Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pint glasses, personalities and perfect gifts

Sermon preached at St Augustine’s Pro-Cathedral Church in Canterbury on the 4th Sunday of Easter 28th April 2013

On the window-sill of a country pub
                sits a pint glass containing
                                half a pint of Boddington’s.

 How would you describe that glass of beer?



Something else?


It is often said that
                how we view such a glass
                                reflects our approach to life.

If we see the glass being half-full,
                then it is supposed to mean that we are optimists,
                                seeing the best in every situation.

If we see the glass being half-empty,
                then it is supposed to mean we are pessimists,
                                living in a world of doom and gloom.

There are even some folk
                who are wondering
                                how on earth could occur such a travesty of
                                                leaving glass of beer unattended
                                                                on the window-sill of a country pub
                                                                                in the first place!

However tempting the idea may be
                that a reaction to that glass of beer
                                determines someone’s temperament,
                                                you know very well that this is
                                                                far too simplistic.

The character of a human being
                simply cannot be summed up
                                in their point of view of a half-pint of beer.

But it does give us
                a bit of a glimpse into their view of the world,
                                doesn’t it?

So which are you?

An optimist
                – one who thinks that
                                this is the best of all possible worlds.

A pessimist
                – one who thinks
                                this is the worst of all possible worlds?

Or are you a bit of both, or neither?

Glass half-full,
                or glass half-empty,
                                or something else?


Most of us will admit
                to being somewhere in between:
                                optimistic in some areas,
                                                pessimistic in others.

It is doubtful that we’d describe ourselves
                as purely optimistic
                                or purely pessimistic.

                we usually criticise both points of view
                                as being extreme. 

The pure optimist we will call blind,
                naive ignorant of reality,
                                foolish for not seeing how horrible the world is.

The pessimist we will shun
                because they are always dragging us down,
                                making us feel miserable
                                                and sucking up the life and soul of the party.

So what do you think
                the Christian position should be?

Should a Christian be an optimist,
                a pessimist,
                                neither or both?


                Christians do not have
                                a good record of optimism.

We can see
                the stereotypically prim Victorian
                                scandalised by the sight of a lady’s ankle
                                                and deploring the moral laxity of young men.

We can think of Bible-black preachers
                standing on street corners
                                decrying alcohol,
                                carousing and sex
                as being inventions of the devil
                                and solely used
                                                to cause Man to fall away from God.

While such folk are indeed right
                that our passions must be ruled by obedience to God,
                                their attitude makes Christianity
                                                look like the most miserable religion
                                                                in the world.

Even today,
                we are often criticised for a pessimistic view
                                of relationships,
                                                mentioning the word “sin”
                                                                when people are enjoying themselves,
                                                                                and accused of pointing the finger
                                                                when someone does something wrong.

How many times do we describe ourselves
                by listing what we are against,
                                rather than what we are for?

Isn’t that just seeing the worst in things?

So why don’t we start being more optimistic,
                seeing the best in things?

This seems very reasonable and healthy!

                if we start seeing the best in things
                                and taking that to extremes
                                                then we can end up in the mess
                                                                that the Church is in now,
                                                                                allowing lots of Fresh Expressions
                                                                                                of Christianity
                                                                                                and in so doing allowing
                                                                                                a lot of wrong-thinking
                                                                to infiltrate what Christianity really is.

It’s okay and actually very right to say
                that dancing is not a work of the devil,
                                rather a fun and innocent pastime,
                                                and indeed it is used as an act of Worship.

 Watch how King David dances
                with all his might
                                when the Ark of the Covenant is brought
                                                into Jerusalem. 

Does this then permit the verger
                to bring up the collection plate at Mass
                                while doing the tango? 

No, because the Mass and the bringing in
                of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem
                                are different ceremonies,
                                under different conditions
                                                and requiring different attitudes
                                                                of the congregation.

At Mass, we have to remember
                the Death of the Lord Jesus
                                as well as His Resurrection.

That is not an occasion for dancing!

Yet, do our hearts dance for joy
                when we receive the Blood of Christ
                                of the new covenant into ourselves?


We Christians must be optimistic
                because God has created everything
                                – everything!! –
                                                and He Himself has declared it
                                                                to be very good.

“EVERY good gift and every perfect gift
                is from above, and cometh down
                                from the Father of lights,
                                                with whom is no variableness,
                                                                neither shadow of turning.

Of His own will begat He us
                with the word of truth,
                                that we should be a kind of firstfruits
                                                of his creatures.”

We need to see the good in everything and everyone.

We are indeed God’s gifts
                not only to the world
                                but particularly to ourselves.

You are God’s gift to you yourself
                and if God created you,
                                then you are very good
                                                and there can be no question about that.

You might not be perfect,
                but perfection is also a gift of God
                                and that comes later.

But it does come if we choose it.

This is the best of all possible worlds,
                because God created it.

Christians must therefore be optimists.


We need to see how the evils
                that happen in this world are the result
                                of our failings to live up
                                                to the standards that God has set us.

The grossest act of inhumanity
                still has its seeds in each one of us,
                                because each one of us has the capacity
                                                to choose that which is not God’s will.

This world is as bad as it gets
                precisely because of our fallenness
                                as Human beings.

This is the worst of all possible worlds,
                so Christians must be pessimists.

Walking with God,
                we can be nothing other than optimists.

Walking without God,
                we can be nothing other than pessimists.

There is no hope for a world
                to be saved from the consequences of its evil choices
                                without the Death and Resurrection
                                                Of the Lord Jesus Christ.


On the window-sill of a country pub
                sits a pint glass containing
                                half a pint of Boddington’s. 

Since it is half empty,
                then we clearly have enjoyed
                                the half-pint we have already consumed.

Since it is half-full we still have the other half to enjoy.

The world has its evil
                and that evil will affect us,
                                disappoint us
                                                and even cause us excruciating agonies.

Yet, if we fight against the temptation
                to see only the evil
                                and struggle hard to see God’s goodness
                                                even when things are blackest,
                                                                then we shall be more than conquerors
                                                                                through His deathless love.

How optimistic are you about that?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Anglican Catholic

Well, it seems I'm branching out a little bit! Having met with Fr Anthony Chadwick at the Diocesan Synod, we now find ourselves building a new blog together.

This will take a different feel from this little blogling, since we both intend for The Anglican Catholic to take a much more intellectual and tone specific to Continuing Anglicanism. O Cuniculi is my blog and, as I have always said, this is where I publish my thoughts and sermons and where I expound on what I'm learning, independent of my superiors in the Faith. On The Anglican Catholic, I will have a very different audience, and I am expecting to be taken to task on my understanding. O Cuniculi is my spiritual weblog, The Anglican Catholic is a crucible for thought and understanding. O Cuniculi will contain sermons, The Anglican Catholic will be more analytical.

Of course, I will admit to being nervous. This is, after all, a step into a larger readership with the potential not only for being intellectually criticised, but also trolled. Thankfully, I have the support of many reliable well-wishers.

My first post is here. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


There are few occasions when I have to give a pupil what amounts to a D+ in old school grade. Mathematically speaking, this usually means that I have, in my class, a lad who has very little grasp of mathematics at all but will still put in all he can to try and make the best of what he's got. He'll plod on undaunted, trying to fathom why on earth it should be that dividing by a half is the same as multiplying by 2, but make very little if any headway in making mathematical progress. Because class sizes in the "bottom set" mathematics classes are small, one can learn a great deal about the humanity of some students which it is not possible to see in the "top set" which are usually full of industrious characters who need very little assistance in trying to understand the material.

Once all the mists of exams and results have cleared, I hope that my departing students realise that there really is no such thing as "top set" and "bottom set" and that these grades, indeed the whole exams system, is merely a means to an end - a measurement of education designed to give students some idea of where they should go and where their true interests lie. Even then, the system is a very poor indicator to the outsider. An A* grade invariably tells me very little about a student applying for a university place. Whilst a student can find pride or disappointment in their grades in comparison with the effort they have put in to achieving those grades, these grades are only a guide for that student to reflect what they mean.


Well, this grade sums up this little blogling at the moment. You might think I'm being unduly harsh on myself and what I write. You may even think I deserve an E- (or an F, if you're of the Stateside system). However, until I explain the grading, you haven't really got a clue what I mean, and this is the dilemma many of us face when trying to interpret a student's portfolio of grades.

In fact, this is my 500th post, hence the D. The plus is simply an indication that I intend to keep writing, and now you know that, you can draw better conclusions. This is not a statement about the quality of my posting (which I leave you to judge) but about the quantity. Likewise, one doesn't go to school in order to get grades, but to learn for oneself. It is not the grade that is the outcome, the outcome of one's education is what one goes home with at the end of the school day, what one retains, and how that education enables one to shape one's own life for the better.

The same is true for the Mass, believe it or not.

As I was walking back from Synod, I walked past one of those soap-box evangelists ranting and raving about the judgement of God and accepting Jesus Christ as one's personal saviour. Seeing my collar and saturno, he bawled, "the Sacraments cannot save you! Repent and know Jesus." Looking at the people passing him by (for there were no crowds around him) I could see on their faces, the rolling of their eyes, the slightly quickened step away from him, that this man was not reaching them. Rather than drawing these folk to Christianity, it was clear he was pushing them away. Can I give him a D+ for wasting his effort? Of course not!!! I can't tell what seed he has sown, and I pray some good may come out of his declamation, but given that he clearly does not understand what sacraments are, I feel justified in thinking that he needs to do some work at understanding what he is supposed to be preaching. After all, sacraments are all biblical - each one of them: accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour is not.

Many misunderstandings about Sacraments come from people who make materialistic measurements of them. All Sacraments are given to us for the express purpose of bringing the reality of the Grace of God closer to us. That grace is presented each and every time without fail when the correct form, intention, matter, and minister are all present. If the Deacon is standing in the wrong place at High Mass, this does not invalidate the sacrament. Using fizzy pop and a digestive biscuit instead of wafer and wine does.

A materialistic viewpoint will only pick up on the three physical requirements for a sacrament, the form, matter, and minister. It will not pick up on the intention and it is this intention that needs to be nurtured during the Mass through the care and diligence in observing the liturgy as best as one can. A Mass that becomes a spectacle for its own sake, or some form of "Songs of Praise" entertainment, is actively endangering the Catholic intention of the Holy Mass.

To grade the Mass by number of fundaments on pews or by appreciation rating misses the point spectacularly. It is only what one goes away with at the end of Mass that really means anything, and that thing will be precisely what this soap-box preacher desires, namely another instance of receiving Christ as our Lord and Saviour albeit in sacramental form. It is not the Mass that should be graded at all. In fact, nothing should be graded save only for one to examine one's heart and soul in the progress towards the Divine Master. Our salvation really does require our work as well as our faith, but God will be the one who grades that! If we can work at our intentions at Mass and indeed in all the other Sacraments we receive, then we will have our work recognised and rewarded. God's grading means a lot more than a D+ or even an A*!

500 posts and, Deo volente, more to come. Thank you for reading and may God bless you!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Compassion, Coracles and Continuity

I have returned from my Diocesan Synod as usual, energised and in good spirits. Business meetings are not renowned for being invigorating and uplifting, and I suspect it is rather more a testament of the character of the Anglican Catholic Church rather than the nature of the meeting itself.

We cannot hide the fact that the Anglican Catholic Church is terribly tiny in this country. Rather than the Great Barque of St Peter or the Ocean Liner of the Established Church, or the snazzy speedboats of the Free Churches, the continuing Anglican movement seems to be a bunch of little bobbing coracles floating in the ocean. Thankfully, there are signs that many of the continuing Anglican movement are lashing together their coracles, building decks and platforms thus guaranteeing that we all move together provided that our rudders are aligned.

It has been a great pleasure for me to see another coracle travelling in a parallel direction to my own lash itself to the Church which hauled me out of the sea. Fr Anthony Chadwick, a good friend whom I have known for a long time on the blogosphere, has been received into the same diocese in which I serve. I hope he will forgive my rather feeble attempts at a maritime analogy (I don't think coracles have rudders!). In receiving him into the ACC, I believe we have gained an asset and an intellect who will help the Church to grow and continue its Anglican vision of the Catholic Church.

Fr Chadwick, unfortunately, is a big enough name to attract the trolls. There seem to be several sorts of troll but all create antagonism and ill-feeling, either deliberately or in an attempt to force an issue and thus demonise the person that they are trolling. I've seen this time and again, especially in continuing Anglican circles or from those involved with the Ordinariate. In many cases, some trolls are trying to justify their own tenuous position by attacking any opposing positions, trying to demolish arguments by ad hominem attacks on people's learning, background, spiritual journey, affiliations and friends rather than by focussing on the arguments themselves. In other cases, the trolls are following a rather misguided attempt to convert others to their point of view. I suspect that all trolls have issues in self-confidence, finding their stability by trying to rock others. The trouble is that rocking other people's boats tends to destabilise one's own. This is why trolls can never be satisfied by their behaviour.

In media such as social networking sites, or on blogs or in a forum where information is presented purely in writing, it is very easy to treat written material separately from its emotional content. The words written on a page do not present the emotions of the writer accurately. The personhood of the author cannot be written into the text because of the inability of the emotional language to be expressed sufficiently in the written word. One cannot always tell whether a piece is written in anger, or sadness, or bitterness, or in genuine concern. The peppering of text with emoticons is a rather fun and illustrative way of trying to convey that humanity of authorship. Even then, emoticons are still not fine enough to communicate the spirit in which things are written.

It is very easy for us to strip texts of emotional meaning with a loss of compassion. I am guilty of that myself and the times when I have forgotten to be compassionate have cost me very dearly and have hurt people that I genuinely love. If winning the argument suddenly reduces the humanity of others, then we have overstated our case and forgotten the rules of Christ and God.

Our job is to present reasons for holding the faith that we do and then give people the space to consider those reasons carefully in their own locus of identity, or to reject those reasons outright. At all times, we need to be thinking about the authors of the texts we see in front of us and act accordingly. That's a very difficult thing to do at times, if not impossible. This is why we cannot be people of the web alone: we need to see people, converse with them, pick up their cues, learn their stories, rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

It is through personal contact, rather than through general rhetoric, that connections are re-inforced. Personhood is not a general state, but a particular state and the only way that coracles can be bound together is by tight ropes and sound hooks which are themselves secured by a growing sense of identity in God Himself. I am grateful to God that, after so long reading his work, conversing via email than I have now had the pleasure of breaking bread with Fr Chadwick and know that we are moving together on the ocean towards the Light of the world.