Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Celibate Homosexual

I'd just like to draw your attention to Ed Pacht's fascinating article on the issue of homosexuality and celibacy. It is very much worth a read.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Blogday 2008

Another blogday! My third, as it happens.

I've clearly not written as much as I did last year, when I wrote:

At the moment, I appear to be in some self-imposed exile from my parish celebrating only the Morning Office until the Mass is treated with some respect. It's a bit of a bind when the only other parishes within walking distance (and since I don't drive, this is necessary) are an Aff-Cath church where things are done decently but the theology dodgy, and a Roman Catholic Parish which seems to treat the Mass with about as much reverence as the parish I'm trying to leave.So I end this blogyear in some kind of ecclesiastical limbo - certainly not a perfect arrangement, and I hope that this is going to be entirely temporary. Now that I receive communion on a much more sporadic basis, I believe I appreciate the spiritual nourishment better.

Whatever state the C of E may be in, I still maintain my links with Elmore Abbey - the only place where I've really felt spiritually uplifted in past years, and it's partly for them that I am loathe to leave the C of E. The Abbey has always represented a weak link between the C of E and the Roman Catholic Church. I find that I need them and on some level they need me, and I find that this is enough for me to remain in a church whose establishment is falling around my ears.

I seem to have spent my year building up my (lack of) understanding of Anglo-Papalism which gets mentioned every other post making me sound like the stuck record of a monomaniacal parrot. It's important because of the confused nature of the discipline. Every Anglo-Papalist is confused on some level and that's because the Church is a confusing place to which to belong. I now have friends like Marco Vervoorst trying to draw me into the Holy See, and others, like my friends from the Continuum trying to call me into a Continuum parish. It just shows what good friends they are, caring about me like that, and it is very much appreciated even if their attempts are not proving successful. However, I pray about the situation nightly, and despite my pressing for a decision, I still feel that I am told to wait for the path to become clear. Perhaps I must wait for the inevitable fragmentation of the C of E - that would make sense (at least to me). I have to be patient, and so must my friends. Intellectual arguments are not enough at the moment.

My Latin is passable, Greek even worse, and Hebrew infinitesimally better, but at least I've settled into the school which is providing spiritual stimulation of an intriguing kind. Having to defend your beliefs to young adults is very bracing and I heartily recommend it.Thanks for reading over the past year. I hope that you will stay with me and pray with me for the Holy Estate of the Church of God, whatever state she's in.

Well, what's changed? Very little on the Parish front. I ceased my sabbatical just after Easter, but I no longer preach in church because there is little point if the liturgy is made up and the Mass lacking direction, and there is no attempt to bring the congregation into the presence of God. Anything I preach is now exclusively at the school.

It's also been a year in which my faith has suffered a bit of a blow at the hands of my rationalism. However, according to the BBC Television series Apparitions, it's good to take one's faith out of the box and give it an airing, though that's the trite way of looking at it. God does not exist just to provide explanations to those who have no intention of believing in Him, nor for those who are unwilling to invest some intellectual effort into understanding this universe. As it is I do feel closer to God at the moment as my exile continues.

Ties with Elmore Abbey have improved. I am now in the process of becoming a novice oblate for which I am thankful. Clearly the monks at the Abbey are the subjects of much prayer in their rather diminished state. The Community has enriched the lives of many folk and, in this day and age, they need to continue for the sake of showing how to live the gospel of Christ rather than bellowing it badly from street-corner megaphones.

As for my rabid Anglican Papalism, well, I haven't had much time to think about it of late, though there appears to be movement happening there. It's hard to call oneself a member of a movement if one is, to all intents and purposes, the only exponent of that movement in one's viewpoint. As Fr Straw points out, what I am looking for as an Anglican Papalist (if indeed that is what I am), does not exist - yet.

I am also pleased to have helped to set up the Anglican Diaspora which has grown steadily since its conception in March. I am grateful to the team of moderators who keep it running well. The Diaspora is just a small attempt to bring together groups of Anglo-Catholics of all hues from around the world in a time when Unity is just not happening, rather the reverse judging from the actions of ECUSA's litigious CEO, GAFCON and Lambeth and the General Synod's declaration that it wants Tradition excised from the C of E by stating that it will not provide episcopal oversight for those who assent to orthodoxy.

One of the areas in which I agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury is that dialogue needs to continue as far as is possible. My question is, how far is he willing to talk with the Continuing Anglicans? He still has ++Coggan's edict to undo before any meaningful conversation can be struck up there, and the C of E needs to hear the Continuing voices as loudly and as clearly as possible as the points that they make are vital to the existence of the Church.

I also pray for greater Unity between jurisdictions of the Continuing Churches. I have seen signs of that in the way that some dioceses have suffragans who are bishops from other jurisdictions. There's a prayer for that to continue to happen.

Study has not been good this year: Latin, Greek and Hebrew have fallen by the side, but musically I've produced a couple of large scale pieces which aren't too bad.

So what of 2009? I hope to get back to studying, though which direction I take is as yet unclear. I also pray for a transformation in attitudes to the Church's worship of God especially in my Parish this year, as it would be nice to preach in the pulpit once more.

Again, my thanks to all readers of this blog and supporters of my online projects. May you all have a God-blessed, fulfilling and thoroughly enthralling 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Feast of the Nativity 2008

When you have sung "Once in Royal David's City" for the 500th time, it begins to lose its appeal, no matter how good the treble soloist who sings the first verse. It's even worse for choristers for whom the whole, rather narrow, gamut of Christmas Carols gets trotted out at each festival service over Advent and Christmastide. It's interesting that the same tunes are always used despite the fact that there are others. "While Shepherds watched their flocks by night" has at least 3 tunes that I know, and I am convinced there are more than that. Yet it's always Winchester Old that seems to be used here in Blighty despite the fact that it goes very well to Cranbrook, better known as "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at".

There are many who want Christmas to be the same each year - the same service of Nine Lessons and Carols, the same Midnight Mass, the same turkey dinner with the same number of cranberries in the sauce, the same amount of wine in the glass and the same television programmes on the box. These are also the same people who claim to be Traditionalists, but they labour under a misapprehension.

As I often find myself saying on this little blogling, Tradition is the life-blood, the DNA of the Church which connects humanity to humanity via the divine humanity and human divinity of Christ. The Church carries the details of God's plan for humanity - the laws that He instigated at the beginning of the universe and thus the consequences of our transgression of these laws, the high standards that He has set for His Creation and thus the dreadful realisation that we miss those standards by miles, the good news that, if we but trust Him, if we do not lose hope and believe that He can, this Universe will be perfected and us with it.

Tradition is nothing to do with stagnation. There are things which will necessarily always remain the same and there are things which will change and develop. The sacraments will not change, their form and function remain immutable to provide the same nourishment, assurance, hope to humanity now and ever more as at the beginning. The interpretation of Holy Scripture will not change or alter, for, like the history of humanity, it is already fast. However, our society changes, and we often perceive it to be for the worst. Humanity does not change in its capacity to sin, but attitudes do change.

The expression of brokenness, of heartbreak, of bitterness, of frustration and misery changes even if its cause does not. The world cries out for its Christ to be born in its midst, but the poor creature is blinded to the fact that that Christ has been born, has suffered, has died, has risen again. All of Creation groans to give birth to the new Creation and despairs because the baby that has been born lies hidden under the veil of 2000 years of history. How can this weary world reclaim its sight of that birth?

The answer is simple - through the Church. That's what the Church is for - to point out what has been, what is and what will be. The Church cannot induce labour to bring about the birth of the new Creation, indeed sometimes the Church behaves as if it were the new Creation with its cry of "We are the One True Church". Yet this is not true.

The Church exists carrying within itself the eye of Tradition which allows the view of Christ born, crucified and risen and points to Christ ascended and in glory. The Church exists to pick up the pieces, to minister to those in pain and to pass on this message of hope that the pain will not last much longer. The Church exists to make the blind see the coming of Christ again in the clouds to make clear the Reality of apotheosis.

And the Church forgets this.

Sometimes the Church believes that it has the Holy Panacea - she doesn't. She can only hold those who are in pain and offer them some Unction in the sacraments. Sometimes the Church tries to force eyes open to witness only a meagre facet of the Truth, a facet which the eye does not recognise to be true. Sometimes the Church tries to lay aside the weight of her Tradition to attract those in pain with distractions but in doing so, distracts the sufferers from the Truth. Sometimes the Church becomes obsessed with doing things the same time and again that she fails to engage with anyone but herself, indeed seeks to separate herself from herself in order that she might be pure.

Yet, this is not Church-bashing, this is honesty and demonstrative of one key fact, that the Church has the characteristics of humanity, gloriously contradictory, paradoxical, infuriating, and yet with the freedom that God gave her in the first place. So glorious is this humanity, that God is pleased, not grudging, to become human Himself, to enjoy life with human beings and to redeem the whole stupid lot of them because, despite their stupidity they are so superb a creation that they are worth saving.

The little baby in a manger that we see year after year is our sign of hope. If we are insisting that our celebrations do not change, then our hope is too small and we point ourselves inwardly and away from the Christ-child. If we loathe Christmas because it has become too materialistic, then how do we expect it to improve if we do not seek how it is supposed to improve. It's our job as a Church to prepare the world for the second coming - however it is supposed to happen. We have to carry the gravitas of the past with our eyes fixed on the future of Christ to come.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Reality of Unity?

My good friend Ed has just published this over at The Continuum blog.

It's a very good question - "Is achieving unity merely a matter of convincing one another to believe the same things, or is unity really something deeper?"

Clearly, the former idea of Unity can never really be achieved because our belief is shaped by our individual being. Each of us experiences God in a way that is unique to our personal humanity, yet we all share the experience of being human.

The main issue seems to be that there is no universal language of the soul. One can see this in the differences in which St James and St Paul approach the "faith and works" issue. Do these Church Fathers agree on what Faith is and what place works have in our salvation, or does their agreement appear only after their lifetimes as a result of the work of subsequent Church Fathers?

We can agree with what we mean by a door, but if we take the door off of its hinges and lay it across a stream, is it now a door or a bridge? Now here again we can get disagreement, and I dare say that Ed will disagree with me on that!

As an Anglican Papalist realising just how difficult it is to be an Anglican Papalist at this time, the issue of Unity with the Holy See is still of great importance. I maintain my stance that I am already within the Holy See and that all that needs to be done is for the Holy Father to recognise that I am what I say I am and rescind the excommunication of the Orthodox Anglican Church as well as the excommunication of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and recognising that Anglican Orders are actually very valid.

This would achieve the aim of a visible sacramental unity between the two Churches.

However, this is terribly unlikely because all three expressions of Christianity have one thing in common - they are all equally convinced that they have the Truth. Well, actually, that's true. They are the One True Church, individually not together, but they cannot express that Truth in a way that produces a coherent and unifying statement of the Truth. Atheists might argue that this is grounds for disbanding the Church because she does not agree with herself, causing religious hatred between communities.

I remain convinced that if a validly ordained priest says the prayer of consecration over bread and wine then, regardless of this thing called "denomination," Christ becomes Really present, and it is the same Christ irrespective of whether the priest be Roman, Anglican or Eastern.

The divisions in the Church are largely illusory, and I pray that we see just how illusory they are on this side of the veil before the coming of Christ. Until then, I pray very much that one day I shall see an Anglican Archbishop and Easter Patriarch concelebrating Mass with a Pope.

For some of my readers, that will be utterly abhorrent, particularly if they are of the dogmatic mindset. That's the problem with the Reformation - I wonder if it would ever had happened if the Popes and the Protestants had been Franciscans rather than Augustinians and Dominicans, what if they had all been Benedictines instead? This is the trouble, there is no unity of psychology, hence the differences between the monastic orders and understandings.

I wonder then if we are not already united where it counts, through the Ut unum sint of Our Lord's prayer, and that this unity will be revealed finally when He comes in glory to judge both the quick and the dead. I pray that this realisation may appear before then, so that the Church can truly work as one unit. We need to: if we keep splitting then the Church will cease to be, at least as a credible expression of the existence of the love of God in an increasingly atheistic, materialistic and apathetic world.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An explanation? I doubt it!

I am in two minds about publishing this since it is so deeply personal. However, if it helps someone out of a dark place then perhaps it is worth the exposure.

I relish my time of prayer on Saturday when I have a little time to disappear into a space within myself and meet with God. Of course I usually nod off, but do so remembering that "He gives to His beloved sleep". However, lately prayer has not been a very pleasant experience.

About a month ago, I sat in my chair trying to bring my latest attempts to demonstrate how wrong Dawkins is to the College, when I first heard a voice that came from my own being say "but really now, there is no God. You're just play-acting, aren't you? You're doing your old trick of taking the standpoint of a minority and argue it, just for the intellectual exercise."

To say that I was deeply worried that such a voice can come from me is an understatement. God has been part of my life since birth - I was Baptised and Anglican and have been attending Mass on Sundays for practically all my life, and here is a voice which is my own, telling me that really it was all play-acting and that God did not exist.

Well of course, I found this occurrence disturbing. When you've put a lot of work into the Church, spent time in training and reading, listening and praying with people and preaching sermons, the last thing you want to hear is that not only have you wasted your time, but you've actually missed out on some of Life's joys such as a lie-in on Sunday morning.

My relationship with God is better (when I haven't fallen into sin and crushed myself with guilt) lately since I've made a little more space for Him during Advent. I still have the little atheistic voice within me, but I'm wondering that it's there because I'm moving into a new way of thinking about God and the old way wasn't good enough. Perhaps that voice has been saying that the idea of "God" that I was holding onto is not God, thus the concept of God that I had been holding in my deeply Thomist/Mathematical fashion was not good enough. In that sense my atheistic voice is right God doesn't exist in the way that I though He exists, and that's actually quite a comfort to me.

I have been tracking the source of this voice, and I believe that I have found whence it comes. If we believe in God because His existence explains things, then we come up against the possibility of other explanations. The way that the Lord walked on water may be explicable through hidden stepping stones, or that due to a very special set of circumstances, the Lord made use of special waves which increased the surface tension of the water - unlikely, but it's an explanation- or that it simply didn't happen and the Bible is wrong in the literal sense of Jesus walking on water.

There are some very convincing explanations as to how the plagues of Egypt followed a pattern resulting from a volcanic eruption which also explains the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. However, the idea is that any Biblical account has a rational explanation and that it always has to be scientific.

Of course, the phrase "scientific explanation" has the unfortunate association with atheism, when in fact Science properly done is neutral, and it is only our worldviews that give science a theistic or atheistic spin. It doesn't actually bother me whether or not there is a scientific explanation for the Miracles of Christ, or for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. If some occurrence causes me to wonder, or to be struck with awe, or points me to God in any way, then that is a miracle, at least for me. Miracles, like music, are icons in Time, as opposed to Space, windows into the Reality of God.

I remember sitting on a train and being struck by the presence of a hand-hold on the top of the seat in front of me, which brought me to consider its purpose, and the intention of its design, and that brought me to God. In that sense, that insignificant object was a miracle for me. It wasn't there to be explained, or to explain God's existence, it was just there. And God is just there as well.

Sometimes I wonder if using the existence of God as an explanation for why things are is a form of taking His name in vain. The Church has made mistakes in the past in making dogmatic statements about Reality which are untested and never actually stated as articles of faith within Tradition or Holy Scripture. These dogmatic statements can lead us to a "God of the gaps" whereby God explains that which cannot be explained by Science, and as Science probes deeper, God shrinks. God does not shrink, so our concept of God is too small.

There are many exciting questions about the nature of reality that a neutral Science with its truly open mind can seek to answer. It will not find God, because the existence of God is metaphysical not scientific. I have found philosophical difficulties with the Eternity of God in opposition to our free will and His Omniscience. But seeing that Scientifically we do not know what Time is, let alone why we can only move forward and not backwards, our understanding of Eternity leaves us with an Eternity that is only understandable from within Time, and not from God's perspective. Nor do we know all that is to know, because we know that there is truth that we cannot know scientifically but nonetheless exists as being true thanks to Gödel.

Why do I believe in God, then, if His existence is not to be used as an explanation for why I'm here? I believe in God because He's there and there is no vocabulary in my mind that I can use to produce an any more verifiable assertion than that. I have felt Him move within the fabric of my being, and, like Descartes, I do not believe myself capable of generating the sensations that this movement produces. To the outsider, what I am writing is utterly meaningless, but then I'm not writing to convince anyone that God exists.

So, where does that leave me with this voice of atheism still chirping occasionally when I'm trying to pray? Well, I suppose it leaves me exactly where I always have been, but appreciating that I simply do not believe in the same God that the atheists do not believe in. My image of God has been destroyed, and that's a good thing. I've been deliberately trying not to have an image of God for some time. The God that created this universe does not need to explain Himself or to be used as an explanation for why things are. Things are, because He wants them to be and that's all the explanation that a believer needs. I cannot help the unbeliever to believe by explanation because there will always be as counter-explanation which may be more or less convincing.

It does leave me somewhat blinder in prayer, and I suppose the work of the next coming months will be to find out where He has moved to and how I am better to approach Him this time.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A treble dilemma

Having heard Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols being performed by the college trebles, with some outstanding singing by two of my ex-tutees, it seems that Choral singing exemplifies the content of the Book of Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything - a time to mend and a time to break! I find it rather hard that the beautiful crystal clarity of the voice of the boy has to vanish during the time of deep uncertainty called adolescence. You can spend five years training your voice only for it to succumb to the ravages of the hormonal storm about to break.

I nearly brought in a pair of garden shears the next day, but thought again. For me, the treble voice is suffused with this tragedy: that to continue to exist the boy must undergo an operation that renders him broken just for the sake of the beauty of his voice, or else to lose that glorious voice that inspires and brings tears to the eyes of the faithful in order to live a normal human life, but possibly without the ability to express the worship of God in that voice.

There are some simply ravishing pieces of music for the castrato singer, but is it enough to justify destroying a young man's life just so that he can make such a beautiful sound. Clearly the choirmasters of the renaissance thought so, but we know that it is not the case - we cannot justify such a crippling action. The tragedy is that we cannot have both. But then perhaps we are being greedy and clinging to things of beauty which pass away so that a newer beauty can take its place.

The song of a life well-lived walking humbly with God has a music that can surpass the glories of the human voice, though it takes a person well versed in this music to hear it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Existence, Evolution and...

2009 sees Darwin's bicentennary. As part of that, I was asked to contribute to yet another debate between Atheist and Theist accounts of Evolution. I followed my previous colleague, an intelligent disciple of Dawkins who followed the usual idea othat the Universe can only be explained via scientific means. This is my reply with a few details changed to preserve the identities of members of the school.

Homily gave to the sixth form at Eltham College on Wednesday 19th November 2008 as part of the series on Evolution and Darwin.

I have a confession to make.

I’m afraid I have no choice
but to agree with
my esteemed atheistic colleague here.

I believe in Evolution.

Of course,
to Professor Dawkins,
that makes me obscurantist and disingenuous.

What that means is,
Dawkins doesn’t like religious folk
who dare to argue with him.

So let’s be clear.

There is evidence
that the universe was created
in some gargantuan explosion
thirteen thousand million years ago,
expanding and evolving ever since.

More recent evidence
from Saul Perlmutter
shows that the Universe
will continue to expand
until the stars burn out,
matter becomes diverse,
and loses cohesion

Even fundamental particles
will decay into nothingness.

And so to quote my colleague:

"People and planets and stars will become dust.

And the dust will become atoms
and the atoms will become nothing!

…The destruction of reality itself!"

Oh wait, sorry, no that’s Davros.

I do apologise.


As a mathematician,
I have no problem with Evolution at all.

I have studied many evolution equations
such as the Lotka-Volterra equations
describing oscillating populations
of foxes and rabbits,
or the Ricci flow equations
describing how the curvature of space
can evolve in time.

To understand Evolution,
we need something to evolve
and a rule by which it evolves.

Mathematics produces several models
which fit the observed data of evolving space-time.

For the large scale,
there is Einsteinian General Relativity;
for the small, quantum mechanics;
for the middle Newtonian mechanics.

The trouble is,
none of them match up
to produce a coherent theory of everything.

You might think that’s okay,
but if the Universe expanded
from something very small
to something very large,
then at some point the Universe
would be described simultaneously by Relativity
and Quantum mechanics.

So what do you do
if your two most favourite theories
refuse to kiss and make up when it counts?

You look for a new theory.



Replace particles with little wavy strings
and a lot of problems go away!

However you do end up with five
(or six, depending on your reckoning)
different string theories
– type I,
– type IIA,
– type IIB,
– heterotic SO(32)
– and heterotic E8 x E8.

SO(32) is a 496 dimensional Lie Group, E8 is a 248 dimensional Lie Group.

Five string theories – we only want one?
“Ah,” says Ed Witten,
“if you stick them all in 11 dimensional
they all become the same one!”

So, our understanding of Evolution insists
that we become 11-dimensional.

No problem with that,
except that we can’t observe
these extra 7 dimensions.

according to the theory,
there have to be parallel universes.

Parallel universes explain the Big Bang
· two big 10 dimensional
drumskins smash together
creating ripples
that turn into strings
that turn into us
as well as producing
another universe.

Quantum theory allows for this,
producing a universe for each possibility.

So there is a Universe
where my colleague,
clad in dog-collar
argues passionately for shamanism.

a universe
in which Barney the dinosaur
is president of America.

a Universe in which Victor Meldrew
while combing his shoulder length auburn hair,
sings sweet rhapsodies to Billie Piper
in a mellow baritone.

And now there is a problem:
by definition,
Parallel Universes cannot be observed.

String theory puts forward no testable results,
and yet this theory is being touted
to be the theory of the real world.

Multiple universes
in which every possibility can occur
pile up on top of each other.

None of them can be scientifically tested,
yet our present understanding of Evolution
requires them.
But Occam’s razor says
the simple answer is usually the best.

The existence of God?

It’s certainly no less scientifically viable.


“Ah,” says Dawkins,
“but God is complex”
at which point
St Thomas Aquinas,
John Lennox
and Keith Ward clout him
from behind with
Summa Theologiae volume I
“you’ve not read this at all have you?

If God were material then you’d be right
but He isn’t made of anything!

Your argument falls down
because you confuse
the philosophical notion of simplicity
with your own view as to what it must mean
to be simple. ”

The truth is, in “the God Delusion
Dawkins really shows up
that he does not understand
any philosophy at all.

And why should he?

He’s only a scientist
and philosophical questions are not scientific.

You can read the God Delusion if you like.

I’d recommend that atheists read Bertrand Russell
- at least he actually thinks before he writes.

You see Dawkins cannot understand
that ideas,
and thoughts exist
and are neither material
nor reducible .

You can divide the brain up
into temporal lobes,
hippocampus, cerebral cortex et c.

You cannot divide a thought into any parts.
Can Science answer the question:
“what is a thought?”?

Can science even isolate a single thought?

If it can, can it determine what that thought is about?



There exist questions
that Science cannot answer,
and for all the statements
that Dawkins, Darwin and Evolution
do intelligently demonstrate,
the statement “God does not exist”
is not one of them.

It is a metaphysical question, just like “what is a thought?”

Science can verify
the observable aspects of my being,
but it cannot pick up on the fact
that I am conscious.

To say that humans have evolved consciousness
is not obviously explained
either by Dawkins or any other scientist.

This means that there needs to be
another way of explaining to account for consciousness
– explanation from the point of view
of being a person as a whole,
not reduced to a collection of atoms.

Dawkins cannot accept that,
because he believes every aspect
of humanity to be accounted for by Science.

We need to account for
the existence of matter and consciousness,
science and personal explanation.

Returning to Occam’s razor,
the simplest explanation is that
there is God,
an eternal and non-material consciousness
who did set the evolutionary process
going via the Big Bang
and shares with us
His aspects of consciousness
and personality.

God doesn’t exist
because of the gaps in our knowledge.

the existence of God explains
why science is actually to make explanations
in the first place.

On a personal note,
it is God that spurs me on in mathematics
- who allows me to see the wonder
and beauty of His world,
His Creation.

Perhaps one day
He’ll show me precisely how wrong I was,
and how right I am.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Responding to a Comment on "Rather than forward it on..."

Nick, a friend of mine from Warwick University, was kind enough to post his objections to the previous post below. They are good objections, and I thought it would be best to answer them in the main blog rather than squirrel them away in the com boxes.

Here's his comment:

Some thoughts, which ended up being a little more vehement than I'd intended, the further I got through Stein's rant:

* Atheists don't like getting pushed around for being atheists either. Is it right to force atheist or agnostic children to swear allegiance to 'one nation under God', to pray, or to read the Bible? It seems to me that this would be about as reasonable as forcing Jewish children to attend Holy Communion, or forcing Christian children to pray to Allah five times a day.

* The terrible human disaster (the deaths, the homelessness, the disease, the poverty) of Hurricane Katrina could have been largely averted, or at least greatly reduced if the politicians had listened to the experts, strengthening the flood defences and starting the evacuations sooner, rather than pretending the whole thing wasn't going to happen, and then leaving everyone to fend for themselves when it did. To paint the disaster as a judgement from God, rather than the result of gross governmental incompetence, is to demonstrate the same level of almost criminal wrongheadedness that was responsible for the disaster in the first place.

* To judge all atheists on the example of Madalyn Murray O'Hair is roughly analogous to judging all Christians on the example of the Spanish Inquisition. She happened to have a valid point that children should not be subjected to religious indoctrination in publicly-funded schools, but her methods and rhetoric went so far beyond what
mainstream atheists and agnostics believe and consider reasonable that she made Richard Dawkins look like a new-age, tree-hugging, crystal-therapist. At the time of her murder, her American Atheists organisation consisted of a handful of people - she'd been deserted and disowned by everyone else who doesn't believe in God, not to mention most of her family and former friends.

* To lay the blame for terrorist attacks and school shootings at the door of atheism is so ridiculous that it's almost not worthy of response. Does the writer of this screed honestly believe in a God who would kill innocent people in a fit of pique at a number of other people who don't happen to believe in Him? The dreadful terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were a response to decades of US
foreign policy, not the removal of mandatory prayer from primary schools. The terrible spate of school shootings, similarly, can be far more rationally explained by non-supernatural means.

* I'm not sure what relevance Dr Benjamin Spock's son's suicide has to the rest of the argument, so I won't comment any further on that except to note that it's not actually true: Spock had two sons,
Michael and John, both of whom are still alive. His grandson Peter did commit suicide, but I think we can probably attribute that to the severe schizophrenia he suffered from (and was hospitalised for), rather than God being angry at America.

* This article, full as it is of logical fallacies, shoddy reasoning, and biased and inaccurate reporting, is exactly why these people, George W Bush's 'faith-based community', should be kept away from government (and, for that matter, scissors and other sharp implements). I've got nothing against rational, intelligent Christians, indeed I'm pleased to say that I'm friends with many such people (yourself included), I just have a problem with credulous idiots.

* I'd not heard of Stein before, but it turns out he's a leading light of
the creationist movement. He recently cowrote an 'intelligent design' propaganda film (which has the rather apt title of 'Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed') which amongst other things attempts (with some extremely shaky reasoning) to draw links between the theory of evolution and the rise of Nazism.

Summary: To borrow Jeremy Bentham's excellent phrase, it's not just nonsense, it's nonsense upon stilts.

I posted this article because it does make folk think. It will certainly generate some reaction - that's good! However, we do need to think about these issues with due care and scrutiny, and perhaps on some level, that is what Stein is trying to make us do.

To reply to each of Nick's points:

  • I don't want anyone to be pushed around by anyone. Both Judaism and Christianity are founded on the issue that true love generates freedom from oppression. If the gospel is that of a proper love for all human beings, then the beloved must be free to make their own choice.

  • This all depends on what is meant by "judgment from God". If I say, "don't put your hand in the fire" and you do and get burned then I am allowed to make the judgement that a) you don't trust me and b) you have no understanding of fire. As Stein says (quoting the Bible), we reap what we sow, and that is the judgement of God - a predetermined law on which God has established the universe. In some sense, that very judgement has always been there.

    We do things and we have no idea what the consequences will be. If God says no, and we fail to listen and come a cropper, then perhaps we ought to look and see if that was the very reason why God said no in the first place.

  • Synecdoche is a brilliant poetic device, but a very dangerous method of argument, so I cannot rwally defend Stein’s methods. Remember, he is going for effect in the short amount of time allotted to him in his broadcast. The point he is raising is that people are confusing secularism and humanism. I live a secular life in that I am not always in Church, or in the company of my fellow believers. While I do have aspirations to the monastery, I am at the moment called to live a life outside the cloister. That’s good, and I have to be respectful of everyone’s beliefs without being forced to adopt them.

    However, the false assumption peddled by the atheists is that secular society must also be humanist, i.e. cannot reference belief in any religious system for fear of upsetting others. I am not in the least bit offended by Stein’s Judaism (and Creationism), by a Moslem’s following of Islam, or an Evangelical’s following of Christianity. Being a Catholic, I believe that they are wrong, some being more wrong than others. I also believe in another’s right to make a mistake, and if different faiths are to live together then they too must respect this right.

    A humanist society says that my faith cannot be used to make important decisions, such as how I am to raise my children or how I am to vote, and gives no worth to what I say because it is religious in its nature despite the fact that it has practical value. If there were no organised religion, then the question of abortion would still be raised because of the question: is a foetus a human being? Yet if I object to abortion on religious grounds (and I am not sure that it is possible to remove the religious argument from the abortion issue), the humanist society fails to hear me because I am a Catholic. See also the furore over adoption by homosexual couples.

    Where Stein and I agree is that our religious belief should not disqualify our remarks, nor should it absolve us of the duty to speak out on issues of moral concern. We speak out because our faith bids us do so, and too many "religious" people do not do so on the grounds that they will look like idiots rather than stand up for something that they believe in.

  • I don't think that Stein is actually saying that Atheism is responsible for terrorist attacks. If he is, then he's wrong. As G.K. Chesterton said in a short letter to a newspaper : "Dear Sir: Regarding your article 'What's Wrong with the World?' I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton."

    What does appear to be a contributing factor to those attacks is the complacency of the West to what was happening in the Middle East. I do not even blame Islam for the terrorist attacks. I blame whatever power is putting the idea into people's heads that terrorism is a good mathod of political statement and negotiation.

  • With regard to Dr Spock’s grandson’s suicide, I think we are agreed. Authors ought to check facts first before publishing. Clearly as a blogger, it seems that I am not free from stain in that one.

  • Whatever we read, we should ask, “what is the text doing?” This was a broadcast message, designed for people to hear in an age when they are bombarded with lots of information, most of which is more appealing to listen to, so I have sympathy for Stein’s case. Shortly, I shall have 10 minutes to speak to 120 sixth-formers on how Evolution does not prevent me from being a Christian. I doubt if my arguments will be any better than Stein’s.

    The fact is that I am biased and prejudiced: I have a religious faith and a personal relationship with God, so naturally my argument will mention Him a lot and in support of my belief. We all have a bias somewhere, and it's important that we realise that. It’s difficult to be accurate about the application of theory to reality, since by nature of theory there already inaccuracies, and I am far from perfect. You may have noticed that.

    What does concern me more are Governments who seek some form of purity in their composition. There are princes, presidents, popes and patriarchs that have tried to force people around to their belief system with disastrous results. The ideal for this country always used to be that Parliament, Church and Crown would regulate each other. Now of course, we appear to be regulated by a parliament who cannot be held to account. There is no perfect system of government, though some forms are clearly better than others.

    A major reality of this World is: "people disagree with us." Each government has to deal with the issue: “how do we deal with the folk who have voted against us?” Suppression, dismissal, restrictive practice and “squeezing out” are not acceptable, yet occur in each governmental system to some level.

  • I suppose, technically, Nick has made an ad hominem argument here. I know that in debate, one ought to refrain from these, and rather concentrate on what is being said. However, they do bring an extra dimension into the debate if (and only if) the ad hominem statements are accurate and factual.

    As a Christian I believe that God created the Earth – that’s one of the tenets of the creed to which I subscribe. However, the Bible doesn’t answer the question “how?”, it rather gives an explanation for why we exist. For me, answering the “how?” question is the fun bit of science that God allows us to do. However, Creationism goes further than just believing that God created the universe. I don’t object to people holding Creationist beliefs, after all, Bertrand Russell did demonstrate that it was philosophically coherent to believe that the universe came into existence five minutes ago together with the appearance of having the past of millions of years. Yet, given the circumstances and the laws that nature appears to follow and I observe, both Russell’s hypothesis and, subsequently, Creationist belief seem contrary to what I observe, though I cannot prove that it is false.

To comment on Nick's summary: much of what Stein has written may be nonsense, but I cannot dismiss all of what Stein says as nonsense. Perhaps what is more dangerous than the “credulous idiots” are the intelligent Christians who prefer to live their lives without thinking about the consequences of their actions and what they are affirming, and not putting their intelligence to good use. Now there are plenty of those about particularly in the Episcopal Church of the USA and the C of E.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rather than forward it on...

My friend, Jim Ryland, sent this to me. I think the idea is that I should forward it to as many people as I know. Unfortunately, I'm not the most sociable of people and my address book isn't brimming over with names. I thought that this piece deserved to be viewed by more people than I actually know, so I publish it here, well aware that others have done the same, in the hope that my countrymen will read it and realise where this country is going.

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too... But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking. Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'

In light of recent events... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards,

Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Dare you email this post to your friends, or are you really as unsociable as I am?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Does it really matter?

Let's face it, proper Anglo-Catholics (i.e. not Aff-Caths, who are High Church in their ritual and nothing more) get a bad press for holding onto their "outdated and restrictive beliefs". The World and the liberal churches view us as splitting the Church over things that do not matter. Does it really matter who waves their hands over bread and wine and says "Hocus Pocus"?

This same issue was raised in the BBC television series The Vicar of Dibley when the female "vicar" when addressing opponents to the ordination of women states that people who worry about women's ordination ought to be worrying about bigger things. This is what the British public have seen broadcast about the issue, and seems to be a sentiment that is shared, not only with the secular society, but also the C of E as well. I heard in a sermon yesterday that the roles of women in the Church, or of the ordination of practising homosexuals are not issues that would only bother the Lord because they damage "inclusivity".

Essentially, we have to look at what the secular world (and an increasingly secular denomination) regards as an issue that it considers more important than what is splitting the Church. A quick straw poll among the folk around me reveals that battling injustice, poverty, global warming, needless suffering and disease are more important.

Of course they are important.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isaiah lviii.6-7)

Clearly we are to work for a society that is free from the powers of darkness, to show love to all human beings. Yet,

[God] has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah vi.8)

Both passages are in complete agreement: a human being cannot truly be called a follower of God if he does not act in a way that is fair, loving, merciful and humble. Indeed, St John says that we can never have known God if we fail to love. As Christians, it is imperative that we work at doing something to bring the freedom and light of God into the world, so the "big issues" are very much at the heart of what Christians ought to do.

However, if we look at the "big issues" carefully, we see that they have always been with us as the Lord Himself predicted they would be. Is this solely the fault of the Church concentrating on God? Well, no.

Certainly, it is the fault of some elements of the Church for choosing to seek power and to exercise their power through oppression, but other elements have been steadfast in doing just as God commands, with some success but not reaching all the people. Oppression still exists, and why? Because humanity is fallen - utterly so. Altruistic efforts on the part of the secular society, nor on the part of the Church will not be enough to end this oppression because somewhere, somehow, someone just starts it all up again. There is nothing new under the Sun.

If we truly walk humbly with God, then this means not only recognising, but also accepting our limitations and failures as well as our capabilities and successes. Humility is an honest appraisal of ourselves as individuals and or ourselves as a Church in the light of God. We cannot operate without God. None of our altruistic schemes have any relevance - indeed cannot even be truly altruistic - without God.

So God comes first, because He points to a way in which suffering is ended like the travails of childbirth. The relief from suffering is eschatological. We do not understand why now such suffering exists save for a vague notion of what it means to have free-will. We certainly know that much human suffering is caused by humanity itself which only heightens our need for God.

If then we put God first, then there must be a process where we act as if we put God first. Is there such a process? Yes, it's called worship.

So how are we to worship? We could just do our own thing, but it is clear from scripture that there has to be an element of coming together, of commonality as the Jews and Christians gather together. In the twelfth chapter of Acts we read that the Christian community worshipped God together in an act referred to as leitourgia whence the word "liturgy". From its earliest beginnings, the Church has used liturgy to worship God so that we follow the way that God Himself wants to be worshipped. The relationship between God and Humanity hasn't changed, and neither has the pattern of worship.

Two thousand years have elapsed since the first Eucharist, and, in creating the Eucharist, the Lord Himself has instituted a pattern and a priesthood for the Universal (i.e. Catholic) Church to follow throughout history. This guarantees that we receive the same Communion with God, as did the first disciples, and worship Him in the way that He considers to be worship, and are fed by Him with food that truly sustains and equips us for serving God and our brethren. The Eucharist is not a little issue. It is not some trivial issue, but has a significance beyond the visible scientific world.

So, yes, the Eucharist does matter and matters more than the problems of this world because it points to Godly ways in which the problems of this world are to be relieved if we receive it properly, meditate on its effects and engage with God in a Communion that He desires to have with us. The problems of this world, though severe, are nonetheless fleeting, and if we see these issues only as important then we are forgetting about the spiritual welfare of those around us.

The West languishes in a spiritual famine, the like of which has not been seen for some time because it has systematically rejected its spiritual existence in favour of the material. In making ourselves fat on food and possessions, we have become spiritually thin and emaciated. Our relationship with God is feeble, the worship in the C of E becoming mere lip-service, and indeed mere ritualistic "Hocus pocus" (where of course ritual is being observed). We do not take our Opus Dei seriously and as a consequence we are in danger of losing our very selves.

The "big issues" and the Mass are inextricably linked in Communion with God, and only He can put us on the path to see His Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New blog

I've just found Alana's blog. She's always been kind enough to read this bloglet and make comments, and I've always found her Orthodox beliefs very refreshing. So, in the best tradition of reciprocation, do check out what she has to say - it really is worth hearing.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Soul Music: aspiration versus affectation

Striggio's Ecce Beatam Lucem.

Tallis' Spem in Alium

I have just spent a very pleasant half an hour listening to, in my opinion, three of the most uplifting pieces of music written: Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis, Ecce Beatam Lucem by Alessandro Striggio and O Bone Jesu by Robert Carver which I'm yet to find on YouTube, but I thoroughly recommend that you purchase the recordings properly as they sound much more glorious than these rather grainy videos.

I'll readily admit that I am a big fan of polychoral motets - pieces of music which involve more than one choir of voices. On a much feebler scale I write my own which come nowhere near to the sheer genius of these highly talented and gifted musicians. I find that writing such pieces puts an enormous strain on my grasp of music, trying to get the noises in my head into some sensible and orderly form to express some form of my worship of God. It is a vast effort on my part, but then I am not a trained composer and have very little knowledge of form, structure or texture. I also doubt that I will ever hear my compositions performed other than by the munchkin chorus that inhabits my computer. That doesn't worry me too much - I don't write for performance because I worry that I might become conceited from any adulation and dispirited by any criticism.

However, the point is that I try to do something that pushes against the everyday tendency to ignore God. Music requires effort if it is to be done well and inspire people and worship God. The blood of the composer must be spilt into the manuscript page, and likewise the blood of the performer must be drawn if the music has any chance of lifting the soul from this veil of suffering and to touch the Divine who in His great act of humility permits us to touch Him.

Tomorrow, I shall go into Church and I shall hear songs half-sung, words half-read and prayers barely prayed. The angelic voices to which I have recently just listened will be replaced by songs that are easy to sing, that speak of the comfort of our position and how nice that chap Jesus is. There will be no aspirations, there will be no desire to move forward, there will be no wish to upset the status quo. All will be done to maintain a nice atmosphere while we watch the Rector putting on his performance at the altar, and it will mean absolutely nothing. And then we shall all get up and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, ignorant in our bloodless existence of the sheer and titanic effort that He made in order that we might receive that Communion.

It doesn't matter which parish I'm talking about - it's the face of Sunday worship in the C of E, with its modern take on things and its desire to make it easy for people to come through the door. to understand what's going on, to enjoy oneself.

Church Music is one single aspect and barometer of the spiritual state of the Church. I am not saying that every church needs to sing Striggio's 40/60 part Missa sopra Ecco beato giorno as its weekly Mass setting. The dear monks at Elmore Abbey do their level best at singing the simple chants in their hard Office. I don't think they are trained singers, but their simple effort and hard work make that music special even though it's a single unison line of music. If they can do it, then we should be thus able. We just need to get rid of the gimmicks, the affectations such as tambourines, guitars, drums and Clavinovas with their helicopter sound effects and put some effort into singing hymns of worship that are directed God-ward and not "Here am I Lord, look at me, Lord" which the majority of these ridiculous and offensive worship songs are, both from a theological and aesthetic point of view.

Sing to the Lord a new song? Yes, but one that we've actually made an effort to compose well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Fine Romance: the Mills and Boon Christ

It seems that there is a war between different loves raging in this world, setting church against society and, indeed, Church against itself. The issue is clearly how it is appropriate to behave when one is "in love" - whatever that means.

I think that one of the contributing factors has to be this idea of Romance taken out of context.

There seems to be something terribly noble about the star-crossed lovers pledging their love in spite of apparently insurmountable odds. One can read Pride and Prejudice and see how Elizabeth Bennett finally navigates the obstacles of society and finally bags the dashing Mr Darcy. Apparently a box of tissues is a requirement when one watches Love Story or Titanic. There is the quandary over which woman to love in Dr Zhivago. How many women fantasise about their boyfriend in white uniform a la Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman? Some classics, some not so, but they have this picture of love against the odds sometimes with tragic endings.

In these days of readily available media, many folk are presented with this notion of love against the odds, disobeying antagonistic parents, avoiding crowds of unwelcome suitors and ill-chosen subjects for an arranged marriage, or the disapproval of an oppressive regime in order for the couple to engage in the great embrace in the final reel, or suffer painful lingering deaths.

Is it possible, then, that people look on these as a generic component of falling in love, that there has to be some battle against an oppressive regime for there to be this frisson of Romance?

One looks at the modern acceptability of sex outside marriage. Society turns a blind eye, saying that this is now a reasonable and normal activity. Yet this was never the case in the past when unmarried sex was called fornication and seen as shameful. I suspect that what has happened is that Romance came on the scene.

What was taboo became suddenly terribly noble - the young couple expressing their love despite the tyrannical disapproval of a strict society bent on crushing any expression of tenderness by forcing them to commit themselves in that evil and binding notion of marriage. How wonderful to see this young couple overcome all the odds!

Similarly, homosexual relationships thrive because of the Romantic imperative. Two young men struggle against social and moral taboos in order to come to terms with the feelings burning within them. It's seen as beautiful, noble and thus completely acceptable to a society which equates the superficial expression of love with the true depth into which true love expands.

These folk also romanticise the life of Christ. His sacrifice against all the odds seems to give license to the view that Love can be expressed in any way that society permits. It is Mills and Boon Christ permits homosexual relationships because the love is true, and it struggles against the disapproval of the world. This superficial love needs to be seen for what it is - it permeates only to the level of feelings, not to the good of society as a whole. Everything may be permissible, but not everything is beneficial, and the Mills and Boon Christ seeks only to scratch an emotional itch, rather than seek to build up families and communities in a deeper and truly selfless action.

Looking at the lives of the saints, it is here in which we see the struggle to love against the odds to satisfy the desire that all folk should realise that they are loved by a personable, yet utterly transcendent God who wills their good and loves them more deeply than any rather falsified notion of affection spawned from some idea on the Big Screen.

If Romance truly exists then it is in the more cosmic story of a God and His Creation overcoming the oppression of free-will to be together in Eternity.

Ciborium or fancy tin mug?

I haven't really had much time to post on this poor little blog lately, though I do intend to keep it alive.

I thought I ought to relate an incident today which I believe sums up the attitude of a sizable part of the CofE.

Our Parish Church building is under renovation at the moment while the heating is being put in. This has meant the removal of the floorboards, and the covering of many of the precious items in the Church. It also means that our Aumbrey in the Lady Chapel is now inaccessible.

I came into church this morning to lead Mattins and sure enough saw that the sanctuary light (a ghastly 1960's electrical thing with a flickering flame "effect") was off. Of course, this would make one curious as to where the Reserved Sacrament was now being stored. It is of course of a vital importance to a rabid little Anglican Papalist like myself. So I looked around the church ("seek and ye shall find") and eventually found the ciborium stuck in the corner of an old disused sacrarium (only just prevented from falling in the sink) at the back of the church surrounded by a pile of old chairs, chest of draws, a filing cabinet filled with our modern "liturgies". There was no attempt at reverence, no thought for what this receptacle contains even if some folk in the C of E see it (wrongly) as merely symbolic. The attitude speaks volumes.

While I can understand that the Aumbrey had to be rendered inaccessible, the fact that there was no plan to accommodate the Sacramental Presence of the Lord seems incredible. I often come into the church to find the Aumbrey obscured by a display of flowers, or a chair, making the practice of kneeling before the Lord very tricky and usually I have to do some furniture removal if I want to venerate the sacrament.

How typical this seems to be of many a C of E parish. It has become just a Rotary club with ritual (which thus technically means nothing). The Peace is a shambolic free-for-all, the Creed altered, bits of the canon of the Mass missing.

I still wonder why I am a member of the C of E. I've nowhere to run, but I still have some work to do here albeit in a peripatetic and peripheral nature. My vocation in this church, indeed this parish is clear to me, though there are times when I wish there were a credible alternative. I have now not received the Sacrament in my own parish for a year, preferring to go to a neighbouring parish to do so (like this morning), but even the the superficiality and lack of thought and care seems to be infiltrating. It must be a spiritual version of the second law of thermodynamics - religious entropy is increasing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The limits of forgiveness

I've already posted this on the Anglican Diaspora, but I thought this was important enough to warrant a copy here.

We live in a very difficult climate and the Church has to play several contradictory roles. We are all sinners, but some of our sins contravene human law. Some of these sins effect the way that society views us. In this particular climate of concern over sex and, in particular, protecting our young folk from predation and molestation, there is a very important issue that needs to be addressed.

A good friend asked me a few questions which I'd like to pose here.

a)You are a priest of a small church. A new individual shows up at Mass. After the second Sunday, he schedules an appointment with you. When you get together, the newcomer asks if he can become part of the parish, but discloses a problem: he is an ex-felon, on the sex offender registry for acts done twenty years ago. He served his required prison time, is off parole, successfully completed a sex offender program while in prison, had many years of formal group counselling, and participates in a Christian programme for people with sexual issues. What do you tell him? As parish priest what do you do?

b) It's been a number of years since that encounter. The decision made was that it was to be a pastoral situation between you as priest and the individual. Other people would be informed on a need-to-know basis, but no general disclosure was necessary. The person has become an active and contributing member of the parish.An individual in the parish, a member of the PCC (vestry in the states, I believe), happens to find this person's name and picture on line in the sex offender registry. Prior to that he had no knowledge. Upon discovering this information, he begins agitating to have this person expelled from the parish.

As the parish priest, you know the ex-offender has done nothing to canonically warrant expulsion. However you know if this person stays certain individuals will make your job more difficult, others have promised to leave, and others have threatened to inform the Bishop. What do you do? What pastoral advice do you give?

Join in the discussion on the Board.

Elmore 2008: Commonality and Community

I've just returned from my annual pilgrimage to Elmore Abbey. I always feel welcome when I arrive, and though numbers are down to four monks, they keep going with resolution that would have defied Rabelaisean efforts. Again I return feeling more on top of things than I have been used to in the past twelve months. There were even moments of pure joy which I don't seem to have recognised in my life lately.
Elmore has moved a long way from its Anglican Papalist roots, indeed three of the four brothers accept women's "ordination". The other, like myself, is an unrepentant Anglican Papalist, so you can imagine we spent some time fretting about the imminent problems within the Anglican Communion in between prayers for the Vicar of Christ and prayers to Pope St Pius X.
However there is an issue that we can miss in our reaction to global news in the Anglican Communion as it slides further into what orthodox Anglicans regard as being apostacy. This issue is what is happening at the local level: how does women's "ordination" affect the local parish? Well, unless you have a female incumbent it doesn't on a day-to-day basis. It does have a major impact when parishes try to express themselves as members of the same church, and appeal to the governance of a fully orthodox bishop whom the parish priest represents at each Mass.
For my papalist colleague, leaving the order is simply not an option. It is in direct contradiction to his vows as a Benedictine Religious and to the close relationships and community he has forged over his long profession. His vow of stability is a vital part of being who he is. For him to leave would create not only instability for him, but also to the community, more so than if there had been ten times as many monks. He remains faithful, though deeply concerned about what is happening to the Church of England.
In one of my earlier posts, I stipulated five reasons an Anglican would stay in the Lambeth Communion, to wit:
  1. Those complicit in the heresy;
  2. Those who are elderly or infirm;
  3. Those who are too frightened or tired to undergo such upheaval;
  4. Those who intend to fight from within;
  5. Those who intend to honour a commitment despite the heresy.

I'm coming to the opinion as I read around the various pieces of literature, that there are far more priests falling into category five than the rest. Cynics might disagree with me, but speaking from the experience of my own (rather muted and restricted) ministry as parish Reader, I still have a community to whom to minister and I do that as best as I can along traditional lines, with the traditional office and traditional teaching from the Scriptures. My community needs me, and, to be honest, even in this period in which my relationship with my relativistic Parish Priest is at rock bottom, and in which there is no commonality of purpose, I still need the community of my parish. It isn't going anywhere, I don't see how I can until it gets really problematic, i.e. when we cannot tell whether a priests orders are valid. Imagine the genealogies that C of E priests will have to produce in 50 years time in order to prove their validity to Catholics.

This may sound rather ostrich-like - the burying of one's head in the liturgical sand - but it seems the best way to weather a storm. I'm told that when a surfer encounters a large wave about to wash over him, he keeps his head down and lets the wave rush over him. We cannot forget the person in the pew. The C of E seems to have done so. Ironically, there are now fewer young women than ever attending church, so perhaps the "priest"hood of women may be a short-lived aberration. The Gamaliel principle may be encouragement for all Catholics within the Church of England. Again, this would certainly bear out the surfer analogy.

I have my ministry. I also have my friends in the Lambeth Communion and within the Orthodox Continuum who will ensure that I stick to the straight and narrow. I have also the person of the Holy Father to rely on in these times of difficulty, and perhaps I should be thankful that I am still a layman so that I do not have the cure of souls and that I am largely inconsequential in the Church in that my words are not weighed with any doctrinal import, unlike the words of a Parish Priest.

There is the comfort that all valid Masses throughout time are inextricably linked with the Mass in Eternity, even if we cannot perceive whether they are. This is also a sobering thought as well. Can we truly justify our separation and mutual excommunication in this light? The liberals have left the church because they have "changed the rules" - the rest of us must pull together!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A taste for Christianity

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. St Matthew v.13

This tongue map is apparently wrong!

However, it does put forward a rather interesting analogy. Recieved science says that there are five types of taste bud - sweet, sour, salt , bitter and savoury (or umami). This latter has only recently been discovered as a separate taste bud, presumably because the Germans in the early 1900s hadn't had much experience with the cuisine of the far east.

Taste makes eating an enjoyable experience. A good sweet and sour dish is simply gorgeous to taste with a myriad of flavours. I'm told that a pint of bitter is truly refreshing despite the fact that it is indeed bitter. If you eat chocolate in the right way (i.e. putting a little bit on the tip of the tongue and allowing it to melt) you get another kalaidoscope of subtle flavours which understandably makes chocolate a very enjoyable dish.

The Lord likens Christians to salt, which, in the first century, was largely used as a preservative, as an improvement of taste, as a purgative and disinfectant and as a currency (hence salary from the latin for salt). It is clearly distinctive, as well as being necessary for the human body containing both sodium and chlorine which are vital for the way the body grows.

But salt is only one of the flavours of life. What of the sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and savory flavours in life?

Life can be very sweet, filled with lots of things to enjoy. Sweets make us happy and give us energy, likewise the sweetness of life is finding our own happiness, indulging ourselves in life's riches and pleasurable experiences. But too much sweet and we become spiritually fat. We become addicted and lethargic, becoming spiritually cumbersome and uninterested in healthy activity.

Life is full of bitter experiences too. People are hurt by people and institutions that they love, their work is disregarded or derided, they feel unappreciated and unloved. This is a necessary part of life, and God gives us experiences like this to fill out our lives rather than allowing them to become bland, and unappetising. However, if we become inured to our bitterness and allow it to rule us, then we die a little inside and become unaware of the fact that life can be good and enjoyable despite bitterness.

Life is also full of sour experiences, the mistakes that we make, the way we fail ourselves and others, the taste of something "on the turn", slightly rotten. We are sinners, and sourness is an taste that we receive from the fruit, the apple in the Garden of Eden. Too much sourness, and we moulder away.

There are savoury experiences in life. Since this has only recently been discovered as a separate taste detected on the tongue, so do our lives have sensations of an exotic nature. We are tempted by new, interesting and different experiences which colour our lives and make it gorgeous. However, too much savoury and we wander off into exotic (and dodgy areas) of spirituality, away from God and worshipping Him in the way that He chooses for us.

Our Saviour therefore puts us on the road to perhaps the least developed taste bud of being salty- a preservative which adds taste. It is the Christian living a Christian life in the world who can bring out the good sensations of the tastes of the world. A Christian can show that God put good things on this earth for us to enjoy, thus enhancing the sweetness. Likewise during hard and bitter times, the Christian life shows that we can cope in God's love with all the rot and cruelty that the passing world throws at us. When we sin, the Christian shows that the sour taste has no lasting effect by demonstrating forgiveness and unconditional love. The Christian life has plenty of savoury and exotic experiences without leaving the path of righteousness.

So then, the Christian is indeed the salt of the earth, bringing out and enhancing all these flavours. As a preservative, the Christian preserves the word of God; as a disinfectant, the Christian stands up to sin whilst ensuring that the sinner is loved, cleansing souls through care and the sacraments.


Too much salt and we become dry and thirsty.

Why else, then, would the Lord give to the Christian Living water to prevent us from dessication? He makes sense!

How tasty is your life at the moment?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The non-Theory of Relativity

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended , what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

Ephesians iv.1-16

What's your opinion on the tax rates in this country? Do you think them to be too high and that we're being taxed to the hilt? Do you think that high taxes are necessary in order to provide good public services and to fund important community building projects? Of course your opinion matters, and we all have a social duty to express our opinions at the ballot box.

What's your opinion of 4+5? Is it always 9? Or do you think that it should be something else?

Well, no matter how hard you hold your opinion, if you hold to the standard rules of arithmetic that we are taught at primary school, 4+5=9, and there is no argument. Indeed we can say this absolutely infallibly that within the numbering system that we use, 4+5=9: to say otherwise is incorrect.

Now this is the content of the troubles that are affecting the Anglican Church: what is fixed and what is opinion? St Paul tells us that we have one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all. Now is Paul expressing an opinion, or is he telling us the truth? Well, if we are Christian then we hold to the infallibility of Scripture - it is not opinion. The big problem is how to interpret it.

It would be easy for us to use scripture to prove anything. The Bible says:"there is no God." That would cheer up the Atheists wouldn't it? However, Scripture would also disprove it pretty quickly, especially if we complete the verse: the fool has said in his heart "there is no God". The Moslems read our scriptures and when they read that Jesus said "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. " (Matthew 5:18) then they read St Paul saying that the law no longer requires men to be circumcised, and all they see is contradiction. So to a Moslem, our scriptures cannot be true because they contradict each other. However, as Christians we know that Moslem interpretations cannot be true reflections as to what is being said by Holy Writ. So how can we be sure that we are being given the right teaching from scripture?

Well, this is the problem. If we glibly regard all religious differences as being merely differences of opinion, then we enter a world of relativity and nothing is certain. If it were based only on opinion, then would the Church ever have got going? Highly unlikely! Even the phrase "Jesus is Lord" can be interpreted according to different opinions as the Arians, Apollinarians and Nestorians demonstrated. In seeing everything as opinion, we become, as St Paul says, blown about by any wind of teaching. One person's words influence us one week, but the next week the opposite opinion prevails. St James asks how can we hope for anything if we cannot be sure about the Faith that we have received from God?

In the world of the relativist, it's easy for any church leader to get up into the pulpit and proclaim his own interpretation of Scripture one minute and then change his mind the next. Just because it suits him, such a leader chooses his own patterns of worship to force onto the people rather than follow the pattern that Church has used for centuries: these patterns can change from week to week under a relativist. Words of hymns don't matter to the relativistic leader because all hymns are equal in their standing: they have only a relative value and that is to keep the congregation happy. The result is doctrinal instability because the people hear one message one week, and the opposite message the next. The people lack stability and thus cease to care about anything because it doesn't matter. Result: lack of substance, lack of growth, lack of mission.

Furthermore, relativists actually destroy unity, since "all views are equally valid" they choose their own way independently from everyone else, and we can see these effects in Africa where the African Anglicans are holding to the traditional doctrine unlike the West in which each priest is encouraged to take his own interpretation and force it upon their congregations. No wonder the Anglican Church is breaking up. As we see from the vote at General Synod, it is the relativists who force Traditionals out of the Communion because they block the channels along which Traditionals travel. The Relativist will accuse the Traditional of "throwing his toys out of the pram" but the Traditional cannot operate in that culture. It's like blocking the "earth" hole in a plug-socket and then telling a three prong plug to fit into it. The irony is that the relativist is more dogmatic than the Traditional because he follows his own personal dogma as true. The Traditional has no choice but to check everything up against the standard of the Catholic Faith, the relativist listens to either side of an argument and chooses the side he likes best.

It is also the relativists who accuse people who hold firm beliefs as being oppressive, fundamentalist, narrow-minded, dogmatic or intransigent. The Pope is seen an oppressor because he says that contraception is a sin. However, notice that relativists do not understand the issue properly. It isn't the Pope that says that contraception is a sin, it's the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church! In this instance the Pope is merely acting as a voice box declaring the truth of the Church. Whilst the Roman Catholic Church may not be united as it thinks it is, it still presents its doctrine carefully using liturgy, catechism, and community. The same is true with the Orthodox Churches, as well as the Traditional (Continuing) Anglican Churches of all persuasion.

In his last sermon as Cardinal Ratzinger, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI said

How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by very wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.

If we believe in a Catholic Church, as we say we do in the Nicene Creed (if your parish ever says that properly and doesn't replace it with some watered-down "Affirmation of Faith"), and we believe that we are part of that Catholic Church, then we have to be Catholic, i.e. conforming to the whole Church not according to the vision of the Church that we might hold in our heads.

If we say "I believe that 4+5=8", well that's fine. We can accept that as an opinion - it is a perfectly valid opinion and everyone has the right to believe that 4+5=8. However, would you trust an accountant who held that belief?

We can be absolutely sure that we are right when we conform to the Catholic Faith - how the relativists would hate for this to be true if they understood it. This requires much work, and no-one, not even the Pope speaks the Catholic Faith all the time. However, we have the Catholic Canon which will always correct us if we are willing to be corrected. Our required humility is that we recognise this and continue to study God's words as revealed in Scripture and Tradition with the judicious use of Right Reason.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Doctrine: Oppressor or Limitation?

I'm rather pleased to have found (or rather been introduced to) Fr. Greg's blog Missional Anglican Discipleship. Fr. Greg is a welcome contributor to the Anglican Diaspora board and so it makes sense to promulgate decent connections.

I did notice this wonderful quote from St. Francis of Assisi on Fr. Greg's blog:

We have been called to heal wounds, reunite what has fallen apart, and bring home those who have lost their way.

The same St Francis also exhorts us to preach the gospel to all people using words if we have to.

This begs the question which a lot of liberals seem to be demanding of the Traditional (and traditionalist) churches: why are we bothering with the minutiae of doctrine when we should be actively helping those in need?

It is after all a good point, and St Francis would certainly give short shrift to anyone who walks the Jerusalem-Jericho road with his nose in a book wandering past the battered form of one robbed of all he possesses. Then again, the Lord Himself would give shorter shrift.

However, it is the Anglo-Catholic, and Anglo-Papalist Churches of the early 19th Century who had some of the greatest effects amid the poor of London. Fr. Ignatius of Llantony did his best (albeit somewhat ideosyncratically) to bring back some notion of community amid some remarkable instances of preaching. The Anglo-Catholic movement has demonstrated itself not only to be an intellectual, but also deeply passionate part of the Church.

Yet the Dean of Salisbury on St Osmund's day suggested that we can be too hung up on doctrine when we should be helping people. This depends what she means, and seeing that she was quoting from Katherine Jefferts-Schori not renowned for her theological rigour, her remarks do have to be put into a better context.

Doctrine does affect the Christian's daily life. It is the Doctrine of the Church that helps us examine our consciences carefully and accurately, advises us on the Will of God in certain matters and directs us when we are lost. For the Benedictine, Doctrine provides the magnetising effect necessary to bring the unruly soul back into alignment with Christ, and with other folk. It is the subscription to the same doctrine that keeps Christians together, for in that doctrine, they can be sure they are following the authority of Christ when He bids us pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven."

However, the C of E has lost that integrity and is splitting up, though there are many orthodox and right-believing Anglicans within the Lambeth Communion as the votes against women "bishops" indicate. In not listening to the African Churches and ploughing with the ordination of homosexual bishops, ECUSA has put the African Church into an awkward position especially when it has to minister among many Moslem communities. ECUSA has damaged the missions of its brothers and sisters in Africa by not adhering to doctrine.

This is the problem: doctrine gives the Christian parameters within which to work, and to flout what the Church teaches, preferring one's own interpretation or reinvention means that not only will one's actions be questionable, but may well scandalise another set of Christians in a remote area. This demonstrates the crucial need for Christians to be Catholic - kath-holos.

On the other hand, Christians must take great care to ensure that Doctrine never becomes too narrow, or cease to be the liberating form that it should be. Bearing in mind that Christian Doctrine must be able to free us from the oppression of the world, as soon as it becomes a case of battering folk over the head with a rule-book, then it misses the point.

Doctrine certainly provides boundaries, but limitation is not the same as oppression. The wasp banging its head repeatedly up against the window pane cries out "Oppression! Oppression! I'm being oppressed!" It however fails to realise that if only it were to fly a foot higher, it could squeeze through the fan-light. Likewise, we are limited by our sexes. Although we may try to change them, either psychologically or surgically, we can never escape from what God created us to be. He created us to be free as we are, not as we want to be, and to choose otherwise is a lack of trust in Him. Sure, it is difficult to trust God sometimes, particularly when His will departs from ours (and that ought to be vice versa, folks) but we have to accept that, just as the wasp has to accept the "oppression" of being "imprisoned" by a glass and a piece of card before it is released into the sunlight of a better world.

So St Francis says that we need to minister to all folk in their oppression. That is where true love lies, and to yoke oneself with the oppressed is an act of charity which will not go ignored by the Divine Christ. However, we need to make sure, and pray for grace, that we might discern between those who are truly oprressed and those who are railing against their limitations.