Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Celibate Homosexual

I'd just like to draw your attention to Ed Pacht's fascinating article on the issue of homosexuality and celibacy. It is very much worth a read.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Blogday 2008

Another blogday! My third, as it happens.

I've clearly not written as much as I did last year, when I wrote:

At the moment, I appear to be in some self-imposed exile from my parish celebrating only the Morning Office until the Mass is treated with some respect. It's a bit of a bind when the only other parishes within walking distance (and since I don't drive, this is necessary) are an Aff-Cath church where things are done decently but the theology dodgy, and a Roman Catholic Parish which seems to treat the Mass with about as much reverence as the parish I'm trying to leave.So I end this blogyear in some kind of ecclesiastical limbo - certainly not a perfect arrangement, and I hope that this is going to be entirely temporary. Now that I receive communion on a much more sporadic basis, I believe I appreciate the spiritual nourishment better.

Whatever state the C of E may be in, I still maintain my links with Elmore Abbey - the only place where I've really felt spiritually uplifted in past years, and it's partly for them that I am loathe to leave the C of E. The Abbey has always represented a weak link between the C of E and the Roman Catholic Church. I find that I need them and on some level they need me, and I find that this is enough for me to remain in a church whose establishment is falling around my ears.

I seem to have spent my year building up my (lack of) understanding of Anglo-Papalism which gets mentioned every other post making me sound like the stuck record of a monomaniacal parrot. It's important because of the confused nature of the discipline. Every Anglo-Papalist is confused on some level and that's because the Church is a confusing place to which to belong. I now have friends like Marco Vervoorst trying to draw me into the Holy See, and others, like my friends from the Continuum trying to call me into a Continuum parish. It just shows what good friends they are, caring about me like that, and it is very much appreciated even if their attempts are not proving successful. However, I pray about the situation nightly, and despite my pressing for a decision, I still feel that I am told to wait for the path to become clear. Perhaps I must wait for the inevitable fragmentation of the C of E - that would make sense (at least to me). I have to be patient, and so must my friends. Intellectual arguments are not enough at the moment.

My Latin is passable, Greek even worse, and Hebrew infinitesimally better, but at least I've settled into the school which is providing spiritual stimulation of an intriguing kind. Having to defend your beliefs to young adults is very bracing and I heartily recommend it.Thanks for reading over the past year. I hope that you will stay with me and pray with me for the Holy Estate of the Church of God, whatever state she's in.

Well, what's changed? Very little on the Parish front. I ceased my sabbatical just after Easter, but I no longer preach in church because there is little point if the liturgy is made up and the Mass lacking direction, and there is no attempt to bring the congregation into the presence of God. Anything I preach is now exclusively at the school.

It's also been a year in which my faith has suffered a bit of a blow at the hands of my rationalism. However, according to the BBC Television series Apparitions, it's good to take one's faith out of the box and give it an airing, though that's the trite way of looking at it. God does not exist just to provide explanations to those who have no intention of believing in Him, nor for those who are unwilling to invest some intellectual effort into understanding this universe. As it is I do feel closer to God at the moment as my exile continues.

Ties with Elmore Abbey have improved. I am now in the process of becoming a novice oblate for which I am thankful. Clearly the monks at the Abbey are the subjects of much prayer in their rather diminished state. The Community has enriched the lives of many folk and, in this day and age, they need to continue for the sake of showing how to live the gospel of Christ rather than bellowing it badly from street-corner megaphones.

As for my rabid Anglican Papalism, well, I haven't had much time to think about it of late, though there appears to be movement happening there. It's hard to call oneself a member of a movement if one is, to all intents and purposes, the only exponent of that movement in one's viewpoint. As Fr Straw points out, what I am looking for as an Anglican Papalist (if indeed that is what I am), does not exist - yet.

I am also pleased to have helped to set up the Anglican Diaspora which has grown steadily since its conception in March. I am grateful to the team of moderators who keep it running well. The Diaspora is just a small attempt to bring together groups of Anglo-Catholics of all hues from around the world in a time when Unity is just not happening, rather the reverse judging from the actions of ECUSA's litigious CEO, GAFCON and Lambeth and the General Synod's declaration that it wants Tradition excised from the C of E by stating that it will not provide episcopal oversight for those who assent to orthodoxy.

One of the areas in which I agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury is that dialogue needs to continue as far as is possible. My question is, how far is he willing to talk with the Continuing Anglicans? He still has ++Coggan's edict to undo before any meaningful conversation can be struck up there, and the C of E needs to hear the Continuing voices as loudly and as clearly as possible as the points that they make are vital to the existence of the Church.

I also pray for greater Unity between jurisdictions of the Continuing Churches. I have seen signs of that in the way that some dioceses have suffragans who are bishops from other jurisdictions. There's a prayer for that to continue to happen.

Study has not been good this year: Latin, Greek and Hebrew have fallen by the side, but musically I've produced a couple of large scale pieces which aren't too bad.

So what of 2009? I hope to get back to studying, though which direction I take is as yet unclear. I also pray for a transformation in attitudes to the Church's worship of God especially in my Parish this year, as it would be nice to preach in the pulpit once more.

Again, my thanks to all readers of this blog and supporters of my online projects. May you all have a God-blessed, fulfilling and thoroughly enthralling 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Feast of the Nativity 2008

When you have sung "Once in Royal David's City" for the 500th time, it begins to lose its appeal, no matter how good the treble soloist who sings the first verse. It's even worse for choristers for whom the whole, rather narrow, gamut of Christmas Carols gets trotted out at each festival service over Advent and Christmastide. It's interesting that the same tunes are always used despite the fact that there are others. "While Shepherds watched their flocks by night" has at least 3 tunes that I know, and I am convinced there are more than that. Yet it's always Winchester Old that seems to be used here in Blighty despite the fact that it goes very well to Cranbrook, better known as "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at".

There are many who want Christmas to be the same each year - the same service of Nine Lessons and Carols, the same Midnight Mass, the same turkey dinner with the same number of cranberries in the sauce, the same amount of wine in the glass and the same television programmes on the box. These are also the same people who claim to be Traditionalists, but they labour under a misapprehension.

As I often find myself saying on this little blogling, Tradition is the life-blood, the DNA of the Church which connects humanity to humanity via the divine humanity and human divinity of Christ. The Church carries the details of God's plan for humanity - the laws that He instigated at the beginning of the universe and thus the consequences of our transgression of these laws, the high standards that He has set for His Creation and thus the dreadful realisation that we miss those standards by miles, the good news that, if we but trust Him, if we do not lose hope and believe that He can, this Universe will be perfected and us with it.

Tradition is nothing to do with stagnation. There are things which will necessarily always remain the same and there are things which will change and develop. The sacraments will not change, their form and function remain immutable to provide the same nourishment, assurance, hope to humanity now and ever more as at the beginning. The interpretation of Holy Scripture will not change or alter, for, like the history of humanity, it is already fast. However, our society changes, and we often perceive it to be for the worst. Humanity does not change in its capacity to sin, but attitudes do change.

The expression of brokenness, of heartbreak, of bitterness, of frustration and misery changes even if its cause does not. The world cries out for its Christ to be born in its midst, but the poor creature is blinded to the fact that that Christ has been born, has suffered, has died, has risen again. All of Creation groans to give birth to the new Creation and despairs because the baby that has been born lies hidden under the veil of 2000 years of history. How can this weary world reclaim its sight of that birth?

The answer is simple - through the Church. That's what the Church is for - to point out what has been, what is and what will be. The Church cannot induce labour to bring about the birth of the new Creation, indeed sometimes the Church behaves as if it were the new Creation with its cry of "We are the One True Church". Yet this is not true.

The Church exists carrying within itself the eye of Tradition which allows the view of Christ born, crucified and risen and points to Christ ascended and in glory. The Church exists to pick up the pieces, to minister to those in pain and to pass on this message of hope that the pain will not last much longer. The Church exists to make the blind see the coming of Christ again in the clouds to make clear the Reality of apotheosis.

And the Church forgets this.

Sometimes the Church believes that it has the Holy Panacea - she doesn't. She can only hold those who are in pain and offer them some Unction in the sacraments. Sometimes the Church tries to force eyes open to witness only a meagre facet of the Truth, a facet which the eye does not recognise to be true. Sometimes the Church tries to lay aside the weight of her Tradition to attract those in pain with distractions but in doing so, distracts the sufferers from the Truth. Sometimes the Church becomes obsessed with doing things the same time and again that she fails to engage with anyone but herself, indeed seeks to separate herself from herself in order that she might be pure.

Yet, this is not Church-bashing, this is honesty and demonstrative of one key fact, that the Church has the characteristics of humanity, gloriously contradictory, paradoxical, infuriating, and yet with the freedom that God gave her in the first place. So glorious is this humanity, that God is pleased, not grudging, to become human Himself, to enjoy life with human beings and to redeem the whole stupid lot of them because, despite their stupidity they are so superb a creation that they are worth saving.

The little baby in a manger that we see year after year is our sign of hope. If we are insisting that our celebrations do not change, then our hope is too small and we point ourselves inwardly and away from the Christ-child. If we loathe Christmas because it has become too materialistic, then how do we expect it to improve if we do not seek how it is supposed to improve. It's our job as a Church to prepare the world for the second coming - however it is supposed to happen. We have to carry the gravitas of the past with our eyes fixed on the future of Christ to come.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Reality of Unity?

My good friend Ed has just published this over at The Continuum blog.

It's a very good question - "Is achieving unity merely a matter of convincing one another to believe the same things, or is unity really something deeper?"

Clearly, the former idea of Unity can never really be achieved because our belief is shaped by our individual being. Each of us experiences God in a way that is unique to our personal humanity, yet we all share the experience of being human.

The main issue seems to be that there is no universal language of the soul. One can see this in the differences in which St James and St Paul approach the "faith and works" issue. Do these Church Fathers agree on what Faith is and what place works have in our salvation, or does their agreement appear only after their lifetimes as a result of the work of subsequent Church Fathers?

We can agree with what we mean by a door, but if we take the door off of its hinges and lay it across a stream, is it now a door or a bridge? Now here again we can get disagreement, and I dare say that Ed will disagree with me on that!

As an Anglican Papalist realising just how difficult it is to be an Anglican Papalist at this time, the issue of Unity with the Holy See is still of great importance. I maintain my stance that I am already within the Holy See and that all that needs to be done is for the Holy Father to recognise that I am what I say I am and rescind the excommunication of the Orthodox Anglican Church as well as the excommunication of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and recognising that Anglican Orders are actually very valid.

This would achieve the aim of a visible sacramental unity between the two Churches.

However, this is terribly unlikely because all three expressions of Christianity have one thing in common - they are all equally convinced that they have the Truth. Well, actually, that's true. They are the One True Church, individually not together, but they cannot express that Truth in a way that produces a coherent and unifying statement of the Truth. Atheists might argue that this is grounds for disbanding the Church because she does not agree with herself, causing religious hatred between communities.

I remain convinced that if a validly ordained priest says the prayer of consecration over bread and wine then, regardless of this thing called "denomination," Christ becomes Really present, and it is the same Christ irrespective of whether the priest be Roman, Anglican or Eastern.

The divisions in the Church are largely illusory, and I pray that we see just how illusory they are on this side of the veil before the coming of Christ. Until then, I pray very much that one day I shall see an Anglican Archbishop and Easter Patriarch concelebrating Mass with a Pope.

For some of my readers, that will be utterly abhorrent, particularly if they are of the dogmatic mindset. That's the problem with the Reformation - I wonder if it would ever had happened if the Popes and the Protestants had been Franciscans rather than Augustinians and Dominicans, what if they had all been Benedictines instead? This is the trouble, there is no unity of psychology, hence the differences between the monastic orders and understandings.

I wonder then if we are not already united where it counts, through the Ut unum sint of Our Lord's prayer, and that this unity will be revealed finally when He comes in glory to judge both the quick and the dead. I pray that this realisation may appear before then, so that the Church can truly work as one unit. We need to: if we keep splitting then the Church will cease to be, at least as a credible expression of the existence of the love of God in an increasingly atheistic, materialistic and apathetic world.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An explanation? I doubt it!

I am in two minds about publishing this since it is so deeply personal. However, if it helps someone out of a dark place then perhaps it is worth the exposure.

I relish my time of prayer on Saturday when I have a little time to disappear into a space within myself and meet with God. Of course I usually nod off, but do so remembering that "He gives to His beloved sleep". However, lately prayer has not been a very pleasant experience.

About a month ago, I sat in my chair trying to bring my latest attempts to demonstrate how wrong Dawkins is to the College, when I first heard a voice that came from my own being say "but really now, there is no God. You're just play-acting, aren't you? You're doing your old trick of taking the standpoint of a minority and argue it, just for the intellectual exercise."

To say that I was deeply worried that such a voice can come from me is an understatement. God has been part of my life since birth - I was Baptised and Anglican and have been attending Mass on Sundays for practically all my life, and here is a voice which is my own, telling me that really it was all play-acting and that God did not exist.

Well of course, I found this occurrence disturbing. When you've put a lot of work into the Church, spent time in training and reading, listening and praying with people and preaching sermons, the last thing you want to hear is that not only have you wasted your time, but you've actually missed out on some of Life's joys such as a lie-in on Sunday morning.

My relationship with God is better (when I haven't fallen into sin and crushed myself with guilt) lately since I've made a little more space for Him during Advent. I still have the little atheistic voice within me, but I'm wondering that it's there because I'm moving into a new way of thinking about God and the old way wasn't good enough. Perhaps that voice has been saying that the idea of "God" that I was holding onto is not God, thus the concept of God that I had been holding in my deeply Thomist/Mathematical fashion was not good enough. In that sense my atheistic voice is right God doesn't exist in the way that I though He exists, and that's actually quite a comfort to me.

I have been tracking the source of this voice, and I believe that I have found whence it comes. If we believe in God because His existence explains things, then we come up against the possibility of other explanations. The way that the Lord walked on water may be explicable through hidden stepping stones, or that due to a very special set of circumstances, the Lord made use of special waves which increased the surface tension of the water - unlikely, but it's an explanation- or that it simply didn't happen and the Bible is wrong in the literal sense of Jesus walking on water.

There are some very convincing explanations as to how the plagues of Egypt followed a pattern resulting from a volcanic eruption which also explains the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. However, the idea is that any Biblical account has a rational explanation and that it always has to be scientific.

Of course, the phrase "scientific explanation" has the unfortunate association with atheism, when in fact Science properly done is neutral, and it is only our worldviews that give science a theistic or atheistic spin. It doesn't actually bother me whether or not there is a scientific explanation for the Miracles of Christ, or for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. If some occurrence causes me to wonder, or to be struck with awe, or points me to God in any way, then that is a miracle, at least for me. Miracles, like music, are icons in Time, as opposed to Space, windows into the Reality of God.

I remember sitting on a train and being struck by the presence of a hand-hold on the top of the seat in front of me, which brought me to consider its purpose, and the intention of its design, and that brought me to God. In that sense, that insignificant object was a miracle for me. It wasn't there to be explained, or to explain God's existence, it was just there. And God is just there as well.

Sometimes I wonder if using the existence of God as an explanation for why things are is a form of taking His name in vain. The Church has made mistakes in the past in making dogmatic statements about Reality which are untested and never actually stated as articles of faith within Tradition or Holy Scripture. These dogmatic statements can lead us to a "God of the gaps" whereby God explains that which cannot be explained by Science, and as Science probes deeper, God shrinks. God does not shrink, so our concept of God is too small.

There are many exciting questions about the nature of reality that a neutral Science with its truly open mind can seek to answer. It will not find God, because the existence of God is metaphysical not scientific. I have found philosophical difficulties with the Eternity of God in opposition to our free will and His Omniscience. But seeing that Scientifically we do not know what Time is, let alone why we can only move forward and not backwards, our understanding of Eternity leaves us with an Eternity that is only understandable from within Time, and not from God's perspective. Nor do we know all that is to know, because we know that there is truth that we cannot know scientifically but nonetheless exists as being true thanks to Gödel.

Why do I believe in God, then, if His existence is not to be used as an explanation for why I'm here? I believe in God because He's there and there is no vocabulary in my mind that I can use to produce an any more verifiable assertion than that. I have felt Him move within the fabric of my being, and, like Descartes, I do not believe myself capable of generating the sensations that this movement produces. To the outsider, what I am writing is utterly meaningless, but then I'm not writing to convince anyone that God exists.

So, where does that leave me with this voice of atheism still chirping occasionally when I'm trying to pray? Well, I suppose it leaves me exactly where I always have been, but appreciating that I simply do not believe in the same God that the atheists do not believe in. My image of God has been destroyed, and that's a good thing. I've been deliberately trying not to have an image of God for some time. The God that created this universe does not need to explain Himself or to be used as an explanation for why things are. Things are, because He wants them to be and that's all the explanation that a believer needs. I cannot help the unbeliever to believe by explanation because there will always be as counter-explanation which may be more or less convincing.

It does leave me somewhat blinder in prayer, and I suppose the work of the next coming months will be to find out where He has moved to and how I am better to approach Him this time.