Saturday, 31 October 2009

Corrupt religion.

"A people's religion is ever a corrupt religion, in spite of the provisions of Holy Church. If she is to be Catholic, you must admit within her net fish of every kind, guests good and bad, vessels of gold, vessels of earth. You may beat religion out of men, if you will, and then their excesses will take a different direction; but if you make use of religion to improve them, they will make use of religion to corrupt it. And then you will have effected that compromise of which our countrymen report so unfavourably from abroad:—a high grand faith and worship which compels their admiration, and puerile absurdities among the people which excite their contempt."

JH Newman "Letter to EB Pusey"

Good old JH! This helps to balance the sense of despair at the attitude of Ugandan Bishops and the Anglican heirachy: "guests good and bad, vessels of gold, vessels of earth". The Church as she has ever been really. Or Walsingham: "a high grand faith and worship which compels admiration, and puerile absurdities among the people which excite contempt" if you think of the situatiion there regarding women priests. Yes, John Henry gives balance and perspective. And this prayer makes sense just now:

For the Church

Most gracious Father,
we pray for your holy catholic Church:
fill it with all truth
and in all truth with all peace;
where it is corrupt, purge it;
where it is in error, direct it;
where anything is amiss, reform it;
where it is right, strengthen and confirm it;
where it is in want, furnish it;
where it is divided, heal it
and unite it in your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

William Laud

Thanks for nothing guys.

Read this and weep:

Frankly, I wonder if God is in communion with these guys, never mind Rowan Williams.

We are more than bodies.

‘So it was that when, by my providence, I created man, I looked into myself and fell in love with the beauty of the creature I had made – for it had pleased me, in my providence, to create man in my own image and likeness.

‘Moreover, I gave man memory, to be able to remember the good things I had done for him and to be able to share in my own power, the power of the eternal Father.

‘Moreover, I gave man intellect, so that, seeing the wisdom of my Son, he could recognise and understand my own will; for I am the giver of all graces and I give them with a burning fatherly love.

‘Moreover, I gave man the desire to love, sharing in the tenderness of the Holy Spirit, so that he might love the things that his intellect had understood and seen.

‘But my kind providence did all this solely that man might be able to understand me and enjoy me, rejoicing in my vision for all eternity.

St Catherine of Siena "On Divine Providence"

She says it so simply and so beautifully. Intellect, desire and memory - all gifts of God, given that we might be fully human, a little short of the angels. Why is it we misuse them so badly? The mind used to develop weapons that will destroy millions, desire to harm the innocent, memory to torture ourselves over our failings. The redemption of humanity needs the conversion of the whole person, not just the handing over of bits to our God. We cannot be partially baptised or partially dedicated. All for you, my God is the only credible response to this. Either that or try to walk away. But then comes that hound of heaven who seeks us out and pursues us in love. God will not let us go, because God loves us too much. Reassuring, isn't it?

Wind of change?

From Gay Uganda's blog:

So, the dear religious leaders started pulling back. Death, was too merciless, said these Ugandan Christian leaders. Rather, let these bad sinners be imprisoned by the state... for life.

If I were lying here, it would be ok. But, as a matter of fact, this is from the mouth of the religious leaders themselves. Can death as a form of punishment help one to reform? Some people are convicted of murder but after they have been killed, it’s proved they were innocent. What would be done in such circumstances? We should emphasise life imprisonment,” said Aron Mwesigye, the secretary for the Church of Uganda.

The same sentiment of 'mercy' was echoed by the SDA Church. Yeah, I am serious. Those where his words. I did blog them here.

So, they all go to the Parliament, and express the same sentiment. So, now Nsaba-Buturo admits they might have to 'change' that part of the law.

The beginings of a backtrack here methinks. The Government have been caught out by the strength of international opinion. When the diplomats start buzzing the minister and saying "this may impinge on our financial support", you can bet the Govt backbencher who promulgated this legislation has been called in and told to cool it by the Party. But it just goes to show what can be done by pressure from concerned people. Off the fence ACC, it's safe to weigh in now!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Thoughts on human rights and my track record with them.

A tractate by St Baldwin of Canterbury
The word of God is alive and active

The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely.
These words tell us how much power and wisdom there is in the word of God for those who seek Christ, who is the word and the power and the wisdom of God. This word, with the Father from the beginning and co-eternal with him, came at its own chosen time, was revealed to them, was proclaimed by them, and was humbly received in faith by its believers. A word, therefore, in the Father; a word in the mouth; and a word in the heart.

This word of God is alive. The Father gave it life coming from itself just as the Father’s own life comes from himself. The word is not just alive, therefore, it is life, as it said itself: I am the way, the truth, and the life. Since the word is life, the word is alive to give life. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone he chooses. He gives life, as when he calls the dead man out of the tomb, saying Lazarus, come forth.

When this word is preached, the voice of its preaching which is heard outwardly calls forth a voice of power that is heard inwardly, that voice by which the dead are restored to life and their praise raises up sons for Abraham. So this word is alive in the heart of the Father, alive in the mouth of the preacher, and alive in the hearts of those who believe and love. If a word is alive in this way, how can it not also be active?

The word is active in creating, active in guiding the world, active in redeeming the world. What could be more active? What could be more powerful? Who shall tell of his powerful deeds? Who shall proclaim the praises of the Lord? It is active when it works, it is active when it is preached. For it does not come back empty-handed: wherever it is sent, it prospers.

It is active and cuts finer than a double-edged sword when it is believed and loved. For what is impossible to the believer? What is hard for the lover? When this word speaks, its words transfix the heart like a flight of sharp arrows, like nails hammered deep into its very essence. This word is sharper than a double-edged sword in that it cuts deeper than any strength or power, it is finer than anything made by human ingenuity, sharper than any human wisdom or learned speech.

I have no idea who St Baldwin of Canterbury was but these are powerful words:

"For what is impossible to the believer? What is hard for the lover? When this word speaks, its words transfix the heart like a flight of sharp arrows, like nails hammered deep into its very essence. " and I feel very like this when I think of why I get steamed up on human rights issues.

I did Higher Modern Studies at school and we got duly informed about apartheid and why it was "a bad thing". Then I went to University and discovered we had a South African Scholarship at Aberdeen to bring an African (ie non Boer) student across. Our scholar was Sloo (short for Silumwo I think, but we never used his Sunday name much) Tsotsi and much to the chagrin of the little red lefties, he chose to study theology rather than politics or IR. Knowing him over many a Fairtrade coffee (which in those days tasted like ground warthog guano and drinking it counted as a corporal act of penance) drilled it into me that the Gospel demanded justice for all people. Black, white, male, female, gay, straight - the whole bally bunch. Yes, I had an anti Apartheid sticker on my folder. I met Trevor Huddlestone when he preached in King's College Chapel. I went out to bat in defence of a predecessor as Divinity Student Rep who was forced into coming out as a gay man by political opponents and who faced severe opprobrium from his fellow Divinity students. (OK, I did that from inside the proverbial closet, but that's where I was then.)

The thing is, for me personally, the living Word came to me through people. "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek" wrote Paul and I found that out when I discovered a guy as bright as I was, with a faith like I had could be legally discriminated against by his own Government because of the colour of his skin. That was wrong. Plain and simple. Counter to the Word of God and the Dutch Reformed Church could huff and puff all it liked and wrap its prejudice up in Bible quotes and bits of Calvin - IT WAS WRONG.

That's why I feel so strongly about the silence from the Anglicans over the Ugandan Anti Homosexuality legislation. I know no gay Ugandans (well, I don't think I do anyway) but it is no more acceptable to discriminate against a man or a woman on account of their sexual orientation than on account of their skin colour. Actually, this Ugandan bill is worse because it explicitly calls for a death penalty. Apartheid only killed you as a sort of a by product of being black. Maybe the Afrikaners weren't so bad in comparison to this bunch in Uganda.

The Ugandan church hierarchy has suggested no death penalty but life imprisonment instead. WRONG ! The collusion of the Church here is scandalous and shameful. Moderating the blood lust by going for a life sentence (which is a death sentence in real terms - Ugandan nicks are not as comfy as Saughton) is an absolute dereliction of Lambeth 1.10. That you call pastoral? And you ran around taking American dollars to consecrate "missionary bishops" to the disaffected whilst the TEC didn't ordain any LGBT bishops for 3 years. Right, time for a reality check.

Bluntly, it is time for the Anglican authorities to reddiscover their spine on this. It is not racist or imperialist to challenge wrongs. Being "nice" is a mistake Michael Ramsey didn't make over Rhodesia. And he supported the 1967 decriminalisation of Homosexuality, not because he thought homosexuality was "right", but because he saw a bad law in place that needed fixing. The Ugandan Bishops need to be challenged. You may believe that homosexuality is wrong, but this law is utterly extreme, it is a blackmailers charter and it leaves the every Ugandan citizen open to terrorisation at the hands of the vindictive and the malicious. Dear God, didn't you read "The Crucible" at school? Arthur Miller spelled it out there. When religious fervour, sexual fantasy and mob mentality combine the results are horrific. True prophetic leadership lies not in collusion but in doing a John Proctor and naming the sickness for what it is. ++Rowan, stand up and shout! Oh and the rest of them too. If Lambeth 1.10 is to be enforced, than enforce it ALL and on every province. And do it now.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Uganda and Martyrdom

James Hannington and the Martyrs of Uganda
29 October 1885

Among the nations of Africa, Uganda is the most predominantly Christian. Mission work began there in the 1870's with the favor of King Mutesa, who died in 1884. However, his successor, King Mwanga, opposed all foreign presence, including the missions.

James Hannington was sent out from England in 1884 by the Anglican Church as missionary Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa. He was apprehended by emissaries of King Mwanga. He and his companions were brutally treated and, a week later, 29 October 1885, most of them were put to death. Hannington's last words were: "Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood."

The first native martyr was the R C Joseph Mkasa Balikuddembe, who was beheaded after having rebuked the king for his debauchery and the murder of Bishop Hannington. On 3 June 1886, a group of 32 men and boys, 22 Roman Catholic and 10 Anglican, were burned at the stake. Most of them were young pages in Mwanga's household, from their head-man, Charles Lwanga, to the thirteen-year-old Kizito, who went to his death "laughing and chattering." These and many other Ugandan Christians suffered for their faith then and in the next few years.

In 1977, the Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum and many other Christians suffered death for their faith under the tyrant Idi Amin.

Thanks largely to their common heritage of suffering for their Master, Christians of various communions in Uganda have always been on excellent terms.

written by James Kiefer


O God, whose blessed martyrs in Uganda

opened in the heart of Africa

the new and living way

of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ:

Grant us, who cherish their remembrance before thee this day,

to remain steadfast in our faith in him,

to whom they gave obedience unto death;

even the same Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I really do feel for Uganda, the one part of Africa I have visited. It is a beautiful, rich and fertile land with wonderful people. It has also suffered terribly in the past and is doing OK now. But it is not a good or a safe place if you are gay or thought to be gay. Indeed, the Government seem to be hell bent (a phrase I use quite deliberately) on passing a law allowing the death penalty for "aggressive homosexuality". And a 3 year jail term if you do not inform the authorities if you know someone is gay or working for LGBT rights. And in this, the most Christian country in Africa, the Church is devastatingly silent. It appals me that the Church of Uganda, so swift to call for compliance with the Lambeth 98 Resolution on certain matters like moratoria, is so quick to ignore the bit of Lambeth 1:10 that condemned violence against LGBT people. And just why has the Anglican Patriarch of Canterbury so stunningly silent on this? It would be an ideal chance to remind African Anglicans that 1:10 has more than one bit. Believing something is immoral and preaching against it is one thing (arguably legitimate for a start) but supporting (even by silence) a law that is actually far far more explicitly vicious than those of Nazi Germany quite another. Dammit, if they replaced the word Gay with Jewish, all hell would break loose internationally. But no, silence reigns.

God bless Africa.

And save her from herself.

PS Go and read this if you think I'm exaggerating

and this from a more objective standpoint,0

But this says it rather more pithily than my musings:

One under par.

Mentally I feel fine, physically I feel a bit iffy. Nothing serious, not man flu or swine flu or chicken flu, just a slightly tickly throat and tight-ish chest. So yesterday was a stay indoors, keep warm, drink lots of fluids and paracetamol sort of day and today feeels rather similar. Sadly I missed my Tuesday night group (no sense in staying warm all day then spending two hours in a crypt!) and I do actually miss the sharing. This from Mr seriously buttoned up! There's a change!

Monday, 26 October 2009

How long has that been there?

Talk about not noticing things and being self obsessed! I have been going into my psychoanalysist's den for several months. Only today did I note the tastefully positioned complete works of Freud. Sheesh! I never even saw the decor (not a surprise) but I am something of a book nut and missing that was surprising. I am however more aware of there being some form of blockage in my (perceived or even self perceived) ability to relate to others ( I want to talk about what I feel, I start to talk about how i feel and then... the cut off switch kicks in) and what it is I do not know. What I do with it (or indeed about it) I have no absolutely no idea. Work in progress?

Watching all the glorious fuss in the Press re the Apostolic Constitution is amusing. My old Bishop in London (Bwana Broadhurst) has said George Carey is a "moaner" Now I ask you, is that anyway to talk about the nice Primate who consecrated you and the wee guy with the bongos who went to York eventually (I know, cos I was there in St Paul's when it all happened!)? David Starkey thinks it's all a plot to stick up two fingers on the 5ooth anniverary of Henry VIII. Mate, I doubt that was anywhere near Pope Benny's mind when he dreamed up this wheeze. I am so glad I am not a priest of the Church of England!

Saying goodbye and the healing of tears.

I suppose I'm really due a post on what went down on Wednesday last. It went very well , but was very emotional for me. I suppose the first surprise was how full the Church was and it was good to see so many folks from the other local churches present (my occasional whinges about ecumenical worship aside!). It was also very moving to have someone come up and say "We failed you too". I actually don't see that they did as I was too far sunk in my own depths in someways to hear and accept and ask for support. However, that may be something for the mature judgement of posterity. The other truly moving bit was a young family. They said "It was you who got us in here, because you said 'Yes'" (to a baptism). I really had mislaid that bit. I could think of the burials and the one or two who left or drifted. I could see decline in the life of the congregation in my time there. Remembering the growth, the 'yeses' doesn't come naturally. Hearing that you touched, made an impact, changed some lives - that always comes as a surprise.

So yes, I cried - and so did others but they were, if not joyful tears, then healing tears. Saying you mattered even if I was bad at showing it. (Just like my flaming Father! We never got that tape until after he died. At least I have still have a pulse!) I'm glad I did it and I think others were glad too.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Clocks back!

From Pope St Clement I's Letter to the Church in Corinth:

"Let us fix our gaze on the Father and Creator of the whole world, and let us hold on to his peace and blessings, his splendid and surpassing gifts. Let us contemplate him in our thoughts and with our mind’s eye reflect upon the peaceful and restrained unfolding of his plan; let us consider the care with which he provides for the whole of his creation.

By his direction the heavens are in motion, and they are subject to him in peace. Day and night fulfil the course he has established without interfering with each other. The sun, the moon and the choirs of stars revolve in harmony at his command in their appointed paths without deviation. By his will the earth blossoms in the proper seasons and produces abundant food for men and animals and all the living things on it without reluctance and without any violation of what he has arranged.

Yet unexplored regions of the abysses and inexpressible realms of the deep are subject to his laws. The mass of the boundless sea, joined together by his ordinance in a single expanse, does not overflow its prescribed limits but flows as he commanded it. For he said: Thus far shall you come, and your waves will be halted here. The ocean, impassable for men, and the worlds beyond it are governed by the same edicts of the Lord.

The seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter, follow one another in harmony. The quarters from which the winds blow function in due season without the least deviation. And the ever-flowing springs, created for our health as well as our enjoyment, unfailingly offer their breasts to sustain human life. The tiniest of living creatures meet together in harmony and peace. The great Creator and Lord of the universe commanded all these things to be established in peace and harmony, in his goodness to all, and in overflowing measure to us who seek refuge in his mercies through our Lord Jesus Christ; to him be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen."

O ye Winter and Summer, bless ye the Lord:
praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Dews and Frosts, bless ye the Lord:
praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Frost and Cold, bless ye the Lord:
praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Ice and Snow, bless ye the Lord:
praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Nights and Days, bless ye the Lord:
praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Light and Darkness, bless ye the Lord:
praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Lightnings and Clouds, bless ye the Lord:
praise him, and magnify him for ever.

These seem to tie up nicely with the end of British Summer Time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A changed landscape.

Well! The Holy Father really has set the cat among the Ecumenical pigeons with yesterdays announcement. Today's Times (which has a rather good piccie of the Holy Father inside) lays into Rowan Williams in no uncertain manner: quoting the National Secular Society "This is a mortal blow to Anglicanism (in England -Dougal notes) which will inevitably lead to disestablishment as the Church shrinks further and further and becomes increasingly irrelevant... Rowan Williams has failed dismally in his ambitions to avoid schism. His refusal to take a principled moral stand against bigotry has left his Church in tatters".

I can't help but see the Apostolic Constitution as a positive thing on the whole. From the Traditionalist perspective, it provides a home that the evolving Anglican polity had increasingly ceased to be. They will have to adjust to a very different ecclesial culture and suddenly adjust to a top down authority (the one that bypasses the Council for Christian Unity and uses the CDF to effect a change in policy) that simply will not brook the sort of wilful individualistic shenanigans so beloved of many an Anglo-Catholic cleric. One wonders if being able to take the wife extends to the boyfriend? Somehow I rather doubt it!

For the Progressive wing of Anglicanism, this is a bonus. Having the spikes depart in a Rome wards direction means that they can proceed apace with women in the Episcopate and not have to worry about Codes of Practice. The opposition (that unlikely mix of Anglo-Papalist and Calvinist) will be neatly split and the Conservative Evangelicals may look to Africa for leadership, but the Yankee bank rollers of Akinola and Co are in the rough with the US courts over property and assets and the psuedo-Anglicans of Sydney are bust due to hooky investments, so their ability to cause chaos will be limited. We may come not to regret the 20th October 2009.

And tonights service? I spent a bit longer in bed this morning, not avoiding the world but making sure I was fully rested and able to cope. I am getting a lift from a friend who will be there to make sure I don't have a ghastly solo journey back with no one to talk to afterwards, so reasonable measures are in place to ensure my emotional stability. And as one door closes another opens? Today the word came through that the Sons of the Clergy and the diocese are going to sort out the outstanding debt situation between them. So a fresh start is possible. God is there in the midst of it all. I knew that when I got to morning prayer and found the Psalm was 124 (we use the Psalm and Gospel from the Eucharist Lectionary each morning):

If the Lord himself had not been on our side,
now may Israel say;
If the Lord had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;
Then would they have swallowed us alive
when their anger burned against us;
Then would the waters have overwhelmed us
and the torrent gone over our soul;
over our soul would have swept the raging waters.

But blessed be the Lord
who has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
Our soul has escaped
as a bird from the snare of the fowler;
the snare is broken and we are delivered.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who has made heaven and earth.

Yes, God is in the midst and continues to reveal his great love for us. Blessed be God.

Oh, the Bishop put a wee PS on the letter telling me about the financial support. "I do enjoy your blog. You make very intelligent, pertinent and sensitive comments on matters." I'll take that as a Nihil Obstat or an Imprimatur then + Brian!

The Love/Hate thing.

"When one prays: Be glorified among all nations as thou art glorified among us, and Let your prophets be proved true, what else is one asking than Hallowed be thy name?

When the psalmist says: Bring us back, O God of hosts, let your face shine on us and we shall be saved what else is he saying than Thy kingdom come?

When he says: Direct my steps according to your word, so that iniquity has no dominion over me what else is he saying than Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?

When the book of Proverbs it is said: give me neither poverty nor riches, grant me only my share of food what else is this than Give us this day our daily bread?

When the psalmist says Lord, remember David and how he served you or O Lord, if I have done this, if there is iniquity in my hands, if I have rewarded with evil those that did evil to me what else is this than Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?

When he says: Deliver me from my enemies, O my God, and defend me from those that rise up against me what else is this than Deliver us from evil?

And if you go over all the words of holy prayers, I think you will find nothing which cannot be comprised and summed up in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. So when we pray we are free to use different words to any extent, but we must ask the same things: in this we have no choice."

St Augustine of Hippo wrote these words and I find them (as I do with the best of Augustine's writing) moving and powerful. Although I hate bits of Augustine, I also love other bits deeply.

That sense of "I love you and I hate you" marks my feelings about many aspects of Church life. I love the diversity and freedom of the Anglicanism I adopted aged 16. And it frustrates and annoys me. I love the sense of tradition and rich theology and spirituality of the RC Church (heck, I pinched that passage from today's Office of Readings) and it's superb pronouncements on social justice. And I hate many of its attitudes towards women and LGBT people. Possibly that sense of loving and loathing in the same heartbeat is in my mind just now as I ruminate on what the Pope has said to Traditionalist Anglicans with his idea of a Personal Prelature. 10 years ago I'd have been ecstatic and thinking of using it myself. I love the idea of taking the best of Anglicanism (Liturgy, devotional writings, Evensong) and combining it with the Universality of the Roman Church. But I hate the thought that friends of deep faith and integrity will use it and be part of another Church. One which I cannot join in all conscience because I would have to crucify my very self to do it.

Mixed feelings and thoughts seem to be my lot just now. How very tiresome.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Ever had one of those days...


Yes, we all have days like that. The last couple have really been "bad head" days for me. Putting together Wednesday's farewell service at Falkirk has been a fairly painful experience. Still, it helped to be told "What you are feeling is normal" and opening out to others and saying "This feels really c**p" helped too (actually, what I said was "I feel like a turkey laying the table for Christmas dinner"). No crawling back into a bottle (but I spent an extra 90 mins in bed this morning before doing boy meets world). Gradually, as the day has moved on, I've got a bit less down and it has felt better. The black dog may bite but it does let go after a bit.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Inclusive Church

I attended the Inclusive Church roadshow in Old St Paul's today. The 2 speakers (Giles Goddard and Clare Herbert) were clear, lucid and enlightening and pointed to the fact IC got going as a response to a negative situation (the withdrawal of Jeffery John from the Suffragan Bishopric of Reading). It struck me that one of the difficulties starting anything similar in Scotland is the lack of anything concrete to rebel against. (Not that that stopped Marlon Brando and the boys!) We have canonical clearance for women in the Episcopate, up till now the Bishops have been infinitely more pastoral and LGBT friendly than their English counterparts so why do we need anything like IC?

True up to a point. But there is a certain uneasiness (at least amongst those present) that what one might call the hard won inclusiveness of the SEC could slip away. A change of mood or theological inclination in the Episcopal College might seriously change things. Let's face it, the 1994 decision to ordain women happened not because of what the clergy or laity thought but because 2 bishops retired and the newbies had a different point of view. Had Argyll or Moray voted differently, we might still be waiting for women in the priesthood. A change of balance in the House of Bishops could have a major impact in the future - and that depends on who Glasgow and Argyll elect next.

So partly there was a feeling that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance" and an IC type grouping might be useful in keeping a watch on the Bishops. Stronger still was the feeling that we must organise to resist the Anglican Covenant. I'm all for resisting Covenants: it's what we did in the days of Graham of Claverhouse!! Actually, that could be a rallying point for progressives in the SEC. "Christ and No Covenant"! Dash it, I should have returned by the West Port this afternoon!

Mind you, it all got off to a rocky start when the speakers were told by 2 different attendees that in talking exclusively about the situation in the CofE that generated IC, they were failing to take account of our Scottishness (response 1) and comment was made about "imperialism and colonialism" (English) (response 2). Some of us were deeply embarrassed by this (including a friend of mine who is an SNP activist and who left at half time wanting nothing to do with such "chippiness"). I was narked mainly a) by the discourtesy to guests who had prefaced their remarks by admitting that they were not from Scotland and were giving a context for the emergence of IC and b) by the fact that the commentators are relatively new to the SEC . Those of us who have been here a little longer and listened a little more carefully didn't seem to be offended.

So an interesting day really.

Saint or nutter?

And all of yesterdays thoughts on the nature of sacrifice kinda go poop today! Try this for today's saintly look on life:

"Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God".

Suriviors of the CH1 course under Henry Sefton at Aberdeen Uni will, of course, recognise the words of Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr. One can admire the heroic courage and all that, but really the sheer strangeness of the mindset that could write that passage has always made me feel that the very early Christian saints were working in a very different place to me. Jesus could pray "Not my will but yours be done" in the Garden, whilst desperately wanting the cup of suffering to pass but these folks were almost going"Bring on the Agony!" That makes them very difficult to identify with. Some saints speak to us, very directly other swe can admire from a distance without truly feeling connected to them or their particular witness. This said, I realise I might feel very differently about this were I living in a situation where persecution is a daily reality. So saintly diversity is a good thing in a calendar!

Friday, 16 October 2009

The nature of Sacrifice.

"True sacrifices are acts of compassion to ourselves or others, done with God in mind. Such acts have no other object than the relief of distress or the giving of happiness. Finally, the only true happiness is the one the psalmist speaks of: but for myself, I take joy in clinging to God. From all this it follows that the whole redeemed city (that is to say, the congregation or community of the saints) is offered to God as our sacrifice through the great High Priest who offered himself to God for us so that we might be the body belonging to so great a head. He took on the form of a servant and suffered for us. It was under this form that he both offered and was offered: at the same time mediator, and priest, and sacrifice.

St Paul starts by exhorting us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, as an act of homage justly owed to him. He tells us not to con-form ourselves to the world but to be trans-formed by renewing our will and our thinking: seeking to find out the will of God, to discover what is good, what is acceptable, what is perfect; for we ourselves are the whole of that sacrifice. He continues: In the light of the grace I have received I want to urge each one among you not to exaggerate his real importance. Each of you must judge himself soberly by the standard of the faith God has given him. Just as each of our bodies has several parts and each part has a separate function, so all of us, in union with Christ, form one body, and as parts of it we belong to each other. Our gifts differ according to the grace given us.

This is the sacrifice of Christians: we, being many, are one body in Christ. And, as the faithful know, this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God."

From St Augustine, The City of God.

That phrase "a single, holy, living sacrifice" has always slightly puzzled me. I never interpreted it the Old Testament sense of involving an animal, but that definition of an "act of compassion to ourselves or others done with God in mind" makes good sense. It is something done to achieve a result for ourselves or others and the Eucharist as a compassionate act is a powerful image, catching that sense of what Jesus did on the last night of his earthly life. Not just fulfilling a religious obligation, but acting to give his disciples a lasting memento and sign of his presence, which they could return to regularly to draw inspiration and strength. That was a supremely compassionate act.

But what intrigues me with Augustine's thinking is the idea that a sacrificial act can be one which benfeits ourselves: the idea is new to me, but a useful and comforting one. Sacrificing the false God of self-hatred is ok. That can be a living sacrifice if it is done with God in mind rather than to get God out of our mind. The greatest sacrifice of all is the burning of our false Gods in the furnace of the true and living God, who desires our highest good and calls us to be committed to following the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Somewhere over the rainbow..dreams really do come true" - damn!

Just say no

Just say no
to the Fourth Rome

My little brain is gradually turning very anti some of the things I once held very dear. In my madly Anglo-Papalist yoof, I very much thought the Anglican Communion was the 3rd branch of the Catholic Tree (in order of seniority: Constantinople, Rome, Cantuar - Moscow was run by the Bolsheviks and should be ignored, lest they be puppets of Stalin) and I rather thought we Anglicans ought to see he who sat in the throne of St Augustine as a Patriarch who spoke for us all and we ought to be organised as the Fourth Rome. Which just goes to show you should be careful what you wish for, because it might just come true! I'd rather we took much more seriously the Autocephalous model of orthodoxy than the centralising, curial tack of Rome these days.

It feels odd to re-examine and re-evaluate yourself. Like therapy makes you do. Just now I'm mulling over my dis-ease with women. I was not a fan of women's ordination lang syne and I used to say it was all to do with theology. OK, I 'fess up now - it wasn't. I was scared stiff (or other things beginning with 'S' which they don't say on Sesame Street) of women having authority over me. Why? Because my deep seated experience of women being in power over me was connected with uncontrolled emotions and emotional vulnerability in the face of this. But I wasn't going to say that out loud: not a good theological argument. And it meant acknowledging I was terribly muddled and hurting emotionally. No way I was going to do that. (Of course, I thought that it wasn't glaringly obvious to the rest of the world that this was what was going on inside my head: something tells me that really wasn't the case).

To all my female friends to whom I was hurtful or distant or just plain nasty to, as well as those women who weren't friends but to who I was a royal pain anyway, I'd like to say sorry. I really was a messed up puppy, only half aware of what he was doing or why he was doing it. If I hurt anyone through my attitudes or words, I am truly sorry. I suspect I couldn't help it at the time and wish I could take it all back. But I can't, so I'll apologise and move on and try to do better.

So now I am looking again at the way I relate to the world emotionally. What was that all about? Was that really what I feel or want? Sod it, every certainty may be under observation and need to be examined!!

St Theresa of Avila

"If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.

Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favours, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort."

Theresa is one of my peronal heroines! A favourite story about St Teresa illustrates the intimate relationship that the saints have with God. When she was on one of her innumerable journeys across Spain, her horse threw her as she was crossing a river. Soaked to the skin she looked up to heaven and said, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!” We should bring everything to God in our prayers, even our reproaches. For a reproach, in the end, is simply our way of offering up to God our incomprehension of what he is giving us.

O God, who by your Holy Spirit moved Teresa of Avila
to manifest to your Church the way of perfection:
Grant us, we pray, to be nourished by her excellent teaching,
and enkindle within us a keen and unquenchable longing for true holiness;
through Jesus Christ, the joy of loving hearts,
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Do not be afraid...and put that thing down!


Ha! This really ought to be sent to every evangelical on-line: the Bible is not body armour!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Newman and the Church.

John Henry Newman has long been one of my favourite figures in Church History. His wisdom seems both timeless and yet contemporary. Like this:

"Have we any right to take it strange, if, in this English land, the spring-time of the Church should turn out to be an English spring, an uncertain, anxious time of hope and fear, of joy and suffering,—of bright promise and budding hopes, yet withal, of keen blasts, and cold showers, and sudden storms?"

From the sermon ‘The Second Spring’ (1852)

This certainly seems to apply to that most quintessentially "English" collection of churches, the Anglican Communion. The hope of growth in Africa and Asia, the fear of LGBT people, in so many Provinces, the joy of local parish life for most, the suffering of Christians in the Sudan. Yet what realistically do we expect? There has never been an age in Church History when quiet well ordered bliss has prevailed: "Keen blasts, cold showers and sudden storms" are the order of the day and always have been.

His sermon was a reflection on the furore caused by the Restoration of the RC heirachy in England and Wales. The internal affairs of the Church had caused a huge explosion of comment and criticism and buried prejudice had been exposed. And Newman's response?

"One thing alone I know,—that according to our need, so will be our strength. One thing I am sure of, that the more the enemy rages against us, so much the more will the Saints in Heaven plead for us; the more fearful are our trials from the world, the more present to us will be our Mother Mary, and our good Patrons and Angel Guardians; the more malicious are the devices of men against us, the louder cry of supplication will ascend from the bosom of the whole Church to God for us. We shall not be left orphans; we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete, promised to the Church and to every member of it."

Our current travails in public over sexuality and women bishops in England ought not to dismay us. The Church is being talked about and its attitudes examined. The truth of God's liberality and grace will, in the end, prevail. And the grace we are given to endure the tempests of publicity will triumph in the end.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Damien the Leper.

Fr Damien as portayed on the reredos in St. Thomas the Apostle Hollywood (an Episcopal church).

Laying aside mad African saints, I was really rather delighted to see that the Pope has made Damien the Leper a saint. A Belgian missionary who devoted his life to caring for lepers in Hawaii, I recall hearing of him first when I saw a film years ago with (I think) Jose Ferrer in the lead role. The offical blurb is really good (especially given that it is from the Vatican.

"Today as then, the world knows rejected persons of all kinds: the incurably ill (victims of AIDS or other diseases), abandoned children, disoriented youths, exploited women, neglected elderly people, and oppressed minorities. For all who suffer, Damien remains the voice reminding us that the infinite love of God is full of compassion and consolation, confidence and hope, his a voice that denounces injustice. In Damien we can all recognize the herald of the Good News. Like the Good Samaritan, he went to the aid of those whom sickness had cast aside along the road. This is what makes Damien an example for all men and women who wish to be involved in thestruggle for a more just, more humane world, a society more conformed to the heart of God.

The Servant of God, Damien is and remains for all the servant of the human person, the servant of a humanity that needs to live, but even more needs reasons for living. This is the Damien who challenges us even today!"
A good guy and a fine addition to the Calendar. Ora pro nobis!

Eucharistic Spirituality

This reading from the obscure St Fulgentius of Ruspe (and the extract from the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests he ought to stay that way. What is it with Africans and "harsh doctrines?) may be inspirational to those of us who value the Eucharist.

"When we offer the sacrifice the words of our Saviour are fulfilled just as the blessed Apostle Paul reported them: On the same night he was betrayed the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and said: ‘This is my body, which is for you: do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

So the sacrifice is offered to proclaim the death of the Lord and to be a commemoration of him who laid down his life for us. He himself has said: A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. So, since Christ died for us, out of love, it follows that when we offer the sacrifice in commemoration of his death, we are asking for love to be given us by the coming of the Holy Spirit. We beg and we pray that just as through love Christ deigned to be crucified for us, so we may receive the grace of the Holy Spirit; and that by that grace the world should be a dead thing in our eyes and we should be dead to the world, crucified and dead. We pray that we should imitate the death of our Lord. Christ, when he died, died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God. We pray, therefore, that in imitating the death of our Lord we should walk in newness of life, dead to sin and living for God.

The love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been sent to us. When we share in the Lord’s body and blood, when we eat his bread and drink his cup, this truly means that we die to the world and have our hidden life with Christ in God, crucifying our flesh and its weaknesses and its desires.

Thus it is that all the faithful who love God and their neighbour drink the cup of the Lord’s love even if they do not drink the cup of bodily suffering. Soaked through with that drink, they mortify the flesh in which they walk this earth. Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ like a cloak, their desires are no longer those of the body. They do not contemplate what can be seen but what is invisible to the eyes. This is how the cup of the Lord is drunk when divine love is present; but without that love, you may even give your body to be burned and still it will do you no good. What the gift of love gives us is the chance to become in truth what we celebrate as a mystery in the sacrifice."

"St. Fulgentius is saturated with St. Augustine's writings and way of thinking, and he defends him from the charge of making God predestinate evil. He himself makes it a matter of faith that unbaptized infants are punished with eternal fire for original sin. No one can by any means be saved outside the Church; all pagans and heretics are infallibly damned. "It is to think unworthily of grace, to suppose that it is given to all men", since not only not all have faith, but there are still some nations which the preaching of the Faith has not yet reached. These harsh doctrines seem to have suited the African temperament."
(From the Catholic Encyclopedia)

Dear Lord and Father...

Following on from my brief comment yesterday that I quite like some more contemporary hymnody (true enough), I came across this little ditty which amused me. Thanks Lay Clerk.

To the tune: Repton

Dear Lord and Father of mankind
forgive our foolish ways;
For most of us, when asked our mind,
admit we still most pleasure find
in hymns of ancient days,
in hymns of ancient days.

The simple lyrics, for a start,
of many a modern song
are far too trite to touch the heart;
enshrine no poetry, no art;
and go on much too long,
and go on much too long.

O, for a rest from jollity
and syncopated praise!
What happened to tranquillity?
The silence of eternity
is hard to hear these days,
is hard to hear these days.

Send Thy deep hush, subduing all
those happy claps that drown
the tender whisper of Thy call;
triumphalism is not all,
for sometimes we feel down,
for sometimes we feel down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness
till all our strummings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress
of always having to be blessed;
Give us a bit of peace,
give us a bit of peace.

Breathe through the beats of praise-guitar
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let drum be dumb, bring back the lyre,
enough of earthquake, wind and fire,
let’s hear it for some calm,
let’s hear it for some calm.

I really don't see the point of "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" (repeat) and to me that's a mantra not a hymn. But there are some ancient grim dirges too. I like a nice mixture I do.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Unexpected graces.

One of the little joys of life at the moment has been the freedom to do SFA on a Sunday morning. At first, this was simply a case of being burnt out and churched out (say Mattins and leave it at that), thence to a Quaker meeting to rediscover the refreshing presence of God in silence and then to the comparative anonymity of a large parish where I was fairly unknown and where there were two doors to leave through if I felt I couldn't face socialising or chit chat. Well, I stood in reading a lesson and taking up the elements, but that has been my total public liturgical functioning since March. And that has been absolutely fine by me. It also means I can choose where to go to Church rather than go where I am posted.

This morning I popped along to Spiky Mike's. Decided I fancied some incense rather than a good hymn sing. (Not that they're bad, but Morningside have the occasional more contemporary hymn which I like. But the statue worshippers do the Mass settings really beautifully - Schubert in G this morning). Again, the sermon seemed to be aimed right at me or made for me. Given that this has been happening recently when I have attended, that wasn't an unexpected grace. What was unexpected was the Rector's invitation afterwards: "John, would you like to say Mass sometime?" Still a priest, still valued, not rejected - a grace I expected at some point, but not this soon. God is good and his/her/it's mercy endures forever.

Cowdenbeath 5 (yes, FIVE!!), Peterhead Nil

What a good game! A feast of goals in our 5-0 victory over Peterhead and 3rd place in the 2nd division. We played good entertaining football and made few silly errors. Still, we have 3/4 of the season to go and bigger clubs might come a poaching players or the manager come January, so lets say I'd be very happy if the Blue Brazil finish this season in 6th or 7th place in their 1st season back in the 2nd division.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Prayer for today

Almighty and ever-living God,
your generosity exceeds what we deserve
and even what we ask for in prayer.
Pour out your compassion on us:
forgive whatever is weighing on our consciences,
and grant us gifts that we would not even dare to pray for.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

Collect of the day - Roman Office.

Yes, this makes sense to me!

And this:

He truly is a rare and marvellous work of heavenly grace,
who when he comes into the din and tumult of the world,
can view things just as he calmly contemplated them
in the distance,
before the time of action came.

John Henry Newman.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

From my In Tray...


Angels in bunnets

I've been busy finishing the packing. Tuesday saw the last of the books getting put in boxes and suddenly I felt quite overwhelmed. I can say with honesty that it is one of the few times (but probably the strongest) that I have felt like having a drink to dull out the pain since March. Quite different from wishing at a meal when a'body else is having a glass of wine that I could ("It would be nice"). No, this was wanting to blot out and go back into anaesthesia. I held it back by forcibly reminding myself that I only had to hold out until 8pm, then I'd be at the meeting and get some support.

Why mention this? Is it Pride? Wanting a pat on the back for not doing something stupid? No, gratitude. Gratitude that I wasn't tempted beyond my endurance. Gratitude that God has given me people to turn to and share with. Gratitude that God is there in the midst of all this and will hold my hand (and yes, I am being anthropomorphic!) if I reach out.

Going back on Wednesday to deal with clothing took longer than I'd expected because again the old HP (Higher Power) sent me some support. Two peeps who were in the hall and who I had coffee and conversation with. And there are some conversations you have that are simply blessings in human form. You simply feel affirmed and loved and.. blessed at the end of them. So it's thanks be to God for all grace and especially for ancient one eyed angels in bunnets!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Patristic wisdom.

The Lord Jesus also taught you about the goodness of the Father, who knows how to give good things: and so you should ask for good things from the One who is good. Jesus told us to pray urgently and often, so that our prayers should not be long and tedious but short, earnest and frequent. Long elaborate prayers overflow with pointless phrases, and long gaps between prayers eventually stretch out into complete neglect.

Next he advises that when you ask forgiveness for yourself then you must take special care to grant it also to others. In that way your action can add its voice to yours as you pray. The apostle also teaches that when you pray you must be free from anger and from disagreement with anyone, so that your prayer is not disturbed or broken into.

The apostle teaches us to pray anywhere, while the Saviour says Go into your room – but you must understand that this “room” is not the room with four walls that confines your body when you are in it, but the secret space within you in which your thoughts are enclosed and where your sensations arrive. That is your prayer-room, always with you wherever you are, always secret wherever you are, with your only witness being God.

Above all, you must pray for the whole people: that is, for the whole body, for every part of your mother the Church, whose distinguishing feature is mutual love. If you ask for something for yourself then you will be praying for yourself only – and you must remember that more grace comes to one who prays for others than to any ordinary sinner. If each person prays for all people, then all people are effectively praying for each.

In conclusion, if you ask for something for yourself alone, you will be the only one asking for it; but if you ask for benefits for all, all in their turn will be asking for them for you. For you are in fact one of the “all.” Thus it is a great reward, as each person’s prayers acquire the weight of the prayers of everyone. There is nothing presumptuous about thinking like this: on the contrary, it is a sign of greater humility and more abundant fruitfulness.

From a sermon of St Ambrose.

This really ought to be put on any parish intercessors little guide list of what to do and why we do it. Sunday's intercession were very good - except for the two times when the intercessor told God what we were praying from, why we were praying for it and how long the Congregation had been supporting the project. Less than a month after an intercessors workshop. And people wonder why the clergy stress! Were you listening? God knows and the Prayers of the People is not the ideal spot for an infomercial - notices before or after the service please!

Today I went to Fr John Paul's funeral Mass in Spikey Mike's. And it was a wonderful celebration of a priestly life that has moved into the next phase of it's realised eschatology: he is not dead, he lives in the reality of the Resurrection he lived in this world. I also wore clericals for the 1st time in 6 months. It felt a little odd, but I also felt very much part of the SEC family. So I am living the new part of my priestly life not in a parish but in a new reality which is present but still to be revealed in its fullness. Hope is not dead, but seeing through a glass darkly is the name of the game just now! But that's dark as in unclear, not dark as in depressed.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

An icon I like!


Dawkins beware!

John Henry Cardinal Newman (painting by W. W. Ouless, 1879)

THOUGH it cannot be denied that at the present day, in consequence of the close juxtaposition and intercourse of men of all religions, there is a considerable danger of the subtle, silent, unconscious perversion and corruption of Catholic intellects, who as yet profess, and sincerely profess, their submission to the authority of Revelation, still that danger is far inferior to what it was in one portion of the middle ages. Nay, contrasting the two periods together, we may even say, that in this very point they differ, that, in the medieval, since Catholicism was then the sole religion recognized in Christendom, unbelief necessarily made its advances under the language and the guise of faith; whereas in the present, when universal toleration prevails, and it is open to assail revealed truth (whether Scripture or Tradition, the Fathers or the "Sense of the faithful"), unbelief in consequence throws off the mask, and takes up a position over against us in citadels of its own, and confronts us in the broad light and with a direct assault. And I have no hesitation in saying ... that I prefer to live in an age when the fight is in the day, not in the twilight; and think it a gain to be speared by a foe, rather than to be stabbed by a friend.

I do not, then, repine at all at the open development of unbelief ... or at its growing audacity in England. There will be, I say, in spite of you, unbelief and immorality to the end of the world, and you must be prepared for immorality more odious, and unbelief more astute, more subtle, more bitter, and more resentful, in proportion as it is obliged to dissemble.

It is one great advantage of an age in which unbelief speaks out, that Faith can speak out too; that, if falsehood assails Truth, Truth can assail falsehood....Truth can entrench itself carefully, and define its own profession severely, and display its colours unequivocally, by occasion of that very unbelief which so shamelessly vaunts itself. And a kindred advantage to this is the confidence which, in such an age, we can place in all who are around us, so that we need look for no foes but those who are in the enemy's camp.

J H Newman "The Idea of a University"

This passage from the Ven (soon to be Blessed) John Henry seems very apt as a commentary on the neo-atheists such as Richard Dawkins who atheism is "more astute, more subtle, more bitter, and more resentful" than the fairy stories attack of yesteryear. But of course, then as now, some of Christianitys' most fervent defenders are its' most unlovely. Creationists with placards who are Pro Life (but anti everything else). Why, when I see our noisiest advocates in action, does an old Latin tag from by Higher studies of Virgil's Aeneid spring to mind? "Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istis tempus eget"; "Not such aid nor such defenders does the time require".

What defence does the Christian faith require? Rants about the inerrancy of Scripture? Perennial looking back to a mythic Golden age of Christian virtue? Or a reasoned, balanced defence of what is good and positive, coupled with an honest acknowledgement of the failure of its proponents over the centuries? After all, the millions who died in the Gulags of militant atheism in Soviet Russia and Mao's China scarcely give a huge amount of moral high ground to Prof Dawkins and company. He is a distinguished philospher, his support of the apology from HMG for the treatment of Alan Turing is commendable. And he had the good sense (and good luck) to marry Dr Who's raciest assistant Leela (Rose Tyler is a nice girl, but not "racy" with a hunting knife and a bikini)! But he has a quite big bee in his bonnet about theism. Richard, we know your are an atheist, we're happy for you. Don't bug us and we won't bug you. Live and let live man!

The best defence Christianity can have - its finest apologia - is transfigured grace filled men and women who live a life of service and love to their fellow mortals and who worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Or as I quoted the other day: "The real evidence is not practically speaking in scholarship but in how Jesus and the Christianity based on him manifest themselves in the lives of practising Christians. Their lives are the proofs of their beliefs." Lionel Blue

A "least favourite" Sunday of the year.

We all have them: for some it's Mothering Sunday (too much happy families - sometimes it sucks to be single), for others Remembrance (dangerously close to glorifying war). For me this time of year has the deadly combination of Francis of Assisi preaching to birdies and Harvest Thanksgiving.

The first is to my mind an avoidance of the true message of Francis. He identified with the poor, he was an evangelist, he had a radical spirituality. He reached out to the Muslim world. The birdies were a very small and frankly insignificant part of his work, but we go for it because it's "nice". Likewise Harvest: we enjoy singing "We plough the fields and scatter" et al when most of us don't even dig an allotment and our harvest is less the fruit of our toil than it is our carbon footprint writ large. That said, I fully endorse the wisdom of an annual reflection on the creation and God's goodness: I just wish it wasn't tied up with the Percy Dearmer-esque trimmings. The Edwardian Victorian knitted chasuble movement that was Christian Socialist with the Wareham Guild and English folk dance leaves me unmoved. The revival of harvest that exuded from that seems less than relevant to me today than ever it has. So I was happy to have a reflection on Jesus's teaching on divorce. From a curate just back from his honeymoon! Oh, the irony!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Saturday night at the Steamie.

Tonight I went out with friends and we saw Tony Roper's marvellous comedy "The Steamie". I've seen it on TV but live on stage it was truly excellent. I haven't laughed out loud so often for ages at the antics of 4 Glesca wimmin doing their washing at an old public washouse in Glasgow in the 50's. It was dated by references to Tony Curtis being good looking and the brave new all mod cons housing estate in the country to which the youngester aspired - Drumchapel!!! (For non Weegies, Billy Connoly famously described the "Drum" as "a desert wi windaes") It was great fun and 1st class.

Splendidly, the Blue Brazil beat Stenhousemuir 2-0 which sneaks them nicely up the league table. I am well chuffed as we tended not to do well against them last year. Quite an enjoyable Saturday really.

Friday, 2 October 2009

A Spiritual Exercise.

Whilst trawling online, I came across this excercise (thanks to the RevGalpals blog) and I thought it worthwhile to do it for my own entertainment. And possibly for the world's enlightenment.

Where do you find God's peace and presence, is there:

1. A place that holds a special memory?

Has to be Iona. Top of Dun I at midnight, not a cloud in the sky and moonlight bright enough to see Jura and walk downhill without a torch

2. A song that seems to usher you into the Holy of Holies?

"Be thou my vision" and "Be still, for the presence of the Lord"

3. A book/ poem/ prayer that says what you cannot?

H.A. Williams "Some Day I'll find you"

4. How do you remind yourself of these things at times when God seems far away?

Pray silently. If I'd remembered to do that more often I wouldn't in my present pickle!

5.Post a picture/ poem or song that speaks of where you are right now in your relationship with God...

Holy Sonnet XIV by John Donne

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurped town, to another due,

Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

but is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betrothed unto your enemy.

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor even chaste, except you ravish me.

We did this in SYS English in 1984 and it has stayed with me ever since.

Anyone else fancy a go?

Dogma a bad idea?


I just rather liked this: it made me smile:-)

The real evidence is not practically speaking in scholarship but in how Jesus and the Christianity based on him manifest themselves in the lives of practising Christians. Their lives are the proofs of their beliefs. Lionel Blue

As a very head down sort of thinker, I find this little bit of wisdom from my favourite rabbi very challenging. We prove our truth by living it. Credal affirmation, theolgical orthodoxy - not as important as the living evidence of lives lived in Christ. I agree up to a point. But the "theology" we believe (and by that I don't mean what is written down in books by Rowan Williams et al) is what shapes, influences, inspires and defines our living. In others words, you cannot have a dogma free Christian faith. You live what you belive about Jesus - your Christology. Your committment to parish and denomination reflects your ecclesiology (theology of Church). If you are working to bring a Christian vision into being through your social action, that is a reflection of your eschatology - your vision of what the Kingdom is like.

The proof of our belief is certainly seeing the reality of transfigured lives, especially our own. But it is impossible to have a transfigured life without a theology. And I'd rather people have a reasoned, reflective one lest the lunatics take over the Christian asylum. So I'd argue that a scholarship approach informs the life lived for Christ and it is a fallacy to imagine we can skip it totally and just live as Christians. The ultimate proof of a life lived in Christ is a life that in thought word and deed reflects the living Christ - and that includes our brains.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Therese of the Child Jesus

I have mixed feelings about the "Little Flower". Though I must say it's not her fault. The saccharine quality of some of the devotion surrounding her leaves me terribly cool. I blame the Victorians. In her own writings, Therese comes through quite differently.

"When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognised myself in none of the members which St. Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favourably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realised that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.

Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction."

From the Autobiography of Therese of Lisieux.

And also this snippet from the Universalis website.

What makes St Thérèse so special?

We have grown used to the idea that just as there are people with talents for sport or scholarship, and the rest of us can only admire them without trying to keep up, so there are people with a talent for holiness and heroic virtue, and the rest of us can only bumble along as best we can. We can’t do better because we’re not designed to do better, so there’s no point in trying. We sink into a consoling mediocrity.

Thérèse wrecks this. She was physically weak and psychologically vulnerable. For her the great saints were giants, they were inaccessible mountains, and she was only an “obscure grain of sand;” but she was not discouraged. St John of the Cross taught her that God can never inspire desires that cannot be fulfilled. The Book of Proverbs told her, “If anyone is a very little one, let him come to me.” If you only look, Scripture is permeated with images of our littleness and weakness with respect to God, and of his care for us in our insignificance.

Thérèse’s “Little Way” means taking God at his word and letting his love for us wash away our sins and imperfections. When a priest told her that her falling asleep during prayer was due to a want of fervour and fidelity and she should be desolate over it, she wrote “I am not desolate. I remember that little children are just as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as when they are awake.”

Today, Therese's relics are on a tour of England and Wales. Again, venerating relics leaves me very cool indeed (the forearm of St Francis Xavier in the Gesu in Rome really made me squirm), but the very fact that on her this her Feast day they are in the great Anglican Cathedral of York Minster and that pilgrims are thronging there is truly marvellous. After a long chill in Anglican RC relations, it is good to feel a bit of a thaw. Perhaps that thaw is due to the moves of the ABC to bring about a more centralised Anglican Communion through Covenant and Instruments. Which poses the interesting question: "Does the end of Unity justify a means which changes the essential nature of Anglican Polity?" With my Anglo-Papalist leanings, I feel a degree of division in my own mind about all this. Unity yes, but Rome has to budge too. It cannot be totally about conforming to her. That is Conversion, not the convergence Geoffrey Fisher suggested to John XXIII.

But Therese remains a reminder ultimately to me of the truth of the Magnificat:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.

Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.