Thursday, May 29, 2008

A command or stating the obvious?

Yes, it's that dire little ditty that I once translated into Latin. I thought that since I had spent some time below on the error of I'm Accepted I ought to consider the error of an infamous song.

Lord, the light of Your love is shining,
In the midst of the darkness shining.
Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us;
Set us free by the truth You now bring us.
Shine on me, Shine on me!

Shine, Jesus, shine;
Fill this land with the Father's glory;
Blaze, Spirit blaze,Set our hearts on fire.
Flow, river flow,
Flood the nations with grace and mercy;
Send forth Your Word, Lord,
And let there be light.

Lord, I come to Your awesome presence,
From the shadows into Your radiance;
By the blood I may enter Your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness,
Shine on me, shine on me.
Shine, Jesus ...........

As we gaze on Your Kingly brightness,
So our faces display Your likeness;
Ever changing from glory to glory,
Mirror'd here may our lives tell Your story,
Shine on me, shine on me.
Shine Jesus ............
The question is: what is this song actually saying?
The first two lines "Lord, the light of Your love is shining, In the midst of the darkness shining." This is just a statement of fact, that the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehends it not. A sound biblical idea, so why then "Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us; Set us free by the truth You now bring us. Shine on me, Shine on me!"

From a purely logical point of view, either the light is shining on "me" or it isn't, since we have established in the first line that it is, there is no need for the second line. So much for logic.

The more important issue is this "Shine on me" business. When I translated this into Latin of course I had to use the imperative which is used to express commands and urgent requests. If this were an urgent request, I would expect to see some act of supplication, reverence and recognition of a need. I don't perceive that here, and even if it was here, the sheer gusto and hand-waving and general abandonment to the pleasure of singing for its own sake make it quite clear that this has none of the flavour of a request, but rather a demand. If that is the case then the song is guilty of Blasphemy in denying the Kingship and Authority of the Divine Christ.

Don't misunderstand me here, please. I am fully aware of the outpouring of love that the Saviour has for all Mankind, that it is boundless, that it is pure and overflowing with a liberality that one cannot truly fathom. But it isn't cheap and has come at a terrible price. Thus Our Christ's gift of love must not be held in as scant disregard as this song implies. Yes it talks about the Lord's "Kingly Brightness" but where is the humility?

Unlike "I'm accepted" there seems to be (albeit scant) reference to our need for cleansing: "Search me, try me, consume all my darkness". However consider that this is one line, sung quickly and triumphally, it renders it more of a boast, than an act of humility. What of the self-examination and confession for the individual to do?

Notice that the whole song is Christ do this, Lord do that. I hear in my head Our Lord saying "Yes, I'm doing this already, but what are you going to do?" I seem to remember in one of my previous sermons a mention of the Prattler of Pious Platitudes, the phenomenon of heaping praise and praise upon God until the words become meaningless and God Himself cannot get a word in edgewise. What of sitting and listening to God? How does this song allow God to speak to us? At its best it is just a meaningless sing-a-long. It's only when you try and put meaning to it that it truly gets worse!

Monday, May 26, 2008


by George Herbert

When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears;
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse:
My breast was full of fears
And disorder:

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thun-der
Of alarms.

As good go any where, they say,
As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come,
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! all day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung:
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favours granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rime.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Holy Herpetology and Loving the Lizard

It must be quite a shock to realise that each one of us has a lizard to look after. It's a large, scaly and quite ugly brute, but there is something inherently lovable about it. The main problem with it is that it is a danger to itself and others since it scuttles about uncontrollably, smashing into things, getting stuck in things, wedged in gaps and generally damaged by the harsh environment. For something so large, for its own good it needs to be confined carefully, and looked after well.

It needs somewhere with a good strong walls that it can't climb over or dig under; it needs regular meals and water. Every now and then it needs to be taken out of its cage and looked over carefully, noting its needs so that it can live and grow as God's creature should. Of course, when it's out of the cage, it does need to be kept under control.

You might think that it would be better for you to get rid of the lizard. After all, it's too much to handle, too cumbersome, too uncontrollable, too ugly. Why not find a good herpetologist to pass it onto? They'll look after it and keep it well. Alternatively, you might just let it run loose in the world. But then it damages everything and everyone around it. It's irresponsible to let the thing run wild, like those dreadful dog owners who let teir animals run loose and refuse to clear up after them and so pollute the common for everyone.

No. You have to look after your own lizard, and look after it well. It is, after all, a big part of you, a part that you cannot yet get rid of. If you mistreat, it then you are mistreating yourself. If you hate it, beat it, abuse the poor thing, or even try to kill it, then it is your very self that you hate, beat, abuse and seek to destroy.

St Paul tells us that we have to acknowledge the existence of the lizard but that we should not let the thing run riot. We are, after all, in the world, not of it. If we let our lizard loose, then we become of the world - creatures of stimulus-response, sensation-reaction, itch-scratch. However, we are created to be much more than that, that it is sometimes better for a delay between the stimulus and the response in order to ensure that another's life is taken into account and for love to grow. The lizard isn't capable of love, that's why it needs us. Yet its existence is a gift from God to us, because it is through the lizard that we encounter the physical reality of the world as a biological organism.

If we look very carefully at the lizard, then we really do become aware that we cannot be sure where it stops and we start: it is that much a part of us.

Why don't you take a look at your lizard now. It may not be pretty; you may regret that you have it; it may make living very difficult, but the poor brute does have your face, and it has been created to be loved.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Documenta Latina

Gloria Deo! Cuniculus laetus sum!

Ecce! Hoc est locus in quo Papa noster linguam Latinam alere quaesivit.

Lingua mea fortasse emendabitur!

A choral analogy

As I struggle through trying to understand my Anglican Papalism (which my friends on the Diaspora help me to do one way or another) I am struck by some of the wonderful polychoral pieces by folk such as Striggio, Josquin, Gabrieli and Palestrina, and the master Tallis (and before anyone points out that Striggio's newly rediscovered mass in 60 parts trounces Tallis, I point out that the trounce is purely numerical and not qualitative) - how they all manage literally to sing from the same hymn sheet yet make such a wonderful noise - dissonances, resolutions, suspensions, arching melodies calling and answering.

And so I reflect on that with regard to our relationship with Rome and with the East (don't think that because I'm a Papalist I want to forget about the East - indeed it's through the East that I believe a better Anglican-Roman reunion may come) it seems to me that this is what we should be, three large choirs singing from the same hymn sheet, each with different mixtures of different types of voices.

The question is, what's the hymn sheet we should be using? Can we agree?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Coping with cleverness

Homily preached at Eltham College on 9th May 2008 based on Ecclesiasticus xxxvii.21-30

What could possibly be worse
than getting
nought out of a hundred in a test?

There you are,
in your favourite lesson as your teacher
with all the venom of a king cobra
suffering from a liver problem
dishes out the test results.

Around you, your classmates groan,
“42 percent.”
“36 percent, my mum’ll kill me”
“27 percent, that’s not fair,
I worked really hard for that!”

Finally the fatal moment
as your test result is revealed.

Trembling slightly,
you brace yourself for the revelation.

It only takes a single fatal moment
before the grim reality hits you.

Sweating profusely, you groan audibly.

“100% Well done!”

Why should a 100% test result
produce such a reaction?

Well the answer’s obvious, isn’t it?

You got 100%
when everyone else struggled to get 50.

Worse than getting 0% in a test
is getting 100% a clear head and shoulders
above everyone else.

Now you have to hang your head in shame
as the word “boffin” is whispered
around the class.

You know that out on the field
your break-time is going to be turned
into a living hell
as you try to persuade your classmates
that you are one of them really,
and not the teacher’s pet.

It seems that you have a clear choice in life
—be clever or be popular.
Why does everyone hate clever people?


It’s true.

Look at how the clever people
are portrayed in films.

They’re either the mad professor
concocting a way to rule the world
using an army of killer underpants.

Or they are the reluctant ugly side-kick
with bad dress-sense,
thick glasses and bad teeth
helping out the hero and heroine
to solve a difficult problem that
they are just too popular to solve.

It’s the boffin who delivers
the solution to Spiderman
and immediately gets blown up just
after serving his purpose,
whilst Spiderman is hailed as a hero
and gets to snog Kirsten Dunst.

The boffin
never makes the end of the film,
never gets hailed as a hero
by the group of grateful villagers,
never gets the girl.

There’s The Big Bang Theory on Channel 4,
all about a group of men with more degrees
than the lads in Hollyoaks have girlfriends,
and fewer girlfriends
than the lads in Hollyoaks have degrees.
Most of you should know that this is called inverse proportion!

The number of girlfriends
is inversely proportional to the number
of brain-cells that you use!

This doesn’t answer the question:
why are brainy folk unpopular?


It’s fine to put up your hand
to answer a question in class.

You know the answer to a question,
and it gives you confidence that
you’re learning well.

there is something vaguely disgusting
about the boy who,
upon hearing the question asked,
throws his arm up in the air
as if it has suddenly become
magnetically drawn
to the light bulb
and squeaks repeatedly
“me, me, me, ask me, sir”
like a newly emasculated parrot.

It’s often good to let this sort
hang like this for a while,
just on the off-chance that their arm comes off,
or they explode.

There’s also the suspicion about clever people.

After all, they use long words like “synecdoche”
and complicated rambling metaphors
that just pass over your head.

They make you feel small
for not knowing enough
about information that
you’re not interested in.

There’s that dreadful air of superiority as
if knowledge were the only thing that matters.

There’s something about a swot
that can make you feel small and uncomfortable.

They’re creepy.

Who in their right mind
would take pleasure in knowing that
the Earth is 150,000,000 kilometres
from the Sun?

Who cares that the word polygon
literally means many angles,
not many sides?
Who would want to know the difference
between a troll and an ogre?

It’s this obsession with pointless details
that make clever people irritating, isn’t it?

It’s best to avoid them as far as possible.

Let them alone with their equations,
and their sums and their 100%s in tests.


Didn’t you just get 100% in a test
in your favourite subject?

You’re one of them aren’t you?

A swot!


It’s very clear that if you are at this school,
then you happen to have a great deal of potential.

You are clever,
whether you like it or not.

The issue is how you deal with that cleverness,
how you make the most of it.

You can indulge it by isolating yourself
with books and the internet
so that you become the insufferable class swot.

You can suppress it
so that you’ll have an easier time
with friends and “a life” but
you fail to do justice to your own ability
you fail to take pride in who you really are.

Or you can balance your life between learning.

The danger for the class swot
is that he becomes a show off,
who broadcasts his answers to the class
and unintentionally deprives people
of opportunities to show
how good they are at
solving a problem.

It’s the intellectual equivalence of becoming obese.

The danger for those
who want to be popular is that
they view learning as something
to run away from
and lose the opportunity
to become more skilful.

This is the intellectual equivalent of anorexia,
and it’s just as harmful.

The wise person realises
that cleverness is not something to be used
to bash people over the head
or force down their throats
but to contribute to society.
A wise person knows
when to shut up
so to let someone else have a go
at answering the difficult questions.

A wise person knows that
when someone gets 100% in a test
then it’s a sign that
they have the potential within them
to work hard, grow
and perhaps even
change the world for the better.

It isn’t the knowledge that’s important.

It’s what you do with it.

So how are you going to do justice
to your own intellectual brilliance
and allow others to do the same?

Is that a problem
you are clever enough to solve?