All roads lead to God?

One thing that I hear quite often stated is that all roads lead to God. It doesn’t matter which religion you believe in as long as you are sincere and tolerant. God, who is loving, will accept you. This idea comes from eastern religions in the main and is often illustrated by the blind men and the elephant. One feels the trunk and says it is a snake. Another felt the tusk and said it was a spear. Another felt the tail and said it was a rope. And so on. But actually, it is all an elephant. So, it is with religion.

However, sadly, I cannot go along with the idea. Firstly, there is such a thing as objective truth. We accept this for science, but not, for some reason, for religion. Secondly, in our elephant, the different parts do not directly contradict each other. But they do in religion; for example Christianity and Islam disagree directly about Jesus. Christians say he died and rose again; Muslims say he didn’t. And thirdly, sincere belief can still be evil. Look at Isis for example. No-one can say they aren’t sincere.

Another argument I hear very often is due to experience. We all know of people of different religions (and of no religion) who are lovely people. Surely God would not be so horrible as to reject those who may be mistaken? This is a very emotional and often personal argument. All I can say as a Christian is that God is just and will punish no-one undeservedly; yet at the same time truth is extremely important.

So how do we know what is true? Again, as a Christian I can only quote the one I follow. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” That is to say, if we wish to understand about these religious matters, he is the one to go to. To return to our blind men and the elephant, who is the one who can see if it is really an elephant or not? Only the one who opens the eyes of the blind.

John Chitham, Rector

New Year

Dear Friends

A happy New Year to you all!

New Year is traditionally a time for change. There is an old joke: how many vicars does it take to change a light bulb? To which the response is: CHANGE??? Nonetheless the church does change every now and again. Walk into any of our churches and you will see modern upgrades of kitchens and toilets, heating and doors, or plans to do something similar. Change is sometimes painfully slow but that is what happens in family life, as long as everyone is consulted so that we all stay together.

And so, after such consultation, there is a relatively small change in our benefice service pattern that begins from January. The service pattern was already working quite well but it needed a little tweaking. The most immediate, noticeable change is that our mid- morning services will all start at 10.30. This is easier to remember and less confusing than having different times. The second change on time is that the monthly choral evensong will be at 6.30, not 6.00. This is to make sure that there is no clash with the afternoon service, The Centre, which is at 4.30. The full list of our services can be found here.

Why make these changes? In essence it is to have a simpler pattern which can be remembered by those who go to church regularly, and also understood easily by those who come less frequently or are newcomers. The second reason is to ensure we have a spread of services in the Benefice. People find it easier to worship God in different ways; we are not all the same. So, the early morning service and the evensong are very traditional, the 10.30 services are in modern language but still using traditional hymns, and the afternoon service is very contemporary. Our main goal is to help everyone come to God, whatever their background. You are very welcome to try it out!

John Chitham, Rector

Christmas

Dear Friends

Christmas is coming: the election will be over; the school holidays will begin and the focus will shift to merry making.

And yet Christmas can be the hardest time of year. It can be a time when overstretched households get deeper into debt; a time when there are disputes within families; a time when loved ones are missed; and for many, a time of loneliness. Yet in our villages, where community is stronger than many other places, we still have the opportunity to go beyond this depressing scenario.

Christmas does indeed need to be about our communities. It is a time to visit neighbours, to go out to restaurants and pubs, to invite people around. It is a time when a little simple hospitality and care can set us up for the year to come. The original Christmas story, if read carefully, is actually not about “no room at the inn” but Mary and Joseph being given shelter at a time when there was no space for anyone.

Christmas still needs to be a time for families. Despite all the stresses that families can bring, if we work at it a bit, and do all we can to build bridges, family life can be renewed as we come together. Presents thoughtfully chosen, sacrificial visits and putting up with some irritations can go a very long way. The first Christmas was not easy for the family either. In all probability Joseph was visiting his family in Bethlehem who suddenly had to put up him and a very pregnant Mary when there was overcrowding for the census. Yet the reward was astonishing: the birth of the Christ-child himself.

And yes, Christmas should be a time of spiritual renewal. There is something magical about dark winter nights, the lights on in the church, the choir singing and songs of something beyond ourselves. That magic is intensely spiritual, a sense of wonder and other. The story of Christmas is of a birth. New birth is a miracle for all parents; this is a miracle in that it goes beyond the norms of nature. This is the story of God come to earth with a purpose, a purpose so important that angels sing, and wise men come running. God has come to live among us, not as a majestic king but as a small baby. It is good for us to spend a little time considering the baby: who he is, what he came to do, and what transpired. If we do, Christmas can be transformed into the most wonderful time of year.

May you have a very happy Christmas!

John Chitham, Rector

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