“Alexa, who is God?”

The Church of England has seen the number of people who go to church on a Sunday drop by 14% since 2006. So their next move might be seen as quite canny – worshippers are being offered the chance to ask the voice activated virtual assistant called Alexa (by Amazon) for prayers.

The Church of England’s new voice-activation skill (basically an app) allows a worshipper to ask their Amazon Alexa to perform more than 30 actions or questions, including:

  • Read today’s prayer
  • Find churches in or near a specified town
  • Who is God?
  • What it means to believe in God
  • Read the 10 Commandments

If you were going into a GCSE Religious Studies exam you should be able to answer the questions above as well as a virtual assistant!

66.4% to 33.6% vote in favour of overturning the abortion ban in Ireland

Watching how people debated the change in abortion law in Ireland showed the age old arguments about freedom for the woman against the right to life of an unborn child. 66.4% of voters wanted to repeal a part of the Irish constitution called the Eighth Amendment, which says an unborn child has the same right to life as a pregnant woman which effectively bans terminations.

The vote will possibly affect those north of the border too, as Northern Ireland has the strictest abortion laws in the UK. In Northern Ireland even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality these would not be grounds for a legal termination.

In England there is talk to amend the law on abortion even further so that women could take the abortion pill at home rather than having to administer it at a clinic, which is very demeaning if you have to travel on public transport straight afterwards.  Christian and Muslim arguments about abortion are interestingly varied and sometimes not what you’d expect.

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A Powerful Wedding Sermon about Love

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The Right Reverend Michael Curry from the Episcopal Church (official name 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church) opened his speech at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding with the words of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, who said: ‘We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.’

He added: ‘Love can help and heal when nothing else can. ‘There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.’ Such power could be seen in the service, he continued, saying: ‘Two young people fell in love and we all showed up.’ He then added: ‘There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalise. There is power, power in love.’

 

During his speech, he said the word ‘love’  58 times. Sometimes in Religious Studies answers we see students writing love about that many times when they try to explain the choices of religious people. Firstly there is the famous quote from Matthew 22…

Matthew 22: 36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

However students could also look in 1 Corinthians 13 to find information on the importance of love…

1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Finally in Luke 10: 25 – 28 the Parable of the Good Samaritan has Jesus confirming to the ‘expert in the law’ that you should love thy neighbour as yourself…

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

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Going back to Michael Curry, he said of Saturday’s wedding:  ‘The love that has brought and will bind Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle together has its source and origin in God, and is the key to life and happiness. And so we celebrate and pray for them today.’

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Until the End of the World – a song about Jesus and Judas

Until the End of the World is a song by Irish rock band U2 which was released in 1991. The song was played by U2 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Their lead singer Bono introduced the song with these words, “A little Pop diddy – a conversation between Jesus and Judas.” The lyrics are about a fictional conversation between Jesus and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus:

[Verse 1]
Haven’t seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold, just passing time
Last time we met it was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time except you
You were talking about the end of the world

The first verse discusses the Last Supper. In the Book of Matthew Chapter 26 in the Bible it says about how Jesus at the Passover meal says, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” All of the disciples are saddened by this and plead that Jesus isn’t talking about them. But Jesus continues to explain that one of them will betray him and “It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Judas himself responds, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
[Verse 2]
I took the money, I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You led me on with those innocent eyes
And you know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You, you were acting like it was the end of the world

The second verse is about Judas identifying Jesus with a kiss on the cheek in the Garden of Gethsemane. Still in Chapter 26 of Matthew it says, ‘His betrayer had given them a sign: “The One I kiss, He’s the One; arrest Him!” 49 So he went right up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.’ This idea of a Judas kiss is often mentioned by people in everyday language and for some they won’t even realise it is a reference to Christianity! The Oxford dictionary has it as a noun: Judas kiss: an act of betrayal, especially one disguised as a gesture of friendship.
[Verse 3]
In my dream, I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows they’d learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you’d wait till the end of the world

The final verse is about Judas’ suicide after being overwhelmed with guilt and sadness. He had returned the 30 silver coins to the Jewish leaders and said “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!” But they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” And throwing the silver coins into the temple he departed. And he went away and hanged himself.’ When you watch the musical Les Miserables there are some similarities between the character Javert (Russel Crowe in the movie) who is the detective who commits suicide near the end of the story and Judas.

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Important Sites of Religious Pilgrimage

A BBC travel article in 2012 named 10 must-see pilgrimage locations around the world. You might have heard of the pilgrimages before, or simply learnt the famous religious story in class and can now discover how a village or town in 2018 can allow a religious person to feel closer to their faith by visiting a place written about in their holy books.

Lumbini
Location: Rupandehi, Nepal
Religion: Buddhism
Significance: birthplace of the Lord Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 B.C. in the famous gardens of Lumbini, which soon became a place of pilgrimage. Buddhism has interesting ideas which we can reflect on when thinking about whether we are at fault for our suffering and if we should take care in our actions so not to harm others or ourselves.

Lumbini

Vatican City
Location: surrounded by Rome, Italy
Religion: Catholicism
Significance: home of the Pope and centre of the Roman Catholic Church. Currently Pope Francis is the man at the Vatican! He often brings to the world’s attention things we learn about at school, such as Christians being persecuted and the need for Christians to pray for them; how Christians should show mercy and compassion to refugees like the Rohingya Muslims; and that if you are fasting during Lent you should still be kind to others to be a truly just Christian.

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Wittenberg
Location: Saxony, Germany
Religion: Protestantism
Significance: birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. It was here in Wittenberg that the monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of  Castle Church in 1517. Unfortunately during the Seven Years’ War, much of Wittenberg was destroyed, but Castle Church was rebuilt in the 1800s and the text of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was inscribed into the church’s front doors. Inside the church you will also find Luther’s tomb. There are some great Martin Luther raps; film clips; animations; and mini documentaries you can watch or sing along to to help you remember the facts!

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Western Wall
Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Religion: Judaism
Significance: the holiest of Jewish sites. The Western Wall made headlines in May 2017 when the US President Donald Trump visited it and prayed there, and female journalist were kept in a penned off area behind male colleagues. It is a place where awe and wonder fills Jewish pilgrims minds and hearts.

Orthodox Jewish men praying in the  men's section, Western Wall (Wailing Wall), Old City, Jerusalem, Israel.

Lent Plastic Challenge

The Church of England is encouraging people to take part in the “Lent Plastic Challenge” that encourages people “to reduce the actions which damage God’s Creation”.

“For Anglicans Lent is the time when we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, facing challenge and temptation. It is a time when we reflect on God’s purpose for our life. This year we challenge you to give up single-use plastics – to reduce the actions which damage God’s Creation,” the church wrote.

Ruth Knight, environmental policy officer for the Church of England, said, “The Lent challenge is about raising our awareness of how much we rely on single-use plastics and challenging ourselves to see where we can reduce that use. It ties in closely with the our calling as Christians to care for God’s creation.”

Anglican Christians can use a special Lent calendar with advice for each day, such as on 15th February it states: ‘Give up disposable cups & drinks in plastic bottles. Carry a travel mug or water bottle. Get a reusable bottle, fill it up with tap water before leaving the house, and refill it wherever you happen to be.’

Lent is connected to the Christian festival of Easter, and is 40 days when people often give something up.

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God should decide

This is a really sad news story about a little boy whose life hangs in the balance. Doctors have told a high court judge that they think it’s in the child’s best interest to end life support treatment whereas Isaiah’s parents want treatment to continue.

Isaiah Haastrup court case

This is a debate we see in the news time and time again, and it links to our learning about Religion and Life – who decides when life should end?

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