Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blogday 2009

Crikey, is it a year already? This little blogling is 4 years old!

As usual, I look at what I wrote last year.


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, as I've got busier, so the number of my posts has got more infrequent. The only moral there is that I am one of those people who will always fill up his time as more becomes available. This isn't a good thing, and now that I have been received as Novice Oblate at Elmore, I am beginning to develop techniques of "wasting time" with God. There is much to be said for sitting in silence - impossible in a classroom, nor easy after a long day in the classroom when the tendency is simply to nod off (God gives to His beloved sleep). Still, that comes with practice.

Of course, there will soon no longer be a community at Elmore due to the monks moving to Salisbury and more manageable premises. Please pray that dedicated monastic vocations will increase in 2010.

The Anglican Diaspora forum is also doing well, though it has quietened down after rather a stormy set of posting by folk with greater pride in their intellect than is healthy.

There have been several low points this year. The first was having to relinquish relations with the Continuum blog which used to be a chance for fair and informative debate, but now seems more intent on ad hominem criticisms of theological worthies, no less than the saintly Cardinal Newman. I see it more of a walking apart a la Paul and Barnabus rather than anything more negative and certainly wish the hosts there every blessing in their ministry.

Secondly, I have been the subject of personal attack and vilification with regard to my conservative attitudes by people whom I had hitherto trusted. They are entitled to their opinions, but if they truly seek to engender a Christian attitude, then they have a lot of thinking and reflecting to do.

And then there's the Ordinariate. I confess that I have problems with it. These problems are not on the grounds of Faith but rather on the grounds of politics and those who would seek to mix Faith and Politics. The Anglican-Roman Schism occurred on account of politics, and its seems that many people are trying to accept the Apostolic Constitution without thinking about the political ramifications and the Anglican milieu. I would be happier if I were in a community that were considering the matter, but, as it was last year, there are no expressions of Anglo-Catholicism in my area.

I am still a Papalist, though I have largely dropped the adjective Anglican because many folk do not regard me as Anglican. Admittedly, I am still very confused as to how I communicate my Papalism in what I claim to be a fully Anglican manner. To many that is a contradiction and that it is impossible to be Anglican and to be the Pope's man. But I am, though I see in myself some doubts as to whether the Holy See and the Roman Catholic Church are precisely the same thing. I need to think more on that. I hope I shall be given the opportunity in the coming year.

I am disappointed by the polemical attitude by some of the Anglican Papalists who seem to think that they can convince less-papally minded Anglicans by smacking them over the head with the Catechism of the Catholic Church without fully appreciating its teaching themselves. Anglican Papalism is better communicated in the sincere, quiet and reserved practice of the Christian religion rather than by unpleasant, personal and polemical argument.

Study has gone completely out of the window. I seem to have been saying each year that I must study more, and each year, I seem never to grasp the opportunities. I guess it is a lack of direction. Seeing that I am using the Breviarium Romanum more and more in my private devotions, I hope that this will at least stimulate some further study. Of course, when I lead worship in my Parish, I am careful to use the BCP and the Anglican Breviary - I'm not that insensitive!

My parish will be moving into an interregnum this coming year, and I don't hold out much hope that we will be protected from women claiming to be in Holy Orders. I do seek to minister as best as I can in the circumstances, but fear that my calling in the Parish will be over by the time of the next Blogday.

There are still some very positive aspects to 2010, and I hope to do a little bit more study and sit a lot more silently over the next twelve months. I'll keep the preaching going, and keep the praying going.

To my readers and my followers, I extend my gratitude for their reading and commenting, and hope that you will all have a grace-filled 2010. God bless.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Feast of the Nativity 2009

The Christmas message sent to all members of the Anglican Diaspora Message Board.

As we come to the end of another year, it seems that Christmass gives us a chance to present the year that is gone to the Christ-child.

We come with tales of joy of new missions or the growth of jurisdictions, of finding a spiritual home or ententes cordiales.

We come with tales of sadness, of squabbling, excommunications and persecutions, of bitterness and a sense of hopelessness - not exactly gifts to bring a newborn baby! The uniqueness of Christ at the centre of Creation means we have no choice what we bring - we bring ourselves.

As we gather around the manger at our Midnight Masses, our Christ-mass, and our Offices on the Feast, we have no choice but spiritually to rub shoulders with all Christians, all straining to gaze upon the Infant Christ. It seems that Christmass offers us its own Ordinariate in which the Ordinary is God Himself as Man. The shelter of this Ordinariate may be a cold, dank and smelly stable, but it is our job to turn it into the palace of a king, for it is here, in Christmass that we find the shelter from the Time's all-consuming storm and the chaos of the world. For what reason has Christ Ordained us, clergyman or lay?

As we gaze upon the Child, we forget all the prophecies of doom, because we gaze upon the Fulfilment of Prophecy, and the End of Humanity as being separate from God. This is our destiny, and what a true Joy it is.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

O Emmánuel

O Emmánuel, Rex et légifer noster, exspectátio Géntium, et Salvátor eárum : veni ad salvándum nos, Dómine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, King and our bearer of the Law, Hope of the people and their Saviour: Come for to save us, Lord, Our God!


O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

The word legifer is intriguing. My Latin dictionary (yes, I found it) translates it as Lawgiver, yet the words lucifer (light bearer) and dapifer (a waiter or feast-bearer) have this sense of carrying something, or bearing something for the purpose of distribution, hence my translation above.

God comes among us, stays with us. Over the past week we have seen how He brings the Law as the Wisdom of God to stretch us into the people upon whom He can smile; how he appears to Moses as the Great Lord Adonai with tables of stone; how He bears the full weight of the Law upon the Cross as the root of David nailed upon the Tree; how He bears the Law to set us free from its shackles; how His Law is a lantern to our feet and a light unto our paths as He rises with the Dayspring; how He bears the Law as King and true and lawful Ruler of the people.

This Divine Law rules the Universe. It may be described as mathematical rules, but these may only describe a meagre portion of our existence. It may exist in Catechisms and Creeds and Councils, but the full Revelation is not yet made. It may show us how to live lives, yet our understanding of its true legality merely hinders us and cannot save us. The Greatness of this Law, the full power of its Salvation lies in one simple fact: a baby is born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

This is the Divine Law. God is with us. He has always wanted to be with us. He was born with us. He died with us. He is with us.

And we shall be with Him.

In Eternity.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

O Rex Géntium

O Rex Géntium, et desiderátus eárum, lapísque anguláris, qui facis útraque unum : veni, et salva hóminem, quem de limo formásti.


O King of the peoples for whom they yearn, and stone of the Corner who makest both one: Come and save Man whom thou formedst of clay.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

The Israelites longed for a king and got Saul then David then Solomon then Rehoboam and with each of them a whole host of trouble. God was naturally quite miffed when the people decided to abandon Theocracy in favour of Monarchy, especially when the One Leader (as Monarch literally translates) is not God Himself.

The result of having one leader who manifestly is not God is that it tends to polarise people. One can look first at the polarisation of the Kingdom of Israel under David's grandson Rehoboam which then divided into Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and then casting one's eye down the annals of the centuries we find divisions all over the show: Catholic and Schismatic, Norman and Saxon, Catholic and Protestant, Church and State, Moslem and Jew, Democrat and Republican, Conservative and Liberal, Science and Religion.

The world is getting wearied by this constant division, especially since some divisions are largely illusory. How does the Magnificat divide people? - the Proud, Mighty and Rich versus the Humble, Meek and Hungry. These are the divisions that really matter in the sight of God who is not a respecter of the masks that we are or the labels that we give ourselves. Humility, meekness (which is not a form of Quietism!) and hunger for God are the tenets upon which the Lord Himself tells us builds the Church. He is the Chief Corner Stone and we are built into the Church using those very tenets: that we are what we are and not what we pretend to be: that we submit our will to the rule of Christ, and that we truly hunger for Him alone.

Division is caused by those who exert their power over others, who believe themselves to be their own law and those who hoard their resources for themselves impervious to another's poverty. These lie at the heart of every Schism.

Christ prayed that we might be one. His prayer is being answered in the affirmative.

Monday, December 21, 2009

O Oriens,

O Oriens, splendor lucis ætérnæ, et sol justítiæ : veni, et illúmina sedéntes in ténebris, et umbra mortis.


O Morning Star, splendour of Eternal light and Sun of Righteousness: come and illumine those sitting in darkness and the shadow of Death.


O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


The British Isles of course have many a relic of its pagan past with the great standing stone circles constructed so beautifully mathematically as astronomical and astrological calendars. Among these great prehistoric edifices, stand Maes Howe in Orkney and Newgrange on the banks of the Boyne in the Republic of Ireland. Newgrange was built about 3250 BC, Maes Howe in about 2670 BC

These latter two are tumuli - tombs of of local families of an age so distant that it barely seems possible. Certainly we are looking at folk contemporaneous with the great Jewish Patriarchs, if not a little before.

And yet Newgrange is beautifully constructed with a tiny window so precisely aligned that, as the Sun rises on the Winter solstice itself, the light penetrates this window filling the entire tomb with light for only a few minutes. That radiant light then abruptly shuts out. This event only ever happens at Sunrise on the Shortest Day of the Year. For Maes Howe, it is Sunset on the Winter Solstice when this phenomenon happens. Did these prehistoric folk enter the tomb at this time to be with their ancestors? Or was this light for the benefit of the dead alone? I'm afraid I'm not sufficiently well-read to know.

However, this is just a marvellous example of how the signature of God has been written across the centuries of human consciousness. For here we are, as Christians, finding each year in our liturgy one day of Light in the Darkness. All too briefly, Christmas day is over and we are plunged back into the sameyness of our existence.

The trouble is that we can be tempted to see this light as being samey. We can become clouded and obstructed by the cares of the secular Christmas that the little windows into our souls become blocked up so that the light of Christ does not penetrate into the depths of our being? God gave us Christmas to remember that he has not forgotten us. This world may be dark, but he remembers His mercy, which is probably why the End of Days hasn't happened yet, so that we may have the benefit of seeing the beauty of God's creative Light in our lives.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

O clavis David

O clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israël ; qui áperis, et nemo claudit ; claudis, et nemo áperit : veni, et educ vinctum de domo cárceris, sedéntem in ténebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel; who openest, and none closeth; who closest and none openeth: Come and draw out the convict from the prison-house who sitteth in darkness and the shadow of Death.


O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.


There is very little light in the gaol, just a tiny little window (barred of course) up in the top of the room which casts just a solitary cold white beam onto the filthy wall. As the day moves on, so the light traces its way across the wall, picking out the mould-covered bricks that drizzle water, the spiders' webs hanging with the corpses of long dead cockroaches and the odd slug or snail oozing its way across the wall in a vain hunt for any greenery.

On the floor of the prison, Victor sits forgotten, surrounded by rotten straw, a tattered sheet and, regrettably, his own waste. He sits waiting, stinking; his hair and beard long grown, his clothes barely possessing the integrity to cover his emaciated frame. He sits in pain as his teeth rot, his feet rot and his belly rots, and he longs for release.

There is a clatter, and a plate filled with good bread and a bowl of a good wine are pushed towards him. Victor's eyes light up - feeding time! He grabs the bread, hungrily gnawing at it - it is gone in seconds. The wine is gone in one long gulp.

"Oh Victor," says the voice outside the door. "How long are you going to be in there? It seems like centuries, doesn't it? How long before you feel the breath of the air on your face, the sight of the Sun, the company of good folk? Do you even remember why you're here?"

Victor scurries back to his filthy corner and refuses to move at the sound of the voice.

"Oh Victor, has your memory gone completely? Do you not remember that man with the Key? How he unlocked the door, gave you food and drink, bathed your wounds, spoke words of comfort to you before he left? Look around you, Victor, are you really better off since his visit?

Look carefully Victor. Can't you see it? When that man left you, he left the door open. You have always been free to leave. All you have to do is head for the door, walking, running, crawling, in whatever way you can. Why have you remained there all this time?"

Victor puts his filthy hands with their broken nails to his ears to block out his voice, and settles down to sleep as the light from the window finally goes out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

O radix Jesse

O radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populórum, super quem continébunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabúntur : veni ad liberándum nos, jam noli tardáre.

O Root of Jesse, Who standest as a sign of the people, towards Whom the kings hold their tongues, Whom the Gentiles shall implore : Come for to deliver us, now do not delay!


O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

There are many allusions to the Tree in Holy Scripture. The Tree of the fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Jesse, and the Holy Tree of the Cross.

The tree is a sign that has stood with us for centuries with sacred symbolism. The Norse Myths have Yggdrasil as the binding component of heaven and earth with a root in Hell (Niflheim) gnawed by the wyrm Níðhöggr, the branches stretching into the heavens.

This Pagan tree of Yggdrasil points very directly to the Tree of Christ. The Legend of St Boniface cutting down the Pagan tree to prevent the sacrifice of a Child (thus providing the world with a Christmas tree) shows us the sign of Christ standing in our homes each Christmas, if we bother to see Him amid the modern idols that have been set up at Christmas.

It is Odin who breaks off a branch of Yggdrasil to fashion into a spear with which he will fight. He claims control of Yggdrasil. Likewise, we human beings claim ownership of the world and its resources, all the fruits of Creation are ours for the plucking, or so we thought, as we now see our handiwork in a lest fruitful light.

It is from the Tree of Life that Our Lady is fruitful. The fruit of this tree undoes the captivity of men, be they pauper, prince, peasant or pope. It is the sight of the Crucified king on a tree with the Queen Mother, a little Jewish lady that silences all the claims to authority, of ownership and control of the tree. The Tree is God's and rather than ravish it, He nourishes it with His own Blood, and so nourishes His own people.

This Tree of Life which stretches back centuries will fill the hungry with good things. The Tree of the World cannot nourish us; its fruit cannot sustain us any more than prolong a worldly existence: those who are rich in this will become increasingly ravenous.

Friday, December 18, 2009

O Adonái

O Adonái, et Dux domus Israël, qui Móysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuísti, et ei in Sina legem dedísti : veni ad rediméndum nos in bráchio exténto.

O Adonai, and Guide of the house of Israel, who appearedst to Moses in the flame of the Burning Bush, and to him on Sinai gave the Law: Come for to release us with arm outstretched.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Are we Christians of the New Testament only? Do we really hold the Old Testament as closely to ourselves as we do the new? Yes, of course, we interpret the Old Testament in the Light of the New - that's the correct way - but do we regard the Old Testament as highly as we ought? It has an integrity of its own, after all.

To the Jews, the Bible just consists of that one Testament - the Law and the Prophets, and what a reverence they have for their Law. Why not? It is the Law of God, God-given, God-scripted and God-breathed and it is truly a work of Love. The Law was not written to bind the Jews at all, but to free them from the slavery of the Egyptians both literal and metaphorical. The Great Decalogue, when read correctly, is less an collections of ten dos and don'ts but rather a set of Divine Precepts to enable us to live decent ordered and holy lives. Of course, they give us also measure ourselves against the Will of God and this is the darker side of the Law.

St Paul goes to great lengths to show us that the Law does nothing to help us if we see the Law as an absolute way of working and God as an impassive and remote judge ready to bring down plague upon plague upon any offender. God's true law is written in the sincerity of the heart thirsting for God. Why else does He bother to stretch His arm across what to us may be pan-galactic distances, but to Him a fraction of the Planck Length?

The Law pf God is absolute but powerless to save in itself.

The Love of God is absolute, but to all the lowly servants and handmaids it is an arm that shews strength, shews the Strength of Love as well as the sheer Power of God. Love is stronger than the Law because it fulfils the Law. A little Jewish couple knew it, taught it to their little boy Who took it into His heart, obeyed it with all of His heart, was pierced for it even to His heart and so redeemed us all - with his arms outstretched.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

O Sapientia

O Sapiéntia, quæ ex ore Altíssimi prodiísti, attíngens a fine usque ad finem, fórtiter suavitérque dispónens ómnia : veni ad docéndum nos viam prudéntiæ.

O Wisdom, who from the mouth of the Most High proceedest, spanning from one end as far as the other, firmly and sweetly setting forth all things: come for to teach us the way of prudence.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.




`One side of what? The other side of what?' thought Alice to herself. `Of the mushroom,' said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it aloud.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Antiphons of course span one end of the Magnificat to the other and give us a way to colour that oft said song of Our Lady. However, what are these "ends" of this Antiphon that Divine Wisdom is said to span? The sides of the mouth of God? If so then Wisdom is the expression of a Divine smile beaming out across Creation, for surely a smile is the greatest distance that a mouth can span.

With the song of Joy that is the Magnificat, we can see this Wisdom pour forth a mystery, an abundance of opposites - the Virgin conceives and bears a son; he crooked path is straightened; the exalted are humbled; the humble exalted. This is a Wisdom that challenges our preconceived ideas, our dogmata and our doctrine, that transforms our world and turns them upside down.

And we're supposed to be joyful at this wholesale destruction of our order?

Of course we are! What we see as wholesale destruction is that of our worldliness which, if we let it continue, may challenge the teachings we receive but never negate them, rather open up the way into seeing a wider horizon - the horizon that Wisdom herself spans. Science and knowledge are too thin for Wisdom, for she spans no less than the Divine Smile. The Church possesses the fullness of Divine Truth, but Wisdom dictates that she cannot perceive it in Time, but only in the Totality of her being, Temporal, Aeviternal and Eternal for Divine Wisdom spans Time, Aeviternity and Eternity.

The promise is this: our own existence is infinitesimal, yet if we allow Divine Wisdom to stretch us, then we too will be able to perceive the Smile of God and feel His Joy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

O!

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Refrain

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Refrain

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Refrain

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Refrain

Fr. John Mason Neale


I've not been very good at writing reflections this year. The weight of confusion and disillusionment has lent upon me rather heavily as well as trying to meet the demands of necessity that my wonderful students make of me. I confess that I've not been especially well in my mind this year with depression hitting me rather hard; certainly spirituality has been very difficult to cultivate. However, I am going to make an effort to try and reflect upon the Seven Advent Antiphons and publish them here.

These wonderful Antiphons accompany the Song of Our Lady, the Magnificat from 17th - 23rd December. Most people are familiar with them as the verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, yet their usage as Antiphons seems to be somewhat laid aside within the CofE. The Magnificat is said or sung every Evening, so it is easy for the words to become jaded - if we allow them to. The Antiphons should help us out by giving a colour to that text.

So then, it seems profitable to translate the Antiphons from Latin into English myself, meditate on these and try to see what colours Our Lady's song receives as we move towards the Feast of the Nativity. I shall thus attempt to make my first post on 17th December.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Reasons why you shouldn't kick the Christmas Decorations!

Homily preached at Eltham College on Tuesday 1st December based (loosely) on St. Matthew ii.


Down comes the box
out of the loft.

Well,
eventually,
after Dad manages
to wedge it stuck in the loft doorway,
and only frees it
with a good kicking.

After dusting it down,
the box is opened.

Thus begins the task
of unpacking
the Christmas decorations.

Dad is trying to work out
where on earth to put them this year.

Mum's put the new chest of drawers
in the place where the Christmas tree
used to go.

First out of the box
is that very tree,
that noble exemplar
of Christmas decorations,
proud, lush,
green and elegant.

Of course,
this Christmas tree is plastic
and 12 months in the loft
have rendered it scrunched up
and misshapen,
resembling less a pine tree
and more
an ancient, green
giant lavatory brush.

Next out of the box
is a shoebox marked
“Tree Decorations – Be Careful”
in thick black marker.

The fact that the shoebox
makes a noise
not unlike broken glass
reminds Dad
that kicking the box down from the loft
wasn’t a good idea.
Now he has to make
a trip to Bluewater
to pick up new baubles
and other decorations.

In another shoebox lies the fairy.

However,
decades of facing the agony
of being thrust on the very top of the tree
have taken their toll.

Now she looks about as glamorous
as the discarded Barbie Doll
that Dad sat on last year
- another item on Dad’s shopping list.

And so it goes on.

The tinsel is in a knot
that defies the laws of physics.

The fairy lights have blown a fuse.

And the Baby Jesus
in the very expensive Nativity Set
seems to have been replaced with
a Lego Darth Vader.
The resulting search for the Lord
in an Imperial Tie Fighter
is fruitless.

“Oh,” says Mum,
“why do we bother with this.

It’s the same every year.”

Mum’s got a point don’t you think?

[PAUSE]

Year after year we see,
and sometimes wrestle with,
the same old Christmas decorations
to the extent that they seem commonplace.

Most of you will have seen
between 11 and 19 Christmasses.

Some staff members
are candidates for having witnessed
the first Christmas,
so think what it’s like for them!

We sing of “White Christmasses”,
yet only 13% of the Christmasses
since 1950 were white.
Our Christmas cards show
robins and snow scenes,
happy snowmen scampering cheerully
without fear of boys with flamethrowers,
carol-singers still happy to sing
“Once in Royal”
for the 15,973th time,
lovely country sides from long ago.

However,
a Christmas card
with a bunch of hoodies standing
shivering under a bus shelter
graffitoing
“Happy Chrimbo aiiight”
would not make the front of a card,
yet it’s more realistic given
that we are now in the 21st Century.

It’s difficult to see how relevant
these old fashioned images are
to modern-day folk like us.


But then they all point to an event
even further back in time
– namely the Birth of Christ.

We have to cross oceans of Time
to understand the events
of the original Nativity scene,
especially one without Darth Vader present.

How can an event two thousand years
distant be made relevant to us now?

[PAUSE]

This is the trouble with our modern world.

You can’t easily compare hoodies with shepherds,
or bank managers with the Magi,
or the manager of Travelodge
with a surly innkeeper with built-in stable.

Precise comparisons don’t exist,
but there are parallels that we can look for,
if we understand the imagery.

According to the Legend,
St Boniface stopped a child being sacrificed
by pagans worshipping a tree
by cutting the tree down.

In its place sprang a fir tree
which St Boniface declared holy,
and this subsequently
became the Christmas tree.

You may believe that legend or you may not.

Seeing that there seem
to be no records of Christmas trees
before the 16th Century,
it makes it seem that it is just a story.

Can we be sure though?

Nonetheless,
by putting up a Christmas tree
you are constructing a symbol
that points to Jesus as the Saviour of Mankind.

Just as the child was saved
from the pagans by St Boniface,
so has Mankind been saved by Christ.

But you have to get the symbols right.

In recent years
it was thought that
tinsel represented the guts of one’s enemies
strewn across the sacred tree
and the baubles certain other parts
of his body
(use your imagination).

However,
tinsel wasn’t invented until 1610,
and the practice of hanging ribbons
around a tree served purely as decoration,
adding a bit of colour
to the green branches.

Baubles were meant to represent apples,
the fruit of the tree which brings us back
to the story of Adam and Eve.

Remember that Adam and Eve
ate of the fruit
of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
and were banned
from the Garden of Eden.

Christ was born in the world
in order to reverse that sin,
and that is why the baubles
are on the tree to remind us of this.

The fairy on the tree
used to be an archangel,
probably St Gabriel
who announced the Birth of Christ
to Our Lady.

[PAUSE]

All these symbols
have a place in our homes each Christmas,
and yet we often forget them
or miss them
or sit on them,
or wonder why we bother
when the Fairy lights fizzle
and go out again for the 167th time.

Do you use
the traditional decorations?

Why do you put up what you do?

What meaning is there
in these decorations for you
this Christmas time?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Where it's due?

Why is it so difficult to receive praise?

Someone comes up to you and says, "thank you, you did that so very well." How do you respond?

I'm sure that you respond very politely and graciously, but how does receiving prayer make you feel? Awkward? Embarrassed? Desirous to change the subject?

Why? Isn't it nice to get praise?

Part of the awkward feeling is, "well what do you do with it?" as if you've been handed some mystery gadget with bells, whistles, a sink plunder and a hooter attached and have been told to go away and master it. Criticism you can deal with more obviously. You can defend yourself, your methods and your actions, or you can listen and note what you need to do in future to prevent further criticism. But beware; preventing further criticism might lead to praise!

Then, of course, there are the suspicions. "What is she after?" This is a typical response in an age of cynicism when folk are not to be trusted. You question the sincerity of the person - are they after something, or are they trying to poke fun behind your back?

Another reason for this awkwardness is guilt. "Well done," they say and you think, "ah, if only they knew the truth" and then begin to enumerate every possible way in which your praiseworthy action fails to satisfy your demands on your own ability. Christians are particularly good at the latter, particularly those with a good sized guilt complex. Other Christians fear that receiving praise might injure their reward in heaven. You can imagine the vicar being battered by an irate parishioner for publishing his name beside his sizable donation on the grounds that he was hoping for a Ferrari in Heaven.

Or else, there is the fear that praise will tempt fate to cause some major catastrophe. If one is being praised, then one is receiving something to be proud of, and pride goeth before destruction! This is faulty logic based on equivocation on the word pride. We can think of Wesley (Was it Wesley? I've forgotten.) being told how brilliant his sermon was and replying, "I know, the Devil told me on the way down the pulpit steps."

Isn't it nice to be praised? Someone has found something you did to be brilliant and wants to tell you that it's brilliant. Why not take this at face value? The Christian praises God and rightly so, for God has caused all things to be, and while they do not make sense and may appear dismal and distressing, other things do possess an obvious beauty which gladdens our hearts? And what does God do? Go red and say, "aw shucks, 'tweren't nothing"? He enjoys it and lets others share it. We see him in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the Apocalypse sitting while all around him offer their praises, and He responds by enjoying that praise with those who praise Him. The praise becomes its own reward.

One might say that since we are mere vessels of God's Holy Spirit that we are due no praise whatsoever. A clay pot holds water and is due no praise for what it does, because, that's what it does. If, however, the clay pot has a choice to hold the water and not to leak, warp or spill, then it has actions which can be deemed good and thus praiseworthy.

Praise is better if we don't try to possess it. All our fears above occur because we try to hold onto praise - we don't know what to do with it when we've got it; we hold it up to the light to see if it's genuine; we feel guilty for having it, or try to measure ourselves with it. Praise is about sharing our enjoyment of the good that has been done. Try to possess it, and we lose any joy in it.

Of course Humanity is capable of great evil, but it is also capable of great good from our own free choice. That Good needs to be acknowledged for the simple reason that it is Evil that seems to be predominant in the World and more obvious when it ain't necessarily so. Evil may sell newspapers, but perhaps that is because Good is so abundant that it isn't as noticed.

Thank you for reading so far. Very kind of you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Another couple of blogs for your perusal.

Here is Christian Campbell's blog. Unlike this little blogling, Christian's blog seems more news-oriented, so worth a read.

The other is my good friend and Old Catholic Priest, Canon Jerome Lloyd at Deus Caritas Est.

Please do take some time to visit their blogs.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trick or Triskaidekaphobia?

Homily preached at Eltham College on Friday 13th November 2009, based on Acts xvii.22-31 and Romans viii.28.

It’s Friday 13th!

Your alarm-clock fails to go off
at the correct time
causing you to oversleep
by half an hour.

You leap out of bed
only to find that
the cat’s been sick on your school shirt
and the only clean one you have
isn’t technically clean
but has been lying under your bed
for the past week
where it has been discarded
after a very overactive game
of Wii tennis and has acquired
a smell that can curdle milk
at three metres.

You race downstairs only to find
that your sister has eaten
the last of the Coco Pops,
the milk has curdled having been
in close proximity to your shirt,
leaving you only with toast
which you have to eat quickly
because you’re late for the coach.

You hurtle to the coach stop
only to see it disappear
into the distance as you arrive.

When you finally get to school,
you find that you’ve left at home
the Latin homework
due in to the Headmaster today
without fail.

And here you are now,
sitting here listening
to a catalogue of your woes on Friday 13th,
worrying about
just how the day has it in for you.

What are you going to do
about all the bad luck that lies in store today?

[PAUSE]

Perhaps you try to ward it off.

Make sure that you don’t walk under a ladder.
Check your Horoscope.
Hope that you’ve packed your lucky rabbit’s foot.

Mug a horse for its shoe.

How do these things really affect your luck
for good or bad?

[PAUSE]

It is possible that there is
some Harry Potter magical connection
between a rabbit’s foot
and having good luck,
but let’s be frank:
it wasn’t terribly lucky for the rabbit,
was it?


A horseshoe may bring good luck,
but not if it falls off the wall
and bounces off of your head.

In our culture today,
there seem to be many
of these superstitions
that still exist.
People are frightened by Friday 13th,
others knock on wood,
or cringe when they cross on the stairs,
others are afraid to tread on the cracks
in the pavement
and so wend their way down the street
skittering about like a sparrow with fleas.

Literally the word “superstition”
means “standing over”
and describes the sense of foreboding
that we get when we know
that something’s not quite right
but cannot put our finger on it.

So, you see,
all superstition has its root in fear,
especially fear of the unknown.

Those who have problems with Friday 13th
are associating a particular day with bad luck
because they have a fear of the unknown future.

It’s true to say to a certain extent
that Friday 13th is statistically unluckier
than other days for the simple reason
that people expect it to be unluckier
than other days.
They engineer their own bad luck,
just as you did when you forgot
to set your alarm last night,
or take your clean shirt off of the floor
out of the way
of a fur-ball ridden moggy.


At the heart of every superstition
lies a great paralysing fear
that can seize control over our lives,
cause us to behave irrationally
and make life less enjoyable for us.

Let’s face it,
we’re going to have some days when things go well,
and days when everything seems to go wrong.

That’s what life is like,
and we cannot escape it.

The best thing we can do
is to look rationally about what we can do
to make the best of the bad times.


We are all afraid of the unknown
– that’s natural.
But think of the fears you’ve already conquered.

Arriving here at Eltham College for the first time,
meeting new faces,
and most chilling of all,
coming face to face with Mr Roberts.

But you got over them,
and you did not need a lucky horseshoe
to get you through them.

[PAUSE]

Sometimes,
life’s bad luck can get very hard,
and lots of people turn to God for guidance.

It’s true that some people think that
if we please God,
then we’ll get good luck.

However,
Christian worship of God is not about
trying to gain His good favour
like some kind of grovelling little toady,
but rather it is about entering into
an active relationship with God.

Christians believe that
because the Lord Jesus has died on our behalf,
there is no need to appease God.

We are already in His good books
if we truly work at a
committed,
sincere
and loving relationship with Him.

However,
that doesn’t mean we escape
bad luck in this life.

There is nothing wrong
in praying to God for good fortune,
but it may be more important for our benefit
that we do not receive what we want in life.

We do not pray to God
just to get our own way
and in order to avoid the bad things
that happen to us.

We do not get good luck
just because we have been good,
or bad luck when we’ve been bad.

God is not a genie,
and our belief in Him has evolved
from this primitive idea.


Christians know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love Him.

This means that even the worst luck
has the potential for making us happy
by making us better people.

It hurts,
but so does having an injection at the dentist.

[PAUSE]

It is Friday 13th today.

Is today really going to be unlucky for you?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Proximity and Consciousness

It seems to me that we are often plagued by this feeling of being far from God.

I'm wondering whether this distance between us and God is simply an illusion. Actually, delusion would be the better word.

God gives us a choice whether to believe in Him or not, and, to preserve this choice, He creates a world which apparently runs without Him, in which His actions are apparently invisible, yet produce startling effects. The existence of the Church populated by sinners is one of the most miraculous things going! The choice is that of Faith which we can adhere to or reject. As I posted below, Science seems to suggest that we have free-won't rather than free will, and this simply demonstrates the presence of temptation that is part of our make-up.

I am convinced that while our mind may indeed be the product of chemical and electrical activity in the brain, our awareness of simply being points to an unobservable existence of ourselves and ourselves as an image of God. But humans tend to reduce ourselves so terribly. If we possess this image of God then how do we really deface this image? Surely it's indelible.

I am inclined to believe that sin isn't so much a defacing of the image of God that we possess (and perhaps we possess it as a single humanity) and rather more a deliberate blinding of ourselves as vessels of God. The final and most awful sin is that we blind ourselves eternally to God. What is Hell but bearing God's image but being eternally unaware of possessing it, searching aimlessly for that which is so close, but never, ever finding it.

I am often told that we are like leaky pots into which the Spirit is poured, but it seeps out again. This doesn't ring true to me. The sacrament of Confirmation is indelible, and for the Holy Spirit to leak out goes against the notion of a God who is always with us until the end of the age.

It seems that it is sin that turns us away from the truth of our spiritual identity. We become more aware of ourselves only as a biological organism which just operates according to the thoughts and feelings that may bubble up in our brain. We lose that sense that we are not all these labels of teacher, student, gas-fitter, fat, bald, straight, gay, homophobe, physicist, learned, stupid, effeminate, coward, happy, sad, man woman or even human being. We are not labels because that is not where our identities lie. These labels we have to give up if we really want to find ourselves.

In sin we become less aware of being aware of who we are, because we are less aware of God, the source of our being and the sole reason we continue to be. We may be clay vessels of the Holy Spirit, but that Spirit will not leave us, indeed He will always strive to convince us of His presence within us, but never coerce us into making a choice which doesn't come from this heart of our very being. Somehow these little clay pots have to turn around and make ourselves aware of the oil that we possess already within us by being still and knowing that God is, and that in Him we live and move and have our being.

...at least as far as I am aware.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Elmore or less

It seems that the community at Elmore are looking to leave the overly large house in Newbury for more manageable premises in Salisbury.

I really admire these monks for their embodiment of persistence, a particularly Benedictine virtue, I'm told.

Of course, it's sad in many ways, and one could get sentimental about ends of eras and what is the future of Monasticism, but this is clearly a community decision in the best interests of the community in order that the community may continue to grow.

Of course, the modern era is obsessed by numerical size, the number of bums on pews. It would have been marvellous if the community had continued to grow in numbers, and I don't believe that this is entirely ruled out, but growth in spirituality is of greater value than the crude head count.

Unfortunately, too many of our Parishes seem intent on trying to increase their numbers (and thus their collection takings) rather than focussing on the spiritual health of the nation which is not very good if all be told. There are many out there who have some spiritual need which isn't being met by Parishes which sell themselves out for the quick pound.

This can't be said for the quartet of Benedictines beetling about Speen who have simply kept on keeping on and just keep growing. In some way, it can be said that they have out-grown Elmore Abbey! Please pray for them, and continue to pray for monastic vocations so that the number of real monks like these will grow as a result of, and further in, good spiritual growth.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Death of a good blog

When I first started blogging, I was supported and enjoyed supporting "The Continuum" blog. However, lately in the last few months it has become quite clear that rather than seeking for Unity, they have been looking more and more to define themselves as the true bastion of Anglicanism at the expense of charitable dialogue.

Fr Chadwick's blog gave me some vital information about one of the most recent posts on the Continuum entitled UK Kool Aid:

Well, I am most disappointed by Fr. Hart's most recent article "UK Kool Aid" criticising the recent decision of the English TAC to respond positively to the Pope's offer. I suppose this priest is inferring that we are drinking poison without the least prudence, as if we were buying a used car from an East-End second-hand motor dealer.


I do try not to be offended, but Fr Hart's latest invective has crossed my threshold and I have reluctantly decided to part associations with that blog. I have asked that their link to this blogling be removed and I have removed my link to theirs.

I have always proclaimed my pride in my Anglican heritage, but it seems to me that Fr Hart's contributions seek to turn Anglicanism into a pure religion, untainted by any "corruption" from Rome who is always regarded as the enemy. Ironically, I have always used Isaiah li.1, the verse that most non-Catholics use to dispute the Supremacy of the Holy Father, to examine the relationship of the Church of England and the Holy See.

I know that Fr Hart can theologically run rings around me, tear any argument of mine to shreds, but I seek something very simple - the Unity of all Christians in the Orthodox Catholic Faith. I see the Roman Catholic Church as been fundamental to that unity and I am delighted by the recent announcement, even if it falls through, because this means that something positive is happening in the field of unity.

As a layman, I have very little option but to trust my bishops who follow the Catholic Faith. I have recently met with a splendid bishop in the TAC who helped me enormously, and who told me to watch this space with regard to Roman-Anglican dialogue. I therefore trust that Rome's offer will be considered very carefully from both sides, and, because I know that they are rooted in the Love of God, I believe that this process will be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Naive? Let me be called Naive then! Personally, I would rather trust in the servants of God whom I believe, though fallible in humanity, carry with them the infallibility of the Church, than to barricade myself into one little corner and call that "Anglicanism".

Ave atque vale The Continuum

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Same old argument?

I keep running into the same argument. Simplified, it seems to run as follows:

Aristotle: I claim that P is true.
Boethius: I do not believe that P is true.
Aristotle: You must accept that P is true because you say you follow Catullus.
Catullus says P is true.
Boethius: I certainly accept the authority of Catullus,
but I deny that Catullus says that P is true.
Aristotle: Then you cannot truly follow Catullus.
Boethius: But I do follow Catullus, but not in the way that you do.
Aristotle: There is no other way to follow Catullus, for Catullus says Q.
Boethius: I do not believe that Catullus says Q.
Relabel "Catullus says Q" with P and go to the third line.

I doubt if there are arguments that always follow this interminably nesting form, though it seems to me that some theological arguments do indeed have that quality.

If the argument were to continue, would it ever converge? I suspect that it would if these two followers of Catullus finally hit some atomic statement at the heart of their fellowship with Catullus, an axiom upon which they both agreed, then they would have to work backwards through cycles in order to work out who was right.

This is unlikely to happen in theological discussion, because theology does not seem to be atomic, or if it is, the atoms of faith are not as accessible to argument. I've thought below on the nature of the difference between axioms (assumptions) and dogmata. Assumptions form the starting points of a rational theory; dogmata are statements of belief about reality. Axioms are not open to enquiry, dogmata are.

Thus it is unlikely that Aristotle's argument with Boethius will ever have a conclusion unless the doctrine of Catullus is axiomatic. If it's dogmatic, then there is precious little hope of any resolution. If there is only One True Catullus, then this argument cannot ever really hope to determine what he truly says, though Aristotle and Boethius will both still claim to follow the One True Catullus.

So how is the whole situation to be rectified?

Catullus knows!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Being Conscious of Consciousness?

I find Science absolutely fascinating and beautiful, and I enjoy how it challenges to make me think about my Faith.

I've found myself getting rather caught up in the study of consciousness lately. This seems a fascinating topic that does seem to upset some people because of the way it seems to reduce human beings to mere biological machines. There seem to be theories of consciousness that suggest that it is a by-product of the way our brains have evolved.

Some would suggest that the sense of self that we have is an illusion because of experiments that seem to be able to "transplant" the sensation of being oneself into another body.

Another fascinating experiment suggests that our brain actually makes a decision before we are consciously aware of it. Rather than having free-will, this experiment suggests we have free-won't in that the decision is made within other processes in the brain, but that the conscious self can veto that decision. This does rather go hand in hand with the old adage "you can't stop birds flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair".

Scientists, on the whole, reject the idea of duality, namely that a human being is comprised of two separate species - body and mind. If the mind were something completely separate from the body, then how can it be associated with the body? How can the will of the mind be enforced upon the body?

The atheists love this idea that we are just biological machinery: our consciousness is entirely explicable, that our social constructs are largely memetic in propagation and that all religion is anti-scientific to disagree with it.

Well, one thing that Science has yet to realise is that the constant reduction of humanity to the level of machinery renders itself entirely devoid of meaning. If we are just biological machines then rationality and irrationality are both processes of the same mechanical processes. Science becomes just as memetic as Religion. It's just there and of no greater significance than what it deems as Irrationality.

Of course memetics itself is not exactly the most convincing theory going. If the concept of memes were true, then they cannot help us know whether the content of memes are true. So if ideas and beliefs are propagated via memes, then so is the idea that Science can observe all that there is. Memetics essentially nullifies any attempt to find out what is true or false. Also, memes seem to be utterly unobservable. Rather like D-brane theory, it seems to be utterly untestable.

I am not convinced by the rejection of duality, principally because I am not convinced that everything that exists is necessarily scientifically observable. But then, I am not entirely bothered by the possibility that my mind is made up of processes in the brain - I am merely a human being after all.

However, I believe in God, and further I believe God. St Augustine paints a picture of the fragility of humanity as beings of infinitesimal existence sandwiched between the nonexistent Past and Future. Likewise, these scientific findings could inspire us to see ourselves as paltry lumps of flesh. It is in God that we live and move and have our being. Indeed our being is hidden with Christ in God as St Paul tells us. We are fragile beings on a fragile world with a fragile existence. It is from God, and from Him alone that we obtain any real substance and a real identity beyond that which we can appear to measure. Our consciousness, thoughts, emotions may indeed prove to be to our existence as the stormy weather over the mountain, but it is God who shows us that we aren't the weather, but rather the mountain.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mission Accomplished?

I suppose as one who has been praying for and hoping for the reunion of Anglicanism and Rome that I ought to make a comment on the latest developments and the offer made by the Holy Father to Anglo-Catholics.

However, I refuse to make any knee-jerk reactions. If the Holy Father has taken time to consider the position and make the offer, then we should reply in kind and think carefully about what it entails so that we can be resolute and considered in whatever decision we make.

Acceptance of the offer would give us the opportunities for greater dialogue and greater influence in the Roman Catholic Church. Our presence may help Rome to regain what she herself lost liturgically as a result of Vatican II. However, will acceptance of the offer stop us from being Anglicans? I'm worried about the wording of "former Anglicans". Cardinal Newman was always an Anglican and being a Roman Catholic did not stop him from thinking like an Anglican.

What would rejection of the offer mean? Would this be demonstrating that we prize our Anglican Identity higher than our desire for Unity, or would it be a necessary response to prevent absorption?

Personally, the first thing I would want to do is to greet this offer with honest gratitude and embrace the spirit of its generation. I would then like to look for ways and further dialogue to refine it in order to accept it wholeheartedly. This is not something that we should rush into with theological guns blazing, but rather sit back and thank God for the possibilities this opens up for us.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

E=mc2 III:The dutiful extremes of Mary and Martha

Apathy.


It's absolutely everywhere, not just in the English Church, but in politics, the workplace and daily life. We just have to look around us to find evidence of that apathy. The numbers of people voting in elections, both local and national, is decreasing leaving some very peculiar people in local government with some peculiar ideas and some rather worrying effects. In the workplace, no-one seems to want to do anything unless they can get something out of it. Indeed, many new managers are being taught the power of the phrase "What's in it for me? in their dealings with people.


And of course there's the Church. It seems that 90% of the work done in a parish is done by barely 10% of the parishioners.


I wonder if that's exactly how it seems. Can really it be that the same few folk have to do many, many jobs in order to support a largely apathetic and uninterested congregation who are happier to sit there and listen to the word of God. Or is it rather that any desire that members of the congregation have to help out in their parish is squeezed out by a few people who want to do all the jobs? So we have two extremes of Mary and Martha and neither is exactly what God would have us do.


The Extremal Marthas of this world believe they have a duty to work for the church. They are probably not explicitly Pelagian, but they can come dangerously close. They have a need to be needed and feel that they only have some worth if they can work their way into people's respect and affections. They therefore become possessive of what they do and the methods they use, leading to forgetfulness of why they are doing.


The Extremal Marys of this world believe that they should not interfere with the system but keep watching for the time to act and listening for the word, "Go!". This is all well and good because an action well-discerned and well-timed is often the bearer of much happiness. Yet there is a darker side to this: these Extremal Marys are affected strongly by those who have tried to become Marthas and found themselves hurt by the system in which they are working. The result is that Extremal Marys are affected by the cynicism of others and are given the impression that any effort that they make is wasted or will be unappreciated, or will cause them more pain that the effort is worth.

This seems to be the key issue -Pain, or rather fear of pain. We seem to be losing the generation that does. This is the generation that was brought up with a sense of duty, no matter how painful it was. We are now losing the generation of people who survived hardship due to the Second World War. We are two generations away from them now, and the middle generation has a very mixed sense of duty depending on how badly they were affected by the sixties - that diabolical decade!

This apathy is a sheer lack of faith, and I also perceive its cold clammy hand clutching at my own soul, as I believe that it does to everyone else. If we cannot trust that there is an existence which will make even the most agonising pain worthwhile, if we cannot trust God to take our pain and make it worthwhile, then what is the real quality of our belief? The pain is not God's wish for us, but is an inevitable consequence of being in this bizarre state of being saint and sinner simultaneously.

But sometimes we look at those who actually do all the work, and see what it does to them, turning the caring and available into one who has no further time to commit, haemorrhaging patience like a rusty sieve. We see the consequences of self-giving for whatever reason, and we think, "I don't want that to happen to me!" It happens to laymen, and it happens to the ordained man, and the moment someone says "I didn't want to disturb you; I know you're busy" that is the moment then we realise that our busyness has taken more from us than we ought to give.

At some point we have to sit down and realise that our will and God's Will are different and that where they are different is the source of the pain of this life. We can either seek a life that avoids pain and thus fail to do anything to contribute anything of any worth to our society or build on our personal and corporate relationship with God, or we can face the fear with trust in God and just do the job anyway.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we should seek to be masochists. Despite the clamour of the atheists, God is not an ogre or sadist, or sadomasochist as I've heard one anti-theist say. The situation with Mary and Martha seeks to educate us in this way. We listen to God and, if we listen carefully, we learn where we are indeed called to be. There is a time to be busy when God is not talking to us, but when He speaks, we must sit and listen.

When we are faced with a question of duty, then often our response is, "Why me?" but do we ever bother to sit down and answer the question, "why not me?"
We cannot always hide behind the idea that we are unskilled for the task, or potentially incompetent. We may not be suited to be a heart surgeon, but we may be suited for leading a house-group, becoming a Pastoral Assistant, or even a priest or a Religious. The only way we will be able find out is by putting ourselves into that position.

This is not at all easy, especially when we may be suffering from another malevolent social spirit - self-unknowledge which manifests itself as a disproportionate vision of who we are through self-aggrandisement or self-hatred. Again, the only way forward is forging that relationship with God and the Church.

It's all hard work, but it isn't so hard that we can't do it if that is truly what God wants us to do. The attempt will always be more rewarding than the refusal.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"I didn't ask to be born!"

I wonder if teenagers still use this phrase given how hackneyed it's become. Of course, it's immediately preceded by an argument about some irresponsibility committed by a 16 year-old such as staying out past midnight, getting caught with alcohol on a school night, abusing the houseplants - whatever, and Dad has perhaps said that other hackneyed phrase, "While your under my roof, you obey my rules." It's a phrase that is immediately followed by "I hate you" and the slamming of the door so forceful that it nearly wakes the cat.

Of course it's absolutely true. No one asks to be born. It's a statement that seeks to challenge parental authority. The teenager wants to view that authority as arbitrarily and unfairly imposed in order to find his own way through the world. He didn't ask to be born, so therefore parental authority is not entirely valid in his eyes, especially at a time when he is aware that his existence is down to his parents and that he has a will separate from them. Nonetheless, it's there in Scripture: "Honour thy Father and thy Mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."

How often, I wonder, do we say the same thing to God? If we do, do we say it in the same way as with our parents?

Thinking about it, the need to honour our parents is especially clear if we worship God. They are the instruments of our creation used by God for that very purpose. No matter who our parents are, what they've done to us, how they've messed us up, they are still nonetheless divine agents of Creation. Of course, this is a very hard thing for those who have suffered some kind of abuse from a parent. My prayers are with them that they see that they are loved more properly by a Divine Parent who is ultimately responsible for their existence, rather than just a product of sinful man for their own selfish and wicked purposes.

Our existence is due to God's will and God's purpose, so there is no way that we can ever ask whether or not to exist. So what can we mean if we say "I didn't ask to be born" to God?

Well, do we actually say it in the first place? Again, we have to look at the ideas that are around the conflict between parent and teenager (i.e. a child with some cognition of his state).
  1. The phrase challenges parental authority as being imposed regardless of any choice by the child.
  2. The phrase is an attempt to divert any personal responsibility from the teenager back to the parent.
  3. The phrase also can be construed as possessing a dissatisfaction with one's estate and being.
Since Atheists don't believe in God, the phrase only makes sense in the parental situation. But then, isn't it true that parental authority (indeed any authority) is a form of tyranny imposed upon one who would rather do his own will?

It's not so much Atheists who would say "I didn't ask to be born" to God but rather those who take issue with some Divine Ruling that to them seems arbitrary and contrary to their choice. The first being to say that to God would clearly be Lucifer himself, and in using that phrase he tries to demonstrate that being born at the whim of God is an undesirable state in which to live. For Lucifer it is because he can never escape God: Psalm cxxxviii is as true for him as it is true for any one of us.

The deception is clear - we are being presented with an assumption that being born under the Will of God is an undesirable concept. That we are born under His Will means we are put under His Authority is reasonable- the pot can't moan about how it has been made to its creator.

We must also not be fooled to think that we have no responsibility to God. The phrase speaks an antithesis to the notion of trusting our parents. If we see our existence as something immensely positive and realise that we are willed into existence by One who actually does love us and is trying to help us become what we choose to be as well, then we see that however much it hurts us, we are becoming the people who we want to be. Ironically, if we do not let God help us and play our part in helping us, then we simply do not become what we want to be.

This leads us smartly into the third situation. There is a distressing rate of suicide among young folk - usually young men. Their lives become so far from what they want to be through various factors (some actually very understandable) that the only way forward is the Exit. Everyone does entertain a thought of suicide at some point in their lives, yet I doubt that it is death that they are really seeking.

If we entertain thoughts of death, then I suspect that we are trying to express an extreme dissatisfaction with our lives. It is not death we want, it is transformation, an end to an existence which torments us and a possible movement into something better. To many, nothing seems literally better than their existence that they opt for nothing.

This is desperately sad, and something must be done to reach these folk and touch them with the love of God which we should be looking to bear in our lives. We have every right to be dissatisfied with our lives. We are broken in many ways by ourselves, by others, by our circumstances. It is this wretched existence that needs to be put to death.

But of course, it has been. In Baptism, we are killed. The sinful existence is condemned to death and summarily crucified. Baptism is the door to our transformation. In trusting God, we can live despite Life as we know it. We have to follow it through to the end so that God's process is complete in us.

Personally, I thank God for Purgatory because it really does provide me with a final and effective opportunity after I've made a big mess of this life to be transformed completely into what I am supposed to be. I don't expect purgation in this life or the next to be pleasant, but I trust God to make me what I am supposed to be.

No, I didn't ask to be born, but I trust that God has got it right and that whatever I really want to be that is what God has got for me.

This doesn't just hold for me - it isn't a personal salvation because I am nothing without the Church. Each one of us had to be born so that the Body of Christ could be what it is supposed to be. Our existence is so that others can exist so that the one person who asked to be born can be born. Life may be a means to an end, but it is also the end of the means!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How happy is happiness?

Homily preached at Eltham College on 21st September 2009 based on Ecclesiastes ii.17-26.

You’ve been lucky enough
to be invited to a wedding
of one of your older friends.

The ceremony is over,
the wedding dinner is finished,
the best man has finished speaking
and is well on his way
to being completely paralytic.

The dance floor is cleared
and the music begins
with the bride’s favourite
“Don’t upset the rhythm” by the Noisettes.

After the happy couple have finished
their first dance together
as husband and wife,
this is when the awful horror happens.

A horror so unimaginably vile,
so spine-chillingly terrifying
that it churns the stomach
and turns the blood into
half-melted Haagen-Dazs.
Yes, this is the moment
when every Dad in the room
gets up to dance.

It might begin innocently enough,
just a vague swaying from side to side
like a hypnotised penguin
during Kanye West’s Homecoming.

It’s during Gnarls Berkley’s Crazy
that things get spectacularly awful.

Uncle Vic grabs Auntie Edie
and starts flinging her about
like a middle-aged mass of pizza dough
in some style which they claim
is from the 1950s.

Why is it that they think
that a dance style that went out
with post-war rationing
is in any way appropriate
for post-millennial R’n’B?

Of course,
you sit there with your friends
praying that it isn’t your family
making a fool of themselves.
And what do you say about this?

It’s all too sad.

Well, if that’s sad, what’s happy?

Aren’t they happy?

[PAUSE]

Are you happy?

No, really, are you happy?

Well, how do you know?

Come to think of it,
what is happiness?

We’ve all got an idea
of what makes us happy.

Arsenal/Chelsea/West Ham/Spurs
(delete whichever is applicable)
beating
Arsenal/Chelsea/West Ham/Spurs
in the F.A. Cup.

[PAUSE for kerfuffle]

As you’ve just demonstrated,
one person’s happiness
is another’s misery.

The spectacle of Uncle Vic
doing bump’n’grind with Auntie Edie
is something that makes you wish
that there were some way
you could disinfect your own eyes
with Dettol.

For them,
they are reliving the happy occasion
30 years ago when they got married.

This isn’t being sad,
it’s happiness.

What does happiness really depend on?

[PAUSE]

Happiness, happening,
mishap, haphazard, hapless.

That “hap” bit is all to do with chance.
Indeed the Latin for happiness
felicitas
is the same as the word
for good luck.

The German word Glück
means both happiness
and good fortune.

The idea of happiness that we have
seems to relate to our circumstances
and the random deals that life throws at us.

“Call no man happy until he is dead”
say the Greek philosophers.

You can only really be happy
when no further bad things
can happen to you.

It’s true to say that
this marriage could end badly
in arguments and a bitter divorce.

All the happiness that you see
as the happy couple stagger their way
through “Agadoo” following too much
WKD could possibly be over in a year.

What is your happiness worth
if it can be taken away by sheer bad luck,
through no fault of your own?

Isn’t it better to look for some happiness
that Lady Luck can’t snatch away from you
like a ten pound note in the sight
of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Does such happiness exist?

[PAUSE]

The trouble is,
sadness is a fact of life.

We cannot escape the fact
that all of us will be faced with tragedy
and hardship at some point.

Some of us have already had to face this.


What we want is for us to be happy
despite the horrible things life throws at us.

Surely, the thing that is going
to help us to be most happy is at least
to minimise Life’s tragedies .
We are all afraid of
Poverty,
Hunger,
Violence,
Loneliness and
Sickness
all of which
could happen to us.

Yet think about it.

World hunger and poverty
are increased by the greed of a few
who take more resources than
they actually need,
leaving some with far too little.

Much chronic sickness in the world
is increased by the rich
not sharing their resources
with the poor.

The violence in this world
is increased by people’s anger
with one another,
refusing to give in,
refusing to share.
More and more people
are becoming lonely,
because they are being overlooked,
because their families
are breaking down,
or because they are utterly selfish
and view other people
as servants to do with
what they will.

Much unhappiness in this world
is increased by human misbehaviour.

If we behave better towards one another,
we reduce unhappiness,
not just for ourselves
but in the whole world.

Every act of compassion,
kindness, respect,
friendship,
hope and generosity
reduces the suffering in this world.

The more that we become aware
about how greedy,
proud or cruel we are
and then work
to become more
generous, humble and kind,
the more we will see happiness.

[PAUSE]

Yet, you will soon realise that
becoming generous, humble and kind
will give you another sort of happiness,
a happiness that cannot be taken away.

Christians call this type of happiness “joy”,
and we believe that it is a gift of God
that grows in us the more we cultivate it.

It is different from happiness
because it cannot be taken away
from us by bad luck.

This work also gives us another happiness.

Christians call this “peace”
and it is another gift of God
that grows in us and, again,
Peace cannot be taken away,
but rather will help us
to carry on our lives
despite the tragedies
we suffer in life.

[PAUSE]

The more we work for it,
the happier we will become.

What do you need
to do with your life
to be truly happy?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Upsetting the Appellation Cart

In the past few years it has become more and more difficult to answer the question "...and which denomination are you?" On hospital forms, I always put down "Christian" under religion for that is what I am, and intensely proud of that name of Christ as all Christians should be.

These days, when I am asked that question "what denomination?" I always say "Catholic" and let people make up their own minds as to what that means. I am bound by Scripture and Tradition, I value and desire all seven sacraments, and see myself as one cared for by a great cloud of witnesses as well as God.

I find saying "Catholic" much more simple than just replying "Anglican" since, as I wrote below, "Anglican" means different things to different people. Say it to one chap and he will sigh a relief and proceed to try and get me to sing at his wedding to his male partner under the ministrations of a lady "priest". Say it to another and I get a tirade as to how we should be stoning every homosexual to death. Say it to a third and I am harangued into supporting the 39 Articles to the interpretation he wishes to give then; to a fourth and I am regaled by a thousand meaningless worship songs. The Church Times letters' page seems to be full of shots backwards and forwards between Anglicans who do or do not hold to the doctrine of the Real Presence. This is surely ridiculous! Even "Anglo-Catholic" is a problem as some are Aff Cath and some are not.

A great flame-war seems to be being waged among the Continuing Churches over the relationship that the Anglican Church has with the Holy See. Much virtual ink has been spilt on the subject and a lot of invective and subjective statements have been issued. It's got to the point where I am now utterly fed up with being called "Anglican" though I love my Anglican heritage deeply. It's not the name that's important but rather the faith that I hold. I don't understand why all these arguments that are being put forward by "classic Anglicans" (particularly of an American bent) aren't being taken to authorities in Rome in the spirit of honest debate rather than being shouted obstreperously across the internet and read only by others with the same bent on polemics. If these arguments truly hold water, then Rome doesn't really have any choice but to listen to them.

But I think that the Catholic Faith is more than theological consistency, indeed more than logical consistency. It seems that we can drum up a theological support for everything, one only has to look at ECUSA to find theological support for heresy. These great big theological arguments are all very well, but, to my mind they lack the simplicity which allows an unlearned person to understand what is right or wrong. Of course Richard Hooker starts his work on Ecclesiastical Polity by stating that the Truth is something that one has to work hard at seeking.

Well, this is true. However, as I quoted before, "knowledge puffs up...". I don't really see how the Continuing Churches are going to grow if they sit there sniping at one body for trying to find some unity against Rome, and convince another to jettison its Anglican heritage. How does a priest whose head is buzzing with the latest riposte to an argument in Transubstantiation minister sensitively to one who cannot understand the wider philosophical issues, or for whom intellectual argument merely deepens the problem? The Cure d'Ars was a rotten intellectual and a brilliant priest. From my point of view, the American Continuum is populated by some terribly intellectual priests who seem to be arguing their jurisdiction into non-existence while the rest of the Anglican Church goes to Hell in a handcart.

So, I've made a little decision. I'm not going to refer to myself as being Anglican any more until I start to see a credible Anglican identity in the U.K. alternative to the heretical mainstream of the C of E. Unless the Continuing Churches stop their pointless bickering, there will never be Unity. I applaud the TAC's step to talk with Rome and I pray for that goal to succeed, but the TAC's presence in the UK is far too small. If other Continuing Churches loathe Rome that much, then they don't have to participate and can just stay away.

Unless the Continuing Churches stop their pointless bickering, there will never be any growth. England is in dire need of a sensible Anglican presence - if all they get is a bunch of dry, dusty old theology professors quibbling about what the Lord meant when he said "and upon this Rock I will build my Church" then they will find no spiritual refreshment there and seek it in the arms of a Communion that has sold out, or turn away and let their faith slowly gutter and die because they can find no solace for their spiritual pain. My area in the U.K is growing rapidly as the culmination of several government schemes. The potential harvest is great, but the workers aren't even there!

If I am brutally honest, today I am actually ashamed of the title "Anglican", not of the tradition which I love, but rather of those who seek to "preserve" it by tearing it to shreds.

I'll happily call myself Anglican when the Anglican Church gets its act together.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Choose love.

Friday sees the eighth anniversary, and none of us need reminding of what we are remembering. Certainly, it is a date that carries with it a heaviness that once it had not. How many other dates go down in infamy? 07/07 for the British bombs, 08/11 for the Enniskillen bombing, 11/05 for the fire at Bradford City football club, 01/09 for Beslan. Of course, there are others, some personal to us.





Most dates tend to fade away in history. With the departures of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, the final British servicemen to have fought in WWI, 11th June-10th November will no longer have the significance to us as the dates of the Battle of Paschendale as it did to the generation before us.





I suspect though that 11/09 will always remain of great rawness because of the sheer volume of media coverage. Of course, the assassination of President Kennedy had a great deal of coverage, but the sheer scale of these terrorist attacks was quite enormous. I personally cannot forget those poor ladies and gentlemen choosing to leap to their deaths rather than to be burned alive, nor of the towers folding like packs of cards as they crumbled to the ground.





Where was God?







In this picture, we see the body of Fr Mychal Judge SSF being taken from the wreckage of the towers. Here is God because here is Love.

Had he not loved, Fr Mychal would not have risked his life for the care of others. He chose to love rather than to save his own skin, rather than stand back as a more sensible person might, and reasonably so. He was called by God into the midst of the horror, an alter Christus in life and an alter Christus in death.

If I am sure of one thing then it's that because Fr Mychal chooses to love that this picture shows us a miracle - Altruism exists, is real and tangible. This man now sits with God in Heaven and is happy.

If we choose love, then we too choose the manner of our own hardships, our own demoralisations, our own deconstructions and our own deaths. We may watch our father die from a debilitating disease that takes him away from us slowly. We may see our daughter killed in a road accident, our nephew caught taking heroin and our spouse badly injured as a result of an "act of God". And we will say "Where is God?"

And God will say - "here I am!" You are hurting because you have chosen to love rather than be indifferent. You are hurting because you bother to hold someone other than yourself to be dear. You are suffering because you are more than some automaton, more than a biological machine. Here is God - in your love. So no, you will not receive your father and daughter back from the dead. No you will not be able to prevent your nephew from taking drugs. And chances are that your spouse will never quite heal from the injury. Not because God doesn't want to stop your pain, but rather that your pain becomes a testament to your love, a badge of honour.

This isn't all our existence. We exist beyond the grave, beyond the wreckage, and way, way beyond any hatred that inspires death and destruction. As St Paul says, what we suffer now is nothing in comparison with what we shall receive if we just keep choosing love no matter how badly it hurts. Notice that he doesn't say "what we suffer now means nothing in comparison with what we shall receive."

No, our sufferings mean a great deal to God, and as we choose to love, He chooses to suffer with us, alongside us with every drop of blood, every tear, every scream of pain, He is there and He cares. He cares because you bothered to care. You chose love. You will not regret ever having done so.

Monday, August 31, 2009

O Solitude





O solitude, my sweetest choice!
Places devoted to the night,
Remote from tumult and from noise,
How ye my restless thoughts delight!

O solitude, my sweetest choice!
O heav'ns! what content is mine
To see these trees, which have appear'd
From the nativity of time,
And which all ages have rever'd,
To look today as fresh and green
As when their beauties first were seen.

O, how agreeable a sight
These hanging mountains do appear,
Which th'unhappy would invite
To finish all their sorrows here,
When their hard fate makes them endure
Such woes as only death can cure.

O, how I solitude adore!
That element of noblest wit,
Where I have learnt Apollo's lore,
Without the pains to study it.

For thy sake I in love am grown
With what thy fancy does pursue;
But when I think upon my own,
I hate it for that reason too,
Because it needs must hinder me
From seeing and from serving thee.

O solitude, O how I solitude adore!

Katherine Philip (d. 1664)


I love hearing James Bowman's glorious voice drawing on these words by Katherine Philip.


I must be getting quite a bit of a hermit these days, since I perceive that my best work is done in complete solitude. Yet it seems that so many people fear solitude with a passion. Solitude breeds loneliness, and loneliness is not a desirable sensation in a day in which Blogger, Discussion Forums, and Facebook as well as the many variegated matchmaking websites can connect the lonely soul with someone to talk to.

There is of course a great danger that solitude can bring. One can become too comfortable with oneself so as to exclude others and make oneself the centre of the universe. Indeed, for many people, the example of the hermit is a great fear, fear of becoming strange like the crazy cat lady down the road, for strangeness creates further loneliness.

For many, loneliness means that they have to face up to what is going on in their head. Whilst work and business, fun and trips to Agia Napa, wine, women and music, and whatever else we choose to fill our day, at some point we have to sit down alone and face whatever is going on inside.

I don't think it's necessary for me to elaborate on just how horrific and upsetting some of our thoughts can be. Indeed, how often do we disturb ourselves with some absolute shockers that seem to have dredged themselves up from the pit of Hell itself that make us doubt our own sanity?

For others, it is the sheer torment of past follies, indiscretions, mistakes that have compounded and built up into guilt, past cruelties, petty hatreds and the misplaced word. They bubble up to tell us that we are wicked, wicked beings and make us shudder and feel worthless.

For others, it is the sheer emptiness of life, its futility, that sense that everything has been done and makes no difference. We can have the sense that there is no point to our lives, that all we are doing is just staving off the inevitable.

I wonder if you are comforted to know that we all have thoughts like this.

These thoughts tend to occur when we are alone, so we try to blot them out, anaesthetise ourselves and pretend they don't exist with activity and chatter.

What would happen if we decided to stop and confront the tyranny of our own thoughts? Just stop sit down for an hour or two completely alone and do nothing except listen to the buzz in our brains, can you do that?

Of course, a Christian realises very quickly that he is never alone. Again, this can paralyse a particularly scrupulous individual on realising that God is aware of every single though that passes through his skull - including those from the Pit. Yet as he grows in maturity, the Christian not only accepts this fact, he derives great comfort from it. Making a good confession really does liberate the soul from past transgressions - I speak from personal experience here. Knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God, and that we are fallen human beings helps us realise that there is nothing that can stop us from being regarded as valuable.

Armed with this, we can do something quite spectacular - let our thoughts tell us something about ourselves, even the infernal ones. We see how we can be tempted into doing wrong, where we need support and, most importantly of all, where God fits into our lives. If it isn't the centre, then we have to ask how we can put Him there. The more that we can accept our thoughts as they are, the more we can accept ourselves as human beings, and in due course love ourselves and others in the commonality as thinking beings. So why fear solitude? Why not try it out occasionally?

After all, what thoughts await you tonight in the wee small hours of the morning when you can't sleep? What are they really telling you?