Friday 29 March 2019

Crow Hill Bog Burst

On 2nd September 1824, Patrick Brontë was in the Parsonage when he “heard a deep distant explosion” and “perceived a gentle tremor in the chamber” which was “the busting of a bog or quagmire” with “all the precursors, accompaniments and results of an earthquake” five miles way on the moors.  He saw it as an act of God.

A rapid torrent of mud and water issued forth, varying from twenty to thirty yards in width and four to five in depth; which, in its course for six or seven miles, entirely threw down or made breaches in several stone and wooden bridges – uprooted trees – laid prostrate walls – and gave many other awful proofs, that, in the hand of Ominpotence, it was an irresistible instrument to execute his justice.”

Sometimes, God produces earthquakes as awful monitors to turn sinners from the error of their ways, and as solemn forerunners of that last and greatest day, when... the universal frame of nature shall tremble, and break and dissolve.”

Here and there... I was able to discern one in deep contemplative mood, who saw by faith through nature to nature’s God...  Many, I perceived, on their return home, who in all the giddy frivolity of thoughtless youth, talked and acted as if they dreamed not of heaven or hell, death or judgement.”

The greater part continue to indulge in their bad passions and practices, utterly regardless of every warning, and not considering the awful reckoning they will be brought to for these things on the last day.  Let us pray earnestly for divine grace, that we may be able to act differently, and to walk by faith in Christ Jesus.”

This is a text (from one of only two published sermons of Patrick Brontë’s – he mainly preached extempore) to which I’m returning quite often at the moment, preaching last Sunday, revising the Brontë related leaflets we leave in the prayer corner in St Michael’s, Haworth, and developing ideas  for the Brontë Society's annual weekend in the summer.

Meanwhile, the picture is from the German Church in Bradford; the art work is simply mounted on cardboard and I wonder whether we could create something like a temporary major hanging cross for one of our churches.

Monday 18 March 2019

Confessing possibilities

This week, I found myself in the German church in Bradford for the first time, and thus in the steps of Dietrich Bonheoffer.

The area in which the church is set is called Little Germany.  From the 1850s Germans came in good numbers to work in the wool industry, and the building is now called the Delius Centre in honour of one of the most prominent of those families which included the famous composer who was himself born in Bradford in the 1860s and brought up there.

Bonheoffer was working as a German pastor in London in 1933 when Hitler came to power and began to suborn the national Lutheran churches to the Nazi cause.  It was at a gathering in Bradford that a resistance statement was agreed by the German pastors in England at Bonheoffer’s instigation.

It was of no use.  The national church capitulated and became a tool of Jewish exclusion and persecution.  Bonheoffer was to return home in 1939, be a prime mover in a dissident alternative ‘confessing’ church, ran its underground seminary for new pastors, and, in 1945, be taken to a concentration camp and executed.

I wondered about W. Hansen, listed as Pastor 1930-39 and then 1948-52.  He must have been the host of the gathering on 1933.  And, like the J. Collier listed on the incumbents’ board in Haworth as being ejected at the Commonwealth and then reinstated at the Restoration, it is the gap in his ministry dates which is particularly striking.

We were there to hear a remarkable women who we had in fact met in 2013 in the West Bank  and who was in England promoting the work of the Fair Trade Co-operative Women in Hebron which seeks to provide employment through the sale of handmade Palestinian crafts.  Her quiet determination to continue in the face of almost unimaginable consequences of occupation felt as moving as the setting.

In 1994, there was a gun massacre in the mosque in central Hebron near where Women in Hebron’s shop now is – just as there was in Christchurch the day before she spoke to us.  Awareness of the attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh less than a year earlier, on Finsbury Park Mosque less than a year before that, and attacks on a number of Christian churches across northern Nigeria across the whole period, makes us cry out for more Bonheoffers and more Women in Hebron.

Saturday 9 March 2019

Lead us not into temptation

Last year, by far the earliest known evidence of bread-making was uncovered in a part of the Jordanian desert.  It pre-dates the development of agriculture by a substantial period.  Some ash and some wild barley revealed what some hunter-gatherers had been doing.

Speculation has to be built on meagre evidence like this.  Could it be that one of the root causes of initial human settlements was the discovery that weeding around such wild barley to improve access to it resulted in a better crop?

When we find later evidence of any pre-historic settlement and we notice things like a perimeter ditch or postholes for a palisade, we speculate about the family or community’s need to defend itself.

When we find pre-historic burials and we notice the care of the burial, the alignment of the bodies and the presence of grave goods, we speculate about the grief or hopes or longings or belief systems of those involved.

This all came to mind again when preparing to read Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness on another first Sunday in Lent tomorrow, and it made the reading surprisingly fresh.

Full of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, considering the attractive, instinctive, human wrong paths – to create bread in the face of hunger, to dominate in the case of assault, to grasp certainty in place of faith.  Weighing these options against the crucial texts of Deuteronomy.

No need to make fire or gather grain.  Simply feed thousands and have baskets full left over.  But he knew God humbled his people, causing them to hunger and then feeding them with manna, which neither they nor their ancestors had known, to teach them that human beings shall not live on bread alone.

No need to dig or raise defensive lines.  Simply command the evil to come out of those under attack.  But he knew the warning: when God brings you into a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of slavery, worship and serve him only.

No need for grief or mourning.  Simply raise the widow’s son.  But he knew to throw himself from the temple’s wall to find out if God would do anything would be no better than those who abandoned faith a short way into the desert saying ‘were we brought here simply to die?’

So instead he will teach people to live.  Blessed are those who hunger; be worried if you are comfortable.  Blessed are those who face hateful attack; be worried if you are highly honoured.  Blessed are those who weep; be worried if you have escaped mourning.

And he will teach people to pray.  Give us bread for each day.  God’s kingdom come.  May the hallowing always be only of God’s name.  

Now he will stay fasting for while in the desert, then go out among people increasingly vulnerable, until, yes, he will let himself be thrown away in Jerusalem.

He will do it alongside the human beings who enter history seeking basic sustenance as others monopolise all the resources, longing for safety as others gain their own dominance over them, looking to make sense of it all as others bandy their political and religious certainties around them.

The pictures are not of the Jordanian or Judean deserts, but around Top Withens in the mist and drizzle a few days ago.