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 Gl├╝ck
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.