Sunday, March 29, 2009

Marah, Meribah and Massah

I've not written for a long time, and I do want to keep up this blog because I find that it at least allows me to set down my thoughts in total so that people can point at the flaws in my thinking. Very useful, especially when I have people who do disagree with me about what the nature of Anglican Catholicism is.

Alas, (Fr.) Marco Vervoorst has given up his blog, largely methinks due to commitment to his growing family and the fact that Third Blog from the Right has run its course. Considering that it started as Traditional Anglo-Papist, shows what a journey he has been through. Perhaps now is the time for him to have a little rest now that he has found some doctrinal stability.

My recent meanderings through the Old Testament have been following the meanderings of the Israelites as they grumble their way across the wilderness for the promised land which the majority never see due to their sheer disobedience to God.

So far for me, the three Ms have occurred in the course of their wanderings: Marah, Meribah and Massah, i.e. bitterness, and (as the Venite puts it) provocation and temptation. The waters of Marah are bitter until Moses throws in a tree that makes the water sweet, whilst Meribah and Massah have the Israelites crying out accusing God and Moses of seeking only to destroy them and showing a complete lack of faith in God. I've always found it rather fun that this occurs in the Wilderness of Sin!

It's very easy to draw parallels with the plight of the Christians in this century and the Israelites way back when. Christianity is no longer the force that it once was in the West, largely because the standards of the Christian Faith have been eroded by Liberalism, materialism and a militant atheism which is largely hedonistic in its expression.

In all walks of Christianity, there are those who move the goalposts just to make life easy for themselves. One only has to look at the outcry about the Holy Father's latest comments about contraception to see that the populace, rather than listen to the message of continence and self-control, are more concerned with the restraint which one needs to show in one's life. We cannot have life all our own way if we are to live together.

So these are the Christians who stay in Egypt and try to build a life for themselves there, and I pray to God that they be saved. Then there are Christians who, acknowledging the Sacrament of the Eucharist as an effective sign of God's nourishment and Salvation, who pass over the waters of the Sea of Reeds into the wilderness.

And here it is that we find ourselves. There is a lot of bitterness in our hearts. Certainly I see it so much in the lives of the many friends that I now have on the Anglican Diaspora Forum, and on the Continuum blog. The trouble is that we know that something is terribly wrong.

It seems to me that the typical Continuer has an enormous strength of character. They have been able to leave the Parishes, Churches and Congregations of their formative years because they have seen something horribly wrong in the way that their same church has been moving. They know what is right and have the Traditions of the Church ingrained in their blood. But that same strength of character is in danger of pushing them away from those who really do care about them, if they carry with them the bitterness that comes from that separation. Who wouldn't carry that bitterness?

The typical Continuer is also American and, from my English perspective, have a larger than life way of committing themselves to a social code. All the Americans that I have met take their religion terribly seriously. They cling to what is right and refuse to concede an inch, because they fear that it was concession that brought them to the wilderness. They feel charged with being disloyal by their erstwhile jurisdictions. One only has to look at Archbishop Coggan referring to the Continuers as disloyal and Archbishop Carey describing opponents of women's "ordination" as heretics. These words sting.

Yet, I don't think I've seen the word "heretic" bandied about so much as in Continuing Circles. Of course, it's true: anyone who departs from the Traditional teaching of the Church is a heretic - that is what the word means.

What the Continuing Church needs is that tree which sweetens all bitterness. If that isn't the tree of life that comes from communio in sacris then I don't really know what it is.

From my point of view, in my peripheral state in the Church of England, the danger for me and those like me is that of Meribah and Massah, the terrible despair that comes from disbelieving that God can and will sustain them in the wilderness. I suspect that my parish have given up on me completely now. I'm not called to do much, but, since quoting II Thessalonians iii.6 at them, I haven't won many friends!

The antidote for this despair is to hope that something will happen which will lift the gloom that surrounds the orthodox Anglican. There is refreshment available and we do have to turn to God together and be reassured that He has said that He would not abandon us.

Continuers and the relics in the Church of England do have to see that Rome is not the enemy, but Rome needs to recognise herself that she has many Egyptians within her hierarchy, and they do need to be recognised.

If Anglicans began to trust each other a little more, then perhaps our Unity may show sufficient light on the world, and on Rome too, to see what needs doing. Why don't we become the example of Unity to all Christians?

Monday, March 09, 2009

How much have you been Lent?

Homily preached at Eltham College on 27th February 2009 based on St Matthew iv.1-11

Do you really know who you are?

How would you go about
explaining who you are
to someone who has never met you?

Well chances are,
shortly after you have told them
your name and your age,
you’ll start talking about
your interests and hobbies:

how you enjoy going to parties
and dancing to Lady Gaga,
or sitting at home
reading The Brothers Karamazov;
how you can wield an epee with remarkable skill
or fill in a Sudoku in four minutes flat.

Are you really you because of what you do?

Let’s just say you are not allowed
to explain who you are by your interests
and what you do.

Who are you now?

Well, now perhaps
you’ll try to say something about who you are
by where you live,
where you go to school.

You might start talking about
what you and your family own,
what make of Apple Notebook you own,
what size shoes you take,
the fact that you love kebabs
or a frappuccino
with extra cinnamon.

Are you really you because of what you own?

So now let’s restrict the options further.

You cannot explain who you are
with what you have.

Who are you now?

David’s son,
brother of Phil,
Eric’s friend,
Mia’s boyfriend?
Is that who you are?

That’s sounds like different people.

What about what you remember?

The time you first lost a tooth,
your first words,
your Bar-mitzvah,
that embarrassing incident
with the spoon,
bouncy castle
and tub of mayonnaise?

That’s all in the past, that’s not you.

Let’s say
you are not allowed to explain who you are
using what you own,
what you have done, do,
or what you hope to do,
who your family and friends are,
what you look like
or hope to look like,
or using any memories whatsoever.

Let’s say that you have to say who you are
without using your physical being
or even your thoughts.

Who are you now?

Are you even you
any more without these things?

If you believe that you still exist
even when these things are all gone,
then congratulations,
you cannot be a materialist.

You have just had a glimpse into the wilderness.

In the wilderness,
there’s nothing to define who you are
apart from you yourself.

You come face to face with the person that you are.

It’s like looking in the mirror,
only without the benefit
of hairspray, Clearasil and deodorant.

Is that something that you’d find pleasant,
stuck in the middle of nowhere
with just yourself for company,
warts and all?

And yet some people choose to do just that!

Spend time in a self-inflicted wilderness
trying to discover who on earth they are.

There are people who try to find out
something about who they are
by leaving things behind
which merely distract them from the truth.

In this day and age it’s difficult
to find a modern wilderness,
though Slough and Gravesend
certainly seem to fit the bill.

Indeed for folk who have families
and commitments it is difficult
to just drop everything to find out who we are.

For this purpose,
the three Abrahamic Faiths –
Islam, Judaism and Christianity -
stress the importance of fasting.
In the Christian faith,
the Lord Jesus Himself
chooses to spend time alone in the wilderness
to find out more about Himself.

Later He tells His disciples that
fasting is a necessity in order
to demonstrate to ourselves
that we are not defined
by our needs even for food.

Fasting in former days meant
spending dawn to dusk without eating.

These days,
a fast for a Christian can mean
to give up something we enjoy
to show that what we enjoy
isn’t the centre of our world,
that there is more to us
beyond what we do, say, think
or even fail to do say or think.

However, fasting is easier said than done.

It’s uncomfortable,
and boring,
and you get withdrawal symptoms.

The twinge of hunger
when a chocolate cake is brought into the room,

that feeling of not knowing what to do
since you’ve stopped watching Skins,

the waking in the middle of the night sweating
because you’ve gone without your fix
of swallowing a tube of Smarties in one go.

If it takes the forty days and nights of Lent
giving up console games
or Facebook
for you to realise this about yourself
and also about other people,
then isn’t it worth it?

Of course,
like the Lord Christ,
you will be tempted to give up,
seek out something
to make it more convenient to you
or to make the withdrawal symptoms go away.

Fasting does take strength of character,
and it is precisely that character
that we try to seek in the wilderness
that Lent provides for us.

You see, you exist.

You exist with a dignity,
a humanity and a personality
that can never be taken away from you.

Though you’re not exactly prepared to admit it,
you are actually worth knowing,
each single one of you.

You cannot be defined by things,
or words,
or actions or even ideas.

You are you
and you have every reason to be proud
of being who you are
– no exceptions.

What will it take for you to give up
before you find out more about how wonderful you really are?