)
Do you think teachers should be allowed weapons in school? Would it help prevent future tragedies? Should we meet violence with violence, or be ready to 'turn the other cheek' (Matthew 5:38–5:42)?

Westboro Baptist Church continue to give Christians a bad name by planning a praise gathering outside Sandy Hook Elementary school to celebrate God 'executing his judgement'. (Read more)
Do you think Westboro Baptist Church should even be using the word 'Church' in their name? Do you think such an act could ever been seen as coming 'from God'?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Unexpected Nativity: "Brilliant. They won't be expecting that!"

Continuing with a series of blog posts on Christmas, after retelling of the story via social networks (see here) and the Pope's comments on the accuracy of nativity scenes (see here), today we look at the 'Unexpected Christmas'.

This incredibly cute video has been produced by a church group in New Zealand. The children in it play a whole variety of roles, with my favorite being the little boy who keeps saying, "Brilliant. They won't be expecting that!".

He illustrates a key point about Jesus' arrival and the Jewish expectations of the Messiah; He really wasn't the warrior king they were hoping for!

St Paul Church's in New Zealand have produced a series of these videos over the last few years which are worth a watch over the Christmas period:

What do you think of these videos? Do they convey the true message in a fun and accessible way? Is it simply an online version of the classic school nativity play? How do you remember learning the story as a young child?

Friday, 14 December 2012

@Pontifex (The Pope) Tweets!

After a previous post about following Jesus on Twitter, the Pope has now joined Twitter - @Pontifex.

On December 12th 2012, Pope Benedict XI became the first Pope to use the popular social network. He hit the send button on his iPad to broadcast his first tweet, subsequent tweets will be organised by senior officials in the Vatican but using only the Pope's words and with his direction.

By Wednesday morning when the first tweet was sent, he had 1 million followers. The first tweet he sent contained exactly 140 characters: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."

Within hours the message had been retweeted more than 30,000 times, with more than 10,000 other users marking it as one of their favourites

Do you think it's a good idea for the Pope to be on Twitter? How will it help him communicate to people around the world? Is this a good idea for young people? Do you follow the Pope? 

Watch video here:

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Crisis at Christmas

My school, Sacred Heart of Mary (Upminster) have decided to support Crisis as our Christmas charity. Students are being encouraged to send less cards, buy cheaper wrapping paper and make donations in their form groups and RE lessons.

We are also learning about homelessness, and focusing on our Christian responsibility to help those in need. Reflecting on the way Jesus treated 'outcasts' such as Samaritans, tax collectors, lepers and sinful women gives us clear guidance on how to treat those in our society today who are on the edges of our communities.

We have been using a presentation (download here) based on some of the Crisis school resources (see here) and the RE prefects have put together a display board:

Crisis 2012 advert:

Crisis Open Christmas 2011:

Like Ed Sheeran, we are hoping the whole school community can support Crisis this Christmas. Students, staff and parents can make donations through the school finance office (in an envelop marked 'Crisis Christmas Appeal') or you can alternatively donate via Crisis direct: - Just £20.48 buys a place at Crisis for a homeless person including shelter, meals, clothes and access to a whole range of services to help them break the cycle and start a new life.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Nativity via Social Media

Even outside of Christianity the Nativity is seen as one of the greatest stories ever told. It's also one that can capture the creative imagination of every generation. Even ITV has capitalised on this, with its own Nativity Factor (watch videos here). However these two videos have both been praised for their creative approach in retelling the story through social media. Which is your favourite?

A Social Network Christmas:

The Digital Story of the Nativity:

Which video is your favourite?

How would you retell this story?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Taking The Bible Literally?

  • 30% of Americans read the Bible literally, as word-for-word truth (Down from 40% in 1980 to 1984 period).
  • 49% of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally.
  • 17% believe the Bible to be a book of fables and legends.
Source - Gallup Poll

David Lose, a Bible scholar and published author, wrote a reaction to this. He highlighted four reasons why Christians should not be taking the Bible literally.

1) Nowhere does the Bible claim to be inerrant. The closest we get is, 2 Timothy 3:16: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Just because it is inspired, does not mean it is without error, it is after all largely persuasive writing by early Christians.

2) Reading the Bible literally distorts its witness. The Gospels confess faith rather than day-by-day record history, an example given being the Cleansing of the Temple. 

3) Most Christians across history have not read the Bible literally. St Augustine struggled with taking the Bible literally until it was explained by St Ambrose that interpreting it in an allegorical way may help. Early Christians did not need subscribe to the idea that for "something to be true it had to be factually accurate".

4) Reading the Bible literally undermines a chief confession of the Bible about God. Many of our Bible 'heroes' are not exactly ideal. As Lose cites, "Abraham passes his wife off as his sister -- twice! -- in order to save his skin. Moses is a murderer. David sleeps around. Peter denies Jesus three times."

Lose does not address the question as to why many Christians, particularly in America, do still read the Bible literally. Is it easier to read it literally? It is necessary in Christian churches that do not have other doctrine (as opposed to the Catholic Church)? What difficulties do Christians have when following it word for word?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Celebrating Advent Online

A few weeks ago there was a launch of the CAFOD iPhone App"Featuring inspiring stories, photos and reflections from our partners and projects around the world, CAFOD’s first app is a great alternative to the usual chocolate filled calendars. Why not instead try a calendar that inspires you to put faith into action for our brothers and sisters around the world this advent?"

The Archbishop of York has launched his own online Advent Calendar. According to his website:

"Every day in December to the run up to Christmas, the Archbishop will write a daily reflection on his website – and this year he will also record four YouTube videos, one for each of the Sundays in Advent."

Companies even offer to build your own online advent calendar - see here - and organisations such as West Midlands Police and Liverpool Museums have seen this as a way of advertising and promoting particular campaigns.

There are also Christian online advent calendars, such as the one at BeliefNet.

However the all important questions: are we happy not physically opening a fiddly little door each day? Are we happy without a nice little chocolate to eat for breakfast every day?! Perhaps online calendars can help us try to reflect on the true purpose of advent.