Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Realigning wobblebottoms

Homily Preached at Eltham College Chapel on 26th and 27th of Febrary 2007

So what have you given up for Lent?


"Please Sir, I haven't done my homework
because I've given it up for Lent."

"Hmm, that's interesting Eric, because, for Lent,
I've given up not putting people into detention
for failing to do their homework."

Perhaps you're like many people and find Lent rather passes you by.

You don't give up anything for Lent,
yet you still enjoy the overdone and rather greasy pancakes
that slop onto your plate on Shrove Tuesday.

Others of you may like the discipline
of giving something up,
something which, perhaps, you've been too fond of doing,
such as eating too much,
or playing too much
on the Nintendo DS,
and Lent seems the perfect opportunity
to make a step towards becoming healthier in body and/or mind.

Sometimes giving up something for Lent seems more trouble than its worth.

It would not be advisable to insist that a confirmed carnivore give up meat for Lent.

That could result in less physical health, namely a spell in A&E for anyone who suggests it.

Like New Years' Resolutions,
we give up giving up for Lent after two weeks
when the withdrawal symptoms kick in
- the shakes,
the sweats,
and listlessness during the day.

It seems going without a chocolate hob-nob
is too much for some of us to bear.

So why give anything up in the first place?

Why not carry on life as usual
without all this abstinence?

After all,
we have all these wonderful things around us,
why not use them
and enjoy them all year round?


We have only to look at
the environment around us
to see the effects of this attitude.

Our constant demands
for what we want
are damaging this planet,
perhaps irreparably,
all for the sake of satisfying our wants
- not our needs,
our wants.

Our planet,
our society and our own selves
are put at risk
all because we refuse
to give up something that we enjoy
just to restore a balance.

It is a fact of life that,
in order to make a positive impact
on the world around us,
we need to make an effort.

Effort requires sacrifice
- you don't get something for nothing.

To win at rugby,
you cannot have a team of wobblebottoms
lumbering across the field
like a heard of soporific hippopotami.

You need trained athletes
who have given up sitting on their backsides
playing Grand Theft Auto
to bring themselves to a peak condition.

The school captain would not have been picked
for the rugby team if simply walking onto the pitch
made him wheeze like a hyena with laryngitis.

To be a successful academic,
you need a mind that has often gone
without a good night's sleep to solve a problem
or gather information.

To be a great moral leader
like Archbishop Tutu,
or Pope Benedict,
you have to give up
thoughts about yourself
and what you need
in order to see the needs
of those around you.

To be successful at anything,
you cannot be a stranger to sacrifice.

"Giving up" and "sacrifice"
both involve restoring a balance,
whether that be environmental,
social or personal.

They are also seen as dirty words in our culture.

By sacrificing aspects of our way of life now,
we can go some way to restoring
the delicate balances of the environment.

But the act of sacrifice has to be
meaningful for the people we are.

Our drama teachers have made sacrifices
of time and patience,
to ensure that the latest production
went with a bang
- literally.

And one wonders how many cast members sacrificed their
fingers and toes as a result.

Knowing what to give up for Lent
requires knowledge of what we need to balance.

For the Christian,
Lent is about trying to restore
the balance in our relationship with God.

We examine our lives
and strip away the spiritual fat
that has grown as a result of our selfishness.

It does hurt to sacrifice
- it wouldn't be sacrifice if it didn't hurt -
but the benefits of doing so
are incredibly rewarding.

So what’s stopping you from looking
at the way you live your life,
and thinking about the impact
you are personally having
on the world around?

Is there some imbalance
that needs to be re-dressed?

Are you man enough
(or woman enough)
to make a sacrifice this Lent?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Black Shuck rides again.

Depression seems very rife at the moment. Several of my close friends, and I also, have been feeling low. Whether this is a seasonal thing or a product of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, I'm not sure. I certainly find myself feeling for two friends who are at present suffering gross injustices, and having to live with the results and implications. Their problems put my self-pity in the shade, and yet when the black dog comes -even for no apparent reason - there seems to be little that can be done.

No platitude will bring us out, or free us from the pad, pad, pad of Black Shuck dogging our steps, and yet our darkness is not all self-pity. There are many troubles that are in the world at the moment - troubles that have always been there and will continue to be ,and other troubles that come out of the darkness periodically. Whatever the magnitude of these troubles, they burden us, and not even the thought of what Our Lord went through on our behalf seems to lift our spirits. Indeed, I've found that can make things worse.

I find myself turning to Psalm xxxix, and find that the psalmist too gets overburdened with the cares of this life.

Psalm xxxix. Dixi, Custodiam
I SAID, I will take heed to my ways : that I offend not in my tongue.
2. I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle : while the ungodly is in my sight.
3. I held my tongue, and spake nothing : I kept silence, yea, even from good words; but it was pain and grief to me.
4. My heart was hot within me, and while I was thus musing the fire kindled : and at the last I spake with my tongue;
5. Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days : that I may be certified how long I have to live.
6. Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long : and mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee; and verily every man living is altogether vanity.
7. For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain : he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.
8. And now, Lord, what is my hope : truly my hope is even in thee.
9. Deliver me from all mine offences : and make me not a rebuke unto the foolish.
10. I became dumb, and opened not my mouth : for it was thy doing.
11. Take thy plague away from me : I am even consumed by the means of thy heavy hand.
12. When thou with rebukes dost chasten man for sin, thou makest his beauty to consume away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment : every man therefore is but vanity.
13. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and with thine ears consider my calling : hold not thy peace at my tears.
14. For I am a stranger with thee : and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
15. O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength : before I go hence, and be no more seen.

When depressed, I think that we're often tempted to say, "Snap out of it! Stop moaning or being self-pitying. Don't wallow!" Sometimes we're told to do this by a loved-one who can't quite see the situation. We hold our tongues before God, trying not to express the depths of inexplicable misery that has suddenly come upon us in the midst of our lives and in the midst of the loveliness of God's Creation in the hope that it will pass. But the darkness descends and we sit there stewing like a plum pudding trying to keep it all in.

When at last we can find our voices, we cry out to God to let it end somehow. "How long have I got to put up with this lousy life? I can't do anything right. All that mankind can do is at least empty and at worst destructive. What on Earth is the point of it all, that men should rise up and fall down and disappear?"

Is there any point to life? If we exist to glorify God and enjoy life, then why is one day much like another? Why is there so much to worry about, so much that crushes our spirits?

Once we have vented our spleen, then comes the silence, that unfair silence of God. A silence that is even more crushing that the darkness that has already befallen us. All we want is that glimmer of light to just allow us to get up and walk into oblivion where even we forget who we are.

And why is God silent?

Well, what words would He use to comfort us? There aren't words in the English language - or in any language for that matter - that can rouse someone from depression. That is why there is silence. It is said that Mother Theresa of Calcutta ended her life in the silence of God, just a darkness. St John of the Cross spoke of the Dark Night, and countless saints suffered the same complaint. Is it then the case that they couldn't see the wood for the trees, that these folk had passed into the cloud that surrounds God? From far away we hear the voice of God, but close up to Him we find ourselves in the Cloud of Unknowing, the cloud through which God speaks to us in words that our ears cannot hear; indeed, all we hear is silence. But these are words of healing. Mother Theresa's healing was her passing from this life into the bosom of God.

Our duty to God is to offer Him the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. If it's a sacrifice then it is something that we can expect to hurt us at times. We're still expected to offer Him thanks and praise when life is miserable, pointless, difficult, and it does hurt us to do so. But if it hurts us then we can be sure that we are actually offering God something worthwhile, something that He won't ignore because it is offered out of love.

We are built to love, to care, and there is much to care about - the sick, the homeless, the poor, destitute, starving, naked, orphaned and oppressed... whether physically so, mentally so, or spiritually so. So if we are truly built to care and love, then depression is part of the course when our poor finite little selves get overwhelmed with a greater quantity of misery.

We must wait for God silently to break our silence. The Dayspring from on High will break upon us, but not until our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is complete in His eyes.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Somnambulism in the City

Sermon preached at St Peter and St Paul’s Church Swanscombe on 18th February 2006, based on Exodus xxxiv.29-end, II Corinthians iii.12-iv:2 and St Luke ix:28-43.

Al reaches for the snooze button again
as, for the second time,
the alarm stridently cuts through
a lovely dream about Keira Knightly.

He switches the light on,
wincing as the neon bulb dazzles him,
hurting his eyes.

Slowly he rouses himself,
trying to focus on the day ahead of him.

he summons up all his strength
to poke a warm toe out into the cold room.

Yawning and scratching his head,
he stumbles through to the bathroom,
walking straight past God’s holy angel standing
by the doorway.

Al gets dressed,
and wanders downstairs
for his bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

He switches on the Radio,
and the sound of Chris Moyles
playing “Hotel California”
drowns out the Eternal song o
f the two seraphim in the kitchen
singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

After cleaning his teeth and brushing his hair,
Al grabs his briefcase from by the door
and gets into his car.

As he drives to work,
he passes three angels
playing lute, trumpet and shawm,
a crowd of martyrs praising God,
Moses and Elijah calling out to the world,
and Our Lady in a shop window
pointing towards
the Divine person of Christ
in the world.


Al’s working day is uneventful.

He photocopies papers
unaware of a couple of cherubim
sitting on the copy tray.

He grabs a cup from the water-cooler
on which St Simon Stylites
stands motionless.

He sends countless emails to his colleagues,
missing the email sent to him
by St Isidore of Seville,
patron saint of the Internet.

On his way home from work,
the Glory of God shines all around Al,
radiant and pure light from an Eternal source.

He dines,
watches a bit of telly
and goes to bed unaware of the multitude
of the heavenly host moving around him.

All of these things have happened in plain sight.

One woman saw the angel
hovering above Al’s car as he drove by.

But Al has not seen them.

As far as he is concerned,
all he sees is the greyness of the pavement,
the fumes coming
from the exhaust of the car in front,
the irritated look on the face of his boss
when Al tells him that
the figures will be late
this month.

None of these wonders
have been hidden from Al,
but he does not see them.

You see, when the alarm clock rang,
Al did not wake up.


Oh yes,
he got out of bed all right,
and he was conscious
when he drove to work.

He was certainly conscious
of the idiot who cut him up
at the Walthamstow roundabout.

He was conscious of
the choice words and phrases
that he used to describe that idiot.

He’s conscious of the staple
that he nearly put through his thumb at work.

But Al isn’t conscious
of the angel standing
next to the homeless woman
to whom he throws a £2 coin.

Al is a somnambulist, a sleep-walker.

He wanders through his day
oblivious to the truth of the world around him,
concentrating on his life and how it works.

For Al, every day is much the same,
the alarm goes off every morning;
he has Crunchy Nut Cornflakes for breakfast;
his daughter always manages
to beat him to the bathroom
when he’s desperate;
Wednesday night is always casserole night.

That’s his life.

When the alarm rings and the lamp comes on,
Al shuts his eyes again
because he is dazzled by the light.


It’s easy to shut our eyes when they are dazzled.

It’s a reflex.

Indeed it hurts if we try to look at something
which is too powerful.

When we sleep,
we become used to the darkness
which hides our world.

In the dark,
we see only the shadows of the way things are,
and we make up our own ideas
of what the truth is.

But if we try to open our eyes to the light,
it hurts
so we shut them again.

How can we get used to the light
if we keep shutting our eyes to it?

How can we see the Truth
if our eyes are closed?


Peter, James and John
get to see Jesus as God on the mountainside
because they’ve been having their eyes opened,
little by little,
through devoting themselves to the Lord.

Day by day,
they sit with Him,
eat breakfast with Him,
walk with Him,
go out onto the lake with Him,
study the Scriptures with Him.

Jesus is there with them
in the intimacy
and day-by-day routine of their lives
and they are part of the intimacy
and day-by-day routine of His life.

Yet all the while, the Lord has been preparing them
for a deeper intimacy,
the intimacy of His Godhead which bursts into their hum-drum reality
on a mountainside in a blaze of Titanic Glory.

Yet, the Transfiguration is an intimate event.

It’s an event as deeply personal
as going to sleep with your spouse next to you,
yet it comes only as a result of getting used to Christ in your life,
of opening our eyes
to the brilliance of God who wants
to show Himself to us as He really is.

It is only by opening the eyes slowly to Christ that we see the wonders of God around us in a world that is darkened by much sadness,
selfishness and sin.

The season of Lent gives us
the opportunity for us to see
how much of our lives we spend asleep
to God’s Presence.

We could spend Lent
just giving something up
like we always do,
but what’s the point if,
at the end of it,
we are just as unaware of God in our lives
as we were
when we started?

How do you propose to seek
the light of God this Lent?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Catechetical catastrophe!

You are a 100% traditional Catholic!

Congratulations! You are more knowlegeable than most modern theologians! You have achieved mastery over the most important doctrines of the Catholic Faith! You should share your incredible understanding with others!

Do You Know Your Baltimore Catechism?
Make Your Own Quiz

Well, I'm sorry, I'm just showing off now. It's a just a fun test and nothing serious, but it does raise a serious issue. If that jocular little blurb beneath the score bar is true, then I truly fear for the preservation of the Doctrine of the Church.

Why is it that I should do well in this and not even know of the existence of the Baltimore Catechism, (though I do know the Tridentine Catechism with a certain degree of familiarity) and yet would have not performed half as well in my knowledge of the Anglican Catechism?

The 1662 BCP Catechism is so seldom used now. Indeed, when I was Confirmed, my Confirmation classes were so vague, all I can remember is something distant issue about a chalice! I don't mind so much about this with my somewhat mottled relationship with the CofE, but there are so many Anglicans in the Church of England who leave Confirmation Classes without understanding any of the Faith and what it means. These days Confirmation classes seem to involve sitting down and watching an Alpha Course Video. This is all very well an introduction to the Faith, but surely this introduction isn't necessary if the Confirmands are already established members of the Church. They will surely have shown some commitment, and the natural teaching office of the Church would surely help them to know the basics, wouldn't it?

The Teaching Office of the Church ought to be drawing attention to concrete issues of Faith, not allow people to be obfuscated with theological dithering over weighty issues, or get away with believing what they want to believe. There is an objective Truth, and it needs to be sought.

For example: it may not be particularly Anglican practice to discuss these days, but aren't the spiritual and corporate works of mercy actually important to being a Christian?

[For those who aren't aware, the spiritual works of mercy are:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead.

and the corporal works of mercy are

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead. ]

Even people who believe in Salvation through Faith alone should at least be aware of the things that their neighbours need and look out for opportunities to practise them. There isn't an excuse for a Protestant not to know these because, quite frankly, they are a mark of the Christian Faith and part of the priesthood of the Laity of any denomination. I acknowledge that a Protestant would balk at praying for the dead (can't think why...) but to know that these works are part of our duty is surely of vast importance.

There are other issues:- how many members of the Anglican laity know what a sacrament is? How many care what a sacrament is? They don't care because they haven't been taught the fundamental relevance of Sacraments to the Church. Result: indifference to the Divine Grace of God. And I shudder.

If the Church doesn't teach the Truth, how will people know Him?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Aren't labels sticky?

So what are you?

Dare I make the assumption that you are a human being reading this?
Dare I make the assumption that you understand English?

If I may, then I can reasonably conclude that you are an English-understanding human being. Already I've managed to label you, a noun qualified by an adjective.

We seem to get ourselves in a tizzy about just what we mean by the various labels we use to describe ourselves, or others, or organisations. The adjectives and nouns give us a set of conditions that we have satisfied in order to bear those very adjectives and nouns. In order to be described as red, you have to reflect a certain wavelength of light. In order to be described as soft, you have to have a yielding quality either physically or emotionally.

Clearly concrete labels such as "red" or "soft" can be verified via direct experience (except if you are colour-blind or eating school mashed potato). It's when we come to attribute abstract labels to things, organisations or people that the most disagreement occurs.

In the circles in which I find myself (and I make it clear that I am not a philosopher, nor a student of philosophy), the word "Anglican" appears to cause a lot of bitter dispute among those who would call themselves such. Smiliarly the words "Catholic" and "Orthodox".

It is the connotations that these epithets carry with them that cause the most distress. These days I feel increasingly reluctant to call myself Anglican, and this is due to the circumstances in which I live. To be called an Anglican by my friends who know me is fine: they understand that I have some affinity with the Historical Ecclesia Anglicana, that my genealogy is deeply English, though I am sure that I have some Viking or Norman blood from centuries past. However, ask anyone in the street what Anglican means and they will say "Church of England", and there begins my objection. I no longer consider myself a member of the Church of England as it is now, but as of one who rests in it with a deep affection. I believe myself to still be Anglican in the same way that Albion and Ed and Frs. Kirby and Hart do on the Continuum blog, but I do not adhere to the practices nor the doctrine of the Church of England where they diverge from the Catholic Faith. (If I get kicked out of the CofE as a result of saying this, then actually this will make my life easier!)

Now, we could all get bogged down in semantics and historical pedantries as to what Anglicanism actually is. Was Anglicanism invented at the Reformation, at the Synod of Witby, or when the first Christian set foot on the British Isles, or was it with the first Christianised Angle in Germany? There seems to be some consensus that it is something to do with Blighty and her rather convoluted history. However, as soon as we get into the idea of what it is to be British, then we find ourselves "us"ing and "them"ing. Are Americans Anglicans? Can there truly be an Anglican Centre in Rome? In trying to define ourselves we start to try and split ourselves off from other people, and that is something which is easy to do, but utterly against the Will of God. Labels applied too rigidly afford us only the selfishness of ever-approaching solitude

Well then, perhaps Anglicanism is something to do with the Office, or Anglican Use Liturgies? Wouldn't that depend on your opinion of what the Anglican Church is, and when it started? The BCP was a product of the Reformation; priot that it was all Roman Catholic, and yet even that had an English twist to it with the Sarum Liturgies, prior even to that the Celtic Use. So we're back to comparing genealogies and who is or isn't Anglican - practices that St Paul condemened to his disciples Timothy and Titus (I Timothy i.14 and Titus iii.9).

In short there are always senses in which the word "Anglicanism" does and doesn't apply. So Perhaps for Anglicanism its a case of Louis Armstrong's maxim: "if you gotta ask, you'll never know." Could we really get away with "If it doesn't feel English, then it isn't Anglican"?

I think if we quibble about what Anglicanism is, then we miss a very big point. Surely it is better to be a Christian rather than have our exact identity pinned down according to the way we conduct our Divine Liturgy and Divine Office. Even then we quibble about who is a Christian and who isn't . There are many who call themselves Christians who say and do things that are manifestly not Christian ideals - that in itself doesn't stop a person from being a Christian since we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. It's what we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that is important. Jesus is Lord. If we cannot say that and mean it then there is a doubt on our Christianity.

Perhaps the only True Christians are the saints.

What do I mean by that? Well perhaps True Christianity is something to which we aspire, we may call ourselves Christians, but if at the end we are not recognised by Christ, then how can we have truly been Christians?

There will be a schism in the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality, and there will be a schism in the Church of England over trying to get women into the Episcopacy. Who will be allowed to keep the title Anglican? To be honest, I don't care. I am an Anglo-Papalist: by that I mean I am a Roman Catholic barred from Communion with the Holy See by an accident of History finding a dwelling place within the Anglican Church. Both the Holy See and the Church of England mean a great deal to me, even if one of them is going off the rails into darkness and the other is fighting an encroaching plague of relativism and modernism.

That is what I believe myself to be, but until God tells me who I am, then I shall just have to labour under this misapprehension. However, I earnestly pray that one day I may be honoured by God with the title "Christian".

Friday, February 02, 2007

Head versus heart: No contest!

My latest parish magazine article which I publish here, unabridged.

“Have a heart,” is what we say to the traffic warden as he, with malicious grin and calculated manner, slaps a ticket on our windscreen despite the fact that we’ve only parked on a double yellow line for five seconds to pick up an elderly aunt. It’s an interesting expression by which we mean that the grinning embodiment of evil clad in yellow peaked cap ought to display some human emotion. But why the heart?

It was the Greeks who believed that the heart was the house of our emotions. After all, when we fall in love, get involved in a heated argument, face our fear, or cry our eyes out, that rather large muscle in our chest starts beating like a woodpecker after 100 cups of NescafĂ©. No wonder the Greeks thought that this is where our feelings are kept. The brain, however, the Greeks didn’t understand at all, and so put its presence down as something to do with temperature regulation. In this age of MRI-scans and other electro-magnetic imaging techniques, we can see emotions flash across the surface of the brain, so we can be sure that our hearts are doing a perfectly good job of pushing blood around the body and not pushing out waves of sadness just because the goldfish has passed away.

We might say that our tormenting traffic-warden was ruled by his head rather than by his heart, mechanically doing an unpopular but necessary job in an age when people’s selfishness have made it necessary for double yellow lines to be painted to indicate that stopping would inconvenience many others. Others are said to be ruled by their hearts and guided by where their thoughts and feelings take them, like environmental protesters marching to make a faceless organisation hear their cry of anger at the pollution they are causing. Yet some are ruled too far by their hearts and become effective terrorists, endangering the lives of scientists testing drugs on animals.

Action based on feelings without thinking can be very destructive. In this day and age where many of us are tempted to indulge ourselves with all kinds of luxury kitchens, holidays, sofas, toilet-paper to make ourselves feel more comfortable, we think not of the consequences of the effects on others around us. If scientists are right about global warming being cause by human beings (and there still is some doubt) then it is mainly through the lack of consideration on our part to consider the impact of our wants on the environment. Our prisons are over-crowded because the Government feels that it has to make laws in order to force people into being less anti-social, but who is telling us what it means to be social?

Actions based on thought without feeling produce similarly destructive results. Communism was, and in fact is, a perfectly respectable idea but which has effectively been proven not to work in practice. This did not stop Stalin from enforcing his understanding of Communism on Eastern Europe, and many still bear the scars of that today. Oliver Cromwell forced his own ideas of Christianity on the people of mid 17th Century for what he believed to be the common good. He went so far as to abolish Christmas and other festivities because they did not fit in with his system of beliefs. We may believe whole-heartedly in a theory but if we want to try and implement it, then we have to take into account people as they are: neither Stalinist-Communism nor Cromwellian Puritanism did so.

It is clear that love truly requires the use of head and heart, of thought and emotion. Think on I Corinthians xiii. The loveless know-it-all is nothing because he fails to see the import of human beings for what they truly are in the sight of God. Without love, there suddenly appears something which the loveless know-it-all does not know, and so he ceases to be what he believes himself to be. A loveless know-it-all submits himself to nothing rather than the cage of his own reason, and as a result destroys himself utterly.

So how should we use our heads and our hearts? Well, in his letter to the Roman Christians, St Paul tells us:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans xii)
By not being conformed to the world, we should refuse to separate the rule of our lives into thoughts and feelings which lead to pride and over-indulgence in this rather individualistic and liberal society in which we find ourselves, but sacrifice their use to God and let Him rule us rather than hearts and minds.

We are to transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds. Now this does not mean that we should be dropping everything for the latest fashion like women priests and bongo drums. St James reminds us that we are not to be blown about by the latest theological theory. But St Paul means that in order to be renewed, we need to go back to the Source – to God Himself, so that what He created He can also renew in His ways. We need renewing because we continue to stray, but the Lord Jesus spoke about the Living Water that will spring up from within us. This Living Water is again from the One True God who is humble and loving enough to make His dwelling within each of us. It is He who will help our hearts and minds work in harmony to worship Him, and love those around us.