Thursday, July 27, 2017

The blogging Archbishop

I am encouraged by Fr Anthony's post that our Archbishop, Dr Mark Haverland has joined the blogosphere.

His blog can be found here:

https://anglicancatholicliturgyandtheology.wordpress.com/

Knowing that he is a man of impressive theological learning, I hope to find much inspiration for my own little project for our Church which seems to be growing rather significantly. I hope that he finds much encouragement in his endeavours.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Feminism, Freedom and agreeing with Dawkins

I am going to lay my cards on the table and I doubt that I will make myself popular.

I do not believe that human beings have the right to choose their own sex, nor do I believe that the obsession with gender is healthy. Indeed, since gender is merely a grammatical term, I think that's the only place where it should remain. My table is feminine whether or not I am masculine. Further, I believe that men and women are different, equal in humanity but not interchangeable. I do not believe that a society can legislate that a man can "identify" as a woman and vice versa, or "identify" as neither. I believe this on the basis of theological reasoning, and scientific reasoning.

Theologically, the argument is simple.

1) God created male and female at His pleasure.
2) If we truly worship God, we value His decisions over our own desires.
3) If we truly worship God, we value His decision to make us what we are over our desires.

If we truly worship God, then we should allow Him to make the decision over who we are despite any feelings we should have to the contrary. If we feel differently, then this is clearly an aspect of our free-will that needs transformation in God, not in ourselves.

Of course, the cry goes up, "a loving God wouldn't want His children to be sad." But then we point to the suffering of so many in the world and how we Christians trust that although we cannot fully grasp the problem of Evil, God is working so that our suffering is given the greatest value and respect in His eyes which He expresses through the Cross. If we are in pain, we trust that God will give that pain a great meaning for us in Eternity. We trust God by submitting to His will and not to ours where we have the freedom to subvert this loving grace by forcing our demands over His.

The Christian Life is hard because transformation is hard. We need to learn to submit to God freely from our heart and allow Him to give His worth to our pain and sorrow as we labour to find Him in our lives.

Scientifically, the argument is simple.

1) The characteristic of male and female is written into every cell in the human body.
2) Surgery does not alter every cell in the body.
3) Surgery cannot change a person's sex.

Any "sex-change" that happens without altering every cell in the human body is superficial and technically changes nothing. Men cannot have babies: only women have wombs as the BBC finally admitted despite championing the contrary:
We can't change the fact that only women have wombs, but we can try to change workplace culture.
These are two different arguments. I believe both because I believe in God and I have a measure of faith in what Science says about the world that God created.

To make sex "fluid" in law means something deeply disturbing. Women have fought for a long time for their rights, even something as basic as the right to vote for their government. Only recently have they received the right not to be raped by their own husband. I remember that when the original television production of the Forsyte Saga aired Soames' rape of his wife, the audience reaction was fifty-fifty. In those days, people believed that Soames had a right to assert himself when his wife had consistently refused him. In the recent television adaptation of the same, it was clear that Soames had indeed raped his wife and was therefore culpable of a vile crime against his wife. Women have been struggling for equality within marriage, and protection from rape for ages and it was in the last century that advances were made.

These advantages gave women the right to separate bathrooms which formed a safe place away from men. Women-only groups have been set up to ensure that they have the support network that they need.

Of course, like every movement, there are extremes and errors have crept in. Some Feminists have worked at belittling the male sex at every opportunity. Some even want the eradication of men as far as possible even championing attempts at male-free conception. Yet, the reasonable feminist will recognise that men and women need to live together as being equal under the law and will accept that this equality does not mean interchangeability.

If biological men then earn the right to "identify" as women, then this means that the women-only bathrooms become accessible to these men. Thus, the man in winning the right to identify as a woman actively wins by taking away the hard one rights of women. Transgender rights are gained by eroding the rights of the established sexes.

It is said that violent crime is rising among women but decreasing among men. Is it any wonder why? Men are more violent than women by biology - we have natural testosterone to thank for that. If a male "identifying" as a women commits a crime, he has earned the right for that crime to be recorded in female numbers.

The Government are looking to enshrine the right to self-identification in Law and make it easier to do so. The Church of England is supporting this. In so doing, they are going against rigorous Science, undoing Women's Rights, and defying Almighty God Himself. This makes these institutions morally and intellectually deviant.

There. I said it! Cue the backlash!

Yet, this is not why I'm actually writing this. I have been criticised by my own students for holding this view. They have tried to re-educate me by quoting stories from Reddit of those with Gender Dysphoria - a condition that they recognise as being medical but, rather than treatment and accepting that it is a disorder, want Society not only to allow them the right to persist in this condition but also accommodate its symptoms. IF it is a medical condition, then the same argument must therefore hold mutans mutandis for other medical conditions which have even more severe consequences.

I have seen no arguments that would convince me to change my mind. Are there arguments that would? I keep an open mind on that, but by far the majority of arguments that my former students are giving me are anecdotal, non-medical, non-scientific, illogical, and charged with emotion which is not an authority. I don't doubt that there are people who are suffering terrible depression and anxiety because they are not the sex that they want to be. Yes, they need help, compassion and love, but that doesn't mean that the problem will go away by letting be the sex they think they are. That's like curing the symptom without curing the condition.

The biggest argument will be that from human freedom. We have a right to be free from all forms of oppression. Of course we do! The Christian must help the oppressed go free. Yet, Society doesn't seem clear on what constitutes oppression nor what freedom is. Indeed, the human obsession with freedom is always a freedom-from. We have the right to freedom from illegal captivity, from being raped, from being terrorised. We never discuss what our freedom is for. What purpose does it serve? Are we free so that we can live our lives how we want to live? Sure, but what does that entail? What does living a free life mean? Free from outside influences? What good would that do for society?

We could seek to be free from social norms, duties and expectations. We could be free not to pay our taxes, free from the warden telling us not to park. St Paul sees the situation so clearly.

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient : all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.(I Corinthians vi.12)

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient : all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. (I Corinthians x.23)
Unless we start seeing our freedom as the freedom to be the best person that we can be, we will effectively legalise ourselves out of society. Our ability to live together as a coherent, respectful community comes about by each of us exercising our freedom to benefit everyone even if this binds our desires through commitment and curtailing what we want to do.


Surely, this is a first world problem that seems to forget about those living in poverty and degradation. Before we start campaigning for the right to self-identification, shouldn't we look to the right for people not to live in poverty or degradation?

I find myself in agreement with one who stands usually on the opposite side of the table. Professor Richard Dawkins has had his recent address at Berkeley University cancelled because of his "Islamophobia" despite the fact that his address was on the topic of science and not religion. This is becoming typical in American and British Universities when a teacher or a lecturer espouses views that students do not believe are politically correct. Any professor who is in anyway critical of liberal views is regarded as persona non grata. The way that the politically correct agenda is being enforced is by vilification and social shunning rather than engaging sensibly with the arguments. The only thing I have heard is "you disagree with me: you're just like Hitler." It is anti-intellectual and demeaning to the pursuit of knowledge in which universities should be engaged. I honestly hope Professor Dawkins gets his apology.

To accept this gender fluidity in Law, it must be shown that the right to self-identification does not take away any rights already established from anyone. This includes the freedom to object without vilification and social stigmatism, the freedom to a safe environment, the freedom to consent or dissent to a sexuality relationship,  and the freedom of speech. I have already seen the statistics of women assaulted in bathrooms in places which allow self-identification and it is frightening.

No doubt, I will be called a "hater" or a "-phobe." I think Islam is fundamentally wrong in its claim to know God - I suppose this makes me an Islamophobe too! However, nowhere have I said that I hate anyone! I have Christian love for all people and I seek to improve my ability to love my neighbour as myself. It doesn't help when those who want to redefine what maLe and female mean also attempt to redefine what Love means.

 Let me be as clear and as simple as I can be: to love is to will the good unconditionally of the other. By "good", I mean that property which is characterised by the existence and purpose of our common Creator. What He wants is the purest, Eternal and most powerful good for us which is why He created us as He did. I want every human being, alive, dead, and to come, to find that most the supreme joy and love that exists. If people think that I hate them because I disagree that such love and joy can be found by the free exercise of everyone's desires then that is their problem.

It seems I must also agree with another who is usually on the other side of the table from me. For:

Here I stand. I can do no other!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The waters of Death

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Did you know that you are dead?

That may sound rather distressing, especially since so many people die every day in so many and varied ways, so many dying in horrible circumstances. Each one of us loses someone we love. We are hurt, wounded, and scarred by their passing. The fact remains that, if you are baptised, then you are already dead. Further, you are dead, and you should be happy about it!

Why is that a difficult thing to hear?

[PAUSE]

Perhaps it’s difficult because of the sheer gulf of difference between being baptised and dying. How on earth can we liken the end of our lives with having a bit of water splashed on our heads? Death is something to fear, to be avoided; the thought terrifies us; it gives us grief. Many of us don’t even remember our baptism and, if we do, it probably wasn’t a traumatic experience, certainly not on the same level as death. You may be distressed now just thinking of it for yourself and your loved ones. Isn’t it so cheap to compare baptism to death? Isn’t it patronising and glib? If you feel that way now, then you clearly care deeply about the lives of those around you. That makes you a great Christian. However, be aware now, there is so much good news!

[PAUSE]

St Paul says, “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death;” We remember the agonising and humiliating death of Our Lord Jesus. We remember that everything that He has is stripped from Him to reduce His humanity to make it easier to kill Him. We remember how He is mocked, beaten, His words turned against Him. He is stripped naked, nailed, and His pain laughed at. But this isn’t His death. The horror is that this is the end of His life. It is only after these things happen that He dies. And this is the death that we are baptised into.

God comes into the world knowing what awaits Him. He chooses it despite the pain and torment so that all who suffer in life might know that He loves them in their hurt and pain. Just as Jesus is baptised so that in His baptism we can be baptised, He dies an awful death so that our suffering and pain is given an incalculable meaning and dignity. We are baptised into His death so that our own death is less something to suffer, but something to embrace so that “like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”. Just as His death results in a glorious resurrection, so too our death with all its terror will be an end of torment and the beginning of great joy in Him. God becomes man so that man can become God.

[PAUSE]

You see so much death on our televisions and online, and you care deeply because you value human life so much, just as Jesus wants you to, just as Jesus Himself does. Yet while it may be such a little thing to have water poured on your head, what Baptism actually achieves is vast and more significant than death.
When you are baptised, you become one with the Body of Christ which is the Church; your sanctification starts here; your sins are forgiven and any further sins can be forgiven when you repent. Baptism means that your death, and the deaths of all other baptised folk, are bound up in the Death of Our Lord and His Resurrection. Having water poured on you is not (usually) painful, but what happens when it does is greater than death can ever be.

[PAUSE]

Many people today fear death because they believe that it’s the end. If really were the end, then what would be the point of living? This lifeless life of so many in the world is distressing for Christians to see. We need to live our lives, knowing that we will die, but that our death will be of little consequence compared to the life we have in Christ. We do need to live that as a reality. We mourn with those who mourn because they need that support when their loved one is gone. Yet, we should show in our lives that our death is somehow a greater life within living.
We believe in the resurrection of the dead.

Don’t we?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Unsocial Media

This little blog is being a little quiet at the moment as I am concentrating on a largish project at the service of my diocese as well as my usual day job. I still intend to publish sermons as best I can - first and foremost I must be subject to the Holy Ghost.

I expect my readership to shrink somewhat as I have just jettisoned Facebook for the time being. As it happens, I feel much better for doing so!

My reason for leaving was a meme featuring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka with the caption to the effect of "So tell me why you bemoan being unable to read when you're spending so much time on Facebook. "

I have recently become embroiled in too much self-defence of my traditional stance on human sexuality and in defence of the welfare of women under threat from legislation mindless of the bleeding obvious, of my defence of why I'm not Roman, and my defence of why I'm not in communion with ACNA. I find this constant self-defence deeply limiting from the work that I want to do in promoting and preaching the Catholic Faith.

Facebook is a sea of noise and I might liken it to a nineteenth century opium den with the opiate in this case being the dopamine addiction which craves "likes" and approval from people for the sake of that approval. Given also the imperious, arrogant, and illogical attack I received from a former student when I railed against the CofE's recent approval to sanction transgender rights above the safety and welfare of women whose rights are being eroded by this legislation, I feel justified in my decision to deactivate my account for a while.

While I am appreciative of positive comments, I don't want to write for the sole aim of becoming popular, but rather in answer to the deep longing I have for the truth which can only be found in the Holy Mystery of the Triune Godhead.

I therefore crave the indulgence of my readership if I am not as forthcoming with my posts as I have been. May God prosper the work of my hands and my mind. St Anselm and St Odile, pray for me!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Working out Love

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Why is it so hard to love other people?

Have you ever tried to count the number of negative thoughts that we have against other people? It’s an interesting exercise, and one that is good discipline especially when examining ourselves ready for confession. Somehow we need to step back from what we’re thinking and actually look at the thoughts themselves, their content, their direction, their origin.

Often it’s not very pleasant. Yet, how often do we forget that God knows every thought of our hearts? Further, how much more do we forget Our Lord’s words, “whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

That’s a bit of a worry, isn’t it?

[PAUSE]

We have to face facts: we are fallen beings. Our thoughts are fallen. Even the very best of us have thoughts that are not palatable and which would make the most horrible Horror Film look like the Care Bears’ Picnic. How can we really love other people? How can we want our worst enemy honestly to be our brother?

The mistake that we make is that love is not a feeling that we should possess. It actually comes from what we consciously want to happen. The love that we need to have for other people is rooted in the desire and longing to do good for other people. You’ll hear people say, “the pathway to Hell is paved with good intentions.” They’re wrong, the pathway to Hell is paved with selfish desires masquerading as good intentions. That which is truly Good has its source in God and returns to God bearing fruit in abundance.
We have to want other people’s good in order to do love. St Peter says, “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

As Christians, we must be all of one mind, that is to support each other in that intent to do good. We gather together to pray and receive Christ and that must be where we receive that common mind to bring the love of God into our communities and for those who live around us. In receiving Our Lord in the sacrament, we are united with Him and must seek to be of one mind with Him. We need to look to agree, not insist on disagreeing, but always to submit our thinking to what Our Lord teaches us in His Church.
We must love as brethren. We will not see people as our brothers and sisters initially, and certainly not without the grace of God, but we can purpose to live our lives as if they were our brothers and sisters and allow any grace that God gives us to grow.

To do this, St Peter tells us to be pitiful by which he means that we should look upon our brethren as people who have fallen and are in the same dire need for Christ’s salvation as we are. We should not berate them for their shortcomings, but live with them as they must live with our shortcomings. St Peter is telling us to be sympathetic – in fact this is the word he uses in the Greek!

We need to be courteous, considerate of where others are. This does not just mean opening the door for a little old lady, but rather to be aware of what help or assistance someone else might actually need. It means to take active thought for other people in their situations. It means that we need to be friendly, approachable.

We have to repel evil by not letting it take control of us. If someone does something evil to us, why on earth should we allow the amount of evil to increase by doing the same? We can only ever hope to fight Evil with Good, and we can only know what is truly Good by being of one mind with God.

[PAUSE]

Yes, our secret sins may well be aired in public, but surely, if we’ve tried to be compassionate, sought to do good, looked out for others, surely they will look at us with the same compassion. But then, it’s God who will look at us with pity, compassion and, above all, mercy, forgiveness and love. We may and should cry for our sins, but our tears will be wiped away because we have shed them for the love of God.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Judging the judgement of judging

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

As Christians, we do have a duty to point out right from wrong. In ecclesiastical language it’s called “admonishing the sinner” and it is one of the spiritual works of mercy. Yet, how afraid we are of doing so these days! In likelihood, here in the U.K., we will not be sliced to bits with a large sword, though too many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are suffering this. No, in the U.K. to pull someone up on sin is a different form of death called “social death”.

If you say to someone, “that’s sinful!” Before banning you forever in their social whirl, they will look you right in the eye and say, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.”

That’s what Our Lord says in St Luke’s hearing.

Yet St Luke tells us that Jesus also says, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”

This puts us in a bit of a bother. If we are not allowed to judge that someone has sinned, then how can we accuse them of sin, and thus forgive them? Surely, if we see someone about to fall into a hole, we must say to them, “look out, you’re about to fall into a hole!”

[PAUSE]

In telling us not to judge, non-Christians are effectively telling us that we have no right to call them up on sin. They base this on the fact that we commit the same sins as they do, and receive the same benefits from them. As far as they are concerned, we are walking on the same path as they are and, if there is a hole, we’ll fall into it too. So, logically, if they think that we are on the same path as they, there can’t really be a hole or else we all fall in.

Yet sin is still sin. Murder, adultery, wilful deception, even lusting after another person’s property are sin. That’s not going to change. If these things separated man from God thousands of years ago, then they will still separate us from God now. It’s not because we’ve changed, but because God does not change. We are sinners, therefore how on earth can we tell people that they’ve sinned? Hadn’t we better keep silence?

[PAUSE]

Jesus says, “Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?”
This is the thing. Are we blind? No. We know what sin is and, if we’re good Christians, we will be examining our lives daily for the very thing that separates us from God. It is only those who fail to recognise their own hypocrisy who will fall into ruin with those who will not turn from sin. If we see sin in others but not ourselves, then we can only fall into the same hole as the others.

When Jesus says, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged,” He is warning us not to be hypocrites, but to be humble. We are not to judge based upon what we think is right and believe ourselves to be perfect, but to judge based upon not just upon what God says, but based upon Who God is, for God is what it means to be good. The letter of the Law killeth, but the Spirit giveth life. The word that we hear God speak in Holy Scripture needs to be the Living Word in our understanding of it.

Our judgement is to be based upon mercy. God’s mercy is precisely His steadfast love for all sinners, and this is what we should have too if we are seeking the Good that is Christ. If we must accuse someone of sin, then it needs to come from a deep-seated, passionate, loving concern for their well-being. It can’t be lukewarm, academic, and certainly not from a place of self-righteousness. Nor can we ever force them to repent because that takes away the freedom to choose. There are too many people who try to blackmail people out of their sin emotionally – that’s not on because love does not insist upon its own will.

[PAUSE]

Repentance is the way back to God. We are to change our minds, acknowledge that we are on the wrong path and head towards His light. By living in that light, people may indeed see the way out of their own sin. Of course, we need to be able to see that light first. There might be a beam blocking the way!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sleeping through humility

Sermon for the third Sunday after Trinity

All good parables start with a king, don’t they? A powerful king sits on his throne surveying his wealth and power. He has conquered five new cities to the south and repelled the rebels. He has acquired an oil field in Texas. Gold has been discovered in his territories. The neighbouring kings bring him tributes of the finest treasures that they possess. His has three sons and seven grandsons who sit with him watching him govern the might of his kingdom. This is the world he has made for himself.

All good parables have a begger, too. There is a beggar who sits at the church door. He manages to get enough money for food. He listens to the church music during the day. He has made friends with the regulars that walk past the church daily. At night, he can usually find somewhere protected and quite comfortable to sleep. This is the world he has made for himself.

Who’s happiest?

[PAUSE]

At night, the king dreams restlessly. The rebels take back control of the cities. The oil field runs dry and the gold mine has only fool’s gold. The kings are plotting against him. His family plot his overthrow. This is the five hundredth night in a row. Will he ever get a good night’s sleep?
But the beggar, in all his poverty, is sleeping well, isn’t he?

No. At night the beggar dreams restlessly. His past is still with him. His demanding of his birth right from his father; his running away from all who love him; his squandering the money on a life of wine, women and gambling. He dwells on these from day-to-day. He has them in front of him all day, and at night, his failures whisper in his ear. He can’t go back. He just can’t.

As the king suffers sleepless nights worrying about his wealth, the beggar suffers sleepless nights taunted by his personal failures.

[PAUSE]

Both the beggar and the rich man have to live in worlds that they have created, and they let these worlds define who they are. They are both enslaved and devoured by the weight of what they have added on to their very selves, materially, mentally and spiritually. Their world eats them up leaving only a fa├žade, a shell drunken on worry and concerns from the world. Both men need to find the joy of humility.

Humility isn’t about being the lowest of the low. It’s about realising that, despite those things we’ve done with our lives, they need not define us. We do have a hand with God in our creation, and we’re not finished yet. Every day, our decisions and interactions with God and the world around us shape us more, but so many people leave God out of the equation – and that includes Christians.

Humility is about accepting the truth – the truth of how our desires to build our world enslave us and stop us from being truly alive; the truth of our failures which haunt us and stop us from growing. We cannot allow either of these states to make us drunk with worry and concern to the extent that we forget God and forget who we are. Humility says that, although we have a hand in who we are, God is the Creator, first and foremost.

St Peter says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”

[PAUSE]

We need to look at ourselves critically, but honestly in the love of God. We must take responsibility for the way we shape our lives but trust in the knowledge that, with God with us and as we participate faithfully in His life and love, all that happens will work out to our good. “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

Both the king and the beggar need to learn humility. The king needs to see who he is without the riches. The beggar needs to see who he is without his self-inflicted poverty. Such realisations can only come about by letting go of the vision and realising the truth in God. Kings and beggars are equal in the offer of salvation that God extends to them with pierced hand.

[PAUSE]
Our growth in this life is turbulent and unsettling, but that is the price of transformation. To find true joy in Our Lord, we must learn to accept that we need to change and alter the course of our lives towards Him: that transformation causes distress and turbulence in our lives. There will be sleepless nights of realisations, but bringing them to God in an honest prayer, we can trust Him to bring us to perfection, no matter who we may be.

How are you sleeping lately?