Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yeah but no but yeah but no...

Homily preached at Eltham College, 29th January 2009.

Why is it that all the nice foods
are supposed to be bad for us?

You don’t see people
coming out of the BP garage
with a bag of celery,
a regular cabbage shake
and a bucket of pop-corn style
Brussels sprouts, do you?

Sales of Krispy Kreme doughnuts
made with lentils and chickpea sprinkles
would not raise a great deal of money
for the charities supported by the school.

Or should the question really be:
why is it that we prefer food that tastes nice,
to the food that we know is good for us?

If we are truly intelligent human beings,
then we ought to be going with what we know
rather than what our stomach tells us.

We tend to contradict ourselves.

But this isn’t the only area of our lives
in which we live in contradiction.

Why are we the owners
of a vast number of entertainment systems,
video games,
DVD players, et c.

and yet still find ourselves
the most bored people on the planet,
while Iraqi children have hours
of genuine amusement
playing together with a few stones?

What are the other ways
in which we contradict ourselves?


Bill and Sid are at a party
and a Rachel Stevens look-a-like walks past,
causing Bill and Sid’s eyes to pop out
like organ stops.

Bill turns to Sid,
and, after the usual comments
about her appearance,
Sid intimates that he would not mind
going out with her.

Bill asks “well, blud,
you gonna aks her out?”

Of course Sid replies,
“no, bro, I wanna be cool.”

“So you ain’t gonna aks her out?”


“So how’s she gonna become your woman,
bro, if you don’t aks her out?”

“Is ’cos I’s cool.”

“Yeah but no but yeah but no but
if she tinks you’s cool,
then she’s like
he’s got a woman already, man.”

“Yeah but I ain’t got no woman.”

“But she don know that, bro.

You gotta aks her out.”

“yeah, but then she’ll know I ain’t cool,
and she’s like
no way, you ain’t comin near me.

You see man?”

“Yeah,” says Bill, “skeen!”


In case you’re not street,
like me,
Sid finds that he can’t ask the lady out
because that would show that he isn’t cool.

cool guys have already got girlfriends
so she will never know that
Sid wants to go out with her unless
he asks her.

Got it?

With attitudes like that,
it’s hard to understand how any adolescent male
attracts a member of the opposite sex.

It’s a contradiction
that perhaps many of you will have wrestled with,
not that you’d admit it.

Our experience is full of contradictions.

Our language contradicts itself:
why is it that our legs are the only things
with a bottom at the top?

Our politics contradicts itself:
we have to spend more money
in order to save money.

Christianity contradicts itself:
God is Three and God is One,
perfect Trinity in perfect Unity.

Even the Bible contradicts itself.

The second book of Samuel,
chapter 24 verse 1 states:

Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel,
and He incited David against them,
"Go and take a census of Israel and Judah."

Compare that with
the very same event described
in the twenty-first chapter
of the first book of Chronicles.

“Satan rose up against Israel
and incited David to take a census of Israel.”

So who put the idea of a census
into King David’s head?

God or Satan?

How are we to cope
with the contradictions all around us?


Well, contradictions don’t usually hurt us.

You don’t make a mathematician’s head explode
just by saying
“This statement is false.”

contradictions do confuse us,
make us feel uncomfortable,
cause us to lose sleep.

a good contradiction provides human beings
with an opportunity to see a deeper truth
or to accept a challenge into finding out
what’s really happening.

A mathematical contradiction
tells us a great deal about our assumptions
and our methods of reasoning,
but there is usually some form of resolution
achieved by thinking carefully
about what is really meant

For Sid,
he must look at his situation more carefully.

Why does he need
to be cool in the first place?

Isn’t his idea of what is cool
an obstacle to going out
with the woman of his dreams?

Or perhaps,
he is using the idea of cool
to hide the fact that deep down
he is actually terrified of rejection.

If that’s the case,
then he should ask himself,
(or aks himself)
what he will honestly lose if she says no?

If a leg has the bottom at the top,
then doesn’t this motivate us to ask
why our posterior is called a bottom
in the first place?

The fact that God is both
Trinity and a Unity
points to God’s uniqueness in Reality.

The fact that the Bible contradicts itself
points to contradictions
that lie within every single human being.

Many Christians believe that the Bible is true
in what it intends to teach us, and it is this intention that we have to work out.

We can deepen our Faith
by entering into the Mystery
of what we truly believe in.


Contradictions provide that opening,
and confusion becomes the sign
that we are beginning to understand,
if we put in the effort.

Resolving a contradiction takes patience,
effort and the ability to live contentedly
with confusion
until the clouds that obscure our view
are lifted.

Of course,
there are ways of tackling a contradiction
that are foolish, and deeply damaging.

We only have to look at the situation in Gaza
to see an obscene contradiction:
that of trying to build peace through war.

How many other human beings
have made the same mistake?


There are times in which,
as St Paul himself says,
we don’t do the good things we want to do,
but instead do the evil things we don’t want to do.

For Christians,
we have to trust God to bring about
the transformation of our actions.

Contradictions will always
be with each one of us,
and it is in looking at them
that we find out more about ourselves
and the people we are growing to be?

If we are trying to be understood by others,
then we must first try to understand ourselves,
so that our contradiction doesn’t become
another’s confusion.

Where are the contradictions in the way
that you live your life?

How are you going to use them?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sanctity, Sloth and Secularity

There is none as blind as he who does not wish to see, as the old saying goes.

If you were one of those blind men whom Jesus healed, would that really have been something to wish for. In Monty Python's Life of Brian, we are treated to Michael Palin as the man begging for money as an ex-leper citing loss of earnings as a result of a cruel and callous healing by the Lord.

And what a point he has.

Being blind, you spend your life in a comfortable darkness, used to the fact that people don't exactly treat you especially well, knowing just hunger as you sit there on your mat relying on the kindness of others to lead you, or to drop a coin into your lap with a quiet blessing. It's not a good life, but it's comfortable and it is possible to find contentment in that life. Suddenly, there kerfuffle and confusion, and the next thing you know, someone has spat in your eyes and you are suddenly aware of a painful light where once there was darkness - you can see! An veritable iris of colour and cacophany of sights invades what was once a black and intimate mind. And bang goes your comfortable life!

Of course, there's a detail that's being missed here. By and large the Lord healed only those who wanted to be healed, and although this is not always specifically mentioned by the gospel writers in each healing, it seems to be mentioned sufficiently for us to infer that he would only make see those who wanted to see.

The trouble is that the world is full of people who have no intention of looking, or seeing. As I sat at Mass today, it seemed there was no idea of sanctity. Nothing these days is sacred, which is why probably a lot of people worship it. The Chancel seems to be invaded by all and sundry, conversations started during the Peace continue through to the dismissal, and no-one seems to be aware of the ivory Christ hanging, despised and rejected from the ebony cross above the pulpit.

My Parish is a synecdoche of the world. Christ is there, but no-one really wants to be aware of Him or see the shining light of His radience giving colour and meaning to our existence. If they did, sacred spaces would proliferate, places in which there would be no observable difference from any other part of the world, but in the sight beyond sight it would be a place where the veil of observability was thin.

Look at the numbers of tourists going around Cathedrals in Britain today. They enjoy seeing the intricate masonry, and the majestic construction of stone. They may even stop to listen to the pretty music sung by the choir in the morning or evening. But, will they stop to pray, even if the verger calls them to pray for the world each day from the pulpit at midday? No. They want to see the building, trample across the chancel steps, look under the altar cloth, enjoy the curiosity. Stop and look and see what it all means - never!!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that, although the list of the seven dealy sins has changed much over the last 1500 years, the sin of Sloth has always been there. Of course, the world regards sloth as a fondness to stay in bed, but then "God gives to His beloved sleep".

Sloth really means this terrible sin called accidie in Latin. And it's the sin that St Benedict loathes, not just in his insistance that monks should work with their hands, but also it appears as the last instruction to the neophyte in Chapter 4 of the Rule: Et de Dei misericordia numquam desperare -never despair of the mercy of God.

Accidie comes from the temptation to give up, to accept the blindness which comes upon us all periodically. In accidie, we believe ourselves to be irredeemable, past hope, past caring and past tense.

But the world has despaired. It has given up hope, and abandoned itself to the blindness of its own consideration. No-one seems to care. The modern C of E seems happy only to offer the placebo of "inclusivity" to the disaffected rather than rebuild the doors to the sacred. Should we really be happy to let people in whose purpose it is just to trample on all that we hold dear? Or shall we just give up.

But then, you see, they trampled on Christ. The most sacred being in the universe was tortured to death for daring to sanctify the human condition, and in doing so He did sanctify it. It was through his more-than-humiliation that He gave us the window into the Divine, the perfect Ikon of Salvation.

Perhaps then, I ought to take heart lest I myself find myself suffering from accidie. I find it deeply distressing to see that no-one can see, let alone defend, the gorgeous, indeterminable presence of God in the sacred space of the church. The newcomer finds nothing remarkable because the regulars find nothing remarkable and show it in their manner. The only way to battle this sin is to stay put, pray and dare to hope that things will change. In God all thigs are possible.