Sunday, September 24, 2006

Be Longing to Belong: a Postlude

In the past few days, circumstances have illustrated some of the the thoughts I had in my last post.

Steve Irwin, the famous Australian naturalist and "croc-botherer" sadly died while filiming a television programme after being stung in the heart by a stingray.

Richard Hammond a British Television presenter, recording a programme on cars, is nearly killed when trying to break the British land-speed record in a jet-powered car.

It seems that the dreaded ratings war in the Television Industry is driving presenters to do more and more dangerous stuff for the purposes of our entertainment. While their devotion to the furthering of human experience and understanding of the world around us is commendable, I worry that the demands of television companies to entice people to keep their eyes glued to the box, are more and more unreasonable and dangerous.

May we learn to find ways of participating in the human dialogue with God, not from our armchairs, but actively in our lives. May God restore Richard Hammond and receive Steve Irwin into His loving arms.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Be longing to belong

After reading Dr. Michael Moynagh's book Changing World, Changing Church, it seems that consumerism has penetrated to the very heart of Western Culture and indeed is penetrating even the heart of the Western Church.

Day by day we are presented with the most minor of choices. Cup of coffee? The questions come in - regular or large? latte, mocha, cappuccino? shot of this? hint of that? c. Michael Moynagh suggests that this is how the Church will eventually become, and lists some very exotic forms of church. Imagine! a church for dancers, a church for chess players, a church for windsurfers... et c. each person insisting how their worship is carried out and in referring to others "praxes" with the phrase "well, they can do that if they want, but it's not my cup of tea."

For me, this is a horrible vision of the future. Church becomes less a way of life and more an indulgence of some fleeting whim or taste. We choose to be with one group of people, but not others. If there were a Church for Manchester United Supporters, it is doubtful that unless they were truly moved by the love of Christ that they would willingly go to the Church of Chelsea Supporters.

Look at the disciples! Wouldn't any sane leader choose people from the same background to further his cause so as to avoid fragmentation? Not Our Lord. As C. S. Lewis says, He was either mad, bad or Son of God, and part of His "madness" then was to choose St Matthew a tax collector (and hence Roman collaborator) and St Simon the Zealot! How these two must have hated each other at the beginning, or perhaps would have done had they met under different circumstances. It's clear that Christ wants everyone to be part of the same Church, but a Church that follows His teaching rather than the teaching of the whims of the human heart.

If two people with opposing desires are to be part of the same Church, then it's clear that at least one of them will not have their desires met. A Church of coffee drinkers will have the Angl0-Latte wing and the Roman-Mocha wing, so if the coffee being served that day is Cappuccino, then neither party is going to be satisfied. So what? Why have they come to church in the first place?

We can fill our lives by trying to get precisely what we want down to the number of granules of sugar we put in that blasted cup of coffee. But in filling our lives with this minutiae and concern for adiaphora, we push out God. In order to worship properly, we cannot be content with the life that we have now. We have to be longing for something, and that something should be God, not the perfect latte. Life can never satisfy our longing for God, and that's really what should give Christians that distinctive "saltiness" in the world: they don't care what they're drinking, they're just thankful it's coffee. It is the common yearning for God that brings St Matthew and St Simon together.

But what is worship in the first place? It is putting the object of worship first in our lives - giving "worth-ship". Surely if we are demonstrating that God is worth the most in our lives, then our love of a particular brand of coffee should be the last thing that we bring to mind. Worship is the submission of life to the object, and if the object of our worship becomes "God, but only in a certain manner" then that is pure and simple idolatry - the worship of a God of one's own imaginings.

In order to belong to the Church, we have to be longing for Christ. Indeed, if we are truly content with the life that we have, then we have lost Christ! The life of Christ is beyond the reach of this life. The Church should be a place of people, all wanting the same thing, the same Redeemer, the same God -crying out like the young ravens in the wilderness (Ps cxlvii.9) and being satisfied with His Body in sacramental form. But even the Blessed Sacrament should not be enough for us because our physical nature is fleeting and passes away from His Eternity, and so our experience of Communion fades and we hunger once more. It will not always be so -He has seen to that!

Any parish Church that follows the teaching of Christ is formed by people who are looking to fill up the void of human existence with Him for Whom that void was created. If we choose to fill that void with coffee, then what fools we are!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Battling Prattling

Sermon preached at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Swanscombe on 17th September 2006 based on the epistle of St James iii.1-12.

Mr. Young’s year 8 class is a little boisterous today.

It’s all because Eric has brought in
his new mobile phone
which can take photographs,
play Gnarls Barklay’s number one hit
as a ring-tone
and has 37 different games
of Tetris on it.

Eric is just showing his friends a Tetris cheat when Alan,
a larger boy with bit of a reputation,
takes Eric’s phone out of his hand
and steps on it,
breaking it into a thousand pieces.

Of course, all this gets back to Mr Young
who soon has Alan in detention
with a flea in his ear.

“How dare you treat someone else like that!
Listen to me!
You’re a wicked child,
and you won’t amount to anything
with that attitude in life.”



The trouble is Alan
has always been called a “wicked child”.

You see,
Alan’s mother died in giving birth to him,
and as a result,
his father has difficulty loving him.

What do you think of Mr Young’s choice of words?

Is Alan really a wicked child?

If he’s told that he’s a wicked child,
mightn’t he eventually come to believe it?


As Christians know,
we’re all capable of evil acts,
but we learn to separate
who people are
from what they do.

“Hate the sin, but not the sinner”,
that’s what we say,
isn’t it?

The trouble is,
Mr Young is not saying that to Alan.

Mr Young’s tongue has slipped up.

In his anger, he is just prattling.


We join the Lord and His disciples
as they walk around Caesarea Philippi.

Peter is feeling quite thrilled
at having won
the “spot-the-Messiah” competition.

And then Jesus starts talking about
what has to happen to that very Messiah:
and death.

And this upsets Peter, because,
having found the Messiah,
he’s being told that
the One to Whom he wishes to devote his life
is going to meet
a terrible, horrible end.

The thought
“If you don’t do something,
you’ll lose your Messiah,”
burns within him until,
at last,
Peter can stand it no more.

Taking his beloved Lord to one side,
Peter says, “for goodness sake, Jesus,
don’t talk like this.

This is not how it’s going to be
and you know it.

We’ll be there to stop any harm coming to you.”

Jesus looks around at the others,
then the reaction:
"Get behind Me, Satan!

For you are not mindful of the things of God,
but the things of men."

Harsh, don’t you think?

Would you like to be called “Satan”
by one whom you love,
and one who loves you?

And what has Peter done?

He seems to have demonstrated concern
about the Lord’s welfare.

Is it a crime now to care about the people we love?


Peter’s words upset Jesus
because they show that
Peter is not yet ready
to be a teacher of the Truth.

God knows full well that
Peter will lead the Church well as a bishop
ordained by Christ Himself,
defending it against all the horrors of the world.

God knows that Peter will end his days
crucified upside-down on Vatican Hill
for love of Jesus.

But Peter is far from ready.

Suppose Jesus had listened to his words.

“Okay Peter, you’re quite right,
let’s go back to Galilee
and forget the whole thing.


Nearly came a cropper then, didn’t I?”

No Resurrection, no Salvation.

Peter’s words obviously tempt Jesus to give up,
just as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness.

But Jesus knows the Truth,
and, despite that truth,
will not spare Himself
the scourge,
the crown of thorns,
the nails
and the spear.

At the moment, Peter’s words are unreliable.

He’s just prattling.


This is a problem that teachers face.

Just how does a teacher put
thoughts and ideas into words
so that students can understand them,
and then go on and use them well?

It isn’t easy, because you have
to know how you are thinking
and how the student is thinking!

Teachers would love to know
the thoughts of their students
just to make sure that their lessons are sinking in.

If you use even one wrong word,
then you can utterly ruin
any potential understanding that a child could have.

It’s a reality that all teachers have to face
- have they explained things clearly enough?

Is what they have taught accurate?

Are they guilty of prattling?


If one word can cause a child to go wrong,
what about a culture which is
saturated with words and noise?

Look at the information
and misinformation
that we meet on a day by day basis.

One year we are told eggs are good for us,
the next year they’re bad for us.

We’re told there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,
and then that there are none.

The world in which we live is filled with prattle
–meaningless noise,
thoughtless words,
and irrelevant information that corrupts us all.

No wonder people are being misled
into some very dark paths.


And no wonder
that they will not listen to the Church.

The Church has become one voice among many,
and God’s still small voice of calm
is drowned by cries of all kinds.

No one wants to hear a voice of love
that says that submission to the will of God
is the road to everlasting happiness.

No wonder
we don’t get new people through the church door
if we are just adding to the noise around them.

They only hear words,
not what God is saying.

Even the places where we worship
we can fill with noise,
so that we fail to hear the word of God.

“Lord, we just want to praise You,
we just want to glorify Your name,
we just want to give You thanks.”

And God says, “I just want to get a word in edgeways.”

One theologian calls this condition
“the Prattler of Pious Platitudes”
- the tendency within each of us
to block out the words of God
with faint and empty praise.


If the message of God
is being drowned out by the noise of prattle,
then perhaps the only way
to ring out God’s message of love
loud and clear
is to live the truth of that message of love
in our lives.

Perhaps we don’t have to say a thing
in order to show the love of God to people,
just let our lives be an example to everyone.

The more closely we follow God,
the more His light shines in us,
and that light is utterly unmistakable.

So how do we live our lives
as beacons of the love of God?

Have you been listening?

Have I been prattling?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Big Death and Little Death

Yes, it's another post about Sex! Or is it? Elizabethans used to refer to the act as "the Little Death", and therein perhaps lies the root of humanity's eternal preoccupation with the act of procreation. Sex and Death have been taboo subjects at one time in history or other. Sex was taboo for the Victorians, whereas Death was something of great fascination for them. Now the roles are reversed, Sex is the driving force behind modernity and Death something to be glossed over.

For the Christian, both are terribly important because they both mark fascinating singularities (almost in a mathematical sense) of what it means to live. Conception is the start of life, expiration the end of physical existence. Fr Basil Matthews, erstwhile Abbot of Elmore Abbey, stated that life begins with an inspiration and ends with an expiration - a breath. I'm fond of that picture because of its relationship with the spirit, the pneuma, the ru'ach. But nonetheless, life begins, not with a physical breath, but with the amalgamation of two microscopic gametes and this in conjunction with the inspiration of a soul. An organism comes together, and then a while later falls apart again.

The fact that there is an imbalance between our regard for Sex and Death means that our view of life is skewed terribly. "In the midst of life, we are in death" - the two go together! However, in modernity, our preoccupation is with Sex, as a way of forgetting about death.

"The look" is to be young and thin, full of vigour. Our teenagers are bombarded with images of scantily-clad peers, the natural drive being supplemented by the need to demonstrate that vigour. Our elders are held in disrespect, because they are old and ugly, steadily getting weaker until they disappear into boxes in the ground or behind a curtain. Death is the punishment for becoming unsexy, which we must all steadily become, if "unsexy" means older and less potent.

Mankind craves potency, control over his own destiny, and seeks to extend that potency artificially if need be. And Death comes along, and renders his power infinitesimal. Modern "Sex" then attempts to drive away Death, only the attempt is utterly futile, not least because Sex to stave off Death is already dead.

The Christian position has always been the greatest reverence for both Sex and Death, and this is why the Church is "obsessed" with both. Except that it isn't obsessed, certainly not as the world is. Sex is good - it means Life - and Death is good, because Death has no longer any sting for the Christian, but is the doorway to an eternity full of the ecstasy and passion that both life and death possess.

In accepting that we have no control over our life, but submitting to the will of Christ we are free to be born, to engender life and to die without the need to prove anything. We therefore enjoy Sex - and I believe that even celibate Religious Folk are given the sense of euphoria that accompanies it - and we actually enjoy Death because our passage from this world means the ultimate and aweful propect of being with the Someone who loves us all.

In Christianity, neither the Big Death, nor the Little Death has the sting, neither the grave nor the bedroom has the victory.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

By their fruits shall ye know them.

In my online meanderings, I came across this article by Catherine Thiemann which seeks to analyse the activities of the AAC and the network. A number of my friends have seen it as a direct insult by someone who doesn't really want to listen to what the AAC and the Network have been saying.

If we're honest then there have been harsh words on both sides of the impending schism. We Anglo-Catholics are reknowned for being spiky in more ways than one, and I myself must confess to having been very sharp with posters on the Anglo-Catholic Central message board.

I don't think Liberals understand the passion that we Anglo-Catholics have for the true worship of God. Liberal worship seems tailored to the individual rather than to God, and that in itself is disunifying, schismatic at the heart, because it renders the individual will as being authoritative over Tradition. We cannot choose to preach that homosexual practice is a not a sin, because the Divine Revelation says that it is a sin. The charge that Dr Thiemann lays at the door of the Network is that of being "incorrect and divisive." If the AAC and the Network have been so, then it is not in the region of Christian Orthodoxy, which is where Dr Thiemann's understanding of the Church fails.

As an Anglo-Papalist, I believe that that the Orthodoxy of the Anglican Church exists from its time in union with the Holy See. Anglo-Catholics proper disagree with this notion and believe that Anglicanism has possessed an Orthodoxy and Catholicity from the outset. Whether Anglo-Papalist or -Catholic, there does exist an Anglican Orthodoxy and both groups agree that exists in some form, namely the Orthodoxy of Scripture and Tradition and the use of Reason in subordination to these two. The Articles say that the Bible contains all that is necessary as pertaining to Salvation, so why doe Liberals still persist in trying to reinterpret the Bible to suit their well-intentioned, but dangerously erroneous self-inspired theses.

Dr Thiemann quotes the AAC chairman, the Rev'd Canon David Anderson as saying that Reason cannot be trusted. Indeed it cannot if it departs from Scriptural and Traditional bases. I think the Liberal idea of Reason being used here is "any argument, or thesis, that can be used to get a text that says 'black' to reveal that it is in fact saying 'white'."

This Liberal understanding of Church treads a fine line between being Christian and being "spiritual but not religious" (see below). Indeed, I learn that in the Diocese of Ely, a priest who has converted to Hinduism has been given "permission to officiate", the same permission that I possess to stand up in Church and preach a sermon. If Dr Thiemann's maxim "by their fruits shall ye know them" is applied, then we see the Liberals encouraging syncretist and counter-Christian ideals.

That's not to say that the Network is faultless in its dealings. If the accusations against Howard Ahmanson are true (and I really don't know if they are), then he must realise that going back to Levitical Law is out of the question. I have seen FiF priests treat a woman "priest" very shabbily.

What to do?

Well Anglo-Catholics and -Papalists must realise that in a world of words, the voice of Orthodoxy is going to be ignored, especially by those who claim to have the moral high ground because they use Reason. Perhaps we must concentrate on putting our house in order, unifying the Catholic Faith and by living that Faith as an example to the world. Perhaps when we're stable, we can begin a dialogue with the Liberals, but I think we need our space. Do we split from the Liberals? We may have to. Not out of hatred, but because we must walk apart like David and Jonathan on opposing sides of the divide. If the Liberals want a reason, the we can say "we have to be true to ourselves" and that will satisfy them because of their appeals to individualism.

Liberals must realise that the individualism of the secular world is horribly infectious. Our Lord said "deny thyself, pick up thy cross and follow me." I do feel for homosexuals because of the cross that they have to bear if they do deny their "right" to practice. I have a very dear friend who has indeed taken up that cross and has borne the pain of the cross to the admiration of his friends and his life does indeed point to Christ. To deny one's one will and bear the will of God as a cross is the true way forward, not to indulge one's will and then "reason" that it is in fact the will of God. If we suffer because of the will of God, then He has promised us something terribly special in the life to come.

Is this a rant? I hope not. I desire Unity, but not at any price. Was Judas included in the Lord's prayer ut unum sint?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ye Modern Muficke Sonnge

A song written in my last year as an undergraduate. Silly, but how true do you think it is?

I have written music to go with it. The verses are a parody of the well-known "song" Shine, Jesus, Shine. The chorus is an ornamented version of Purcell's hymn tune "Westminster Abbey." Feel free to use your own imagination!

1. Music’s gone through different phases,
Odd adjustments and various crazes.
Yet what I find really perturbing,
Perplexing, alarming, and rather disturbing:
Modern Hymns,
Modern Hymns!

Praises To the English Hymnal,
Solid and stable as a rock.
Never wrong or unpredictable,
Timing stricter than a clock,
Yet poetic and eclectic,
And with style that none should mock.

2. Modern hymns have got lots of oddities.
Misprints and page turns are not commodities.
Timing’s erratic and I don’t know what key it’s in;
Looks like D flat but I don’t see how G fits in:
Augmented fourths!
Augmented fourths!

Praises to the English Hymnal,
Realm of concord and harmony.
Dissonance is merely passing
Polyhymnia’s testimony.
True and proper, won’t come a cropper.
Nothing false, fake or phoney.

3. Where’s the poetry in modern musicianship?
Rhyming’s slack and the grammar be on the slip.
"Gonna" isn’t a word in the Testament!
Joshua and Moses wouldn’t know what on Earth it meant!
In English Please!
In English Please!

Praises to the English Hymnal,
Worthy Paragon of language pure.
Thou declaim’st in English perfect
No split infinitives must we endure.
Theologically,and pedagogically
From all folly doth us inure!

4. OK, the green book’s got lots of big words in it,
And the hymns last well over a minute,
But each line fits the tune, not vice versa,
Modern Hymns just get worser and worser!
Some lines really don’t fit at all!
Some lines really don’t fit at all!

Praises to the English Hymnal
And perhaps to AMNS!
Sixteen verses of "Let all Mortal"
Cause no permanent anguish or distress.
"Praise my Soul" or "Love Divine"
Are loved by all. Well, more or less!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Dawn of a New Day.

I'd thought I'd lost this sermon with the great laptop crash earlier this year. However, I'm pleased to have found this, my first Easter Day Sermon, in a box of papers. I enjoyed preaching it, I hope you enjoy it.

Sermon preached at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Swanscombe on Easter Sunday 27th March 2005, bast on St John xx.1-18

It may be still dark,
but can you at least hear him running?

Four o'clock in the morning,
and he is running,
faster, ever faster into the darkness,
heart rattling like a pneumatic drill,
lungs burning,
gasping for breath.

This young man has easily overtaken his friend,
leaving poor flabby old Peter
wheezing and puffing somewhere behind him
in the gloom of the night.

He has to see this for himself.

Can it possibly be true?

The horrible events of the weekend
are carved into his brain:
betrayal and taunts,
whips and thorns,
cross and blood,
tears and death.

Only a few moments ago,
he was overwhelmed by misery like the others,
and then that terrible report
from Mary Magdalene,
the woman that the world once called mad.

Her words.
"He's not there!
They've taken Him away!"


It is still dark,
the dying night still turns rocks and trees
into phantoms on the landscape
yearning for the morning.

The wind whistles through his hair;
his sweat blinds him as he runs,

Why have they taken Him?"

"What more can they do to Him?"


The tomb is in sight,
just a cave in the bleak landscape.

The rock that formed the door lies to one side,
thrown out of its groove,
making a new home for itself
among the other rocks.

He sees the dark opening,
and finally he lets his pace drop.

With chest heaving,
he pauses at the entrance,
stoops down and looks into the tomb.

But he doesn't go in .

the disciple whom Jesus loved,
the one who reclined next to Jesus three nights ago,
the one who has raced so fast to get here
to find out what has happened,

He glances inside only for a second,
but stays exactly where he is.

All Creation screams at him, "Why?"

"Why haven't you gone in?"

Why, John, have you raced all that way
why have you nearly done yourself a mischief
running so hard,
and do not see what you've come to see?

Do you know why he's stopped?


He's the first to look into the tomb.

Mary saw the stone rolled away:
that was enough to send her skittering away in panic
back to the others.

He can see the linen cloths,
but that doesn't answer our question.

Why, John, have you not gone in?

What if it's a plot by Scribes and Pharisees
to winkle out those nuisance followers
of the One who called himself a king?

Yes, they're in there now,
hiding behind the door,
ready to leap out.


Didn't that cloth move?

Caiaphas the High Priest
is hiding underneath,
isn't he?

If John goes in,
he'll be nailed to a cross himself,
won't he?


Well, if they were going to jump out
then they'd have done so by now,
wouldn't they?

Besides, that cloth is only moving
in the early morning breeze.

What if they've done something nasty to Him?

Let's not think about that.

They hated Him
surely crucifying Him was enough!

they got all their hatred out of their system
jeering at Him,
mocking Him,
and laughing at His pain.

What if there's a thief in there?

What if there's a madman inthere,
or a murderer,
or a ghost?

What if...


Step back!

Peter is barging past John,
straight into the tomb,
no messing about.

There's nothing in here;
it's empty.

All that fuss and it's empty!

Just a cave in a rock
with some strips of cloth lying about.

He is not here.

Surely Peter,
you must remember what He said to you.

Have you forgotten that
He said He would die and be raised again
on the third day?

Have you forgotten
how you told Him off for saying such horrible things,
and how He shut you up in no uncertain terms?

But no,
Peter's mind is clouded with guilt,
and the rocky walls of the tomb
taunt him with the phrase:
"Oh no! You never knew the man!"

Can you still hear Peter's denials
echoing in this chamber?


John joins him,
and finally,
finally believes Mary's story.

Mary was right.

The mad woman speaks
the sanest sanity of them all.

The tomb is empty,
except for a thousand bad memories
and a thousand fears
that hide in the shadows.

Peter and John leave,
their world spinning around them,
tormented by guilt and fear,
and now confusion
and half-remembering,
back to the other disciples.

"What do we tell them, Peter?"

"That He's gone, they've taken Him away!"

"But Peter, isn't it strange
that someone would steal His body,
but take the trouble to fold up the napkin
that was on His head
and place it somewhere else in the tomb?"

As you walk with them,
what do you say to them?

Back they go to join the others,
their guilt and fear going with them.

Watch them go into the darkness,
though isn't it a little lighter now?


And then there's Mary.

A long weekend made longer
her heart as dark as the sky on that Good Friday,
the meaning of her life destroyed.

Her eyes have not been a stranger
to tears in the past few days,
and this is more than her heart can bear.

She falls to her knees
and that loving heart of hers breaks.

What could you say to her that would make a difference,
that would stop those agonised tears?

She cries so hard
that she almost misses the angels
sitting patiently in the tomb.

"Madam, why are you weeping?"

She cries so hard that she thinks
she sees the gardener
but her tears blur the man's face,
her sobs his voice.

"Oh sir,
if you don't want His body,
let me take it away out of your hands
so that it doesn't bother you any more."

It is just one word that changes everything,
simply her name being called.

But that voice that speaks that one word
is the voice that dries tears,
the voice that dispels fear,
the voice that alleviates guilt,
the voice that she has loved
since it cast away
the darkness of her mind.

"Oh, my Master!"


It is no longer dark;
the brilliant flash of the new day's Sun
sheds its light on the garden,
and the previous days' events
can be seen for what they are.

Their shadows melt in the cool rays of morning,
as we watch Mary skittering out of the garden again
with a wonderful story to tell.

Here is Jerusalem at dawn
on the first day of the week,
the tomb just a hole in the rock,
the cross just a lump of bloodstained wood,
the Scribes and the Pharisees just men asleep in bed,
in the darkness of their hearts.

A walk to Emmaus begins
disciples gather in a locked room
a new life for Humanity dawns.

A new day!


This is the day that the Lord has made.

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Catholic Church and its relationship with the Holy See

Albion's Anglican Continuum blog has a wonderful article about the Holy See and its relationship with other Catholic Churches. It really is worth a look.